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Raster and Vector Charts for United States Waters on DVD

By Capt. Alex Blackwell

Now often the subject of blogs and discussion groups, the availability of free navigation charts is a unique feature here in the United States . Though free, they do come at a price. Having used these charts for several years already, downloading and organizing them has cost me a huge amount of time and effort, time I gladly spent as buying chart kits would have cost a bundle (of money).

Recently I was following a discussion group and this question came up again. One member was having problems with SeaClear II and its restrictions in drilling down through a given directory tree to load the charts. Another member brought up the way Fugawi loads all the charts in a given directory, but maintains the entire structure of its subdirectories, and what a big task it is to sort this all out again in the software.

When you download a batch of NOAA charts directly from NOAA they are zipped into an archive. Unless you specify that you do not want to maintain the directory structure, you will wind up with each chart in its own folder. When you then download the next batch they go into their own folder. Add to that the fact that the chart files have names a normal mortal will not make much sense of, managing these files is more of a chore and certainly no fun. Even if you indeed do update your charts with the Local Notices to Mariners, a huge task on its own, you still should be downloading a fresh set of charts on a regular basis – say once a year. Where there is a major update this is not published in the Local Notices, but is incorporated into a new chart. All notices have also been applied, so these are definitely better and more up-to-date than what you already have.

All of these difficulties are alleviated in the DVD set available from semi-local publications. Licensed by NOAA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers they have, for example, organized all the raster chart files into nine logically organized super-regional directories making loading them into the software of choice a much easier task.

You don’t have the software? Semi-local helps you here too. The disc set includes five free and trial software packages for you to try out – something even a seasoned old salt may find useful. On the disc you will find Fugawi Marine ENC, NavSim BoatCruiser, SeaClear II, and TIKI Navigator for the PC, and MacENC for the Mac user. We have been using Fugawi with the NOAA raster and vector charts for years as our primary electronic navigation aid, and look forward to testing the other packages when the weather lets us get out again. Naturally, these charts work with all the other leading PC charting and navigation applications as well.

As an added bonus, cruising guide authors Mark and Diana Doyle , who put together these DVDs, have included a 179-volume complete nautical reference library of useful government publications and reference texts as well as nautical calculators that use clever scripting to help you convert imperial measurements to standard, etcetera and so on.

Yes, you can go online on the Internet to find and download pretty much everything that is on this DVD set. And yes, I, for one, have most of it on my computer already, but it has taken me years to pull it all together. In many cases, I know I have downloaded this file or that publication, but have no idea where it is or what it was called. It is also now time for me to go back to the NOAA website and download fresh, updated charts. Taking all of that into consideration, these DVDs are a valuable resource, and at $39.95 quite the bargain. How much are several hours of your time worth?

For more information, or to purchase the DVD set, go to


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