The U.S. and Cuba Chart New Waters

February 18, 2017

The United States and Cuba are working together to create a new international paper chart. And that’s big news!

According to NOAA, the chart—which covers south Florida, the Bahamas, and north Cuba—is “the first cooperative charting product between the [two countries] during the modern era.”

Memorandum of Understanding

This international charting effort is part of a broader agreement between the U.S. and Cuba, which aims to protect lives and property at sea. Here’s a bit of background.

In March 2016, the U.S. and Cuba signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU was signed in Havana by Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and Col. Candido Alfredo Regalado Gomez, Chief of Cuba’s National Office of Hydrography and Geodesy (OHG).

With the signing of the memorandum, NOAA and OHG aim to improve maritime navigation safety and related areas of mutual interest.

“Improved navigation services are important for commercial mariners and individual boaters alike,” said Ambassador DeLaurentis, “and it is particularly important as authorized trade and authorized travel increase between the two countries.”

A Focus on Electronic and Paper Charts

According to NOAA, a key aspect of the MOU is to improve maritime navigation safety by aligning each country’s charts. Specific efforts include:

  • Ensuring the accuracy of both electronic and paper charts
  • Eliminating charting overlaps
  • Filling in gaps in navigational chart coverage

But the MOU goes beyond improving domestic charts. As noted at the top of this blog, NOAA and OHG are working together to create a new (and groundbreaking!) international chart as well.

According to NOAA, “the publication of the new international chart, along with alignment of U.S. and Cuba electronic navigational charts, will resolve many navigational issues as vessels move across the shared maritime border.”

Registering Your Emergency Beacon May Save Your Life

February 14, 2017

Last year, 205 people in the U.S. were rescued at sea thanks to NOAA’s Search And Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT) System. But those successful rescues would not have happened if the boat owners hadn’t previously registered their emergency beacons with NOAA.

That’s because NOAA is a part of COSPAS-SARSAT, a worldwide search and rescue program that relies on satellites and emergency beacons to detect and locate mariners, aviators, or individual adventurers in distress.

Here’s how NOAA describes the program:

COSPAS-SARSAT. . .uses a network of spacecraft to detect and locate distress signals quickly from emergency beacons employed on aircraft, boats, and from handheld personal locator beacons, or PLBs.

When a NOAA satellite pinpoints the location of a distress signal, the information is relayed to the SARSAT Mission Control Center at NOAA’s Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Maryland. From there, the information is quickly sent to a Rescue Coordination Center, operated by either the U.S. Air Force for land rescues or the U.S. Coast Guard for water rescues.

If the location of the beacon is in another country’s area of responsibility, then the alert is transmitted to that country’s mission control center.

Sea Rescues Lead the Pack

In 2016, SARSAT supported the rescues of 307 people in the United States—with waterborne incidents far outnumbering both aviation and land rescues. Here are the stats from NOAA-SARSAT:

  • Rescues at sea: 205 people rescued in 55 incidents
  • Aviation rescues: 23 people rescued in 15 incidents
  • Terrestrial PLB rescues: 79 people rescued in 62 incidents 

Keep Your Registration Current

Registering your emergency beacon is required by law. But, registering will help ensure you get the speedy assistance you need if you’re ever in distress. Before boating season hits, why not take a few minutes to make sure your beacon is registered and good-to-go?

To register or update your emergency beacon information, visit

Top Five Off-Season Activities for Boaters

January 17, 2017

Now that we’re knee-deep into the off-season, cabin fever has set in for many boating enthusiasts. If you’re one of the bored and the restless, fear not! Now is a great time to make sure your boat is in tip-top shape, learn some new boating skills, or experience new kinds of seafaring adventures.

