The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is ending production of raster chart products, including the traditional paper chart. The final charts will be issued in December 2024.
In 2019, NOAA announced its Sunsetting of Raster Nautical Charts in the Federal Register. The Federal Register is the official daily publication for rules, proposed rules and notices of federal agencies and organizations, as well as executive orders and other presidential documents, in the U.S.
The raster sunset program will gradually end the production and maintenance of NOAA traditional paper and raster nautical chart products. NOAA began canceling its traditional nautical charts in 2021, and the process is expected to be completed by January 2025. The term sunsetting refers to purposely and systematically phasing out a product or service.
Although NOAA started phasing out charts a couple of years ago, starting in northern Alaska, then moving to the Great Lakes and down the eastern seaboard, the West Coast regions are some of the last charts to go.
“Raster charts are the “old” format of charts that we have been producing for over 200 years,” said Jeffrey Ferguson, regional manager of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey in an email to the Log. “They are basically an image of the chart. Think of a PDF or JPEG that can be printed.”
The San Diego Bay raster charts (18772 and 18773) will enter “Last Edition” status as of February 2024. This (and all charts entering in that status) will be announced in the Local Notice to Mariners issued by the U.S. Coast Guard.
The “Last Edition” announcement starts a 6-month warning period until final cancellation, meaning these charts will be officially canceled in August 2024.
“Currently, we have two completely independent chart production systems,” Ferguson said. “One to maintain the raster charts and another to maintain the Electronic Navigational Charts (ENC). The ENC is the modern chart. It is vector-based and has attribution (i.e., it is ‘smart’) that computer systems can use to trigger alarms if the vessel goes into shallow water, for example. The number of ENCs being sold/downloaded is now far greater than the raster sales/downloads. So, to be able to focus on the modern product and improve production efficiencies, the decision was made to discontinue the raster product line and focus solely on the modern ENC products.”
The coastal chart 18765, Approaches to San Diego Bay (and chart 18774, which overlaps to the north) will go into “Last Edition” status in December 2023, meaning they will be canceled in June 2024. The general coastal charts along the west coast from the Mexican border to Canada will enter “Last Edition” status in June 2024 and be canceled in December 2024.
The final chart will be archived on the historical chart website. However, the chart will no longer be updated and will not be suitable for navigation. It’s archival for anyone who wants to view the final chart, needs to do research or simply wants an image to hang on the wall. Other archived charts are available on the historic website. For instance, you can see what the San Diego Bay nautical chart looked like in 1935.
NOAA produces nautical charts in two different formats, as Ferguson said – raster and vector. Each are compiled and distributed using different methods. For real-time navigation, mariners should use the NOAA ENC’s in an appropriate navigation system. The ENC product format is specified by the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO). Each ENC is a digital database that stores the location and shape of charted features as pairs of latitude and longitude coordinates. This is known as “vector format” data.
Database records associated with each component provide detailed information, such as the feature’s color, shape, height, purpose, quality of position and other attributes. Electronic navigation systems can use the data contained within ENCs to enable safer voyage planning and route monitoring. This includes initiating warnings and alarms when a ship is heading into shallow water or toward other dangers to navigation. Updated ENC revision files are available weekly. When ENC revision data is loaded, many navigation systems apply these updates automatically. ENCs will continue to be produced and enhanced after all raster format charts are canceled.
For users wanting a large format paper representation of the ENC for situational awareness or planning purposes, NOAA has the Custom Chart Tool that can convert the ENC data into a PDF that can be printed.
The NOAA Custom Chart Tool is available here: https://devgis.charttools.noaa.gov/pod/.
Several print vendors will print the PDF on high-quality paper or make custom chart products for direct sale to the public. More information can be obtained by contacting those vendors directly. Also, see the Coast Survey website here: https://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/publications/print-agents.html#ncc.
Questions on whether custom chart printed products can be used to meet carriage requirements should be directed to the USCG.