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A reformatted text-only version of the brochure . View from the Bridge. Troubled Waters. Library of Congress. Port of Seattle. The S.S. Normandie arriving in New York harbor circa 1936. In those days, the average steamship was 460 feet long and 63 feet wide, with a draft of

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View from the Bridge

Troubled Waters

Library of Congress

Port of Seattle

The S.S. Normandie arriving in New

York harbor circa 1936. In those days,

the average steamship was 460 feet

long and 63 feet wide, with a draft of

26 feet. Today, modern ships are over

900 feet long and 100 feet wide, and

have drafts of up to 60 feet. Their

normal clearance from the bottom is

often as small as 2 feet.

Every day huge shipments move through major ports

Throughout the U.S.—shipments such as time-critical

container cargoes through the port of Seattle, as

shown here, and vital petroleum supplies through east

coast ports. NOAA recently withdrew its tide and tidal

current charts from the port of New York and new

Jersey because they had become seriously outdated and


Our nation’s waters may not be as safe as most Americans think they are. In and

surrounding many of our busiest ports, uncharted wrecks and obstructions silently wait

to be discovered by hapless mariners. U.S. maritime laws and international agreements

require our government to provide charts and related information “adequate to ensure

safe navigation in U.S. waters.” Yet U.S. coastal waters have never been completely

surveyed, and about 60 percent of NOAA’s nautical charts are based on pre-1940 data

collected with obsolete technologies. Tidal predictions for many locations are also

unreliable: two-thirds are based on data over forty years old, another 10 percent are over

sixty years old, and a few even date from the turn of the century. And because dredging

and filling change circulation patterns, even recently published data for some of our major

ports are outdated.


Compounding these navigational hazards is the rapid, widespread growth of traffic

on U.S. waters. Waterborne commerce has tripled since 1947, and the U.S. Department

of Transportation projects that it will triple again over the next three decades. The

number of recreational boaters has nearly doubled since 1970, crowding already over-

flowing harbors. Economics of scale have driven the shipping industry toward investing

in larger ships, and they’re carrying more oil and hazardous materials than ever before.

These factors and others—most notably, human error—contribute to nearly 3,500

commercial shipping accidents every year in U.S. waters, and 6,400 recreational

boating accidents.

NOAA is the only producer of nautical charts for U.S. waters, although many other

organizations reproduce these charts. NOAA charts are mandatory aboard all ships

larger than 1,600 tons and are expected to be accurate and complete. The recent groundings

of the Queen Elizabeth 2 in Vineyard Sound, Massachusetts, and the Glacier Bay in

Cook Inlet, Alaska, have resulted in lawsuits against NOAA challenging its charts and

survey methods.

Under the current system, NOAA is barely treading water. Groundings, collisions, and

spills are damaging and polluting our coastal environments, the backlogs of requests for

new surveys and charts are growing relentlessly, and NOAA’s charting budgets are steadly

eroding. As the steward of safety on our nation’s waters, NOAA must thoroughly

modernize its navigational services to safeguard lives, preserve the environment, and

enhance the growth of commerce at sea.


The Risky Business of Maritime Commerce

Although maritime accidents aren’t as frequent as accidents on our roads, when they do

happen, their toll is substantial: loss of lives and cargo, damage to species and sensitive

ecosystems, shutdowns of ports and fisheries, rising insurance premiums and costly public

relations to repair tarnished corporate images. Below are some examples of groundings

in which the adequacy of charts, tide tables, or current tables was at issue.

“From 1980 to 1988, tankers

in the United States were

involved in 468 groundings,

371 collisions, 97 rammings,

55 fires and explosions, and

95 deaths.”

--Natural Resources

Defense Council,

No Safe Harbor

On March 24, 1989, heading out from the port of Valdez,

the EXXON Valdez left the channel and struck

Bligh Reef, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil

into Prince William Sound.






$45 million,

litigation pending

$30 million,

litigation pending


litigation pending

11 fishermen dead

$50 million,

litigation pending






Vineyard Sound, MA

Huntington Beach, CA

Twelve Fathom Straits, AK

Sabine Pass, TX

Cook Inlet, AK

Queen Elizabeth 2

(passenger liner)

American Trader


Hyundai 12

(cargo vessel)


(fishing vessel)

Glacier Bay



Eighty percent of the nation’s top ten ports need extensive resurveying. For example,

in Galveston Bay, which hasn’t been surveyed since 1937, large volumes of petrochemicals

and coal products were spilled in the 1,240 groundings that occurred there between 1986

and 1991. Most of the groundings were caused by adverse tide and wind conditions.