Here’s our top five list of winter activities for boaters:

1. Prepare for Safety

  • Take an inventory of your safety gear and make any necessary purchases, repairs or upgrades. The U.S. Coast Guard offers a free pamphlet, “Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats,” that describes the various equipment you must have aboard your boat (contact the Coast Guard to request a copy). Keep in mind, however, that your state may have local safety requirements that go beyond the federal ones, so be sure to call your state boating office as well.
  • Take a course on boating safety, beef up your boat handling skills, or learn some new ones. By continuing your boating education, you’ll not only stave off cabin fever, you’ll also become a better, safer, more responsible boater. A wide variety of courses are available, which can be taken in-person or online. Check out this list of courses compiled by the U.S. Coast Guard’s boating safety division. Or find a class near you using the BoatU.S. Foundation’s Courseline search tool.

2. Fix Up Your Boat: Does your boat have any broken gears? Does the hull need paint? Have you been planning to install new equipment or upgrades? If you’ve been putting off any repair or restoration jobs, take these winter months to get them done. If you’re planning to have some (or all) of these tasks done for you, now is the time to find the right professionals and ensure everything is in ship-shape by boating season.

3. Update Your Nautical Charts: Because GPS is not foolproof, having paper charts on board is critical to ensure boating safety. But in order to be reliable, your charts must be up to date. And each year NOAA issues over 11,000 corrections to their suite of over 1,000 charts! Take some time this off-season to apply any needed updates to your nautical charts. Here are some resources for determining what changes you may need to make:

  • Review the Notice to Mariners, issued weekly by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to provide timely marine safety information for the correction of nautical charts.
  • Review the Local Notice to Mariners, issued weekly by the nine district Coast Guard offices to provide timely marine safety information including the correction of nautical charts, the US Coast Pilot, and the USCG Light List. 
  • If you don’t want to go through the effort of manually updating your chart (or you’re too busy with your boating safety class or your boat restoration projects!), you can simply order new, up-do-date charts at

4. Attend Boat Shows: Boating off-season is the best time of year to catch an indoor boat show. Whether or not you’re planning to make a purchase, you can spend many joyful hours feasting your eyes on beautiful boats, checking out the latest marine gear, and hobnobbing with other like-minded boating enthusiasts. Here’s a jam-packed list of upcoming boat shows.

Get On The Water: Winter doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go cold turkey! If you’ve got the time and the money, consider booking a vacation cruise. Or travel to a warmer location and charter a boat. Looking for a less pricey and less time-consuming way to get on the water? Go fishing! Here’s a top ten list of best winter fishing locations.

Less Than 15% of the World’s Seafloor Has Been Mapped. Can We Finish the Job?

November 6, 2016

atlantic-trenchWould it surprise you to know that more than 85% of the world’s seafloor has not been mapped with modern tools? That’s a pretty sorry statistic. And one that a group of scientists and mariners is trying to change.

In-depth knowledge of the world’s seafloor is important for a number of reasons. Mariners, for example, rely on modern mapping to plan and navigate safe pathways. More extensive seafloor mapping can help scientists, too. Take tsunamis, for example. Because the ocean floor guides their paths, more extensive mapping could help scientists better understand and monitor these often-destructive seismic waves. And because glaciers leave informative marks on the seafloor, more complete mapping could also give scientists better insights into our climate history. 

An Ambitious Plan

Earlier this year, the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO)—an organization of mariners and scientists affiliated with the United Nations—met in Monaco to work out a plan for mapping most of the world’s seafloor by 2030.

Let’s take a look at some of the key challenges, along with some promising steps. 


OCEAN SIZE: With 70% percent of the Earth covered in oceans, mapping most of the seafloor is a Herculean challenge to be sure. But with the right commitment from the right organizations, GEBCO’s goal is not out of reach.

Contractors that specialize in seafloor mapping do a lot of charting for governments and corporations. Although these contractors can’t share the mapping they’re hired to do, one such company, Fugro, has started mapping the seafloor along the expanses to and from its jobs—and plans to share its data with researchers. In the past year and half alone, Fugro has covered a lot of ground—mapping nearly 390,000 square miles of seafloor.

