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Semi-local Publications Offers NOAA Electronic Charts
Service helps boaters spend more time on the water, not in front of their computers

Posted Wednesday, August 2, 2006

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN — The good news late last year was NOAA’s announced plan to release its entire raster navigation chart library to the public for free. The bad news remains that the average boater doesn’t know exactly which of the more than 1000 available charts to download. And fewer still have the capability and bandwidth to download thousands of megabytes of chart files.

As usual, convenience and affordability are at odds. One can conveniently purchase an expensive catalog of electronic charts or one can download free charts. But the "free" option typically proves to be anything but convenient. As an example, a boater must first research and choose 107 electronic charts for their New England electronic chart catalog. Each chart comes in a folder containing multiple files (.BSB, .KAP, .PTC, and .TXT). Additionally, many of these charts are, in fact, chart sets containing multiple inset or extension charts. This New England chart catalog swells from 107 chart folders to 209 discrete charts with 734 files requiring a 501.5 MB (over one-half gigabyte) download. With a common 56Kbps dial-up connection, the download time would be over 20 hours; even with a high-speed DSL connection, it’s still almost three hours!

As a service to its readers, semi-local publications initially decided to offer inexpensive ($9.95 USD) companion chart CDs to accompany their ICW and Florida Keys cruising guides: Managing the Waterway: Hampton Roads, VA to Biscayne Bay, FL and Managing the Waterway: Biscayne Bay, FL to Dry Tortugas, FL.

"We began with a simple plan to catalog and download ICW and Keys chart updates twice a year," says Mark Doyle, co-author of the MTW series. "Readers could easily update their chart catalogs in the fall when heading south and then again in the spring for the northbound return. But requests started coming in for charts outside our guide coverage—to either head Down East, cruise the Chesapeake, or simply armchair sail and plan future cruises. So we’ve extended the service to the entire East and Gulf Coasts. You can even buy all six regions on one DVD for $39.95. We want to help folks spend time on their boats, not on their computers."

The MTW electronic chart library now includes six popular cruising regions:

- New England

- NY, NJ, NY Canals, and the Great Lakes

- Chesapeake and Delaware Bays

- Intracoastal Waterway (ICW)

- Florida Keys, Dry Tortugas, and Southwest Florida

- Gulf of Mexico

Doyle adds, "The biggest problem with charts is getting boaters to update and carry them. Now, for under ten bucks, there’s really no excuse to not have a chart or to have an outdated chart. NOAA knew their biggest challenge would be distribution. That’s why they’ve appointed value-added distributors to package the charts and get them out to boaters ... conveniently and affordably."

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