By Ben Ellison
From Hand-Drawn to Databased, Part II
|Part 2: The chart companies are already hard at work making their cartography more than just a copy of the government’s.|
Finally—classic paper-chart lovers, brace yourself—NOAA envisions the day when these will be printed directly from the ENCs. While I rather like picturing a stuffy traditionalist sauntering into his chandlery, only to find a new chart that “looks like a damn plotter screen,” I actually hope that day won’t be too upsetting. Efficient as they may be, ENCs could definitely be made to look better and show more information. NOAA is already considering incorporating street and topo data available in vector form from the National Geodetic Survey. Nobeltec has already shown how shading and other nuances can dress up the chunkiness of computer-drawn images. Developers there are currently working on ways to make text (like port names) place themselves just right, even lay on a curve, as though inked by an artist with an eyeshade.
Of course ENC development, and the larger S57 bureaucracy behind it, will not move with the speed of the private companies, for whom that’s probably a relief. I heard one chart company manager joke that NOAA’s give-it-away policy “puts an expiration date” on his business, at least in the United States, but I doubt it. Some users will download ENCs, others will buy cheap compilation CDs, but I’ll bet most will stick to the big companies that will use the ENC database to update their own products more efficiently and then turn to the freed resources to improving them.
Actually, the chart companies are already hard at work making their cartography more than just a copy of the government’s. We’ve seen features like on-screen tides and marine-facility info for some time; we’ll see more. Now rumor has it that several firms are doing their own surveying and mapping of areas particularly interesting to recreational boaters. In fact, the new spring edition of C-Map will include about 1,000 C-Marina macro maps, which will tickle boaters who visit those marinas. First traced over high-resolution aerial photography, then checked by foot with GPS, the resulting vector charts let you zoom right down to dock numbers and restrooms.
Meanwhile, over in the Bahamas, a cartography competition is underway that suggests another trend. Admittedly the official charts of that country, which has no hydrographic office, are antiquated, plus its waters are crawling with cruisers. A number of resourceful ones have put their boats and GPSs to work making chart books for their fellows. It sounds like my kind of fun and deserves in-depth coverage at a later date. At any rate, now the electronic chart people have joined the game. For a while Maptech offered raster scans from three different mom-and-pop chart operations; now it’s gone to more uniform-looking CYC charts from Nautical Publications. Then Nobeltec licensed and uniformly traced the work of the original three—Explorer, White Sound Press, and Wavey Line—plus made its own photomaps. Now Garmin has licensed these same vector charts for use in its plotters. All look great, as shown in examples on page 48.
Lastly, Steve Dodge, proprietor of White Sound Press, has also charted the tricky, shifting southeastern U.S. inlets that NOAA leaves blank. Dodge often surveys on a PWC! Wouldn’t those gents who sounded the Golden Gate from a rowboat be jealous? Dodge’s inlet work is not yet digitized, but surely that will happen. Between NOAA, the big vendors, and these seat-of-the-pants hydrographers, we’re living in chart-happy times.
This article originally appeared in the April 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.