Nautical chart

NOAA charts course toward open nautical data

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has been the nation’s nautical cartographer for 200 years, has been shifting the focus of its chart production from paper to digital formats.

NOAA pioneered digital charts in the 1990s, while still supporting an important but declining demand for paper. The demand for digital products has grown steadily since then, according to the agency.

Using digital tools, cartographers can now embed more data at higher resolutions than was ever possible with paper charts. The result has been the creation of digital maps packed with navigational intelligence and tools for maritime researchers and industry, said NOAA.

Last year NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey beta tested MyNOAACharts, an app for Android tablets that allowed users to download NOAA nautical charts. Users could find their positions on recently updated charts and zoom in and out on locations.

Hundreds of users commented during the beta test, according to the Survey. One key takeaway was that the Survey’s distribution formats for nautical charts “were not well suited to mobile apps.” The Survey also recognized that there existed, “an innovative and growing commercial market for mobile navigation apps.”

“We learned some productive lessons from MyNOAACharts, even though we had to limit its use,” said Capt. Jon Swallow, chief of Coast Survey’s Navigation Services Division.

Swallow said the Survey would focus its “resources on making our charts and other products easily ingestible into any mobile device rather than developing apps for multiple operating systems.”

This summer, Coast Survey plans to release a new service that will make it easier for application developers to use NOAA charts in their products.

By breaking charts into electronic tiles, and providing the necessary metadata, the Survey hopes to encourage a new wave of digital charting services and products from the private sector.  Another effort is underway to improve the Coast Survey Web site for viewing charts and publications with mobile devices.

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,” according to the Survey.

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