(NOAA’s tide and tidal current tables for the Bay may be off by as much as two hours.)

Top Ten

U.S. Ports



(millions of tons)

Critical Survey Needs:

Ports and Approaches

(square miles)

Lower Mississippi, LA*

Houston/Texas City.Galveston, TX

New York and New Jersey

Delaware Bay and River

Valdez, AK

Long Beach/Los Angeles, CA

Norfolk/Newport News, VA

Beaumont/Port Arthur, TX

Corpus Christi, TX

Tampa, FL





















*includes ports along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and the Gulf of Mexico


Electronic Navigation

The Wave of the Future

Rapid advances in navigation technologies

have opened a window of opportunity for

promoting the sustainable economic growth

of U.S. maritime trade and ensuring the

protection of mariners and coastal ecosystems.

State-of-the-art chart production, surveying,

and navigational technologies can be

integrated to create highly efficient, reliable

navigational systems that promise to

significantly reduce the risk of accidents

while increasing the profitability of maritime

commerce. Prototypes of these electronic

systems are being used today on military,

commercial, and recreational vessels.

NOAA’s traditional system for revising charts

entails thousands of hours of manual labor; double

checking information, and manually engraving color

separations. “New” charts roll of the press as long

as ten months after compilation, during which many

changes may have taken place in the area charted.


Automated Nautical Charts

The increasing use of advanced technologies for navigation and piloting is creating

a growing demand for digital nautical charts. NOAA is developing and testing a second-

generation automated nautical charting system to enable production of its paper charts

from a centralized digital nautical data base.

Once the master data base is loaded, the

automated system will allow for new editions

of nautical charts and products to be issued

more efficiently. It will enable NOAA to

provide digital navigation products that can

be customized with electronic chart systems.

This flexibility will be integral to the success

of NOAA’s modernization efforts.

International regulations and U.S. law require commercial vessels over 1,600 tons to

carry complete official charts or their approved equivalents. NOAA and the U.S.

Coast Guard are closely working with the International Hydrographic Organization,

the International Maritime Organization and other maritime nations to develop

international performance standards for exchanging digital data. These standards will

greatly facilitate the transition from paper charts to electronic chart systems.


State-of-the-Art Survey Technologies

The value of any chart—either digital or paper—lies

in the accuracy of its information. Part of NOAA’s

mission is to chart and update some 95,000 miles of

coastline and 3.5 million square nautical miles of oceans.

Every year NOAA receives hundreds of requests for

surveys of perceived navigational hazards. As the number

of NOAA survey vessels and days at sea has declined

because of budgetary constraints, the backlog of survey

requests has grown to more than 1,000 since 1984, driving

home the need for highly cost-effective, efficient, and

accurate surveying technologies.

Using state-of-the-art technologies, NOAA is finding

significant navigational hazards in waters previously

surveyed with conventional methods. For example, in

Before 1930, oceanographers surveyed

the ocean floor by throwing a knotted

lead line over the side of the ship,

recording the measured depth, and

then taking another measurement a few

meters farther along. Although this

technology was surprisingly accurate,

it was extremely time consuming and

missed large and potentially hazardous

areas of the ocean floor. About 60

percent of NOAA’s current nautical

charts are based on data collected with

a lead line or primitive echo sounders.

April 1994, the NOAA ship RUDE, using a prototype shallow-water multibeam echo sounder, discovered an uncharted fifteen-foot shoal near the entrance to New Bedford harbor, where the current chart shows a depth of twenty-seven feet. In June 1994, the NOAA ship WHITING found nine uncharted wrecks and obstructions in Delaware Bay’s

proposed traffic-separation lanes. And in June 1995, a survey done for NOAA discovered

an obstruction in the shipping lanes of Long Island Sound rising from charted depths of

nearly sixty feet to just eighteen feet below the surface.


