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Author Topic:   NOAA Nautical Digital Charts
cindalyn posted 01-19-2008 07:57 PM ET (US)   Profile for cindalyn   Send Email to cindalyn  
Has anyone purchased and used any of the NOAA chart plotting software or similar discs like advertised on e-bay? What are they like? How do they work? What do you think of them?

NOAA Nautical Digital Charts Marine Plotting DVD GPS

NOAA Digital Charts, Plotter, Marine Navigation, GPS
'Plug and Play' system

tmann45 posted 01-19-2008 08:37 PM ET (US)     Profile for tmann45  Send Email to tmann45     
If you are asking how the digital charts work, they are great. I have been using them for about 8-years with an outdated copy of ChartView Pro on a laptop for on board navigation. I have not used the SeaClear navigation software that comes with the disk. All of the information on the disk is free for downloading from SeaClear and NOAA, but for $16-17, that is a great deal. Down loading the charts is time consuming.


jimh posted 01-19-2008 08:58 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I have downloaded a large catalogue of charts. I view them with MacENC, a program for the MacOS which can open and display the charts in ENC format. I don't recall precisely where I got the chart files, but I think:

--they came from a government website
--they were free
--they did not take too long to download

What I notice is that in order to view the charts and have the kind of really fast re-draw and scrolling that you wish you would have, it takes a rather powerful processor and graphic card. If you have a really first-rate computer, large display, and powerful graphic card you will get good results. If you have a clunky machine, small display, and no graphic card, the experience of viewing the charts can be a bit unsatisfying.

jimh posted 01-19-2008 09:20 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
OK--I have 613 NOAA charts. They take up about 955-MB of disk space. The download may be in a compressed form that is a smaller file.
cindalyn posted 01-20-2008 01:08 AM ET (US)     Profile for cindalyn  Send Email to cindalyn     
I'm not certain I understand. I live in the Myrtle Beach, SC area. I would like to print out charts and plot routes between Wilmington, NC and Charleston, SC. Can I do that with one of these programs? I do not have a GPS yet.

What do I download and where do I look for the download. It's a free download from what I'm reading?


Chuck Tribolet posted 01-20-2008 09:41 AM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
I Googled NOAA digital charts. First hit: .
That gets you the charts. There's a link there to free software
to view the charts.


tmann45 posted 01-20-2008 09:52 AM ET (US)     Profile for tmann45  Send Email to tmann45     
Ron, the link Chuck posted is the one you want, these are the same charts as on the eBay disks. You might want to study up a little on electronic charts. There are two different types, raster and vector. The raster type look exactly like the paper charts, because they are an electronic picture of the paper. The other variety are a mathametical equations that will draw a chart on the screen, computer or chart plotter.

Link to the vector or ENC variety of the inland waterways by the Army Corp of Engineers:
I believe that both websites have veiwers to look at the charts, don' know about printing or on screen navigation or route plotting.


cindalyn posted 01-20-2008 07:55 PM ET (US)     Profile for cindalyn  Send Email to cindalyn     
I can see now that I'm going to have to do more reading and research on this subject.
newt posted 01-21-2008 07:59 AM ET (US)     Profile for newt  Send Email to newt     
I've had great luck with the free program CHART NAVIGATOR available from Maptech. In addition to the software, you can download the charts for free from this website, then print out whatever you need. Check it out.

jimh posted 01-21-2008 09:21 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Forget about printing the charts. It is not practical. You would need a very expensive color printer, say $10,000, expensive paper, a couple of bucks per sheet, and lots of ink. Most ink-jet ink is water soluble so the chart would be prone to being damaged on a boat.

Why invest in all that when you can get a much better product from the government at relatively low prices.

newt posted 01-21-2008 06:21 PM ET (US)     Profile for newt  Send Email to newt     
Despite the exaggerated printer costs mentioned above, jimh has a good point about printing your own charts. For $20, you can buy a nice waterproof full size chart of your area.

On the other hand, if you like to print out portions of charts to mark your day's fishing spots or plan a route for a one-time trip, or piece together 2-3 different charts onto one sheet of paper, or whatever else you want to do with your home-printed charts, the program mentioned above is very handy. Slip your 8x11 prints into a plastic sheet protector for water-resistance.

