How to Read NOAA Charts

There’s a lot of information on NOAA nautical charts.  Its all designed to help you safely navigate and to navigate safely you should know what it all is.  The map “legend” is titled U.S. Chart No. 1 and is available via free download from NOAA.  Its one of a few good PDFs to have handy when you’re on the water no matter what chart or navigation system you are using.

U.S. Chart No. 1 describes the symbols, abbreviations and terms used on all NOAA, NGA and international nautical charts, as well as the symbols used to portray NOAA ENC® charts on ECDIS.

U.S. Chart No. 1

Another good source of information is the United States Coast Pilot.  It is available as a free download direct from NOAA.  Print versions are available for a fee.

The United States Coast Pilot® consists of a series of nautical books that cover a variety of information important to navigators of coastal and intracoastal waters and the Great Lakes. Issued in nine volumes, they contain supplemental information that is difficult to portray on a nautical chart.

United States Coast Pilot

Anyone who boats, from kayakers to yachtsmen, should have this next one handy and well read.  Its titled the American Practical Navigator and again available as a free download.

The American Practical Navigator, first published in 1802, was billed as the “epitome of navigation” by its original author, Nathaniel Bowditch. The text has evolved with the advances in navigation practices since that first issue and continues to serve as a valuable reference for marine navigation in the modern day.

American Practical Navigator

There is no substitute for training and experience. Know your limits and don’t exceed them. Always be prepared. The resources listed here are only a part of what you need to know.  Mistakes can be fatal and a collision at sea can ruin your entire day.

Do not trust her at any time, when the calm sea shows her false alluring smile. ~ Titus Lucretius Carus