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Choosing Your Charts

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Now that Spring has Sprung, it’s time for our annual CHARTS! post.

In the past, a number of blogs have been written about charts: what we carry, what we can order, and laws regarding charts. We’re proud to be a chart agent, providing Canadian Hydrographic Services charts, as well as charts from NOAA, Imray, Maptech, Richardson’s, NV Charts, and a number other organizations and companies. There continues to be some confusion over charts, specifically the legality of chartbooks and what is required.

The Charts and Nautical Publications Regulations, Article 5(1) (c) (i) states that boats are required to carry “…the largest scale chart according to the reference catalogue… ”

Since this is something that confuses many people:
Small Scale = Large Area
Large Scale = Small Area

To put it another way, if you’re boating around Toronto Harbour, you’ll be required to carry chart 2085- Toronto Harbour. Chart 2077 (Lake Ontario West End) or 2000 (Lake Ontario general) would not be considered to have sufficient information.

The Canada Shipping Act requires most vessels to carry paper charts specifically, even if navigation will be done by GPS or on a computer. If you’re are going to be navigating, you should be carrying charts.

There have also recently been more questions about the legality of chartbooks, such as Richardson’s, Mapquest, and NV-Charts. These are not technically charts, but instead are very high quality photographs of charts. From discussions with representatives of various law enforcement agencies it is clear that there is no universal policy towards chart books. Anecdotal evidence suggests that also, reaction will vary from officer to officer. While the odds suggest that any individual person or boat may not be stopped by the Police or Coast Guard, and even if they were a chartbook such as Maptech or Richardson’s would usually be considered sufficient, they do not technically satisfy the legal requirement to carry charts in Canada.

The reality is that chartbooks such as Richardson’s are much easier to use on a chart table than a full paper chart, and that chartbooks are much more cost efficient than purchasing a full set of paper charts. We also understand that cost is a major factor for choosing to purchase chartbooks only, and not paper charts. What we would suggest is that our clients purchase a chartbook such as Richardson’s for their day-to-day navigation requirements, but also purchase the CHS charts they need to cover their usual cruising areas. To do so is more expensive, but it will cost far less than the fines for not carrying paper charts.

Charts are just part of what is required to be carried on board. It is always necessary to update charts or chartbooks with the Notices to Mariners. In addition, boats are required to have Chart One, Sailing Directions,Tide & Current Tables, the List of Lights, and Buoys and Fog Signals.

If you’ve talked to us about charts- you know that we place a strong emphasis on paper charts, whether they be CHS, NOAA, Imray, Explorer or anything else. Digital Charts cannot be denied, however. In Canada, it is still required to carry paper charts, even if you have digital charts. If you would like to purchase digital Canadian Hydrographic Service charts, we can absolutely provide them to you.

Canadian Hydrographic Service Digital Charts

There are a bevy of options when buying charts. Keep on reading for some information on the differences between the charts we carry, and things to consider when making a decision about which charts to purchase. In this blog, I’ll discuss the various types of charts that we carry and some of the advantages and disadvantages of each. I’ll start by considering specific regions. However, what needs to be stated up front is that despite everything mentioned below, the first priority is that you feel comfortable reading your charts, and can understand them.

The Great Lakes

In the Great Lakes, there are two broad categories of charts: First, the Canadian Hydrographic Service and NOAA (US) charts, and second the Richardson’s Chartbooks.

The Official Charts
Published by the CHS and NOAA, these are “proper” charts.


  • These are the official charts, and strictly satisfy the requirements (under Canadian law) for carrying charts
  • Individually, CHS charts are relatively inexpensive as most cost approximately $22.60 ($20 with taxes).
  • These are absolutely readily available in large numbers (with a few days advanced notice
  • These are up to date- most CHS or NOS charts don’t remain in our chart table for more than a few months


  • When buying multiple *different* charts, this can get fairly expensive- a complete set of the Canadian and US Charts for Lake Ontario would cost approximately $1000.
  • These are huge, when unfolded- 85cm by 120cm- and can be unwieldy to deal with. (This is for *standard* charts- strip charts and Chart 2201 (Georgian Bay General) are different dimensions. NOS charts, however, come in a number of different dimensions (but all relatively similar) this makes working with charts on small chart tables very difficult.

Richardson’s Chartbooks

Rich_Lake _Ontario_Ed_07_Cover 01.inddThis is a series of chartbooks, with one each for Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, and the Hudson River and New York Canal System. These chartbooks combing charts into a single package.


