The Case for Paper Charts (Part 1 of 3)

By Bob Sweet
Author: The Weekend Navigator, GPS for Mariners and former U.S. Power Squadrons National Educational Officer

There has been a lot of talk about paper charts lately. The announcement that NOAA would no longer be printing the “litho” charts that they shipped to marine stores stirred up some mighty controversy and a lot of confusion. So, let’s set the record straight:

  • First – NOAA paper charts will still be available and
  • Second – you really do need them!

Typical NOAA full-sized chart

For over a decade, NOAA has offered “charts on demand” through partners. This is a service that gets you an up-to-date chart, printed when you need it. With advances in print on demand, this approach makes sense. These are real charts like you would get in the chart drawers, only they are up to date.

Consider the business model for the old litho charts for a moment. In this model, more than 1,000 different charts had to be printed and distributed to marine dealers around the globe. But the question of how many to print, and how often, was a guessing game. And then there was the sticky issue of getting back any remaining copies of old charts that had just been replaced. Even then, the charts would get old. Clearly, the old litho process was messy, expensive, and cumbersome. That’s why NOAA wanted to do charts on demand in the first place.

The charts on demand process is simple. You go to one of a host of marine retailers and order your charts. Many of these dealers have printers on-site and can print them right away. Other dealers have them printed and shipped to your door. Alternatively, you can sit in front of your computer, order them online, and have them shipped.

Did you ever go to the marine store only to find they didn’t have the chart you wanted anyway? With NOAA’s print on demand model, you can be sure you’ll get the charts you need, when you need them.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll discuss why you really do need paper charts!


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