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How to Read

a Nautical Chart

Copyright 2004 - Coast Guard Auxiliary Association, Inc.

What you will learn


Understanding of Charts
Chart structure
Chart symbology

Use of Charts with Electronics


Limits of chart accuracy
Limitations of electronics

2003, How to Read a Nautical Chart, Reprinted with permission

Overview
Part 1 Nautical Charts
Understanding Positioning in the age of
Electronics
Information of use to the Recreational Boater

Part 2 - Symbology
Highlights of Symbols found on a Chart
Summary of Chart No. 1

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Reference

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PART 1

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Chart Accuracy
Historically
Tools were limited
Features were referenced to the coastline

Today
GPS provides astronomical fix
Potential for mismatch

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Historically
Charts related to Coastlines
Surveys used to mark locations
Grid of survey marks
Shorelines referenced to survey marks
Not related to astronomical fix

Fundamental inaccuracies
Accuracy degraded with distance from survey marks
Each chart related to local coastline

Lack of common reference


Each chart stood alone
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Historical Perspective
Cartographers
Emphasis on regions of rock or hazards
Did not precisely depict individual rocks or hazards

Emphasis on shipping
Recreational boating did not exist

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Cartography
Timeline
3rd Century BC - Greeks
Earth is a sphere
Developed concept of Latitude and Longitude
Instituted basic map-making

16th Century AD
Precise astronomical observations were developed
Means to accurately measure distance and elevation
Basis of many charts still in use

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Triangulation
A Survey
Starts from a single point
Astronomical observations

Baseline established
Calibrated metal rods or chains
Miles long, accurate to inches

Triangulation
Precise angles from each end of baseline
Establishes third point
Expanded into a grid of triangles
Mathematical framework for Latitude & Longitude
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Triangulation

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Triangulation

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Triangulation Net

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Model of Earth
Earth
Not a perfect sphere
Need for a mathematical model
Ellipsoid
Best fit works for a region, not the entire Earth
Flattened at the poles (23nm greater diameter at Equator)

Early work
Astronomical observations to calibrate ellipsoid
Starting Point & Baseline = GEODETIC DATUM
Clarks 1866 ellipse for U.S.
Point in Kansas

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Common Grid
Concept of Grid System
Need for common grid
Unique address for each point on surface of the
Earth
Latitude and Longitude

Charts and maps link to common system

Challenges
Need a model for the shape of Earth
Earth is a not a perfect sphere
Diameter at Equator 23miles greater than at poles
Surface undulates
Mathematical Model = ellipsoid
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Grid System
Need to tie Grid astronomical position
North American Datum 1927 (NAD 27)
Reference point in Kansas
Triangulation grid across U.S.
Errors at corners within 165 ft
Based on U.S. ellipsoid

Need for local ellipsoids


Over 20 ellipsoid models used for regions around World
Each is a best fit for that region
Need for common reference
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Today
Satellites permitted first global view
Local grids compared
U.S. updated grid to NAD 83
World Geodetic Surveys to match
Resulted in common reference WGS 84
Based on NAD 83 (the two are compatible in U.S.)
Still errors but best fit as a compromise

GPS is based on astronomical position


Uses mathematical model to get grid position
WGS 84 is default, but others available
GPS SETTING MUST MATCH CHART DATUM
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Issues
GPS uses algorithm to derive WGS 84
Can introduce small errors

Most but not all U.S. Charts on WGS 84


Conversion in process
Differences between NAD 27 & WGS 84 can be 300 ft or
more

Other areas
Slowly converting to WGS 84
Some areas: even WGS 84 errors are significant
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GPS & Datum


GPS datum
WGS-84 (default on most models)
Other datum options available on GPS
Setup menu

GPS datum must match chart


Some charts use other than WGS-84
U.S. still some use NAD 27
British Admiralty less than 1/3 on WGS-84

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Charts

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Chart Projections
Chart is 2-D representation of Earth
Each method introduces distortions

Recreational Boaters find 2 types


Mercator Projection most coastal charts
Polyconic Projection found on Great Lakes

On Coastal or Local Charts


Very similar features
Grid lines of Latitude and Longitude are perpendicular
Shapes and angular directions are preserved
Straight lines cross all grid lines at the same angle
Called rhumb line not same as great circle path
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Mercator Projection

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Chart Scales
Charts are scaled representations
Scale is expressed as a ratio
Example: 1:40,000:
One inch on chart = 40,000 inches on Earth (.6 nautical mile)

Typical scales
Sailing Chart
General Chart
Coastal Chart
Harbor Charts

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1:600,000
1:200,000
1:80,000
1:40,000
1:20,000
1:10,000
1: 5,000
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Survey Accuracy
Special Order Surveys
Harbors & channels with minimal clearance
Accuracy to within 2 m horizontal, and .25 m depth sounding
Identify bottom features > 1 m3

