Office of Coast Survey
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
U.S. Department of Commerce

International Activities

Common Standards for Navigating the Seas

The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) is the principle international organization in which NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey participates. The worldwide maritime transportation system depends on nations issuing up-to-date charts compiled to common standards. This is accomplished through the IHO and participation in its regional hydrographic commissions and numerous technical committees.

International Hydrographic Organization

The International Hydrographic Organization is an intergovernmental consultative and technical organization established in 1921 to support safe and environmentally-sound navigation through the provision of accurate and timely hydrographic information. The director of Coast Survey is the U.S. national hydrographer and the principal U.S. representative to the IHO. The IHO functions through a series of regional coordination committees and technical working groups.

International Maritime Organization

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations established in 1948 to develop and maintain a comprehensive regulatory framework for shipping, including safety, environmental concerns, legal matters, technical-cooperation, maritime security and the efficiency of shipping. The most important treaty addressing maritime safety is the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention, which was an outgrowth of international concern and reaction to the Titanic disaster of 1912 and includes the regulations regarding the standards and use of navigational products. Coast Survey participates in the IMO Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation.

Coast Survey also actively cooperates on a bilateral basis with many hydrographic offices worldwide. These bilateral relationships include those between NOAA and Japan, the Republic of Korea, Canada, the United Kingdom and others.

World Hydrography Day

In 2002, the International Hydrographic Organization and its Member States recognized the need to increase global awareness of the importance of hydrography to the safety of global marine transportation and protection of the marine environment. “World Hydrography Day” was designated, to be celebrated every year on the 21st of June, the date the IHO was established in 1921. On November 29, 2005, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution A/60/30, recognizing the establishment of World Hydrography Day. OCS helps coordinate the celebration of World Hydrography Day in the U.S. largely through public awareness and outreach.

A little history

International cooperation in the field of hydrography began with a conference held in Washington, D.C., in 1899, which led to the formation of a permanent intergovernmental body, the International Hydrographic Bureau (IHB), in 1921. The United States was one of the countries that helped establish this body and has been a prominent and proactive member state ever since. In 1970, the International Hydrographic Organization was creating, replacing the IHB.

Revised: 10/2/2017