Think about it. That’s about 1/300th of the total deep seafloor area. Mapped by one company. In less than two years. Will more organizations step up to help out with this world effort?


COMPETITION: A lot of seafloor mapping is bought and paid for by governments and militaries, as well as by corporations involved in such things as offshore oil drilling and undersea cables. But because the mapping information they own provides them with a competitive edge, these organizations typically don’t make their charts public.

But alas, there’s hope in this area, too. As a result of its June meeting, GEBCO has succeeded at improving access to government and corporate information. For example, Quintillion, a cable company that pays for seafloor mapping, has agreed to release its data to NOAA. Negotiations with other entities are moving forward as well.


FUNDING: One estimate for mapping the seafloor puts the cost at about 3 billion dollars. So far, the money isn’t there.

But again, all hope is not lost.

Some organizations are stepping up to fund mapping projects. One such organization is The Nippon Foundation, a Japanese non-profit focused on social innovation, which also helped support the GEBCO meeting.

Various groups of oceanographers, explorers and researchers are helping out the effort as well—from mapping out areas of the seafloor and sharing the data with NOAA to conducting biological fieldwork and broadcasting helpful seafloor findings online.

Crowdsourcing projects, aimed at helping GEBCO reach its goal, are also taking hold. For example, Lieutenant Anthony Klemm, an officer aboard an NOAA research vessel, started a pilot project that lets mariners use a one-click software solution to share their own mapping data with the government, researchers and the public.


MAPPING TOOLS: In addition to the lack of funding, there’s also a dearth of properly equipped ships. Indeed, the key to accomplishing GEBCO’s 2030 mapping goal may rely on the development of new tools and technologies.

To that end, an organization called the XPrize Foundation is holding a competition, in two rounds over three years. The contest requires participating teams to create a mostly autonomous device that can map the seafloor and identify certain objects. The winning team will receive a $4 million prize, and three additional teams will be awarded $1 million each. Pretty good incentives for innovation!




Safe Navigation Starts with Accurate Charts

October 30, 2016

12327_lowrescroppedThe 2016 TrawlerFest boatshow and seminar series recently wrapped up in Bay Bridge, Maryland. For those who missed it, Bob Sweet presented a mini-course style seminar focused on helping recreational mariners—whether inexperienced or “old salts”—confidently plan and safely navigate while on the water.

Sweet breaks down the navigation process into three distinct phases, as follows:

  • PHASE 1 – Plan: Pre-check safe paths
  • PHASE 2 – Navigate: Follow pre-checked paths
  • PHASE 3 – Check: Verify where you think you are


Key Takeaways

In his mini-course, Sweet walks through each phase of the navigation process, providing useful tips, clear examples, and helpful formulas. He offers a wealth of information. In the end, he offers this reminder:

Remember above all else even when everything else fails, there are three tools that won’t let you down: 1) your eyes and other senses, 2) your compass, and 3) your paper charts. It pays to know how to use them.

In this blog, we’ll take a high-level look at Sweet’s advice on how and when to use paper charts.


The Importance of Paper Charts


Sweet recommends using paper charts for planning because of their wide view and detailed information. He explains that added information on printed charts, which does not appear on digital charts, is critical when determining and prequalifying safe paths to navigate.

When you are planning a leg to navigate on the water, you are pre-qualifying that leg to be clear of various fixed dangers, both above and below the surface of the water.

Charts use a variety of symbols and notations to alert you to depths, bottom type, and hazards.

When prequalifying your paths, you should always use the most up-to-date charts available.



Recall that your job during the navigation phase is to carefully follow the paths you prequalified during the planning phase. For navigating, Sweet says digital charts are a good choice.

The chart details are less of an issue while navigating as long as you stay on the prequalified paths.

GPS (rather than a chart) is the main tool for navigation.

