Sun sets on NOAA paper charts

In November 2019, NOAA announced a five-year program to end paper nautical chart production and convert entirely to electronic navigational charts, or ENCs. This process, which NOAA calls sunsetting, means the big paper charts that hang on people’s walls and require large chart tables on ship bridges and nav stations on cruising boats, will in another few years be unavailable from print-on-demand certified NOAA agents. 

It also, and more seriously for the recreational boater, means the cancellation of its RNCs, or raster navigational charts, which are electronic images created by scanning printed paper charts and recreating them in raster picture elements or “pixels” for use in digital electronic chart viewers. When I cruised the South Pacific I used these RNC charts on MaxSea and found that they were often much easier to follow when entering a strange harbor than the vector charts, ENCs, then available. NOAA’s chart viewer and non-proprietary chart programs such as OpenCPN will open RNCs. Personally, I find the uncluttered nature of the RNC picture easier to decipher at a glance than the ENC vector chart, and this bears out in an experience I recently had navigating New York’s East River. Having long used paper NOAA charts, many voyagers may have the same preference.

Sadly, whatever sailors think, NOAA is not going to change its policy and the period for comments is over. 

I would suggest taking time to visit the NOAA catalogue ( and download the printed chart pdfs and zipped BSB format files before the final ones are cancelled in 2025. The first charts were cancelled late in 2021NOAA maintains a list of recent and pending cancellations. I did this, and now as long as I have a chart viewer and a computer/printer I can continue to use these invaluable resources.

Ann Hoffner