Coastal Paddling – Nautical Charts

by Bill Mauney

A nautical chart is the treasure map (chart) for all of your coastal paddling adventures.  In nautical parlance a map is called a chart. The chart differs from a map in that a map focuses on the land, its topography, its features and manmade structures, roads, etc.  These maps are helpful when you want to explore the land at the coast, you are looking for a campsite or a friendly beach, etc.  The chart, however, focuses on the water, water depths, the land around the water, the interaction of the tide with the land, aids to navigation such as buoys, day marks, lights, etc., geographical and manmade features that will aid in navigation, etc.

Charts are a cornucopia of nautical information, both in symbol and written form.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is the source for nautical charts.  Your computer link for NOAA Nautical Charts is:

Click on “Nautical Charts and Pubs” to access links to:

Charts can be purchased from NOAA directly or from authorized NOAA Chart Dealers in your area.  By law, they must sell you the latest edition.  You can check the DOLE on the above website to make sure you have the most up to date chart.

This article cannot cover all you need to know to read and use a nautical chart, but I will give you a basic overview.


Numbers in the water





This should give you a basic overview of what is on a nautical chart.  For a more in depth study of the subject, I suggest you pick up a copy of Sea Kayak Navigation by David Burch at one of our shops.  This book covers the art of navigation from the deck of a sea kayak.

Again, nautical charts open up an entire new world for you to explore and enjoy.  Learning to read and use them will make both your next coastal paddling adventure and its preparation more enjoyable and fun.

Happy Paddling!

Read More in our Coastal Paddling Series