While underway, your GPS receiver determines your position with a high degree of precision based on the signals it receives from satellites. Your receiver then computes position, direction and speed over ground, and bearing and distance to waypoints you store and select in your GPS.



Be warned! Even though you’ll be using GPS and digital charts during navigation, you still need to verify that you really are where you need to be.

This phase is critical. You must verify your position, using a combination of your eyes, independent sensors such as radar—and paper charts.

Your GPS is accurate but not infallible. Not only that, you could have incorrectly entered some of the information into your GPS. It’s just a machine doing what you tell it to do… assuming that it is working properly. Just about every seasoned boater has had an experience with a misbehaving or suspect GPS at least once. Checking says you use your eyes and other resources to make sure you are where you think you are.


Sweet offers the following rule of thumb: 

You should be able to put your finger on your present location on a paper chart within 10 seconds at any time. This says two things. One, you have charts and they are close by. And two, you have been keeping track of your location and checking it.

Boston Light: America’s First Lighthouse Marks 300th Anniversary

October 6, 2016


bostonlightBoston Light, the country’s first lighthouse, was built 300 years ago on Little Brewster Island, Massachusetts. And she’s been guiding mariners into Boston Harbor ever since.


A Historical Treasure
First lit by candle on September 14, 1716, the original lighthouse structure was a rubblestone tower about 60 feet high.

 Over three centuries, Boston Light has undergone a multitude of repairs and renovations. She has been damaged not only by fires and storms, but also by war. During the Revolutionary War, the lighthouse was burned twice by patriot troops and was ultimately torched and destroyed by British forces as they left Boston in 1776.

In 1783, Massachusetts rebuilt Boston Light—this time as 74-foot high tower, lit by fish oil lamps.

In 1948, under the management of the Coast Guard, Boston Light was converted to electrical power. Today, she is equipped with a 1,800,000 candlepower light that can be seen from 27 nautical miles away.

In 1964, Boston Light was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

In 1989, Congress passed legislation requiring the station to be permanently staffed, making Boston Light the only remaining manned lighthouse in America. Coast Guard Auxiliarist Sally Snowman has been serving as the Boston Lighthouse keeper since 2003. She is the 70th keeper (and the first female) to hold the position.


Aid to Navigation
Boston Light is the oldest Aid to Navigation (ATON) in America. Today, the Coast Guard ATON system—which enables navigators to determine their position, chart a safe course and steer clear of hazards—has grown to include more than 48,000 federal buoys, beacons, and electronic aids.

“More than 73 million Americans are involved in maritime commerce, commercial fishing and recreational boating on our waterways, and we help them to get home safely,” said Capt. Scott J. Smith, the chief of the Coast Guard Office of Navigation Systems. “Our vast Aids to Navigation system started with the Boston Lighthouse and we celebrate its enduring contribution to our nation, our economy and our maritime heritage.”

Happy 300th Anniversary, Boston Light!

It’s Hurricane Season—Be Prepared!

September 29, 2016

Part 3: Practicing Preparedness

Throughout the hurricane season, which runs through November 30, it’s important to increase awareness, pay attention to news and emergency alerts, and know what to do before, during and after a hurricane. Learn how to prepare.

Boater Safety
For boaters, hurricane preparedness requires extra diligence—and extra steps. Here are some tips and resources from the U.S. Coast Guard:

  • Check marine weather: Check the weather each and every time you head out and continue to monitor it throughout your time on the water.
  • Get the Coast Guard Mobile AppDesigned for boaters, this app lets you check the weather at nearby NOAA buoys, including wind speed and directions, along with wave height.
  • In the event of a hurricane watch: If you have a boat, review your marina’s hurricane plan and secure your boat. This might mean taking your boat out of the water and strapping it down on shore or ensuring it is properly equipped to ride out the storm at the marina.


Hurricane Tracking Charts
OceanGrafix offers a variety of hurricane tracking charts that let you track and record storms throughout the hurricane season. Select the hurricane chart that’s right for you.