Cartographers in’s Office of coast Survey, naval Chart division practice the art and science of designing, compiling, updating, and also distributing nautical charts. Nautical charts room a special type of map especially tailored come the demands of maritime navigation. Charts show water depths and also the delineation of shoreline, prominent topographic features and also landmarks, aids to navigation, and also other navigational information. A nautical chart is a occupational area on i m sorry the navigator plots courses, ascertains positions, and views the connection of the delivery to the bordering area. That assists navigators in staying clear of dangers and arriving safe at your destination. When a delivery grounding, collision, or other naval accident occurs, the nautical chart in use at the time is a an essential legal record used to assist in reconstructing the event and also assigning liability.

You are watching: The practice of plotting a course at sea is called cartographers use advanced software and techniques to create charts to exacting specifications. Countless processes are routine and are used in an unchanging, organized manner. However, every chart and also every piece of resource material to be compiled onto a graph is a bit different. Thus, cartographers are likewise often referred to as upon to make judgments, based on their years of training and experience, regarding which functions to depict ~ above a certain chart, how to portray them, and also how any type of compilation may impact the portrayal and interpretation that other attributes on the chart. nautical charts are produced in a selection of digital formats, which might be downloaded totally free from the shore Survey website; paper copies of nautical charts are accessible for acquisition from certified chart agents.

Flattening the Earth

Nautical charts (as carry out all maps of any part of the Earth) graphically depict the spherical earth on a level surface. The “flattening” is completed by projecting the positions of Earth’s features onto a surface ar that deserve to be flattened. Because that nautical charts, this is most generally done through mathematically projecting spherical positions onto a cylinder. The cylinder might then be “unrolled” into a flat surface, bring about a rectangle-shaped map.


The rectangular Mercator forecast was very first presented by the Flemish geographer and also cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569. Many nautical charts usage the Mercator projection, because any type of straight line drawn on a Mercator chart is additionally a heat of constant course, additionally called a rhumb line or loxodrome. This makes determining the direction to command a ship end a course plotted on the graph a straightforward task of measure the angle straight from the upright meridian lines on the chart.

The Ever transforming Marine Environment

Storms impact the configuration of barrier islands and also other shorelines. River deltas deposit silt, an altering coastlines and the depths of channels and also harbors. Buoys and also other physical and virtual aids to navigation are set up or moved to boost navigation safety in our ever changing waters. Channels and harbors space dredged; piers, wharfs and also other port framework are added or improved; marinas are develop or reconfigured. Regulations because that recommended routes, vessel website traffic separation schemes, anchorages, and limited areas space approved. Bridges end navigable rivers and channels are built, and also pipelines and also power or interaction cables are laid below them. This are simply some of the thousands of transforms that must be to update on nautical charts annually.

Coast inspection receives information around these alters from scores of resource data providers, which encompass other federal, state and also local government agencies, national and international regulatory organizations, personal companies, professional organizations, and private citizens. Every chart does not change every week, yet every week coastline Survey release updates to those the have.

A Chart scale for Every Navigational Purpose

More in-depth (larger scale) charts are required when navigating nearby to coast (where shoals and also other threats to navigating are an ext numerous, and within ports, where understanding of the location and characteristics the channels, buoys and other aids come navigation, piers and other port infrastructure is crucial to safely navigating to and also from a ship’s berth. Thus, nautical charts are developed in several scales. nautical chart scales selection from 1:2,500 to 1:10 million. Charts are regularly categorized right into the following six groups by range (from biggest to the smallest scale), Berthing, Harbor, Approach, Coastal, General, and also Sailing Charts. This names additionally hint at the graph scale’s intended purpose.


New info is usually used to the biggest scale charts first. The explicate of geographical information is then generalized for portrayal ~ above successively smaller scale charts. This is necessary, because smaller scale charts display larger locations on the very same amount of document (or pixels) as larger scale charts. Cartographers usage several techniques to attain this, together as:

Selection / exemption – fewer features are displayed on smaller scale charts. Big scale charts often display every buoy connected with a navigational channel, but smaller scale charts may show only 2 at the channel entrance. Leveling – shorelines and other crenulated attributes must it is in smoothed come be portrayed on smaller scale charts, otherwise the curves would certainly cluster together to develop an identical blob. A marina’s separation, personal, instance slips might be displayed on big scale charts, but only the overview of the dock ~ above smaller scale charts. Combination – comparable features are merged at smaller sized scales. The same marina might be stood for by a single marina point symbol on even smaller range charts. Offsetting attributes – while neighboring land features, such together roads and also railroads, may be offset from each various other for clarity, functions within water, such together rocks, buoys, or networks limits, are never offset from their true positions. Other generalization methods are supplied to portray these functions at smaller scales, such as combining the explicate of separate adjacent rocks to show them together a single ledge.

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The pairs of images below show the area in between San Francisco’s gold Gate Bridge and also Alcatraz Island ~ above successively smaller scale charts. The photo on the left mirrors the whole extent of every chart. The image on the right mirrors the increasingly generalised portrayal the the very same area ~ above a ten inch wide section of every chart.