NOAA Plans to Stop Producing Traditional Paper Charts

File image courtesy NOAA

Published Nov 15, 2019 9:16 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Friday, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Coast Survey announced plans to phase out the production of all traditional paper nautical charts. 

Over the next five years, NOAA says that it plans to transition to electronic chart (ENC) products with a focus on improving data consistency and providing larger scale ENC coverage. This process includes replacing 1,200 irregular ENC cells on 130 different scales with a standardized grid system and set of 12 standard scales. It is expected to significantly improve the level of detail and consistency in NOAA's ENCs.

As it reorients its efforts towards electronic products, NOAA will gradually shut down services associated with traditional paper charts, including full-size chart PDFs, print-on-demand paper charts and NOAA raster charts (RNCs). The phase-out will start in mid- to late-2020 and be completed by January 2025.  

NOAA will still provide access to paper chart products based on ENC data, either through third-party vendors or through the NOAA Custom Chart system (now in prototype phase). The online NOAA Custom Chart (NCC) application lets users create their own paper charts with NOAA ENC data. The user can define the scale and size of custom-made nautical charts, then download them in a special PDF format. 

The phaseout of traditional paper products reflects broader trends in the industry. The IMO now requires that all large commercial vessels on international voyages use electronic charts. In 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard started allowing commercial vessels on domestic voyages to use ENCs instead of paper charts. Electronic products are also increasingly popular with recreational users. 

It is, however, a break with tradition. NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey has produced traditional paper charts for nearly 200 years, and these products been the primary source of navigational information for generations of American mariners.

Comments on the decision may be submitted through NOAA’s online feedback tool.