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Speeches & Presentations

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, NOAA Office of Coast Survey director
Remarks at the United States Power Squadrons Annual Meeting

glangChief Commander Alter, members of the bridge, past chief commanders, members and honored guests… This is my first experience with the United States Power Squadrons. Thank you for the invitation to join you here today.

You don’t have to live in the Washington DC area to know that our government is operating in a time of tight resources. At the same time, we face great need across the country, and we are governed by elected officials who are fiercely divided on how to meet those needs. We all agree on one thing, however: where we can prevent harm to people, property, or the environment, we must act. Good government requires us to unite through common cause, and act to solve our problems.

We at NOAA are grateful that the members of the United States Power Squadrons have chosen to act with us. This is a great partnership. It works, and together we get things done.

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is a small program with a very large mission. Our few hundred people dedicate themselves to protecting people who venture on the water for their livelihood, for the nation’s defense, or for enjoyment. We do that with our products, the nation’s nautical charts and the United States Coast Pilot. These products cover over three million square nautical miles of U.S. coastal waters and the Great Lakes. Of that area, half a million nautical miles are navigable and 40,000 nautical miles are critical.

That’s our challenge. We cannot update our thousand nautical charts without the assistance of others, and yet they MUST be constantly updated and corrected. Much of our nation’s coastal areas haven’t been mapped since the 1920s, when measurements weren’t as precise or extensive as is possible now. Some areas haven’t been surveyed since the early 1800s. In Alaska, we have charts with vast areas of “white space,” never surveyed. With the Arctic becoming accessible to vessels, we’re missing charts.
As your boating experience bears out, the bottoms of our waterways and oceans change from the effects of storms, accumulation of sediment, and debris. Our shorelines are in a state of change, from natural powers or because of human development.

Today, I am honored to join you all, as NOAA and the United States Power Squadrons renew our 50-year voluntary agreement to renew and improve a cooperative charting program that facilitates updates to the nation’s thousand navigational charts. I am especially honored to join Chief Commander John Alter, who has been boating since he was six years old. His respect for the power -- and treachery -- of Lake Erie, where he spent his early summers, informs his commitment to accurate charts.

Chart accuracy is important. A colleague told me that she was in a tourist shop in Charleston, and she saw a great t-shirt. It had a “definition” of a nautical chart splayed across the front: “chärt, noun: a nautical map that shows you what you just hit.” Fortunately, Commander Alter and you all know that a chart is more than that. It is is the first line of defense for the lives of boaters and for the protection of the environment.”

You are an important part of that first line of defense. Under this voluntary program, members of the United States Power Squadrons look for changing conditions that need to be reflected on NOAA navigational charts. Members submit their reports online, and Coast Survey cartographers review and incorporate chart changes as necessary.

You have come through in a very big way. Over the last ten years, you have submitted over 28,000 corrections to our nautical charts and the U.S. Coast Pilot. More than 4,000 of you have submitted reports, adding your particular local knowledge to our national effort to keep navigation materials accurate.

This impressive record shows that the long partnership between Coast Survey and the Power Squadrons is a successful one. It speaks to our shared vision of safety on U.S. waters.

Exactly 50 years ago, in 1963, one of my predecessors – Rear Admiral Arnold Karo – spoke at your 49th Annual Convention. He spoke at some length about the shared values of mariners. I especially identify with him when he said:
“You know, I have always found that people with the breath of salt air in their lungs and vision of faraway horizons in their eyes, are a special breed of people, mighty fine people to have aboard.” It accounted for his pleasure in meeting with the people of the Power Squadrons, he said.

And then he went on to propose a mutual undertaking: the Cooperative Charting Program. NOAA's predecessor, the Coast and Geodetic Survey, recognized that maintenance of the suite of nautical charts that cover the U.S. was a challenging task with the sparse resources at hand. He acknowledged that many charts would go uninspected by our surveyors for decades. That is still true today.

To help remedy the situation, we established the Cooperative Charting Program so local Power Squadron members could scrutinize their local charts for accuracy and report discrepancies to us. The first year saw just over 300 Power Squadron reports suggesting chart revisions.

No other enterprise can boast of more dedicated or more productive people who give so generously of their time and resources to educate each other in all aspects of boating. We count on your longtime commitment to safe navigation. The U.S. has nearly 3.5 million square nautical miles of coastal waters. Surveying those waters, relying solely on current NOAA resources, would take 545 ship years and $5 billion just to acquire the data.

Sailors must be able to trust their nautical charts. Since charting began, cartographers have tried to capture the ocean depths at a moment in time, so we can depict them with accuracy and precision. You and I know, however, that what is precise and accurate today may be inaccurate with the passing of a single storm. So our job never ends.

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