First Order
Less critical harbors, channels & coastal areas
Horizontal within 5 m + 5% of depth, and .5 m depth sounding
Identify bottom features > 2 m3

Second Order
Depths to 200m
Horizontal within 10m + 5% of depth, and 1.0 m depth sounding

Third Order
Offshore not otherwise covered
Horizontal within 150m + 5%, and 2nd order for sounding
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Horizontal Accuracy
NOAA now uses 1st order surveys
As updates are done
Most available charts:
Standard (up through mid-90s)
Position to within 1.5 mm at scale of chart

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Accuracy Comparison
Traditional Chart Standards
Horizontal Position within 1.5mm at chart scale
1:80,000 scale chart = position accuracy of 262 ft
1:40,000
=
133 ft
1:20,000
=
67 ft
1:10,000
=
33 ft

GPS Accuracy
Nominal
Typical
DGPS
WAAS
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=
=
=
=

50 ft
33 ft
<15 ft
<10 ft
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Accuracy Conclusion
GPS
With WAAS or DGPS
More accurate than the standards for even Harbor Charts

Inaccuracies accumulate
33 ft on chart + 33 ft on GPS can be a 66-foot uncertainty

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Vertical Reference
Soundings
MLLW (Mean Lower Low Water) = chart reference datum
Lower of two low tides each day mean over epoch (typically 19 yrs)
Most NOAA charts

Heights
MHW (Mean High Water) = chart reference datum

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Sounding Accuracy
Prior in 1940
Soundings in shallow water using lead lines
Accuracy based on skill of operator
Valid only for points measured not in-between

Today: 50% still based on lead line surveys

Modern
Side-scan and multi-beam sonar
Continuous, accurate measurements

Check Chart
Depth datum (height, soundings)
Source data
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Depth Accuracy
Affected by:
Accuracy of source sounding
Shifting bottom conditions
Wind-driven tides
Barometric pressure
Rainwater infusion

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Electronic Charts
Two basic types:
RASTER
VECTOR

Raster
Digital image of paper chart

Vector
Traced (digital vectors) from paper masters
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Raster vs. Vector


Raster

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Vector

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Considerations
Zoom Level
Digital charts can be overzoomed
This can lead to overconfidence
Accuracy is no better than source chart (at its scale)

Quilting
Some cartography quilts charts together
Adjacent charts may be of different scales
Leads to different horizontal accuracies

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Overzoom

perceived
clearance

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Quilting

datum mismatch
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different scales

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Chart Grids
Nautical Charts Latitude & Longitude
Latitude
Horizontal grid lines of equal latitude
Latitude is the angle from the Equator to location N or S
Typical grid lines every 5 minutes of latitude angle

Scale
Typical: Degrees, Minutes, Tenths of minutes

Longitude
Vertical grid lines of equal longitude
Longitude is the angle from Greenwich England to location E or W

Scale
Same format as Latitude different spacing
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PART 2 - Symbology

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Chart No. 1
General
Topography
Above the surface

Hydrography
Below the surface

Aids/Services
Help to the mariner

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Chart Features
Chart No. 1 Section & Title

Hydrographic source(s)
Chart title
Projection & scale
Notes
Cautionary notes
Inset
Source data diagram
Chart number in national series
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ChartGrid
Grid
Nautical Miles
Yards

Coastal
Chart

degrees,
minutes,
tenths min.

longitude

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latitude

one
nautical
mile

1/10
nautical
mile

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Chart Grid

degrees,
minutes

longitude

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latitude

Statute Miles
Yards
Meters

Great
Lakes
Chart

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B - Compass Rose
True North

Magnetic
Scale
Variation
Reference

Annual
Change
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Isogonic Lines

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C - Coastline
Coastline

Shore type

Surveyed

Flat

Unsurveyed

Sandy shore
Stony shore

Dunes
Steep coast
Apparent shoreline

Hillock
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Vegetation

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C Relief Features
Contour lines
& spot height

Spot height

Form lines
spot height

Approximate
contour lines
& height

Approximate
Height of tree
tops

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C Water Features

Intermittent
river

River,
stream

Rapids,
waterfalls

Lakes

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D Cultural Features
Ruins, Ruined Landmark
Motorway
Road (hard surfaced)

Track, Path (unsurfaced)

Railway, with station

Cutting

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D Cultural Features
Fixed Bridge

Draw Bridge

Transporter
Bridge
Opening Bridge
Power
Transmission
Line
Swing Bridge

Lifting Bridge

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E - Landmarks
Tank

Specific Landmark

Chimney
TV or Radio
Tower
Radar Mast

Spire
Radome
Cupola
Tank
Tower
Standpipe
Water Tower

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Silo
Grain Elevator

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Features
hill
(spot height 800 ft)

monument

stack

marsh

spire
roads

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Photo Chart

Photo Chart: courtesy, Maptech, Inc.

