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Blog Category: Office of Coast Survey

NOAA Harnesses Digital Technology to Empower Commercial Innovation in Nautical Charts

NOAA harnesses digital technology to empower commercial innovation in nautical charts

The nautical chart – that simple and so very complex map that enables safe navigation over millions of miles of coastal waters – is undergoing a revolution. For two hundred years, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey has gathered ocean measurements and created the Nation’s nautical charts – on paper. NOAA pioneered digital charts in the 1990s, and demand has grown steadily since then. This year, NOAA decided to shift the focus of chart production to digital products, while still supporting an important (but declining) demand for paper. Using digital technology, cartographers can now use more data at a higher spatial resolution and richer attribution than was possible on paper nautical charts, giving the maritime industry greater navigational intelligence to manage risks.

Last year, Coast Survey beta tested MyNOAACharts, an app for Android tablets that allowed users to download NOAA nautical charts. Users could find their positions on updated charts; they could zoom in on any location, or zoom out for the big picture to plan a day of sailing. Hundreds of users commented during the beta test, providing essential insights, and Coast Survey listened. One key project insight was that Coast Survey’s distribution formats for nautical charts are not well suited to mobile apps. Coast Survey also recognized that there is an innovative and growing commercial market for mobile navigation apps.

With input from the user community in mind, Coast Survey decided to cancel further development of the app and instead refocused efforts on improving the distribution system for charts and other navigation data. This summer, for instance, Coast Survey will make it easier for app developers to use NOAA charts in their products by breaking charts into much smaller “tiles,” which are used widely in mobile apps, web maps, and commercial chart plotters. This will empower the next generation of app developers, chart redistributors and software entrepreneurs to create new navigation products, and speed updated chart information to U.S. boaters.

NOAA’s Latest Mobile App Provides Free Nautical Charts for Recreational Boating

Image of U.S. Coast Pilot guidebook and tablet displaying nautical map

Public is invited to try beta version of MyNOAACharts

As recreational boaters gear up for a summer of fun on coastal waters and the Great Lakes, Commercee's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is testing MyNOAACharts, a new mobile application that allows users to download NOAA nautical charts and editions of the U.S. Coast Pilot. The app, which is only designed for Android tablets for the testing period, was released on May 20.

MyNOAACharts, which can be used on land and on the water, has GPS built-in capabilities that allow users find their positions on a NOAA nautical chart. They can zoom in any specific location with a touch of the finger, or zoom out for the big picture to plan their day of sailing. The Coast Pilot has “geotagged” some of the major locations—embedding geographical information, such as latitude and longitude, directly into the chart so it is readable in the app—and provides links to appropriate federal regulations. The app can be downloaded from the Google Play™ app store. Full NOAA release