By John K. Fulweiler, Esq.

You can’t recreate your youth watching YouTube, but it’s fun to watch the adventures of some of the younger sailing couples. You have two groups. You’ve got the couple representing the kind of genetic fortitude and talent that settled the mighty West, and then you have everyone else. You see, Riley & Elayna of Sailing La Vagabonde can sail and dive and spearfish and make new friends at each port of call and re-anchor with ease in squalls and quote poetry and Christ, do just about anything better than I could at their age. Yes, maddening, but fun to watch. Yachtsmen, they are leaving the rest of the lot on the other side of the horizon.

Still, there’s a nagging nit that hangs around them all whether it’s Riley & Elayna or Tulu’s Endless Summer with Bill & Sierra or Wes & Kate on Wicked Salty. They all bang around the globe with Instagram smiles, making you wonder – if you didn’t know better – what the heck was so special about Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s little jaunt. I mean, these couples film a video or two about provisioning and maybe a video or three on their new sails or some new piece of equipment and then, Bazinga, they’re in the middle of some grand ocean eating hummus with carrot sticks!

But they all seem to share the same fatal flaw. I never see any dead reckoning. No course plot. No paper charts. They all seem to have a singular allegiance to the electronic chart uploaded on a tablet and maybe synched over to a laptop. Not once, in the embarrassingly extensive amount of time I’ve spent as a voyaging voyeur, have I seen any of them refer to (much less demonstrate) a traditional form of navigation.

I wanted to know more. What of these electronic charts? Is there no requirement that you carry a paper chart?

Back at my office desk (under the much less Instagram-appealing glow of the overhead lighting), I looked up the regulations on maritime charts. The first regulation I found (33 C.F.R. Sect. 164.30) set the threshold requirement that a vessel is required to have “marine charts, publications, and equipment” as required by the rest of the regulation. I turned the page and read the rest of the regulation. The next aspect of the regulation set out the specifics of the charts you needed including their scale, updates, etc. And then the regulation identified the equipment you need aboard including a magnetic steering compass, a depth sounder and a whole bunch of other wizardry, some old, some new. Nothing, however, about “paper” charts.

I next looked at the case law to see if I could find a court that dealt with the issue of whether the law requires a paper chart or if a chart displayed on a screen will suffice. I couldn’t find any cases dealing with the issue. I felt a twinge of something; maybe it was a sickening feeling that even without any legal chops, Riley & Elayna might somehow have riffled through the regulations and case law more quickly, more adeptly than I.

And then I found a U.S. Coast Guard-issued Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular # 01-16 (“NVIC”) and a Commandant Change Notice dated July 10, 2017. This isn’t law, but it’s guidance as to how the Coast Guard views an issue. The NVIC’s title was “Use of Electronic Charts and Publications in Lieu of Paper Charts, Maps and Publications.” Bingo! The NVIC gives a great history as to the evolution of electronic charts and I got myself some education on the issue. (A link to the NVIC is available on my website.) What I got from first reading the NVIC is that the Coast Guard seems okay with electronic charts and some electronic publications provided they meet their requirements. The Coast Guard recommends a back-up system which could be a “full folio of currently corrected paper charts” and the Coast Guard isn’t against the continued use of paper charts if that’s what you like.

Me? I’m keeping a paper chart handy. The flaw in this redundancy reasoning is that all these electronic charts rely (to my knowledge) on a GPS signal. When that signal shuts off or hiccups, it’ll be interesting how the fleet finds its way home. The law, in my opinion, should require paper charts be aboard. What say you? Let me know.

This article is provided for your general information, is not legal opinion and should not be relied upon, but feel free to use any of the maritime expressions I’ve shared in this column! Always seek legal counsel to understand your rights and remedies.

Underway and making way.

John K. Fulweiler, Esq. is a Proctor-in-Admiralty representing individuals and small businesses in maritime matters including personal injury claims throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and with his office in Newport, Rhode Island. He can be reached at 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293) or, or visit his website at