NOAA’s nautical maps go paperless

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is responsible for reporting severe weather, daily forecasts and climate monitoring, but it is also known for printing nautical charts for fisherman and sailors, according to the organization's website.

For more than 150 years, boaters would look at 4-foot-by-3-foot, heavy lithographic maps to see where there the NOAA identified shipwrecks or other hazards in the sea. However, after 2014, NOAA will stop printing these nautical charts to save printing costs, the Associated Press reported. Making a copy of these large maps would cost the NOAA $20 per graph and they were selling it at the same price, which means the government agency never made a profit from these products.

This paperless initiative stems from competition with small businesses that print their own maps with "more up-to-date and accurate [information]," Captain Shep Smith, head of the NOAA marine chart division, explained. In fact, the NOAA didn't have much of a choice because the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees all federal chart-making told the government agency that this cut had to be made to reduce costs.

Despite cutting production, the NOAA will continue to use the $100 million budget to continue recording information about American waters. Users will still be able to access these maps, but only electronically or through PDFs. There will be a printing option available, but that will have to be done at the individual's discretion. 

In the past, fisherman and mariners used the maps to navigate around specific waterways, Smith told the source.

"Think of them as the roadmap of the ocean," Smith said. "The navigational charts tell you what's under the water, which is critical for navigation."


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