Great Lakes mariners get new NOAA nautical chart for St. Mary’s River

Vessel operators transiting St. Mary’s River, between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes, have a new nautical chart to help lessen the dangers inherent in this narrow and complicated waterway. The first edition of Chart 14887 (St. Marys River – Vicinity of Neebish Island) is available this week as a paper print-on-demand chart, PDF, and raster navigational chart. The electronic navigational chart will be available by March, in time for the beginning of the shipping season. (UPDATE, 2/12/14: NOAA ENC US5MI50 is now available.)

Coast Survey has built the chart from original sources, providing the highest standard of accuracy for hydrographical and topographical features and aids to navigation. The chart provides large-scale (1:15,000) coverage of the up bound and down bound channels of the St. Mary’s River – one of the busiest waterways in the nation. Over 4,100 transits of commercial and government vessels move about 75 million tons of cargo through the 300-day shipping season.

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NOAA’s paper nautical charts get a needed update – literally

Paper nautical charts hold a special spot in a sailor’s heart – and in the chart table. The October announcement that the federal government will stop bulk lithographic printing of nautical charts brought some understandable angst to boaters – but fear not! NOAA may be changing the chart production process but we will NOT stop the production of paper charts. We are working with private companies to make them better: printed in brighter colors and available for fast delivery to your door. Most importantly, they are up-to-date to the moment you order it. These improved paper charts are NOAA-certified print-on-demand (POD) nautical charts, created by NOAA Coast Survey cartographers.

While the lithographic paper charts will go away in 2014, anyone can order almost* any printed NOAA chart any time, from the comfort of your home, office, or boat. Just bookmark nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/pod to find the NOAA-certified chart seller who will print your chart “on demand” and ship it to you. 

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NOAA and Coast Guard work together to get more surveying done in the Arctic

By Ashley Chappell, Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping coordinator

With 3.4 million square nautical miles of U.S. waters to survey and chart, Coast Survey is up against some big challenges in keeping nautical charts current. A complete survey of those waters would require over 500 ship years and $5 billion ‒ just to acquire the data. It is no wonder that we put substantial effort into a program known as integrated ocean and coastal mapping (IOCM), where trusted partners can provide high quality, standards-compliant hydrographic survey data for a multitude of uses, including chart creation.

One of our biggest challenges is in the Arctic. Whether you knew it or not, the U.S. is an Arctic nation thanks to Alaska, and this formerly frozen region is becoming more accessible to ship traffic as sea ice melts. But much of our Arctic coastal areas have never had full bottom bathymetric surveys, and some haven’t had more than superficial depth measurements since Captain Cook explored the northern regions in the late 1700s.

So NOAA has a dilemma: how do we survey and chart an ice-diminished Arctic when we have limited resources and limited seasonal access? We assessed data age and quality, we reviewed our chart coverage, and we developed the Arctic Nautical Charting Plan for where we would improve chart coverage if we get new data. But our resources for ship and contract surveys can only do so much, and we need more data…

Monitors on SPAR
Hydrographic survey monitors were installed on the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Spar.

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Coast Survey unveils NOAA ENC Online Viewer

For more than ten years, since NOAA introduced its electronic navigational charts, you have needed to purchase a specialized chart display system to view the NOAA ENC® as a seamless chart database. Starting today, you don’t need a system to view the ENC depictions; you can use Coast Survey’s new web-based viewer called NOAA ENC® Online. (IMMEDIATE CAVEAT: You still need a specialized display system to use the multi-layered functional data that make ENCs so valuable. NOAA ENC downloads are still free to the public.)

Screengrab from NOAA ENC Online
Screengrab from NOAA ENC Online

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Better nautical chart images coming to electronic charting systems

Things are changing for U.S. nautical charts. We think you’re really going to like this improvement!

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NOAA nautical charts now available as free PDFs

In case you missed it, yesterday we announced an end to government printing of lithographic nautical charts, effective April 13. Lithographs are part of Coast Survey’s proud heritage, since we started using that printing process for mass-producing charts for the Civil War, and it will be hard to see the era end. (See NOAA announces end of traditional paper chart.) While lithographic printing is scheduled to stop, however, the public will continue to be able to purchase NOAA paper charts as up-to-date print-on-demand products.

As one product ends, another begins. We also announced yesterday that our latest addition to the nautical charting portfolio is the new Portable Document Format (PDF) nautical chart, which provides up-to-date navigation information in this universally available file type. Initially, the PDF nautical charts will be available for a three-month trial, from October 22, 2013, to January 22, 2014.

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NOAA Ship Fairweather surveying ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach for shipping safety

From surveying our most northern Alaskan waters last year, to our southern coastal waters this year, NOAA Ship Fairweather has really been making the hydrographic rounds, so to speak. This month, Fairweather’s hydrographic work is reaping benefits for the maritime industry in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Fairweather is surveying this area in response to requests from the Port of Los Angeles, the Port of Long Beach, and the pilots who maneuver increasing large oil tankers and cargo ships through the area’s crowded shipping lanes. This project will acquire data for comprehensive updates to NOAA nautical charts 18749 and 18751, which provide the depth measurements and aids to navigation that mariners rely on for safe transit. Fairweather last surveyed the area in 1975, and NOAA contracted for a small survey in 2000.

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NOAA Ship Rainier + enthusiastic students = future hydrographers?

Cold Bay's elementary school student visit the NOAA Ship Rainier
Cold Bay Elementary School students visit the NOAA Ship Rainier

On September 13, NOAA Ship Rainier began surveying Cold Bay, its fourth project of the summer. Cold Bay is a small town on the Aleutian Peninsula approximately 540 miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska. The town currently has approximately 88 full-time residents and boasts an airport with one of the longest runways in Alaska.

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Bathymetric AUV shows promise for NOAA surveying

In a step towards greater efficiency in NOAA’s hydrographic surveying, experts onboard the NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler just wrapped up the first extended testing of Coast Survey’s new bathymetric mapping autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). From Sept 3 to 13, the vehicle completed ten missions lasting up to 16 hours during day and night, while the ship continued with its assigned hydrographic surveys in the approaches to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

This AUV is equipped with high resolution seabed mapping equipment similar to the ship’s, including a high accuracy positioning system and multibeam echosounder capable of producing seamless maps of the seafloor.

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