  • These are very high quality photographs of the US and Canadian charts. You can lay them on top of each other for comparison purposes
  • In terms of form factor, these are much easier to use in a canoe, kayak, or small yacht/cruiser where table space is at a premium
  • They reduce some of the double-coverage that can happen in charts (At the same scale), so there is less actual paper involved
  • They make it quite clear how to progress from one chart to the next
  • a Richardson’s Chartbook is substantially cheaper than buying the equivalent amount of information in “Proper” charts- for Lake Ontario, a saving of something on the order of 85%
  • It is possible to purchase a vinyl cover for them to keep them dry when using them


  • It can be tedious to bring Chartbooks up to date according to Notices to Mariners
  • They can be somewhat visually busy and confusing.
  • The Richardson’s Hudson River/ New York Canal Systems is designed for a voyage from New York City to Owsego/Buffalo/Montreal, so it can be confusing if you’re travelling the other way.
  • They are marked *NOT FOR NAVIGATION*, which means that if something goes wrong, they can’t be sued. This can be disconcerting to some.

Other Great Lakes/North American Charts

For the other common cruising areas within North America, you can purchase NOAA charts (which are same as above), Waterproof Charts, or Maptech Chartbooks.

Waterproof Charts



  •  These charts cover much of the US East Coast, as well as parts of the Caribbean Sea
  • They are actually water-resistant, which makes them really good for using in the cockpit
  • The paper is a lighter weight than standard charts, and so are easier to use and store.
  • They very much focus on the areas that matter to cruisers- and so for example will have much less open ocean than a comparable NOAA chart. For example, the image to the left is of Cape May to Sandy Hook
  • The visual design is very clear- for example the way to transition between panels on the Hudson Rive chart is more clear than the comparable Richardson’s chartbook.
  • These charts often are on the front and on the back, and can have both large and small scale charts on the same sheet.


  • If you purchase these charts, it is especially important to make sure that you update them to the most recent Notices to Mariners- although because of the surface of the paper it makes it more difficult to update than NOAA charts.
  • These charts are ~$40 CAD including taxes, and so if you’ll be transiting large areas it may be more cost efficient to go with a chart book
  • These charts really do often stick close to shore along the ICW, so if you plan on going further offshore you’ll need to purchase other charts

Maptech Charts



  • These charts are made by the same company as Richardson’s, so they the produce of a similar process create from taking NOAA data.
  • These chartbooks are divided into useful areas, such as New York to Nantucket, Chesapeake, Norfolk to Florida (Atlantic ICW), Florida East Coast, and FLorida West Coast
  • They’re very good for cruisers who want to explore an area as they provide passage charts, inshore charts and harbour charts
  • The whole series can also provide continuity as cruisers continue to travel the US East Coast
  • There are also chartbooks for the US West Coast
  • They come in a heavy duty plastic cover for protection, which can also be used to keep them dry in the cockpit.


  • There is an element of sticker shock- these chartbooks can cost approximately $190 CAD, which seems like a lot although it is considerable savings compared to purchasing individual charts
  • These chartbooks are relatively heavy- approximately twice the size of a Richardson’s they require more storage space

The Caribbean

There are a number of charts options for the Caribbean as well. For example, the Waterproof Chart series mentioned above continues down past Florida to the Mona Passage, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, and has a good general chart. We have several options that mainly deal with the Caribbean.


A Lesser Antilles–Puerto Rico to Martinique


  •  Imray is a hugely important company for cruisers- their cruising guides and pilots are the gold standard, and often refer to their charts.
  • Imray charts are single page- sometimes back and front, for example A233, which combines charts A231 and A232 to cover all of the Virgin Islands
  • These charts (like the Waterproof charts) are relatively light, and so can be stored easily- they fold down to a A4 size. Likewise, they each come with a heavy plastic cover to protect them
  • Imray covers much of the world- for example the Mediterranean as well, and so can provide consistency for longer voyages and trips.


  • These charts are ~$40 each, and so to cover a large area will be relatively expensive
  • Imray charts are based on older data- in some cases dating back to the early 20th century- and so are less up to date than other chart series.

NV Charts

NV-Charts Region 9.1: Bahamas–NorthwestPROS

  • These are similar to Richardson’s/Maptech in terms of the benefits of a chartbook
  • This series covers all of the Caribbean from the Windwards and Grenada, the Leewards, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas (in 3 volumes) and Cuba (4 editions) and so can provide continuity.
  • They do come with electronic charts- which either are on a CD or can be downloaded.
  • Recently NV Charts has switched many of its editions to ‘Atlas’ format, which stores as effectively half the size of a Maptech chartbook or similar to a Richardson’s chartbook.
  • These chartbooks contain planning charts, harbour charts and coastal charts
  • they provide GPS waypoints and are designed to be used with electronic navigation as well


  • Again, like with Maptech, there is the sticker shock. These chartbooks are more expensive than getting a small number of Imray charts

Explorer Chartbooks

Explorer Chartbook: Near Bahamas

The Explorer Chartbooks are the gold standard for Bahamas charts. They are the most up-to-date, and most accurate. They are divided into the Near Bahamas, Far Bahamas and Exumas. These are a very different style to the NV Charts or Imray charts- but they are created by experienced cruisers for cruisers. They are printed on tear and water resistant paper. In addition to charts, they also contain tide tables, and an up-to-date list of marinas and services.


As always, we at the Nautical Mind are happy to help you all of your chart needs and requirements.


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