Also, for 11x17 prints, the HP 9800 printer ($300) works very well. If you happen to be in the construction, engineering, marketing, or other trades and are lucky enough to have access to a full size plotter, you can go to Home Depot and buy some poor-man's laminating material (self stick carpet tape) and waterproof your full size charts. It aint pretty, but it works!

jimh posted 01-21-2008 11:25 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
To print most NOAA navigation charts on one sheet and at their full size, you need a rather large printer, and usually the paper is fed on a roll, not on sheets. If you can get that going for $299, more power to you. At work we have an HP printer which cost about $10,000, and every month it drinks $500 in ink cartridges.

One of the most frustrating things about these large printers is when one color of the ink runs out during a job. You might get 80-percent through a print job and one ink color runs out. You scrap that job, and replace cartridges.

You can use sheet feed paper, but I suggest you go around and price quality paper in 36 X 42 inch sheets. It is not like buying cheap laser paper in 40-pound copier quality.

The ENC charts are vector charts, not raster charts, and if you print them you will probably not be happy with the results. They were not designed for output to a printer. They were designed to view electronically where you could zoom in and out as needed.

If your goal is to print your own charts, I would scan an existing paper chart. Of course, you'd need to get a scanner. And the scanner would have to be able to handle the huge size. Or you could make a series of smaller scans in segments, then stitch them all together in PhotoShop. By the time you got done, you'd start to think that $20 for a government printed chart was a good deal.

You'll need a computer that can handle large files. If you have a 600-dpi scan of an image that is 36 X 42, that is a lot of data. The file size will be quite large.

cindalyn posted 01-22-2008 01:38 AM ET (US)     Profile for cindalyn  Send Email to cindalyn     
I fully understand what you are both saying. I worked in the engineering depts. of several large international companies and know the cost and problems associated with printing large documents.

I don't mind spending $20 for a good chart but I haven't found one for the area I want yet - Wilmington, NC to Charleston, SC including the rivers running parallel to the coast. Bass Pro and Boaters World do not have any and aren't certain that any exist. I haven't seen any on the internet either.

I'm new to this area and know it wouldn't be difficult to get lost and I am uncertain about depth and obsticles. I've had some verbal coaching but....

I need to find something, even if it's an 8 1/2 x 11" ink jet copy.


jimh posted 01-22-2008 09:11 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
NOAA has published charts for the entire coastline of the United States.

It is fairly common that in each local area the NOAA charts may be used as the basis for other charts which are published by local sources. In these charts there may be additional annotations (such as fishing spots or local gas docks). The layout of the charts may be adapted to better fit the needs of local boaters, such as changing the usual north-up orientation, or by combining portions of two NOAA charts onto one local chart, or changing the cart size and pagination to be more convenient for use on small boats.

We have visited North Carolina and South Carolina coastal waters, and when there we found both the NOAA charts and locally produced charts for sale in abundance.

newt posted 01-22-2008 09:22 AM ET (US)     Profile for newt  Send Email to newt     
A full size plotter will cost a lot more than $299. Well, maybe in Florida you could pick one up for that price, but everywhere else will cost $3-4k. It really is irrelevant though, because nobody is going to go out and purchase a full size plotter for the sole purpose of printing out a couple of charts.

Also, Purchasing a paper chart so that you can scan it and re-print doesn't make any sense.

Here is an example of a Maptech chart printed to PDF at the original scale in 11x17 size.

You can decide for yourself if the quality is OK. I don't know about vectors and rastors, all I know is that on occasion I like to view and print charts and the fact that I can do it with FREE software and FREE charts is something that I find useful.

newt posted 01-22-2008 12:01 PM ET (US)     Profile for newt  Send Email to newt     

Here is the chart of your area. You can also see the larger scale charts that you would need to cover the entire area from Wilmington, NC to Charleston, SC.

cindalyn posted 01-22-2008 09:19 PM ET (US)     Profile for cindalyn  Send Email to cindalyn     
newt the chart you referenced will work until I find a large printed version or get a GPS.

The chart gives me enough detail to show the branches, islands etc of the Waccuma river so I won't completely disoriented.

I did find large laminated maps of this region but I was looking for small regional & more detailed maps like Jim references.

Thanks for all the feedback


jimh posted 01-22-2008 09:39 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Newt--nice looking charts in PDF format. The originals must be rasterized versions of the NOAA charts. If you look at the ENC charts they are much different in appearance.