Differential Global Positioning System

For centuries, determining a vessel’s precise posi-

tion has been a major challenge for surveyors and

navigators. Using the old sextant and triangulation

techniques, by the time a navigator fixed a plot on a

chart, the vessel may have sailed several minutes

beyond the plotted position. At sea, knowing where

you were is not good enough, particularly in adverse

weather conditions, when visibility is limited.

This problem was overcome in 1993, when the

Global Positioning System (GPS) became operational.

Although initially designed for military use, GPS has

proven invaluable for civil use as well. A far cry from

traditional plotting methods, GPS satellites beam

their signals from a fixed point on shore—such as a

U.S. Coast Guard radio beacon—enable a ship to

pinpoint its location within three to five meters. By

1996, the majority of U.S. waters should have

differential GPS coverage. NOAA is working closely

with the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure that the differen-

tial GPS locations are accurately connected to charts

through the National Spatial Reference System.

Using a side-scan sonar, the NOAA ship

WHITING recently detected thirteen

dangerous rocks (circled) in Nantucket

Sound that were previously missed by

less accurate survey methods. The

Sound is heavily trafficked by recreational

boaters, large passenger ferries,

commercial fishing boats and fuel oil barges

supplying Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.


Multibeam echo

  • sounders collect wide
  • swaths of precise depth
  • data. (2) Side-scan sonar
  • detects hazards by producing
  • images of strips of the sea
  • floor. (3) Airborne laser
  • systems can provide an
  • accurate, cost-effective
  • alternative to sonar surveys
  • in many areas. (4) Satellite
  • signals are received simul-
  • taneously at the survey

vessel and helicopter and a known point on shore. (5) Corrections to the satellite signals

are instantaneously transmitted from shore to the survey vessel and helicopter, providing

accurate positioning within three to five meters.


Real-Time Tide and Current Systems

Half of the tidal stations in the

country today are based on a system

that requires going to the station and

physically collecting tidal measure-

ments recorded every six minutes on

tape. The data are used to develop

tidal datums and tidal prediction

tables for the area.

A port’s maritime mission is to maximize both the

efficient movement of ocean-borne cargo and the safety

of the vessels visiting its shores. Whether channels are

dredged through soft sediment or carved in granite,

deepening or widening them is very difficult and costly.

As the average size of today’s commercial ships continues

to grow, the margins between their bottoms and the floors

Mechanical tidal gauges were first used in

the U.S. in the 1850’s. This old wooden station,

used in 1897 in Fort Hamilton, NY, is one of

the earliest examples of a real-time, tide-

measuring mechanism. On entering or leaving

the port, mariners would view this station

through binoculars to check the water level.

of the channels they sail through are shrinking. Maneuverability is increasingly restricted,

raising the risk of oil spills and accidents involving other hazardous materials.

The growing unacceptability of this risk can be seen in today’s soaring cleanup and liti-

gation costs. Yet, accompanying the demand for enhanced environmental protection is

industry’s shift to “just-in-time” manufacturing, along with strong consumer demand for

competitive prices. Because of uncertainty about tides and currents, large commercial

carriers and tankers are delayed at ports and offshore as they wait for optimal transit conditions.


Physical Oceanographic Real-

Time Systems allow ships to

access real-time nautical data

from a variety of instruments

at several locations in ports and

harbors. (1) The Acoustic Dop-

pler Current Profiler (ADCP)

measures the speed and direction

of the current at various depths

between the surface of the water

and the sea floor. (2) A receiver

near the ADCP transmits the

information to a central receiving





Current With




station, which may be many miles away. (3) NOAA water-level stations throughout the area

automatically relay to computers at the central receiving station information on water levels,

winds, and water temperatures. (4) The central receiving station makes this information avail-

able to the public via telephone using a voice data system, via PC/modem dial-up systems, and

via Internet. The National Weather Service also accesses this information for broadcast over

NOAA Weather Radio.


With state-of-the art digital technologies, real-time and

predicted tide and current information is available by

telephone or computer. This data plot from Baltimore

Harbor shows the great disparity between the

predicted astronomical tides (blue), which do not

include the effects of winds and river flows, and the

actual tides (red), which can be predicted by

modern techniques.

