U.S. Coast Guard approves official electronic charts

ELLSWORTH — The U.S. Coast Guard has published guidelines that allow mariners to use electronic charts and publications instead of paper charts, maps and publications.

On Feb. 5, the service published a Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular to provide uniform guidance on what electronic gear and software are now considered the equivalents to the charts and publications that commercial vessels are required to have on board.

The Coast Guard believes that official electronic charts combining the suite of electronic charts published by U.S. hydrographic authorities and the Electronic Charting System (ECS) standards published last summer by the Radio Technical Commission for Maritime Services, provide mariners with a substitute for the traditional official paper charts.

This technology will also allow mariners to take advantage of information and data to enhance situational awareness during voyage planning and while under way.

The approved electronic charts and other data can be displayed on dedicated instruments or on a laptop computer. The displays can also incorporate information from radar, GPS satellite navigation receivers and other data that can assist with navigation.

“After consultation with our Navigation Safety Advisory Committee, the Coast Guard will allow mariners to use official electronic charts instead of paper charts, if they choose to do so,” Capt. Scott J. Smith, chief of the Coast Guard’s Office of Navigation Systems, said in a statement. “With real-time voyage planning and monitoring information at their fingertips, mariners will no longer have the burden of maintaining a full portfolio of paper charts.”

The new guidance applies to vessels subject to U.S. chart, or map, and publication carriage requirements and provides a voluntary alternative means to comply with them.

“Mariners have been requesting the recognition of this capability for some time,” Smith said. “When you combine the new expanded Automatic Identification System carriage requirement and the capability that an ECS provides, it should provide a platform to move American waterways into the 21st century.”

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