Time to switch from paper charts to electronic navigational charts?

Is it time to switch from paper charts to electronic navigational charts?  Here are a few good reasons why you should consider dumping your paper charts in favor of electronic navigational charts (ENCs). 

NOAA & UKHO to Phase Out Paper Charts

Because of the safe, effective, and efficient advantages the ECDIS has prominent hydrographic offices like NOAA and the UKHO have begun the process of phasing out paper charts from production and distribution to the maritime public.

NOAA started phasing out its nautical charts in 2019 as part of a five-year plan to shift all its products to electronic format. By January 2025, they expect to cancel all 1,007 of its paper suites of nautical charts. In the meantime, NOAA will increase the production of ENCs to over 9,000 from the 1,200 currently in circulation. 

NOAA's counterpart in the UK, the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO), has also made their intentions clear on the future of their standard nautical charts (SNCs) portfolio. The UKHO will phase out all of their paper charts by 2030. 

We expect more hydrographic offices to follow suit in canceling their paper chart portfolio offerings to the public. 

It's Been a Long Time Coming 

The world’s oceans and other large bodies of water have been our superhighways for centuries. Through all these years, one thing has never changed. Mariners and sailors have used — and continue to use — special maps and charts to steer through unsafe waters, sometimes with inches to spare between their vessels' hulls and treacherous obstacles. Paper navigation charts have been a lifeline for seafarers navigating through dangerous conditions. It has always been commonplace to keep bundles of rolled-up maps and charts on shelves and tables as navigators planned their courses. 

Mariners traversed the world’s oceans the same way for centuries, aiming their ships to plotted points on charts and setting off, all while taking note of what other navigators documented about the same route during previous trips. It was the standard practice for hundreds of years — until technology caught up with sea travel and everything changed. 

Since 2012, the proliferation of ECDIS has put downward pressure for the demand of paper charts given the ECDIS unique capabilities over paper charts. The trending direction towards e-Navigation revolution in the maritime sector means paper charts will finally be a thing of the past.  


Things That ECDIS & Electronic Navigational Charts Can Do That Paper Charts Can’t

ECDIS presents whole ship management and monitoring down to the smallest detail. Because these systems are portable, they can be mounted almost anywhere and plugged into other ship systems. They can:

  • Plan the voyage from the system without looking at other publications

  • More availability of charts
  • Speed and accuracy
  • Set and monitor numerous alarms and warnings

  • Continuous location positioning in relation to the plotted course

  • Course correct without disturbing an officer

  • Provide RADAR and ARPA overlays

  • Fast chart corrections and distributions

This is a small part of what an ECDIS can do for your ship. Because of GPS and advanced telecommunications, ships with ECDIS are some of the safest around. 

Fast Changing Maritime Laws & Regulations

The laws governing ship navigation can vary depending on the country and jurisdiction, but several international conventions provide a framework for safe and efficient ship navigation. Here are some of the critical laws and regulations related to shipping navigation:

International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGs): These regulations establish rules for safe navigation and collision avoidance at sea. The COLREGs are mandatory for all vessels on the high seas and in all waters connected to them.



International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS): This convention sets out minimum safety standards for ships, including requirements for navigation equipment and procedures.

The SOLAS convention mandates that all vessels 500GT and above have at least one ECDIS system and paper charts as backup or two independent ECDIS for redundancy. However, since NOAA and UKHO will not publish paper charts after 2025 and 2030 respectively, the rapid proliferation of ECDIS installations is guarantied and necessary. We anticipate a change to the regulations in SOALS chapter V at some point to reflect the demise of paper charts and absolute need for ECDIS to vessels is applies to. 


International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW): This convention sets out minimum training and certification requirements for seafarers, including navigation-related skills.

Overall, the laws related to ship navigation are designed to ensure the safety of ships, their crews and the environment and to promote efficient and effective navigation. Each country has its own maritime laws and regulations as it pertains to safe navigation at sea. 

Non-ECDIS Electronic Chart Software Options

Sub-SOLAS class vessels and recreational boats will not be left behind without charts to navigate with. There are a plethora of electronic charting options from e-Navigation software to chart plotters boats can use with electronic charts. TIMEZERO marine navigation software is a very popular and good choice in the yachting community for yachts under 500GT.

Tugs and other commercial vessels commonly use Rosepoint Coastal Explorer or Rosepoint ECS navigation system. Transas, a popular ECDIS original equipment manufacturer (OEM), also puts out the Transas Navi-Sailor 4000 ECS software for smaller vessels without the need for ECDIS.

Small boats can use chart plotters from manufactures like Garmin, Furuno, Raymarine, Simrad, etc. with electronic charts from C-Map, Garmin, or Navionics. This doesn't even include all the marine navigation apps that have been developed for smartphone application. There is no shortage of electronic charting options for smaller vessels. 


As more mariners and pleasure craft owners realize the safety benefits, ECDIS and e-Navigation systems, this will gradually become the norm, especially as the global shipping lanes become congested with traffic. 

Because of the continuous major technological disruptions to marine navigation we strongly urge mariners to begin the transition away from paper charts to a fully paperless bridge to avoid being caught unprepared when paper charts are no longer around. Contact us today to schedule our e-Navigation consultancy service to help your vessel make the digital switch.