With accurate, real-time information and modern forecasts, newer, deeper-draft ships can

safely adjust loads to use the available draft margins. Physical Oceanographic Real-Time

Systems (PORTS) allow ships—berthed or under way—to access real-time data from a

variety of instruments that measure currents, winds, and waves, along with water levels (tides),

depths, temperatures, and salinity. These data enable much more accurate tide and current

predictions, reducing travel delays and increasing traffic-handling capabilities. They are also

instrumental in preventing and responding to spills of hazardous materials and oil, predicting

coastal floods, and conducting scientific research. The success of PORTS in Tampa Bay, FL,

is fueling support for the establishment of these systems at other ports around the country.


Electronic Chart Systems

This close-up of an electronic

chart system displays precise

information on the ship’s

position, course, speed, draft,

soundings, way points, and

warning system. The circles

show the ship’s distance from

various fixed points and

other vessels. The dotted red

line shows the ship’s planned

route; the solid white line, the

actual course taken; and the

dotted yellow line, the pro-

jected course of the ship if it

doesn’t turn at the specified


Electronic chart systems will

radically change the face of maritime

navigation. They can accurately

display a vessel’s real-time location,

automatically update that information

every one to two seconds, and

distinguish among floating aids to navigation, vessels,

and points of land. Radar images can be superimposed

on thse “smart charts,” along with data from real-time tide,

current, and marine weather-forecasting systems. And by

analyzing a vessel’s course and speed and the nautical chart

data, these systems can instantaneously detect hazards,

estimate how long it would take torun into them, and automatically sound an alarm.

The simplest electronic chart system can be run on an inexpensive laptop computer,

while fully functional systems require more sophisticated computer interfaces and displays.

The former are already being used by yachtsmen and small fishing vessels, and the latter

by large ships, such as tankers, freighters, and ferries.

Although the simplest electronic chart systems don’t support all the functions

of their more sophisticated counterparts, they meet the safety needs of many

small vessels and can cost less than a thousand dollars.


Hailed as the most significant advance in navigation

since the advent of radar, electronic charts can

provide mariners with all the information they

need for safe and efficientnavigation. This

electronic system aboard the Clipper Cruise

Lines’ NANTUCKET CLIPPER” gives the

captain both a broad overview and detailed

close-ups of navigational aids and hazards in the

surrounding area.

A joint U.S.—Canadian study of West

Coast shipping completed in July 1990

found that electronic chart systems

could reduce the total number of acci-

dents by 15-19 percent. Recent analysis

by the Marine Policy Center in Woods

Hole, MA, produced similar estimates of preventable accidents and indicated that using

electronic charts could avert losses averaging $3 million a day.

The U.S. Coast Guard and NOAA are participating in a joint government—industry pro-

ject to demonstrate, test, and evaluate the Electronic Chart Display and Information System

(ECDIS). By dramatically increasing the speed, ease, and accuracy of performing navi-

gational tasks and help navigators concentrate on avoiding collisions and groundings.

Today’s most sophisticated systems incorporate artificial intelligence. A prototype system

is in use in tanker operations on the West Coast. If no one aboard responds to the automatic

alarm built into the electronic chart system, the system gives the ship a rudder command and

the ship automatically turns away from the hazard.


In August 1993, the cruise ship Yorktown Clipper struck a charted,

underwater rock in Glacier Bay. Although the 175 passengers and crew

members escaped injury, and the pristine environment of Glacier Bay

National Park remained unspoiled, the ship’s hull was ruptured in

several places, with damages amounting to about $3 million. The

National Transportation Safety Board found that the accident’s probable

causes were failure to plot the ship’s courses and positions and inadequate oversight of the ship’s navigation. It noted

that an electronic chart system would reduce the risk of groundings by providing watch officers a continuous, accurate

display of their position and by giving them “more time and better information for projecting any proposed maneuver

and judging its consequences.” The repaired Yorktown Clipper now has an electronic chart system, even though full

approval and availability of certified digital data are yet to come.

“If an electronic charting system

and the DGPS (differential global

positioning system) had been

available and installed on inland

towing vessels such as the

Mauvilla, the accident at the

Big Bayou Canot railroad

bridge could have been avoided.”

