According to a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration news release, the federal government will stop printing traditional paper nautical charts after April 13.
These charts have been used by mariners since 1862.
However, the Office of Coast Survey, which creates and updates more than 1,000 charts of U.S. coastal waters, will continue to provide other forms of nautical charts, including print-on-demand charts and versions for electronic charting systems, according to the release.
Dawn Forsythe, communication specialist with NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, said the decision to stop production of the lithographic charts involved many factors, including declining demand, increasing use of digital and electronic charts and federal budget restraints.
“The announcement that the federal government will stop bulk lithographic printing of nautical charts brought some understandable angst to boaters,” Forsythe said. “NOAA may be changing the chart-production process, but we will never stop producing paper charts. We’re making them better. They’ll be printed in brighter colors and available for fast delivery ... Most importantly, they are up-to-date to the moment you order (them).”
Forsythe said the Coast Survey made 169 copies of its nautical charts in 1844 using copper-plate engravings. By the end of the Civil War, the office was making 50,000 copies annually. By 1900, they were up to 100,000 a year. During World War II, it produced more than 100 million nautical maps and charts for the Allied Forces.
The information in these charts, however, sometimes was printed several years after the data was collected. She said today’s charts are updated within the week. She added that Coast Survey charts are printed by the Federal Aeronautics Association and sold to certified vendors and available to mariners at low cost.
One local vender, Southeast Adventure Outfitters on St. Simons Island, buys the most commonly requested charts and orders specific charts requested by customers. Manager Robby Bukin said he doesn’t expect the newer, print-on-demand charts will be greatly different than what his customers have been buying. In fact, the lithographic charts are not requested that often, he said.
“We sell a few of them but not a ton of them,” he said. “We sell most of our charts to customers who just want to hang them on their wall at home or in their office or restaurant. And, of course, we sell them to mariners, too.”
Bukin said the average cost for each chart they sell is about $22.
Whether its natural or man-made changes to the ocean floor or waterways, navigators need to have the best, most-recent edition of a chart, Forsythe said. She added that it’s NOAA’s mission to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, “from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun.” She said it’s their job to conserve and manage the nation’s coastal and marine resources.