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NOAA Offers Free Navigational Charts Online

Mariners can now get free electronic downloads of NOAA Raster Navigational Charts. A raster chart is a digitally scanned image of a paper nautical chart used by mariners for navigation. Before the 1990s, NOAA's paper nautical charts were created and maintained by hand engraving photographic images. NOAA electronically scanned all of its paper charts in the 1990s. Recently, the raster charts were incorporated into international standards for electronic chart systems and are now accepted as meeting international chart regulations for Safety of Life at Sea vessels.

NOAA will produce official raster charts and deliver weekly updates with Notice to Mariners-notices containing changes in local navigational information. NOAA also plans to make the raster charts available on the Web site in an easy-to-view format for non-navigational purposes, such as port security and management, marine boundary delineation, coastal zone management, and environmental assessment and spill response.

In addition, the NOAA Coast Survey anticipates establishing a program where commercial value-added providers may download the raster charts for free, compress, encrypt, and/or package them with additional data or services, and then may sell that product. By adhering to a set of NOAA-specified practices, these raster charts will retain their official status and their original high quality and accuracy. No date has been set by which the value-added redistributors program will be in place.

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