--National Transportation Safety


In September 1993, in a dense fog near Mobile, Alabama, the tug Mauville and its

barge rammed into a railroad bridge, causing the subsequent derailment of an

Amtrack train. Of the 210 passengers, 47 were killed and numerous others were



Potential Losses of Natural Resources From Spills of Hazardous


Every day ships carry hazardous

commodities into U.S. ports. A spill

the size of the Exxon Valdez spill,

shown along the East and West Coasts

of the United States, would have

devastating consequences for our

nation’s marine sanctuaries and estuarine

reserves—not to mention the millions of

tourist dollars lost from beach closings.



S.C. Delaney/U.S.EPA

The table that follows estimates (in 1990

dollars) damages from spills of hazardous

cargo as they relate to fourteen categories

of fish, sea birds, and marine mammals.

It accounts for lost revenue from the closing

of shellfish beds, decreases in the size and

productivity of fisheries, changes in fish

market prices, and effects on seafood pro-

cessors and other supporting businesses.


Spill Size





(8,000 gal.)

(4,000,000 gal.)

Mobile, AL

Anchorage/Cook Inlet, AK

San Francisco, CA

Tampa, FL

Chesapeake North/Baltimore, MD

Wilmington, NC

Philadelphia/Delaware Bay, PA

Providence, RI

Houston/Galveston, TX

Puget Sound, WA




#1 Fuel Oil



#6 Fuel Oil
























Sources: Alaska Fish and Game, vol.21, no.4, U.S. Coast Guard, Port Needs Study.


In the Race for Modernization

All Winners

Historically, the shipping industry and the military have been the primary users of

NOAA’s navigational services. Over the years, their demand for accurate, reliable navi-

gational information and services has grown steadily with the nation’s economic and

military strength. Many other users – commercial fishermen, tug’ and barge operators,

recreational boaters, the survey community, and coastal zone managers, engineers, and

scientist – have benefited as well, along with society at large.

NOAA’s modernization program is essential to the efficient provision of today’s and

tomorrow’s navigational services. All of these groups will be winners in safer, more

predictable waters.

Commercial Shipping

The health of maritime commerce is critical to the health of the U.S. economy. More

than 98 percent of our nation’s foreign trade by weight is carried by sea. In 1990, 850

million tons of cargo valued at $500 billion moved through our waterways and in 1991 the

commercial shipping industry supported 1.5 million jobs, provided personal income of

$52 billion, and generated $14 billion in federal taxes and $5.3 billion in state and local

taxes. While foreign trade accounts for more than 20 percent of our national’s gross

domestic product today, it is expected to climb to 30 percent by the year 2000.


Efficiency and safety dictate the bottom line of today’s intensely competitive shipping

industry. Shipping delays caused by taking longer routes around poorly charted areas or

waiting for confirmation of uncertain tides can cost the industry as much as $3,000 an

hour. Inches matter. The coal industry, for example, can be seriously damaged if ships

can’t be fully loaded or if smaller vessels have to be used. And the cleanup and environ-

mental costs of an oil spill continue to rise.

The potential for environmental damage from future oil spills is significant, given that

petroleum and petroleum-related products account for over half of the total ton-miles of

all waterborne commodities, and our nation’s dependence on imported oil continues to

grow. Largly in response to the EXXON Valdez grounding, Congress enacted the Oil

Spill Prevention Act in 1990, requiring all oil tankers to have double hulls by 2015. The

incremental cost of this retrofitting is estimated to be $10-$20 billion. Although double

hulls should reduce the volume of spills by about 70 percent, they won’t prevent

accidents and about 30 percent of the oil carried by the ships in those accidents will still

escape into our waters.

Analysis of the Valdez voyage has shown four distinct points at which an alarm would

have sounded if an electronic chart system had been in use. When compared to EXXON’s

estimated $3 billion cleanup cost, the $100,000 price tag for the most sophisticated

electronic chart system (or even the $160 million cost for modernizing NOAA’s navi-

gational services) might be viewed as a mere drop in the ocean.


Real-World Profits from

Real-Time Technologies

The international trend in commercial shipping is toward

fewer but larger vessels. With better information about water

levels, currents, and obstructions, the newer deeper-draft ships

can enter U.S. harbors and carry more cargo for export.

The Association of Maryland Pilots recently raised Baltimore’s

maximum draft from 39.5 feet to 41 feet—a direct result of the

pilots’ use of real-time water-level data from NOAA gauges in

Chesapeake Bay. Similar impacts have been seen in the

Delaware River and Bay System, in Portland, Oregon, and in

Tampa, Florida. Estimated revenue increases range from

$36,000 to $288,000 for each additional foot of draft for

large bulk and container ships.

