Catch the digital wave in NOAA navigation products #Data4Coasts

Navigation manager Kyle Ward explains some of Coast Survey's new products at the Savannah Boat Show.
Navigation manager Kyle Ward explains some of Coast Survey’s new products at the Savannah Boat Show.

This week, NOAA’s National Ocean Service is inviting you to explore #Data4Coasts that NOS provides to the public, to researchers and decision makers, and to the many industries involved in coastal resilience and maritime commerce. Much of Coast Survey’s data for the coasts is easily accessible by downloading or by using a web map. Other products, like our beautiful printed nautical charts, are available for purchase – as they have been since the mid-1800s – from chart agents.
We’ve been making charts for a long time – and we’ve never been more excited about it! A quickly evolving (r)evolution is transforming the way we plan voyages and navigate, and Coast Survey is reconstructing our nautical product line for the millions of boaters and commercial pilots who are catching the new digital wave.

Keeping paper charts more up-to-date
Everyone recognizes the comfort of using paper charts. They are reliable, easy to use, and incredibly informative. They are undeniably beautiful. However, with the bulk printing process we’ve used for the last 150 years, paper charts were often out of date on the day you purchased them. Sometimes they were way out of date, and you would have to spend hours manually applying critical updates. With the vast improvements in digital technology, we can now offer paper charts that are printed-on-demand – delivered where and when you want them ‒ with the critical corrections already incorporated into the charts.
Improving shoreline and feature accuracy
The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, one of NOAA’s predecessor organizations, established the geospatial foundation of America, with surveyors setting the grid, so to speak, by triangulating their way down the coasts and across the continent. Now we have GPS. We find that although the manual positioning was incredibly accurate for its time, remote sensing by NOAA LiDAR systems can produce a correction of 10 meters or more for feature positions on charts at the 1:15,000 scale. Those are vital corrections for precision navigation by vessels that can exceed a thousand feet long. The National Geodetic Survey’s Remote Sensing Division is flying the missions and gathering the precise data that we apply to our charts, to improve chart accuracy and update the ever-changing coastline.
Coast Survey's map-based interactive chart catalog makes it easy to find and download your pick of over a thousand charts.
Coast Survey’s map-based interactive chart catalog makes it easy to find and download your pick of over a thousand charts.

Adding free PDF charts to the product line
Nearly 2.3 million charts were downloaded within 90 days of last autumn’s beta release of NOAA’s new free PDF nautical charts. To us, that represents more than two million opportunities to avoid an accident at sea. So we decided to keep the thousand free PDFs as a permanent NOAA chart product. (Find and download your chart from Coast Survey’s interactive chart catalog.)
The PDF charts are exact images of NOAA’s traditional nautical charts. It’s important to remember, though, that printing PDFs may alter a chart’s scale, color, or legibility. Ships that are required to carry a navigational chart published by the National Ocean Service should obtain up-to-date printed charts from chart agents.
Providing format choices for the United States Coast Pilot
There are literally thousands of pages of navigation information that we can’t fit on to the charts. Nine volumes of the United States Coast Pilot® provide information on navigation regulations, facility locations, weather, and more – and now you have a choice of formats. If you need information for a specific bay or harbor, you might want to download a chapter. If you’re planning a longer voyage, you may want to keep an entire volume handy – so you should order it from a print-on-demand chart agent. Either way, with the U.S. Coast Pilot, you’ve got authoritative information.
More forecast information from nowCOAST
For the past 11 years, Coast Survey’s nowCOAST, a GIS-based web-mapping portal, has provided the coastal community with near-real-time surface observations, analyses, forecasts, model guidance, and selected warnings. Soon, nowCOAST will ask the public to test a new interactive map viewer that allows animation, and provides a suite of new “time-enabled” web map services.
NOAA ENC Online lets you see the ENC data without a specialized system.
NOAA ENC Online lets you see the ENC data without a specialized system.

ENC data available for viewing without a specialized system
Coast Survey provides free electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®) to the public, but you need a specialized chart display system to use ENCs for navigation. Coast Survey recently introduced NOAA ENC Online, so you can view the data without the system. (IMMEDIATE CAVEAT FOR NAVIGATION: You still need a specialized display system to use the multi-layered functional data that makes ENCs so valuable.) Since NOAA ENC Online is web-based, there is nothing to download. Users can click on the web map and zoom to selected features or locations, to see the information contained in over a thousand ENCs of NOAA-charted waters.
ENC data available in GIS/CAD formats
While NOAA ENC Online lets you see the charted data and use it as a basemap, ENC Direct to GIS is a product for GIS experts who want to extract sets of features or themes for use in GIS analysis. Coast Survey has translated the electronic navigational chart data from S-57 format (the standard set by the International Hydrographic Organization) to a GIS-friendly format.
The International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requires ships to carry to up-to-date nautical charts and publications for the intended voyage. Beginning in 2012, certain classes of vessels are required to use an Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS). The adoption of ECDIS is on a transition schedule, under U.S. Coast Guard regulations for ships in U.S. waters. Coast Survey is aggressively enlarging our suite of over a thousand ENC charts, as indicated by the recent addition of ENCs for the St. Lawrence Seaway. Coast Survey also worked with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to make their digital Panama Canal charts available as ENCs.
Why ENCs? They are the chart of the future, giving ships real-time navigation tools to avoid collisions and groundings. The navigation system software can continuously monitor the ship’s position relative to all of the features contained in the NOAA ENC, whether displayed or not, and sound alarms if it detects a hazardous situation. Similarly, the software can check that planned routes will provide safe passage for the vessel by checking for proximity to dangers and crossing areas with insufficient depth.
MyNOAACharts app popularity leads to better charting service for private innovation
As good as current electronic charting systems are, future possibilities hold even greater promise. While Coast Survey looks inward to build better ENCs, faster, we also look to the innovative power of private enterprise. We learned some productive lessons during a recent beta test of a limited (and very popular!) mobile app, MyNOAACharts. Coast Survey is removing the app from the Google Play Store on March 29, but cartographers are already working on the next level of innovation in the private mobile app and chart plotter markets. Our goal is to provide all mariners with access to the most updated charts and publications.
Tile services coming to application developers
Coast Survey is planning several initiatives to improve interfaces between charts and mobile apps. This summer, we plan to announce a new raster tile service that will make it easier for app developers to use NOAA charts in their products. By providing tilesets (both single chart and quilted) and metadata, we will bolster the new wave of digital charting services and products. And it’s just the beginning…

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