Have Lithographic Print Nautical Charts Gone Down With the Ship?

The Maryland Cruising Guide, published and printed by Williams & Heintz Map Corp., is based on NOAA Nautical Charts.

The Maryland Cruising Guide, published and printed by Williams & Heintz Map Corp., is based on NOAA Nautical Charts.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has announced  that to save money, the government will stop printing the traditional lithographic paper chart, that has been NOAA’s signature product, trusted by mariners, since President Thomas Jefferson asked for a survey of the coast in 1807.

Effective April 13, 2014, the federal government will no longer print lithographic nautical charts.

Are we hastening the demise of printed maps and charts?  We often jump to new technology and online mapping without adequately considering the effect on the public; it’s like everybody running to one side of the boat to see what’s going on and making it capsize.

For example, the US Geological Survey used to have a very good printing plant that produced maps not only for USGS, but the Bureau of Land Management as well, not to mention collaborating with numerous state geological surveys to produce printed map products.  Unfortunately their leadership with their crystal ball foresaw the demise of hard copy maps back around 2000.  Their printing plant with decades of expertise and experience is now gone.  Ironically, the only thing that is not gone is the demand for hard copy maps.  Last year they were compelled to solicit a contract for the printing and distribution of their topo products, of which they still sell about 350,000 maps a year.  That’s not too bad, for a product that the publisher has tried to discourage people from using.

NOAA is a scientific agency within the United States Department of Commerce focused on the conditions of the oceans and the atmosphere. With respect to producing maps and charts, NOAA’s core job is to provide charts for commercial shipping.  It continues to meet this requirement through the POD’s.  A NOAA authorized Print on Demand (POD) chart is printed within a day or two of the date it is ordered and contains all the published critical chart corrections.

The recreational boater, however, has been abandoned.

“There is no question that many boaters and tourists will miss the days when they could drop by a shop to pick up a traditional nautical chart that was printed by the government. Stores offer more than convenience… They are a valuable resource for local information, marine expertise, and friendship.” (FAQs PDF)

The good news is that, while the federal government will no longer print lithographic nautical charts, they are now testing a new product: during a trial period from Oct 22, 2013 to Jan 22, 2014, they are making about a thousand nautical charts available in printable PDF format for free download.

The new printable PDF charts, at 400 dpi, continue the traditional look, with the same colors. Charts printed from the PDF file, are suitable for planning and public display. Here is where Williams & Heintz Map Corporation comes in.  We have been printing nautical chart books based on the NOAA charts since 1969. We are all set to step up and offer the public the same high level of service they’ve provided over the decades. While anyone can download a PDF, not everyone has the capability to print them at chart size. Williams & Heintz is the printer who can reproduce the colors and image resolution on the paper you select, including wet strength.

So while you will no longer be able to purchase NOAA nautical charts printed by the government, we welcome the new opportunities for printing and distributing charts made from PDF files for you, whether you want one digital print of a NOAA Nautical Chart with your house centered on the map, or thousands of lithographic charts featuring your marina and logo to hand out to your customers.

Update: Oct. 28, 2013 Edited inaccurate content.

Update: May, 14 2014  Williams & Heintz Map Corporation is pleased to announce that they are now certified to print the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Print-on-Demand Charts, (NOAA POD Charts).

NOAA has authorized Williams & Heintz Map Corporation to sell NOAA’s paper nautical charts that are printed when the customer orders them — or “on demand.” The information on the charts is still maintained by NOAA, and the charts are corrected with Notices to Mariners up to the week of purchase.

About hollybudd

I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay. I have a BS in Environmental Studies from Cook College, Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I returned to school for a MBA from Trinity DC. I am the president/CEO of Williams & Heintz Map Corporation, the family printing company that was started by my great grandfather.

Posted on October 25, 2013, in News, The Value of Maps and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. You wrote: “Interestingly, NOAA used to be under the Dept. of Commerce. NOAA is a recent addition to the Federal Aviation Administration, (FAA), which is under Dept. of Transportation. This means that none of the higher ups in FAA or DOT came up through the ranks in NOAA. Hence, they have no history with the nautical charts and see no perceived value […] NOAA’s core job is to provide charts for commercial shipping.”

    A couple of points:
    * NOAA’s “core job” is much broader than nautical chart production. The Office of Coast Survey–one of several NOAA agencies/offices in a list that also includes the Nat’l Weather Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service–is responsible for nautical charting.
    * The Coast Survey–not to mention all the other NOAA agencies/offices–is still very much part of Commerce, as it has been since 1903, when it was transferred from the Dep’t of Treasury. FAA has been *printing* NOAA’s charts for at least a decade, but NOAA is not part of the FAA or the Dep’t of Transportation.

    As a map librarian, I’m disappointed that NOAA will no longer print litho charts, but your conclusion about FAA/DOT’s disregard for the value of nautical charting is based on a faulty premise. This isn’t an FAA issue, it’s a NOAA/OCS issue.

    • Michael, You are right. I have edited my post to reflect this.
      NOAA is still under the Department of Commerce. However,the NOAA Aeronautical Charts that they used to have printed, are now printed for FAA as NACO Charts.

  2. Michael, thanks for updating our federal agency score card and reminding us of all the other missions that NOAA has other than just producing nautical charts. With our map centric view of the universe it’s easy to miss the obvious.
    Another good example of this was about 20 years ago I was very excited to be traveling to Greenville SC to meet with Michelin, one of the largest map publishers in Europe. As they were just starting North American operations and only had a staff of about a dozen people I was expecting a rather modest facility. Hence my confusion upon reaching the address. The only thing visible was a 6 story glass edifice with hundreds of cars in the parking lot. It wasn’t until I saw the giant Bibendum water fountain that I made the connection to the tire company. It was a real “Duh” moment.

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