KETCHIKAN - They're detailed, free, and much better than a road map for recreational boaters wanting to determine their location while underway.
They're called "BookletCharts," and they're an experimental service that's being offered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Coast Survey.
The online service provides downloadable (Adobe Acrobat) files of sections of NOAA nautical charts that are printable on regular 8.5 by 11 paper.
"The Booklet Chart is reduced in scale and divided into pages for convenience, but otherwise contains all the information of the full-scale nautical chart," according to NOAA information
NOAA has an extensive catalog of BookletCharts available for the Alaska and Lower 48 state coastlines, including the Great Lakes.
For example, the BookletChart for Revillagigedo Channel (including Tongass Narrows and Nichols Passage) includes 18 chart sections.
After downloading the entire PDF file, the interested mariner can print the full Revillagigedo Channel BookletChart, or just the page or pages of particular interest.
Ed Martin, chief of the Office of Coast Survey's Customer Affairs Branch, said the service is geared toward recreational boats that don't have the space to lay out conventional chart books, or conventional charts and charting tool.
Also, many recreational boats don't have a computer on board for electronic navigation.
"If you don't go out and buy a conventional navigational chart, or you're not into the Raster navigational software programs or the Vector software charts, then you can use this for navigating by seaman's eye," Martin said. "At least it will give you an idea of where you are, in relation to the surrounding area."
However, the BookletCharts can't be used for official navigation by regulated commercial vessels, according to NOAA.
"I think the most important thing to realize is it's still experimental," said Ed Martin, chief of the Office of Coast Survey's Customer Affairs Branch.
At present, the NOAA software that creates the BookletCharts uses a subset of the data that produces NOAA's digital Raster and Print-on-Demand navigational products, according to Martin.
The data for the BookletCharts is updated frequently, but not as frequently as data for the Raster and POD charts, according to Martin.
In part that means the "Notice to Mariners" information on a BookletChart might not be the most current available (check page seven of any particular BookletChart to see when the information was updated).
"Once we take the word experimental off, it will be updated weekly for all notices to mariners," Martin said. "It's going to be the same as downloading the Raster nautical chart from the (NOAA) Web site."
Mariners also will notice that latitude and longitude marks aren't present on some BookletChart pages.
"It's not for (commercial) carriage, but for a recreational user, I think it's a fine product," Martin said. "It's a lot better than going out there with a road map."
He said the BookletCharts are being well-received by the members of the boating public that he talks with at boat shows and elsewhere.
"And the people that I point to them are very appreciative, and they really like what they see," said Martin, who added that NOAA's goal is to provide what mariners need to navigate safely.
"That makes it all worthwhile, if it saves lives and property," Martin said.
BookletCharts are available from the NOAA Office of Coast Survey's Web site at www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/staff/BookletChart.html.