The stereotypical image of a weather-beaten sea captain looking out to sea with a furled nautical chart under his arm will soon be outdated. Word is, the venerable paper navigation chart is about to fade into history.
In February, the federal agency that manages the nation's nautical maps—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—said it was moving ahead with plans to phase out its iconic paper charts in favor of electronic versions. The digital charts are easier to update and maintain, the agency said, adding that the move will increase mariner safety by providing more up-to-date information on marine hazards.
NOAA began to phase out its paper nautical charts with its map of Lake Tahoe, an inland body of water that doesn't see much international container trade. But the transformation, which is formally known as NOAA's Office of Coast Survey Raster Sunset Plan, will soon proceed to the cancellation of additional paper charts, based on the volume of sales or downloads. The cancellation of all traditional paper products will be completed by January 2025, the agency says.
For sailors who like the feel of paper in their salty hands, NOAA will ease the transition by providing an online tool that lets users create their own paper and PDF charts from the latest electronic data.