Coast Survey wants your thoughts about chart catalogs

Regular blog readers are aware of NOAA chart transformations over the last year, as we transition our nautical products to a wide range of paper and digital formats, print-on-demand services, and web mapping ‒ providing updated information that is easy to access. Next up for consideration is the traditional chart catalog. In a Federal Register Notice published on November 28, we ask for your opinion.
Until April 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration had printed NOAA’s nautical chart catalogs on oversized paper sheets (up to 35 inches by 55 inches), folded them, and made them available to the public for free. Since the printing was done in bulk, and stored prior to distribution, the information on the reverse side of the catalogs was often out of date by the time catalogs reached customers. When the FAA ceased printing NOAA nautical charts in April, they also stopped printing the catalogs.

Since then, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey has privatized paper chart production by expanding the number of chart printing agents through the NOAA “print-on-demand” program. Questions remain on whether to transition the catalogs to a similar paper “print-on-demand” system where customers would pay for the catalogs.
We have now transformed the chart catalogs into letter-sized PDF documents that users can print at home. Produced with digital technology, the catalogs are easy-to-see, easy-to-use, easy-to-print, and are updated as changes occur. The new format has a higher resolution and more geographic names than the large-format catalog, and heavily trafficked waterways covered by multiple charts have their own dedicated pages.

So. Florida chart catalog
The new PDF chart catalogs are letter-sized and can be printed at home.

If users prefer a web-based search for charts, the interactive chart catalog, established in early 2014, lets you point, choose, and download.
Even with the two new catalog products, however, we understand some people may still prefer the big traditional catalog ‒ and so we’re considering a reinstatement of the front page. We could re-start the updating process if there is a market demand and if commercial printing firms decide to carry the catalogs as for-sale products. The updated chart catalogs would only have the front side showing the areas covered by the catalog, with chart outlines and their corresponding chart numbers. They would not show anything on the reverse side. (We consider the reverse side, which lists chart agents, as obsolete and will not continue it. The Coast Survey website now carries regularly updated information about NOAA-certified chart printers.)
Before making the decision, we want to know if demand remains for the large-format chart catalogs, and if users are willing to purchase these from commercial providers, such as NOAA-certified printing companies, subject to their decision on whether to carry the product. Tell us what you think. Comments about the new letter-sized PDF catalogs and the interactive web catalog are also welcome.
Written, faxed, or emailed comments are due by midnight, April 30, 2015. You can email comments to, or fax to 301-713-9312. Written comments may be mailed to Frank Powers, Office of Coast Survey, 1315 East-West Highway, #6254, Silver Spring MD 20906.
By the way, you will always have digital access to the chart catalogs of 2014 and earlier, as we are archiving current and historical chart catalogs in Coast Survey’s Historical Map & Chart Collection.
Read the full Federal Register Notice here.

5 Replies to “Coast Survey wants your thoughts about chart catalogs”

  1. I’ve also began using electronic charts and really don’t see a need for the paper charts anymore. Paper is outdated as soon as it’s printed. Also apps/social media is a great place to see updated information like ActiveCaptain.

  2. NOAA has a fine catalog and chart download system. The pdf charts were great, keep up the good work!
    I’ve made extensive use of the booklet charts and find them ideal in the cockpit. However, there is a great deal of difference between the depicted overall chart coverage and the actual charts.
    Don’t understand how the chart sub-divisions are so inaccurate. My experience is from a trip from Erie, PA across the canal to the Hudson, down the NJ coast, and to Baltimore. The Hudson water depth colors seemed at odds with the scheme on the Chesapeake.

    1. Richard – thanks for your thoughtful observations, and for giving us an opportunity to explain.
      Yes, BookletChart colors will sometimes appear to be different shades. This is most often because different personal printers — at different times with different ink levels — print the colors differently. With NOAA’s full-size print-on-demand paper charts, we require NOAA-certified printers to match our colors within our standards. With the BookletCharts, we expected to get varying color results, but we accepted this to achieve greater public benefits of free print-at-home documents in a convenient size.
      There is also a cartographic explanation for the color differences. Blue tint is shown to emphasize shoaler water areas. The depth curve selected as the boundary for the tinted area is determined by chart scale, the prevailing depths available and the draft of the vessels expected to navigate within the charted area. On some charts of the Hudson River and some charts of the Chesapeake Bay, the chart is tinted out to the 18 foot depth curve. This gives an indication to mariners that shoaler conditions exist in the tinted area. When the 18-foot depth curve is chosen as the boundary for the tinted area, there is generally a relatively wide natural channel or the tinted area is not in close proximity to the edge of a dredged channel.
      On some charts of the Hudson River (closer to Albany) and some charts of the Chesapeake Bay, the 6-foot depth curve serves as the boundary of the blue tinted area. This is done because in that particular part of the Hudson, most of the water outside of the dredged channel is less than 18-feet deep and the tinting the entire area outside of the channel would negate the emphasis of the use of blue tint. In the Chesapeake Bay, blue tinting to the 6-foot depth curve emphasizes the deepest parts of navigable natural channels that are charted in the many tributaries (rivers, creeks, small bays, etc.) of the Chesapeake where the deepest part of the natural channels are less than 18 feet.
      In regards to the “chart sub-divisions,” we agree, the page boundaries on the cover “Approximate Page Index” sometimes don’t match the actual pages very well. In some cases, the match is a bit rough — although the actual pages contain all of the chart shown on the cover limits.
      During product design, the preparation of the cover index turned out to be a surprisingly difficult problem. Now we’re going to go a little into the weeds here, so bear with me… The page overlaps vary from chart to chart in order to give the maximum field-of-view and simultaneously minimize the number of pages and not have a fragment of a page at the end. This means every cover index is unique, making for complex software or manual intervention. Further, if one draws the actual page boundaries on the index, it’s extremely confusing as to which line goes with which page. Therefore, we made a tradeoff: eliminate exact boundary lines and add “approximate” to the index title, so users would be alerted that we had to make adjustments.
      With all this said, if you see a problem that is intrinsic to the chart itself, we’d appreciate hearing about it. Please report chart discrepancies at

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