NOAA Provides free online nautical charts

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is helping to make the route planning process simpler for recreational boaters with the recent launch of interactive nautical charts. Boaters can use the free charts to plan sailing routes, fishing trips and long-distance travels.

After a three-month trial period, PDF versions of NOAA nautical charts will be a permanent fixture on the company’s website. Once at the site, users can find free PDF digital images of traditional nautical charts.

“With just a couple of clicks, they can get the chart that has the amount of detail that they need,” explained Dawn Forsythe, communications specialist for NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey.

For instance if a boater goes to the chart catalog and enters Irvine in the search field a coastal chart that covers San Clemente to Long Beach will pop up. From there, they can narrow their search and get a more detailed chart that covers Newport Bay.             “Sometimes you are in need of a lot of details about a specific area to plan a boating trip,” Forsythe said of the mobile-friendly interactive chart catalog. “You are able to view the chart online exactly as it would be printed in a printed chart. You can zoom in and get as detailed as looking at the swimming areas in Newport Beach and where the piers are.”

According to NOAA, the free PDF charts are part of a suite of new and enhanced navigational products designed to make NOAA’s data more accessible.

“Up to date charts help boaters avoid groundings and other dangers to navigation, so our aim is to get charts into the hands of as many boaters as we can,” said Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “Within about 90 days of the product’s beta release, nearly 2.3 million charts were downloaded. To us, that represents more than two million opportunities to avoid an accident at sea.”

To help boaters find the chart they need, NOAA has also launched an interactive chary locator that allows users to select a chart from a map of the U.S. and select the format of choice. The selected chart can then be printed.

Boaters typically need to know the specific chart before being able to look at the map of a specific area. The integrated chart catalog no longer requires boaters to scan through a long list of charts to find the exact one they are searching for.

Links to the U.S. Coastguard pilot boats for your area is now available on the website in  PDF books along with navigation information for a chosen are, historic facts and helpful information about the federal channels, special anchorages and heights of bridges in the area.

In addition, NOAA is also allowing boat owners to access NOAA ENC Online, free of charge. The web map viewing application shows chart data that was previously only available to users who purchased specialized viewing systems. The digital charts’ image resolution will increase, from 254 dots per inch (DPI) to 400 DPI to help improve image quality and legibility of the raster navigational charts that are used in chart display systems. The suite of raster navigational charts will be upgraded starting April 3.
Printed charts provided by NOAA-certified Print-on-Demand (POD) providers fulfill a vessel’s requirement to carry a navigational chart “published by the National Ocean Service” in accordance with federal regulations, according to the administration.

In 2013, NOAA announced the privatization of chart printing and distribution, with NOAA-certified vendors providing improved paper “print-on-demand” charts that fulfill a vessel’s requirement to carry a navigational chart published by the National Ocean Service in accordance with federal regulations.

Printing PDFs may alter the chart scale, color, or legibility that may impact suitability for navigation.

For more information or to access the chart catalog, visit

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