How to Find Nautical Charts

Nautical charts are produced for marine navigation. They contain information about navigational aids, including buoys, beacons, lighthouses, radio and radar stations, shipping channels, and restricted areas. Water depths are recorded as soundings, in meters, feet or fathoms. Near-shore depths are shown by contours and layered tints. In addition, physical features such as shorelines, shallows, reefs, submerged rocks, kelp beds, and ocean bottom sediments are shown for some areas.

Nautical charts were designed for navigation, but must be kept up to date with any changes listed in the weekly Notice to Mariners in order to be accurate. Because the library does not make these changes, the charts may not be up to date and so are stamped "Not to be used for navigational purposes." We keep only the most current edition. Some historical charts are available online from NOAA's Historical Map & Chart Project.

The charts are very useful for the physical features and bathymetry they show. They can also be a valuable source of information for coastal settlements, and sometimes as general or topographic maps of coastal or island areas. In fact, for some islands, they provide the only topographical information available.

Chart No. 1: Nautical Chart Symbols, Abbreviations, and Terms is a useful guide to the unique symbols found on nautical charts. It is located on the Map Index Table(C 44.402:SY 6).

The Dates of Latest Editions listing provides the date of the latest edition as well as the date when the next edition will be effective.

Nautical charts are located in the Map Collection, which is located in the Reference Services Division (1st floor, Library Addition). Assistance is available during reference hours at the reference desk by coming in person or by calling (619) 594-6728.

The nautical charts collected by the library are produced by two separate government agencies. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) produces charts covering domestic waters and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) produces charts of foreign waters. They are indexed separately but interfiled in the map cases by chart number.

Posted: 2011-08-02