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Educational Resources, Activities and Lesson Plans

Nautical Chart Posters

Nautical charts are the roadmaps of the oceans. A series of three posters illustrated by Taylor Morrison explain concepts important to understanding nautical charts. The posters can be downloaded for color printing on 11 x 17-in. paper.

Activities and Lesson Plans by Grade Level

All ages

Nautical Charts
Learn about chart symbols, safe boating, and why nautical charts are important! This interactive activity allows students to follow a series of questions and a scavenger hunt to uncover nautical chart basics and find the location of a sunken ship.
Sea Floor Mapping
Learn about special kinds of maps ‒ nautical charts ‒ that show the coastline and tell boaters about things under the water. Students learn that these charts are important for big ships that bring in products and supplies that we use every day, from clothes to food.

Grades 3 and up

Boat Building Challenge
Design a boat hull that can float a specified weight. Then, design a way to propel your vessel using wind power.
Who’s Blue Peter?
Make a set of nautical signal flags, and use them to send messages.
Please Pass the Salt
Experiment to find some of the ways that salt changes the physical properties of water.
It All Runs Downhill
Make a model of a watershed, and show how rainfall carries pollution into the ocean and other water bodies.
Make Your Own Compass
Make a simple compass to find magnetic north or south, depending on where you live.

Grades 6 and Up

The Water Writers
Make a sounding box and discover the profile of a model seafloor.
Nautical Chart Challenge
Discover how a nautical chart can help sailors navigate safely in unfamiliar waters.
Build an Underwater Robot
Make a simple underwater remotely-operated vehicle.
Survey Mark Hunting
Get information on the location and description of survey marks in your geographic area, and find out how to share your survey marking discoveries with the rest of the world!
Be a Shipwreck Detective
Examine information about items found in and around a shipwreck, and draw conclusions about the ship, who was aboard, and why it sank.
Visit the education websites of NOAA and NOAA’s National Ocean Service for more teaching resources.

Grades 9-12

Plot Your Course: Marine Navigation
One of the most fundamental tools used by marine navigators is the nautical chart. This geography and earth science lesson plan focuses on learning what information is provided on a nautical chart. Students will:

  • determine distance and direction between selected features
  • identify obstacles to navigation
  • identify the characteristics of common aids to navigation

See That Sound: Introduction to Sonar
Hydrography is the science of measuring and describing the physical features of bodies of water and adjacent tidal areas. This earth and physical science lesson plan focuses on how scientists can obtain information about the bathymetry of the seafloor to help mariners navigate safely in coastal areas. Students will:

  • explain the concept of sonar, and describe the major components of a sonar system
  • compare and contrast multibeam and side scan sonar systems
  • design a relatively low-cost side scan sonar system that could be built by an amateur ocean explorer

Ready, Set, Drift!: Coastal Ocean Currents
Anyone who operates a boat in coastal waters needs to understand the movement of currents. This earth and physical science lesson plan focuses on how navigators of ships and boats predict and compensate for the effects of coastal ocean currents. Students will:

  • define and explain the terms set, drift, course over the ground, and speed over the ground
  • use online databases to recover specific data on water movement for selected geographic areas
  • use information about currents, winds, and tides to solve practical problems relevant to coastal navigation
  • demonstrate the use of a maneuvering board in solving problems involving ocean currents and navigation

Shipwreck Alley: Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
"Shipwreck Alley" is the final resting place for scores of ships that have fallen victim to Lake Huron’s murky fog banks, sudden gales, and rocky shoals. This geography, physical science, and math lesson plan focuses on how to reduce dangers to ships from natural hazards in the Great Lakes. Students will be able to:

  • describe at least three major types of vessels that have been used for commercial shipping in the Great Lakes
  • describe at least three hazards to ships that have been responsible for shipwrecks in Thunder Bay and how these hazards might have been reduced
  • apply basic concepts of force and motion to practical problems related to marine safety
Visit the education websites of NOAA and NOAA’s National Ocean Service for more teaching resources.


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