Charting a New Course: A Response to NOAA Discontinuing Lithograph Charts

A lot is being written about the “crisis” over NOAA ceasing lithograph nautical chart production. This decision was as inevitable as the decline of the horse and buggy as a primary form of transportation.

It’s simply a story of obsolete technology. The reality is, most of the NOAA charts sold over the past 10 years have been Print-on-Demand (POD) charts. Starting in 2000, NOAA partnered with OceanGrafix to produce nautical charts via large format color printers, with all soundings, corrections and revisions updated weekly, which provides a better, safer product. Over time, all the significant chart agents have ceased inventorying lithograph charts and invested in printers to provide their customers with POD charts. Landfall made this switch in May 2010. Since then, all of the NOAA and NGA charts sold by Landfall have been POD, unless specifically requested by our customer. Therefore, most mariners have been using POD charts for three to five years, with no ill effects.

It is true that lithograph charts were sometimes up to five years out of date because NOAA lacked new editions. This has somewhat been corrected by the POD system as the major changes via USCG Local Notice to Mariners being incorporated into the POD database on a weekly basis. That said, if you don’t regularly buy a new chart, you still have an obsolete chart. Even with an electronic chart chip, if you have not updated last year’s chip you’re still using last year’s data.

While paper charts are susceptible to water damage, most electronics act a bit funny after being submerged. At least the paper chart could still be read with a flashlight when you experienced a loss of electrical power. All mariners using electronics need to consider what sort of navigational backups they should carry in case of electronic system failures. I recommend a complete chart kit or a couple of 1:80,000 scale charts for emergency reference. Handheld GPS and VHF units and other battery operated navigation and communication devices are also prudent to consider.

It is true that the electronic chart always has your position marked, which is a great thing and very important for navigational safety. However, in the old days, we used to regularly mark our position fix on the paper chart. Does anyone even know how to do this anymore? Do you log the electronic position hourly in your logbook in case the screen goes black?

I find chartplotter screens hard to use for long routes, because in order to see both ends of the trip I have to scroll out so I cannot read the chart. This is partly a need for further training on my part to make an effort to join the 21st Century.

In summary, I like the instant location feature of the chartplotter, plus all the ancillary features; range, bearing, ETA, tides, current, and with AIS, a picture of the important vessels around me. Though, being a diligent mariner I also carry a paper chart kit for backup, planning and charting purposes. NOAA’s decision aside, paper charts are still available for those who want them and it’s far more important that you understand how to navigate properly no matter which charting method you choose.

Captain Henry Marx, owner of Landfall in Stamford, CT

From the Bridge

Just a quick note in response to Capt. Bernie Weiss’ excellent article on magnetic compasses [What’s Wrong With This Picture?, November 2013]: Last August my wife asked, ‘Why the discrepancy between our compass heading and the GPS? I have reading glasses with a magnet in the nose bridge…had them resting on the compass. Thanks, WindCheck!

Captain Mark Bologna, Stamford, CT

Coop Scoop

I thoroughly enjoyed Coop’s Corner (Scouting New Territory) for October. The story about the young “mates” building and sending their small “ship” transatlantic is impressive, as is Cooper’s ability to find a story that, at first blush, may have seemed inconsequential. I applaud the youngsters and Coop for a story filled with interest, resourcefulness, persistence and determination, and plain old smarts! They all deserve a hearty “well done.” Nice scoop, Coop!

Don Miller, via email

Thoughts on All is Lost

I saw All is Lost at its opening in New York City, and Redford was excellent. The calm way in which he overcame challenges and disasters was the most memorable part. The presentation of the sailing, though, was problematic and it’s too bad the directors did not avail themselves of guidance from experienced offshore sailors.

First, that boat did not belong offshore. They would have been better off using a Tayana 37 or a similar boat, and a worn-out offshore cruiser would have been easy to find. I wonder how Redford was keeping his many electric instruments charged…no solar panel and no evidence of an engine. None of these would’ve been damaged in the collision.

I could excuse some of the inappropriate things Redford did because under stress, one does not always think clearly, but I’m surprised that he did not raise the storm jib earlier (and that was a huge “storm sail”). Why did he not rig a ready bag in advance when the risk of sinking was apparent? Why did he store his life raft below? Why did he store his safety harness below (and not wear it)? Why didn’t he build up his repair? And then the improbables: A boat with that much water still floating? Going up the mast to reconnect a rusty VHF coax? Hoisting himself out of the water during the storm sail event? And no EPIRB? Still, Redford’s performance was incredible. I loved his shaving, but he should have set the storm sail first.

Alan Sugarman, via email

Dear Alan, We agree that there were some questionable moves in preparation and decision making. Some of those would probably be pretty common amongst many of us and some just did not seem possible. It’s probably one of the best sailing movies to hit the big screen though! Not knowing Redford’s life story left a lot of room to imagine who he was and what he was doing out there. Living out a life dream? Getting away from something? It’s a unique movie that keeps you thinking.

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