National economic models indicate that if port shoaling or

uncertainty about water levels added one percent to the cost of

crude petroleum imports, $3.1 billion would be lost from our

gross domestic product, alone with 61,000 jobs.

“…had it (ECDIS) been installed on

the EXXON Valdez, that ill-fated tanker likely would

never have run aground.”

--Technology Review, October 1994


National Defense

Because of its ongoing need to maintain sea power,

the U.S. military will be a primary beneficiary of

NOAA’s modernization program. Over 40 percent of

the charts NOAA publishes are purchased by the U.S.

military. Charts and data necessary to submarine and

surface navigation are used by the Navy in training

exercises and are essential to military preparedness.

During Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield, the

most intensive buildup of American forces in history,

U.S. ports handled two-thirds of the military cargo.

U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy is committed to outfitting

the bridges on all of its ships with

electronic chart systems over the next

four to five years.

The navigational information the military depends on today is incomplete, and six of

the Navy’s home ports critically need more accurate and reliable data. For example,

Norfolk naval base, the largest naval port in the world, houses a vast fleet of deep-draft

ships and is a major thoroughfare for large commercial ships and barge traffic. Numerous

obstructions throughout the area need investigation, and the port’s sandy, silty bottom is

constantly changing. With contemporary surveys, a fully operational real-time marine

forecasting system, and electronic charts on the bridges of all of its ships, the U.S. Navy

will be in a far better position to respond quickly and efficiently to military emergencies.


Commercial Fishing

Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States.

Each year an average of 250 fishing vessels are lost along the Atlantic, Gulf, Pacific, and

Alaskan coasts, and over 100 fisherman lose their lives at sea. Alarmed by these statistics,

Congress passed the Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act of 1988, including

a requirement that fishing vessels on the high seas carry nautical charts and a full set of

navigational equipment.

Many fishing accidents are caused by human error and occur in remote areas that are

poorly charted. Electronic chart systems with accurate data can help fishermen reduce

groundings by 80 percent. Besides making navigation safer for commercial fisherman,

modernizing NOAA’s navigational services will increase

their operational efficiency by reducing gear damage and

losses from accidents and will boost their productivity by

facilitating their search for fishing grounds.

Commercial fishermen will also reap benefits from the

environmental protection that modernized navigation

affords. When the Glacier Bay grounded in Cook Inlet

in 1987, spilling 130,000 gallons of oil, the local fishery

was closed for the entire year, resulting in $50 million in

damages and lost revenues, and decreases in the size and

productivity of the fishery. By making navigation safer

Commercial fishing is a major national

industry. In 1992, about 9.6 billion

pounds of fish, valued at about $3.7

billion, were landed at U.S. ports.

Today, commercial fishing operations

employ over 364,000 people and supply

thousands of supermarkets, speciality stores

and restaurants throughout the country.


for commercial shippers, electronic technologies will reduce the risk of spills of oil and

hazardous materials and thus will protect national fishing grounds and nurseries.

Recreational Boating and Tourism

Between 1970 and 1993, the number of

recreational boats owned by Americans nearly

doubled—from 8.8 million to 16.5 million. This

increase in the number of mariners who navigate

in areas not frequented by commercial shippers

or the military has heightened the need for

modern navigational services and new charts.

Because recreational boaters have limited

storage space, they often navigate without

information and tools critical to their safety. With

electronic chart software that can run on laptop

computers, all the necessary navigational infor-

mation is available in one easy-to-use, compact

format that shows shoreside features and


Although the number of fatalities from

recreational boating has decreased over the last

thirty years, accidents and injuries have steadily

climbed and the reported property damages

have increased sevenfold to $35 million.

Electronic navigational technologies will

help yachtsmen safeguard their lives and their



Private Value-Added Sectors

Products developed by the U.S. government are not copyrighted. They can be freely

reproduced or modified to fit particular applications. About a dozen U.S. companies copy

NOAA charts and repackage them in a variety of formats for resale. If NOAA were

unable to conduct the surveys and construct the charts on which these off-shoots are

based, these companies wouldn’t have the resources to produce the products they do


The strong demand for modern navigational systems and the clear opportunities for

exploiting leading-edge technologies have prompted several companies to test the waters.

