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How to Read

a Nautical Chart

Copyright 2004 - Coast Guard Auxiliary Association,


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 2


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”

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 3


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

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 6


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

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 7


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

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 8


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

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 9


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

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 10


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
Clark’s 1866 ellipse for U.S.
Point in Kansas

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 14


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
© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 15
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

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 16


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
© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 17
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

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 18


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

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 19


Charts

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 20


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

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 21


Mercator Projection

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 22


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 1:600,000
General Chart 1:200,000
Coastal Chart 1:80,000
Harbor Charts 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
© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 25
Horizontal Accuracy

NOAA now uses 1st order surveys


As updates are done
Most available charts:
Standard (up through mid-90’s)
Position to within 1.5 mm at scale of chart

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 26


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 = 50 ft
Typical = 33 ft
DGPS = <15 ft
WAAS = <10 ft

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 27


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

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 28


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

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 29


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

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 30


Depth Accuracy

Affected by:
Accuracy of source sounding
Shifting bottom conditions
Wind-driven tides
Barometric pressure
Rainwater infusion

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 31


Electronic Charts

Two basic types:


RASTER
VECTOR

Raster
Digital image of paper chart

Vector
Traced (digital vectors) from paper masters

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 32


Raster vs. Vector

Raster 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

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 34


Overzoom

perceived
clearance

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 35


Quilting

different scales
datum mismatch

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 36


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

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 37


PART 2 - Symbology

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 38


Chart No. 1
General

Topography
Above the surface

Hydrography
Below the surface

Aids/Services
Help to the mariner

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 39


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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© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 41
ChartGrid
Grid

Coastal Nautical Miles


Chart Yards

one
nautical
mile

1/10
nautical

latitude
mile
degrees,
minutes, longitude
tenths min.

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 42


Chart Grid

Great Statute Miles


Lakes Yards
Chart Meters

latitude
degrees,
minutes longitude

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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

Vegetation
Hillock

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C – Relief Features

Contour lines Spot height


& spot height

Approximate Form lines


contour lines spot height
& height

Approximate
Height of tree
tops

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 47


C – Water Features

Intermittent River,
river stream

Rapids, Lakes
waterfalls

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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

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 50


E - Landmarks

Tank Chimney

TV or Radio
Specific Landmark Tower

Radar Mast
Spire

Radome
Cupola
Tank

Tower
Silo
Standpipe Grain Elevator
Water Tower

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 51


Features
hill
(spot height 800 ft)

monument

marsh
stack

spire

roads

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Photo Chart

Photo Chart: courtesy, Maptech, Inc.

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 53


F - Ports

Dyke
Wharf
Levee

Causeway Pier

Breakwater Ruins*

* note dashed lines marking ruins

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 54


F - Ports

Jetty
(partly below MLLW)

Jetty
Submerged

Jetty
Small scale

Pump-out facilities

Quarantine

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 55


F – Ports
CANALS
Canal

Lock
on large scale chart

Lock
on smaller scale chart

Dam

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 56


Features

Chart & photos: courtesy, Maptech, Inc.

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 57


H – Tides, Currents

Clearance Datum

Tidal Range

Depth Datum

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 58


I - Depths
CONTOURS

Low Water Line


Depth of
Shallow Water (blue)
may vary by chart,
or two blue colors
may be used

Approximate Depth

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 59


Features
Drying Height (10 ft underlined) Dredged channel (6ft 1986)

Spot Height (188 ft)


© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 60
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]

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 61


I – Depths
Limit of dredged channel

Depth & year of


latest control survey

Unsurveyed
or inadequately
surveyed area

FAIRWAYS, AREAS
© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 62
J – Nature Seabed

Stones, gravel or shingle

Rocky area

Coral reef

Green: area that covers and uncovers

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 63


K - Rocks

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K – Rocks, Obstructions

Danger Lines
In general

Swept by
wire drag
or diver

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 65


K – Rocks
Dangerous
underwater rock
Rock uncertain depth
which does
not cover

Dangerous
Rock underwater rock
which covers known depth
and uncovers

Rock
awash at the Non-Dangerous
level of chart underwater rock
datum known depth

Coral Reef
which covers

Breakers

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 66


K - Wrecks

Wreck
Wreck* least depth
always dry known (swept)

Dangerous
Wreck* Wreck
uncovers depth unknown

Wreck Sunken
any portion Wreck
of hull not dangerous
at chart datum
Wreck
Wreck safe clearance
Showing mast (swept)
above
chart datum
Foul ground
Dangerous dangerous
Wreck to navigation
depth
unknown

* on large scale charts


© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 67
K - Obstructions

Obstruction Fish Traps,


depth unknown Weirs, tunnys

Obstruction Fish Traps,


least depth
known (sounding) etc, area

Obstruction
least depth Fish haven
known (swept) or artificial reef

Stumps, Piles …
all or part time minimum depth
submerged

Submerged Piles Shellfish


etc. – exact cultivation
position

Fishing stakes

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 68


M – Tracks , Routes

Roundabout
Direction of Flow
recommended

Separation Line

Direction of Flow
mandatory

Maritime Limit

Restricted Area

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 69


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

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 71


N - Areas & Limits
International
Boundary

International
Maritime
Anchorage Boundary
Prohibited
Territorial Sea
Baseline

Seaward limit
Territorial Sea
Fishing Seaward limit
Prohibited Contiguous Zone

Ice Pack limit

Military Area COLREGS demarcation


Prohibited
Limit – fishing area

Limit – airport

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 72


Zones

Restricted
(no fishing designated
no anchoring) anchorage

Channel
(recommended)

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N – Areas & Limits
Anchorage
large vessels

Anchorage
small vessels

Anchor berths

Swinging Circle

Anchorage Area
in general

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 74


P - Lights
LANBY [superbuoy]
Sectored-light
[narrow sector
Articulated light to be followed]

Lighted offshore platform

Light-fixed, lighthouse Sectored-light


[on standard charts]
[see notes on chart]

Sectored-light
Lights-in-line [Range] [red marks danger]

All-round light
Aero light [obscured sector]

Private light

Riprap around light


© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 75
Q – Buoys & Beacons

Green & black


[unlighted]

Single colors
[unlighted]

Multiple colors
[horizontal bands]

Multiple colors
[vertical stripes]

Lighted marks
[on standard charts]

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 76


Buoys

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 77


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
© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 78
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

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 79


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

© 2003, “How to Read a Nautical Chart,” Reprinted with permission 80