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F - Ports

Dyke
Wharf

Levee

Causeway

Pier

Breakwater

Ruins*

* note dashed lines marking ruins


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F - Ports
Jetty
(partly below MLLW)

Jetty
Submerged

Jetty
Small scale

Pump-out facilities
Quarantine

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F Ports
CANALS

Canal

Lock
on large scale chart

Lock
on smaller scale chart

Dam

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Features

Chart & photos: courtesy, Maptech, Inc.

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H Tides, Currents

Clearance Datum

Tidal Range

Depth Datum

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I - Depths
CONTOURS
Low Water Line
Depth of
Shallow Water (blue)
may vary by chart,
or two blue colors
may be used

Approximate Depth

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Features
Drying Height (10 ft underlined)

Dredged channel (6ft 1986)

Spot Height (188 ft)


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I - Depths
SOUNDINGS
Depth Soundings
at true position
[vertical numbers]

Least depth in
Narrow channel
[number in parentheses]

No bottom
at depth shown

Soundings
which are unreliable
or taken from
smaller-scale chart
[sloping numbers]

Drying heights above


chart datum (green)
[number is underlined]
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I Depths
Limit of dredged channel

Depth & year of


latest control survey

Unsurveyed
or inadequately
surveyed area

FAIRWAYS, AREAS
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J Nature Seabed
Stones, gravel or shingle

Rocky area

Coral reef
Green: area that covers and uncovers

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K - Rocks

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K Rocks, Obstructions

Danger Lines
In general

Swept by
wire drag
or diver

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K Rocks
Dangerous
Rock
which does
not cover

Rock
which covers
and uncovers

Rock
awash at the
level of chart
datum

underwater rock
uncertain depth

Dangerous
underwater rock
known depth

Non-Dangerous
underwater rock
known depth

Coral Reef
which covers

Breakers
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K - Wrecks
Wreck

Wreck*

least depth
known (swept)

always dry

Dangerous
Wreck

Wreck*
uncovers

depth unknown

Sunken
Wreck

Wreck

any portion
of hull
at chart datum

not dangerous

Wreck

Wreck

safe clearance
(swept)

Showing mast
above
chart datum

Foul ground

Dangerous
Wreck

dangerous
to navigation

depth
unknown

* on large scale charts

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K - Obstructions
Obstruction
depth unknown

Obstruction

least depth
known (sounding)

Obstruction

least depth
known (swept)

Stumps, Piles

all or part time


submerged

Submerged Piles

etc. exact
position

Fish Traps,
Weirs, tunnys
Fish Traps,
etc, area

Fish haven
or artificial reef

minimum depth

Shellfish
cultivation

Fishing stakes

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M Tracks , Routes
Direction of Flow

Roundabout

recommended

Separation Line
Direction of Flow

mandatory

Maritime Limit

Restricted Area

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M Tracks, Routes
Direction of Flow

mandatory

Direction of Flow

recommended

Restricted Area

Ferry

Maritime Limit

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N Areas & Limits


Maritime Limit (in general)
Typical: permanent obstructions

Maritime Limit (in general)


Typical: No permanent obstructions

Limit of Restricted Area


look for explanatory notes

Limit of Prohibited Area


look for explanatory notes

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N - Areas & Limits


International
Boundary

International
Anchorage
Prohibited

Maritime
Boundary

Territorial Sea
Baseline

Seaward limit
Territorial Sea

Fishing
Prohibited

Seaward limit

Contiguous Zone

Ice Pack limit

Military Area
Prohibited

COLREGS demarcation
Limit fishing area
Limit airport

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Zones

Restricted
(no fishing
no anchoring)

designated
anchorage

Channel
(recommended)

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N Areas & Limits


Anchorage

large vessels

Anchorage

small vessels

Anchor berths

Swinging Circle

Anchorage Area

in general

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P - Lights
LANBY [superbuoy]
Articulated light

Sectored-light
[narrow sector
to be followed]

Lighted offshore platform


Light-fixed, lighthouse

Lights-in-line [Range]

Aero light

Sectored-light

[on standard charts]


[see notes on chart]

Sectored-light

[red marks danger]

All-round light

[obscured sector]

Private light
Riprap around light
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Q Buoys & Beacons


Green & black
[unlighted]

Single colors
[unlighted]

Multiple colors
[horizontal bands]

Multiple colors
[vertical stripes]

Lighted marks
[on standard charts]

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Buoys

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Summary
Charts are your resource for key information
Navigable waterways
Ports
Channels
Hazards
Depths
Bottom conditions
Direction and Distance
Landmarks for reference
Navigation Aids
Restrictions & regulations
Information
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Navigation Electronics
GPS
More accurate than most charts
Can lead to a false sense of security
Tendency to cut corners and venture too close to charted
hazards

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Boaters Response
Understand how to read a chart
Waterways
Hazards

Be aware of potential inaccuracies


Leave extra margin on intended paths

Mark features with GPS


Plot & note features on the chart
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