The new industries that will result from the continued demand will create skilled jobs,

personal income and tax revenue.


Coastal Management and Research

The increasing use of geographic information systems by government agencies, coastal

managers, engineers, and scientists is fueling the demand for digital data from nautical

charts and marine-forecasting systems that they can customize to meet their diverse needs.

Tidal datums, which define all legal boundaries along coastal areas, are becoming

essential to all legislators and decision makers for coastal resource development and

management, transportation, recreation, public works projects and emergency planning

and evacuation. By analyzing digital chart data, coastal managers can calculate how

far from the high-tide line real estate developers

should construct new buildings and accom-

panying infrastructure to protect them against

erosion and floods. Or they can develop maps

that identify wetlands, local sources of pol-

lution, and other data critical for the sustained

vitality of the area’s natural resources.

Photogrammetric mapping of coastlines can provide

information for managing cleanup activities, characterizing

benthic communities and marine habitats, measuring

nearshore topography, assessing environmental damage,

and delineating shorelines.


Reinventing NOAA’s Navigational Mission

Launching a New Era

Steadily decreasing resource levels have forced

severe cutbacks in NOAA’s navigational services.

At the present level of effort and using current

techniques, surveying today’s critical areas

would take forty years. NOAA’s modernization

strategy would more than double productivity,

with only a 50 percent increase in resources.


Over the past decade, NOAA’s resources for performing its basic ongoing mission

have been steadily eroding. As electronic chart systems become standard equipment

on commercial vessels and as local, national, and international authorities certify their

use, the demand for NOAA to modernize its navigational services will rise dramatically.

The challenge for NOAA will be to increase the quantity, quality and speed of delivering

these services for the same amount of money or less than it is spending today.

NOAA has devised a five-year modernization strategy that could achieve this vision

and at the same time eliminate the backlogs that are inundating its staff. NOAA’s

current annual budget for providing navigational services and products is approximately

$50 million. Modernization would cost an additional $30 million a year over five years.

Beyond that point, the efficiencies of a thoroughly electronic operation would kick in,

and NOAA’s current resource levels should be sufficient to fully respond to future


Federal funding will constitute a major portion of NOAA’s modernization investment

portfolio. NOAA will also explore the potential for sharing costs with other federal,

state, and local agencies; entering into public-private partnerships; using Cooperative

Research and Development Agreements; contracting for services; and commercializing

its products. In the true spirit of reinventing government, this modernization will pave

the way for entrepreneurs to transform the business of providing navigational products

and services.


NOAA’s Five-Year Modernization Strategy

  • Modernize surveying services - $40 M
  • Accelerate surveying of areas of critical need around major harbors and their approaches.
  • Use state-of-the-art sonar and laser survey technologies and platforms to obtain more
  • extensive coverage with greater detail.
  • Ensure the quality of survey data from NOAA ships and a wide range of other sources,
  • including contracts, cooperative projects, and partnerships.
  • Modernize nautical charting services - $30 M
  • Fully load the automated charting system data base.
  • Convert to digital production of paper charts and electronic chart data.
  • Accelerate publication of new and revised chart products.
  • Modernize marine forecasting services - $30 M
  • Develop PORTS capability in ten major U.S. ports.
  • Complete modernization of the National Water Level Observation Network with the
  • Next Generation Water Level Measurement System.
  • Modernize tidal prediction products.
  • Maintain a National Water Level and Coastal Circulation Data Center.
  • Modernize survey fleet - $60 M
  • Replace the three remaining survey ships.

Collecting Survey and Real-Time Data

State and local coastal resource managers are seeking more complete and more

current digital data for nautical charts in their areas and for other applications related to

coastal management. NOAA has begun to form alliances with these managers to support

the collection of local navigational and survey data.

For example, NOAA recently arranged a partnership with the New York-New Jersey

Port Authority, the Sandy Hook Pilot’s Association, and the Coast Guard to provide

real-time observations and forecasting at Bergen Point, the most hazardous turn in the

New York-New Jersey harbor. And through cooperative efforts with local interest groups,

real-time data are now available on the water levels of the Columbia River and the

Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. Other ports and shipping lanes can be similarly served

through arrangements for joint operation and maintenance.

