Coast Survey Spotlight: Meet Rick Powell


Ever wonder what it’s like to be a member of the NOAA Coast Survey team? We use the Coast Survey spotlight blog series as a way to periodically share the experiences of Coast Survey employees as they discuss their work, background, and advice.


Rick Powell, cartographer

“The Coast Pilot is a supplement to the chart, and eventually the electronic navigational chart… This helps ensure that our knowledge of the subject is transferred to the navigator/mariners with little effort.”

Rick and Julia Powell in Shanghai, China.

What is your job title, and how long have you worked for Coast Survey?

Officially, my job is that of a cartographer, however, it would be more aptly described as marine information disseminator/specialist. I have worked in the Office of Coast Survey’s Publications Branch (formerly Coast Pilot Branch) for 20 years with a short, three-month stint in the Nautical Data Branch (formerly Source Data Section/Branch). Prior to these two assignments, I was a contractor for about a year where I actually did cartographic work!

What were your experiences prior to working for Coast Survey?

I was hired on as a contractor about two months after graduating from my university. I worked various positions (database programming, sales, receiving manager) prior to and while attending university.

What is a day in your job like?

A priority for the branch is to post updated versions of all nine volumes of the U.S. Coast Pilot ® to the web weekly. The production system runs a routine each weekend and produces freshly updated files that need to be reviewed and placed on the web development server. The other half of this process involves reviewing various sources as they might apply to updating the actual text/tables/graphics in the Coast Pilot. We all review each other’s work so that more than one person has eyes on the corrections. This is the bulk of our daily work, however, there are always special projects that come our way from various entities within Coast Survey or the National Ocean Service.

Over the years, there have been many special projects (too many to list here), but briefly these have included: litigation, developing/designing artistic media for NOAA and Coast Survey, historical research into source documents,  working with the international community on publication standards, developing investigation item reports for Coast Survey’s Hydrographic Surveys Division and the various administrative duties that need to be done. In addition to the Coast Pilot, the branch maintains other publications supported by the Marine Chart Division (Chart 1 and Distances Between United States Ports).

Why is this work important?

The Coast Pilot is a supplement to the chart, and eventually the electronic navigational chart. It provides additional or enhanced information that is not able to be shown on the chart in the form of text, graphics or tables. It is extremely important to present this information as accurate, clear and concise as possible. This helps ensure that our knowledge of the subject is transferred to the navigator/mariners with little effort. It is much easier to read something once and fully comprehend the message rather than reading it several times, possibly obscuring meaning.

What aspects of your job are most exciting or rewarding to you?

I believe what I enjoy the most is: updating/correcting (general maintenance) of the publications for which we have responsibility; providing a form of local knowledge for folks who are navigating in areas where they are not local or familiar; portraying information in the Coast Pilot in better ways to help translate the information effortlessly. Outside of this, I enjoy developing/designing other projects outside of our branch and division, being able to work with several areas within Coast Survey and the information they provide.

What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in your field?

One of the most important skills to have is being able to communicate efficiently through writing. This is something that is developed through time and experience. Classes are a good start, but practice and experience is the best. This is something I still struggle with today and am not always the best at. Familiarize yourself with the various programs for desktop publishing and presentation (Adobe Creative Suite, Word and PowerPoint). You don’t need to understand all aspects of these programs, just the basics. I also think that a general interest and appreciation for the art of map/chart making is helpful. This is something that propelled me toward cartography while taking classes at the university.

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