Letter to the Editor: Goodbye, Paper Charts?

Byline: Charlie Danner

I’m starting to believe there’s a lot of truth in the old counterculture saying from the 1970s: “everything you know is wrong.” At least it seems like everything I was ever taught about navigation no longer holds true.

I was always taught that, when it came to planning a cruise and getting from Port A to Port B, there was no substitute for age-old navigation skills, ded reckoning and plotting a course on a paper chart.

Even after GPS navigation electronics were introduced in the 1980s and electronic chart plotters started being installed on boat helms in the 1990s, every skipper I knew always carried paper charts of their cruising areas — and knew how to plot their course in the time-honored manner.

Boating safety advocates always stressed the importance of knowing how to navigate with paper charts. They emphasized the fact that boats sometimes lose power to run electronics, and it is important to be self-reliant at sea — without having to depend on an electronic navigation box that may stop working someday, when you least expect it.

However, all of that appears to be old-fashioned thinking. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Coast Survey has thrown up its collective hands and decided to give up printing traditional paper charts, (as reported in the story “Stop the Presses: NOAA to Stop Printing Paper Nav Charts,” in the Nov. 8-21 issue of The Log).

While NOAA says that some paper charts will still be available on a print-on-demand basis from commercial retail outlets, government-issued lithographic nautical charts are going the way of buggy whips, cigarette holders and rotary-dial telephones.

It would seem that the only sensible reaction to this move is to keep redundant electronic chart plotters on board — and enough battery backup to keep at least one unit running at all times.

Maybe I can sell my dividers, parallel rulers and protractor to an antique dealer somewhere.

Charlie Danner
Long Beach


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