Maptech appears to have scanned the NOAA charts are rather high resolution. They look quite nice and hold up well to enlargement.

newt posted 01-23-2008 07:53 AM ET (US)     Profile for newt  Send Email to newt     
Jim, charts from this website ,
work equally well in the CHART NAVIGATOR program so I would guess that Maptech didn't scan the originals. Maybe the charts are a different format from the ones that don't print well?

newt posted 01-23-2008 09:04 AM ET (US)     Profile for newt  Send Email to newt     

Here is a screen shot from CHART NAVIGATOR.

See all those black boxes? Each black box represents another chart that would provide greater detail of the area within the box.

On the printed charts you would not see the black boxes, but you will find text such as "(use chart 11524)". Chart # 11520 references at least 20 other larger scale charts each of which is available to purchase (or print if you are a cheap shade tree hack like myself).

cindalyn posted 01-24-2008 01:50 AM ET (US)     Profile for cindalyn  Send Email to cindalyn     
newt, start me over again. I'm a little dense.

I like what you're showing me and I understand the 'sectional' segments.

What do I need to downlaod to access these maps and access the 'sections'. I think I understand that a program must be downlaod along with the larger map which provides access to the 'sections' ?

Yes, I am a cheap shade tree hack. I'm still using a modem I'm so cheap!


newt posted 01-24-2008 08:56 AM ET (US)     Profile for newt  Send Email to newt     

Send me an email with your mailing address and I will send you a disc with the program and the charts for your area. It would take forever to download everything via dial-up.

Yiddil posted 01-24-2008 10:35 PM ET (US)     Profile for Yiddil  Send Email to Yiddil     
A while back I was doing some searching on NOAA Nav. Charts and came up to a site called "BookletCharts". I was able to down load just about every chart for the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay they had and put it on a CD ROM, if anyone needs it...Ill post this seperatly somewhere else, but just wanted people to know about it, could have other areas as well>..
newt posted 01-25-2008 07:04 AM ET (US)     Profile for newt  Send Email to newt     
Correction: I provided a link above to download ENC charts. These do NOT work with CHART NAVIGATOR.

The charts that do work are the raster charts found here:

Hey, it only took me one gig of downloads to figure that one out!

swist posted 01-25-2008 11:07 AM ET (US)     Profile for swist  Send Email to swist     
Maybe I don't understand the full technical problem, but PDF files have become the defacto standard for interchange of complex documents of almost any size. When charts come is some weird format that can only be deciphered by some special application, it makes no sense to me.
Tom Hemphill posted 01-25-2008 07:09 PM ET (US)     Profile for Tom Hemphill    
The subject of PDFs brings us back to the vector vs. raster image issue. Maps and technical drawings are composed primarily of lines and text, which can be most efficiently created, edited and stored in vector format. For this reason, map-making and computer aided design applications typically use it as their "native" format. Raster format is how digital photos are stored, as are scans of hard copy originals. The resulting files are large, and don't lend themselves to easy editing.

PDFs are a good medium for transferring files, especially so if the source application natively uses vectors to store shapes. If this is the case, the resulting file can be viewed at any scale with no loss of detail. PDFs which result from scans of hard copy originals can be very good quality, too, but the resulting file size suffers, despite the compression added in the PDF creation. And zooming in reveals the individual pixels.

I don't know which marine charts may or may not be stored in vector format, but if any are, that would represent an advantage to me.

kwik_wurk posted 01-30-2008 06:41 PM ET (US)     Profile for kwik_wurk  Send Email to kwik_wurk     
The free available NOAA charts are great find, and the MAPTECH Navigator puts them to good use.

For anywone that uses these tools I had a three questions in MAPTECH Navigator:

1.) How do you turn off (deselect) the NOAA notes? (I am trying to have the little black box notes not appear on the map.)

2.) Is it possible to load tidal information from another free source. (Anyone try this, I'm gonna start digging around, see if I can come up with something.)

3.) Does USGS have equivilant topo downloads, I see the USGS has parterned with for-profit companies. (My guess that safe marine navigation is a NOAA priority hence the free maps. This probably not true for the USGS.)


Chuck Tribolet posted 01-30-2008 07:43 PM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
Digital USGS Topo sheets are available from a number of
sources, but not any ONE source. The state of California
had the whole state several years ago (my first foray into

Digital tide info is available from a number of sources
(I use WXTide, freeware, google it) but I don't know of one
that integrates with the maps.


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