It won't be long before mariners and the boating public will have a wider choice of options and special services when they purchase NOAA paper nautical charts, thanks to NOAA's expanded "print-on-demand" chart production and distribution system, according to NOAA's Office of Coast Survey. This week, Coast Survey certified new print-on-demand chart printing agents, and gave them the flexibility to offer different color palettes, various papers, a cleaner margin, and a range of services.
NOAA has now authorized seven companies 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.
"Last October, we announced that NOAA would stop using the government printing and distribution system we originally adopted in 1861," explained Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA's Office of Coast Survey. "We asked private companies to help us transition from the government-run system to a robust and competitive market for paper nautical charts, and we are pleased with the results."
Five companies have now joined the original "print-on-demand" distributor OceanGrafix and the more recently certified East View Geospatial. The newly certified companies are Frugal Navigator, Marine Press, Paradise Cay Publications, The Map Shop, and Williams & Heintz Map Corporation.
Glang is confident that the expansion of the print-on-demand system will lead to new options for all who purchase U.S. nautical charts. As a premium service, for example, print agents are authorized to customize charts with user-specified overlays.
"With more chart printing agents, we hope to encourage competition and ensure fully up-to-date charts are widely available. Buyers can shop around and find different types of paper, or choose between traditional or new color palettes. Our printing agents can offer delivery or in-shop service, and customers can have their navigation track lines or other information printed as overlays on their chart," Glang pointed out.
"All charts sold by NOAA-certified agents are NOAA charts, and fully meet navigational standards."
For the last 150 years, the federal government produced nautical charts using lithographic printing presses. Although chart-making techniques advanced from the 19th century's delicate hand-applied etchings on copper plates to a process that is now completely computer-based, the system remained based on printing large volumes of charts, then selling them from stock for years. Charts for sale were gradually more and more outdated until a new edition was printed. The print-on-demand system allows the changes made by Coast Survey cartographers to reach mariners much faster.
Coast Survey continues to examine applications from additional companies wishing to become certified as NOAA chart printing agents. The examination process includes testing of applicants' sample charts, to make sure they stand up to normal onboard usage conditions.
The paper charts sold by the NOAA-certified printing agents meet carriage requirements for ships covered by Safety of Life at Sea regulations, specified in Title 33 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
NOAA Office of Coast Survey is the nation's nautical chartmaker. Originally formed by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807, Coast Survey updates charts, surveys the coastal seafloor, responds to maritime emergencies, and searches for underwater obstructions that pose a danger to navigation.