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Author Topic:   Digital Charts
jimh posted 01-25-2006 11:10 PM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
There seems to have been something of a revolution recently in the world of digital cartography for maritime charts. I have not kept abreast of the precise events, but from a casual observation it looks like some agreement about exclusive rights to United States government chart images has expired. I believe that this has created something of a free market for re-selling of digital chart data.

Perhaps someone could investigate this further and explain what is going on in the marketplace for digital charts. I think I read somewhere that you can now buy a DVD which has ALL the US Charts in raster format on it for $125. Is that true?

With GPS receivers now reduced almost to a commodity status, and the cost of them so low that every cellular telephone has a GPS built into it, it seems like more and more the distinguishing feature of a GPS/Chartplotter will cease to be the electronics of the GPS and will become the information contained on the charts included or availble for it--and their cost.

In particular, at a glance it looks like LOWRANCE is moving ahead in this regard and offering an enticing combination of electronics and digital chart data in their products. They seem to be moving into the business of supplying enhanced chart data along with enhanced electronics.

Well researched advice here would be appreciated.

kglinz posted 01-26-2006 01:20 AM ET (US)     Profile for kglinz  Send Email to kglinz     
The NOAA enc charts are available as free downloads or on DVD or CD. This is a source that I ran across. I do not know or recommend them. ....Before you can use the NOAA charts you need some software program to run them. I have two different programs. I prefer "Nobeltec Visual Navigation Suite". I also run "Coastal Explorer". "Coastal Explorer" is licensed to Maptech and is sold as the operating system for "Chart Navigator Pro". I'm sure that there is other software out there with more to follow.
Moe posted 01-26-2006 07:32 AM ET (US)     Profile for Moe  Send Email to Moe     
The exclusive NOAA agreement that ended was with Maptech. You can now also download the raster charts from them free at:

It's a little easier to get the east, west, and gulf coast charts in Maptech "regions". Maptech's "regions" for the Great Lakes also included Canadian Hydrological Services charts, so Maptech doesn't offer the Great Lakes Charts downloadable by region, but you can download the US charts one at a time from them. It's easier to download them in groups you select in a zip file from the NOAA website. That also applies to Alaska and Hawaii sites.

I downloaded the MapTech regions, which took, if I recall correctly, 64 individual downloads for a total of 2.3 GB. Again, I'd have to double check this, but I believe the Great Lakes, Hawaii and Alaska zip files added another gigabyte.

The downloads from NOAA and Maptech put the chart files in different directory structures, but you can move them around to suit your chart viewer. That can be the free one from Maptech, but it doesn't support live positioning from a GPS receiver. You must buy one of their commercial products for that.

Also note that raster charts are being replaced with vector charts, Electronic Navigational Charts or ENCs. At this time, not all charts for all areas are complete (i.e. version 2). ENCs work like the vector charts from Garmin (Bluecharts), Navionics, and C-Map, but do not work in hardware designed for one of those three. You'll need a PC or Pocket PC for ENCs. These are available at:

You can also find free and commercial viewers for these, even some for handheld PPCs. As far as I know none of them for the PPC output the NMEA crosstrack (XTE) sentence autopilots use for correction. I'm not sure about the PC versions.

For inland waterways, the Army Corp of Engineers website has TIFF versions of the paper charts online available for printing. Congress has tasked them to come up with Inland ENCs, aka IENCs, but those are still in development AFAIK.


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