NOAA will take advantage of is authority to retain private contractors to conduct

hydrographic surveys to NOAA specifications. NOAA will also work closely with the

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Geological Survey to share

data and to avoid duplication of efforts. The goal will be to ensure that all of the most

critical areas in the contiguous United States are surveyed within five years of imple-

menting the modernization strategy (ten years for Alaska). At the same time, NOAA

will maintain an in-house, state-of-the-art capability for collecting hydrographic data

to enable it to set standards, train personnel, develop and test advanced technology, and

meet national requirements.


Disseminating NOAA’s Nautical Products

To satisfy user demands better and more efficiently, NOAA will explore partnerships

with private companies that will print, publish, and distribute its nautical charts and

information products. By using market forces and creating new business opportunities,

NOAA will ensure that the public’s needs for navigational products are met efficiently.

“The key to successfully responding to these challenges is for

NOAA to focus its nautical charting program activities on the tasks

associated with building and managing the nautical information data

base and to seek partnerships with the private sector and other

federal and state agencies in fulfilling the other components of the

nautical charting mission: collection of survey data and product

dissemination.” --National Research Council

Fully developing partnerships for disseminating NOAA’s nautical products will most

likely require new tools to protect intellectual property rights. Because NOAA may lack

the legal authority to license its data, in most cases legislation would have to be enacted

to encourage the private-sector investments needed to produce new products by giving

them exclusivity or protection. NOAA would also need to develop processes for certifying

data products for navigational uses. Several possible complementary routes exist within

this broad approach, including:


Copyrighting nautical charts.

  • Supplying raw digital data to private printing ventures, and collecting royalties or
  • license fees based on privately copyrighted product sales.
  • Changing the cost recovery law to allow NOAA to retain the funds recovered from the
  • sale of charts and other products and invest them in program development.
  • Obtaining royalties from the dissemination of products developed through Cooperative
  • Research and Development Agreements.

Managing the Nautical Information

Data Base

The keystone of NOAA’s modernization

strategy will be the design, construction, and

maintenance of NOAA’s master nautical data

base. With additional resources, this job can be

completed within five years. After that point,

the data base can be maintained with existing

resource levels by using the automated systems

now being developed.

The data base will support the efficient and

timely production of new and revised charts

NOAA has signed an agreement with BSB

Electronic Charts to perform cooperative

research on the development of electronic

nautical charts, systems, software, and other

related matters. Shown here is a prototype

for the raster chart image that BSB expects to

commercialize upon completion of joint

NOAA/BSB research and development work.


and data products that are fully consistent with international units, standards, and quality

levels. Water-level and current sensors around the nation will be connected through

networks to a National Water Level and Coastal Circulation Data Center. This will

ensure the consistency and quality of data and forecasts that are vital to today’s and

tomorrow’s marine commerce.

Digitizing nautical survey data

for incorporation into the charting

data base is highly labor intensive.

To date, only 5 percent of the data

for NOAA’s suite of 1,000

nautical charts has been loaded

into the data base.


Through Modernization

Sustainable Development

NOAA’s mission to provide navigational services began in 1807, when Thomas

Jefferson formed the Survey of the Coast. As technological break-throughs have

revolutionized marine navigation over the years, NOAA’s strategy for fulfilling this

mission has simultaneously evolved.

While maritime navigation will always be hazardous, new electronic technologies

promise to help mariners significantly reduce the risk of accidents and spills. By over-

hauling America’s marine transportation infrastructure, these technologies will heighten

the competitiveness of U.S. ports and the shipping industry and will inject new vitality

into the nation’s economy. And they will be critical in supporting the environmental

Photo Inset: American President Lines


stewardship roles of coastal zone planners, regulatory officials, and researchers as

they work to ensure the safe, sustainable, and efficient development of our coastal

and ocean resources.

A clean and safe environment, together with

sustained economic security, are the most

concrete manifestations of what all Americans

deserve. They are the goals of sustainable



This brochure was prepared by the National Ocean Service (NOS), the primary

federal civilian agency responsible for the observation, measurement, assessment

and management of the nation’s coastal and ocean areas. NOS serves as the trustee

for these resources and provides products and services that protect millions of lives,

billions of dollars in property, and irreplaceable natural resources.