Nautical paper charts are not going away

Dec 18, 2019 by Guest Writer

By John Mann

On Nov. 8, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Coast Survey announced plans to change the database and format from which traditional paper nautical charts for the U.S. are printed.

Unfortunately, the announcement was misinterpreted and broadly reported that over the next five years, paper charts would be phased out and no longer available. 

Not true. 

Rest assured, paper charts will continue to be available through the online NOAA Custom Chart application or third-party providers such as Bluewater Books and Charts.

NOAA is in the midst of a multi-year program to improve Electronic Navigation Chart (ENC) coverage and will ultimately stop supporting the raster chart database from which its more than 1,000 paper charts of U.S. waters are derived. 

The ENCs are a vector format that allows multiple layers of data to source information; the raster data is only two-dimensional. So paper charts created from ENC-sourced data are more robust, have more information, and are simply better. Think about it as new technology being employed to ultimately provide improved paper charts.

So NOAA is reaching out to chart users and companies that provide products and services based on the raster data to figure out how best to phase them out – not phasing paper charts out completely, just this format from which paper charts are made. NOAA wants input from mariners to help it choose the layers of ENC information that will be applied to paper charts moving forward. And it wants to be sure the move from raster data does not occur until the new ENC-derived process is proven.

To that end, NOAA is seeking comments to be made by Feb. 1 and submitted via NOAA’s Assist feedback tool at, or by mail to: NOAA (NCS2) , ATTN. Sunset of Raster Charts, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3282. A Federal Register Notice soliciting comments has also been released.

I would encourage all mariners who so passionately hold fast to paper charts to help us make them the best they can be. 

John Mann is president of Fort Lauderdale-based Bluewater Books and Charts, a provider of digital and paper charts for worldwide cruising. Comments are welcome below.