After a three-month trial period, PDF versions of NOAA nautical charts will become a permanent product, free to the public. The free PDFs, which are digital images of traditional nautical charts, are part of a suite of new and enhanced navigational products designed to make NOAA’s data more accessible to the general public.
“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 who aren’t sure which chart they need, NOAA has launched a new interactive chart locator that allows people to select a chart from a map of the U.S. and choose their format. NOAA is also making available for free the NOAA ENC Online, a new web map viewing application that shows chart data previously only available to users who purchased specialized viewing systems.
Also the digital charts’ image resolution will increase, from 254 dots per inch (DPI) to 400 DPI. This will improve image quality and legibility of the raster navigational charts (NOAA RNC) that are used in chart display systems. Coast Survey asked users how the changes affected chart appearances on mobile apps. Initial compatibility issues and discrepancies that were identified have been resolved. The suite of RNCs will be upgraded starting April 3.
According to NOAA, printing PDFs may alter the chart scale, color, or legibility that may impact suitability for navigation. Only 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.