Stop the presses: No more nautical charts will be printed

Norfolk, Va. – Paper nautical charts used by fishermen and other mariners since the Civil War will soon be a thing of the past.

“Our primary concern is to provide the most updated, correct information for the mariner, and to do so is in the digital world,” said LCDR Denise Gruccio, Navigation Manager of the Mid-Atlantic Region of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey in Norfolk.

Starting April 13 next year, the government will no longer print traditional nautical charts – a guide that helps warn mariners of rocks, shipwrecks, shoaling, and other dangers while they’re on the water.

“I have heard from mariners – recreational boaters – who are not quite ready to move on to the digital world and still like to have that feel of the paper in their hands,” said Gruccio.

While NOAA creates and maintains the charts, the Federal Aviation Administration or the FAA, prints them. And in order to save money, the FAA is going to stop printing the charts all together.

But advanced technology will still allow people to access the charts in other forms, either by “Print-on-Demand” through private companies or electronically on a mobile device.  Mariners can also download nautical charts for free in a printable PDF format until January 22, 2014, during a trial period.

“The printed charts, most of them, if you don’t get them every year, there are a lot of things that change,” said Captain Skip Feller of Rudee Tours in Virginia Beach. Feller must have paper charts onboard his boats because of the law. But he typically uses chart plotters and computers, which update information much faster than the printed ones.

“The paper charts, really other than learning to plot courses and all that when you’re first learning how to be a captain, they’ve really gone to the wayside. Now, everything is electronic – chart plotters, computers with chart programs – and they stay pretty much up to date,” said Feller.

The traditional paper nautical charts have been around for a long time, but now that technology has taken over, what happens when that technology goes bad and you’re on the water? Some watermen have that concern.

“Just in case, if your electronics go down…you’ll always have your paper chart there,” said Feller.

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