UK Hydrographic Office Paper chart withdrawal

Anybody else’s administration thinking of this nutty move?

UK Hydrographic Office Withdrawal of Paper Charts - Meeting Invitation

To: Harbour Towage Panel, Short Sea Shipping Panel
Cc: Safety & Environment Committee

Dear Member,

As previously reported the UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) announced in July 2022 its intention to withdraw paper chart production to solely focus on digital products. The UKHO has advised they will undertake a phased withdrawal of paper charts from production over several years and with a target date at the end of 2026. The press release is available via:

The UKHO has seen a change in demand for their products, with the demand for paper charts declining whilst the demand for digital charts increasing – currently, UKHO state there is an 80/20 split for demand for digital versus paper charts.

The UKHO will start removing coverage in 2022 when the demand is the lowest and will focus on charting where the UKHO is not the authorised Hydrographic Office for the charting areas before withdrawing from the UK and primary responsibility markets.

The withdrawal from the paper chat market will be carried out in three phases, presently Phase 1, labelled the ‘discovery’ phase by UKHO:

  • Phase 1: Starting in 2022 – Withdrawing from low-demand SNC coverage where the UKHO does not have charting responsibility.
  • Phase 2: In 2022 – The UKHO will create a plan to withdraw the remaining coverage where the UKHO does not have charting responsibility, which will begin in 2023.
  • Phase 3: Starting around 2024/2025 – As the future digital solution becomes available, the UKHO will start to move into existing charts which the UKHO have primary responsibility for.

It is the UKHO’s intention is to work with hardware manufacturers to help shape standards in a way that is accessible for all manufacturers and suitable for all segments and sizes of the industry.

Concern has been expressed by the Chamber and other navigational stakeholders across the industry as to the overly ambitious timeline and lack of authorised alternatives to ECDIS in the market in particular for vessels. The MCA have firmly asserted that they will not allow a degradation of navigational safety nor for paper charts to be removed from circulation without viable alternatives for users.

It is recognised that ECDIS is not the solution for all vessels, whether commercial or leisure, due to scale, space, cost etc., with the recognition that viable digital solutions need to be manufactured, need to meet the requirements for safe navigation, be certified as a recognised piece of equipment, and have suitable training courses established.

The UKHO and MCA wish to have a meeting with vessel operators across the towage and short sea shipping sector who may or may not use ECDIS, or are paper based with a unofficial ECS to better understand current usage and future requirements.

A doodle poll will be established with dates a respectful distance either side of Christmas.

Members with an interest are please requested to signal such to Robert Merrylees, by Friday 2 December.

It will be interesting to see what legal requirements in complying with safe navigation in smaller charter vessels where space and power supplies are limited.
A charter vessel such as those accommodating 30 passengers cruising the Croatian coast for 14 days might not comply with a product intended for a small power or sail boat.

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The amended SOLAS regulation V/19 requires all newly built passenger ships of 500 gross tonnage and upwards, as well as newly built cargo ships of 3,000 gross tonnage and upwards engaged on international voyages to be fitted with ECDIS. For existing ships, phase-in introduction of fitting requirements are being introduced for all ships of certain size engaged on international voyages.

Good news that they are being withdrawn. The UKHO probably loses money producing then so makes sense to withdraw them.

Hope countries are quick to update the syllabus that mariners get examined on to remove examination on paper charts.

Seafarers waste a huge amount of time having to learn stuff that is not really used at sea anymore and the stuff that is used at sea gets neglected.

The syllabuses desperately need to be brought into the modern era.

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Absolutely fine but I have never heard of a paper chart being hacked or succumbing to a solar flare or EMP.


At our latest officers’ meeting we had a long talk about paper charts. We chose Hatteland nav computers for our boats. An addition to the other ECSs aboard. So the case could be made that paper charts are redundant.

Certainly, from Management’s perspective, if you have multiple redundant ECS aboard, then paper charts are just an additional cost, and Management is all about saving nickels.

So we asked our captains and mates to advise, Did they want to keep paper charts in use, or did they want to get rid of them? They, after all, are the people who have to maintain and order the charts. No debate or talking between officers was allowed before the blind vote, to avoid group-think.

Out of 13 captains and mates: 9 voted to keep paper charts, 4 said to do away with them. I thought the vote would be closer, given many of the mates are in their twenties. I could override the vote, which was just advisory anyway. But if I override the vote then I go against the majority of our navigators.

When I spoke with them after the vote and asked why they wanted to keep using paper charts they said it came down:

  1. Parallel indexing by radar. Our boats travel the BC Inside Passage and the Peninsula Inside Passage. Lots of narrow, tricky passages. The officers said they routinely use parallel indexing with radar/paper charts in addition to ECS and don’t want to see this capability go away.
  2. There are plenty of places on the Inside Passages where they want the chart on the table to refer to, as they are piloting with ECS.

If you haven’t been on these Inside Passages it can be an intense navigational experience, spread over several days of travel.

I should add all these officers are aware of the ramifications to the company’s BC Pacific Pilotage Authority waiver if they run aground. Getting on waivered status takes time and trips. Their jobs depend on continued waivered status. The PPA can rescind a waiver for a single grounding. So our officers realize their standard of coastal navigation has to be higher than that of a typical navigator, which for most of our navigators means regular recourse at key points to paper charts.


aside - and not diminishing it in anyway - just jogged a funny memory - On one of my first trips through the inside passage, I overheard a Junior officer taking over the watch from a rather salty LT who was the Ops department head. The JO asked if he had any advise, the LT said - keep a good look out - the shoal water is marked by trees.


Inbound to Port Stanley (post conflict)

Head for that clungey on the hill.

Which particular clungey did you have in mind?

Maybe that old stuff and old skills come in handy sometimes??


No such thing as old skills

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Huh? Even Google wasn’t any help figuring out what that means.

Steer towards that uncharted thing just above the beach which is now called a clungy.
Keep the clungy in sight and when I say keep it slightly to just after lunch, we will be fine.
Banter dear boy, just…happened like that, nothing was named so did it old style.

Can you share an instance of a ships navigation being hacked or succumbing to a solar flare? GPS spoofing doesn’t affect charts.

I’m not sure why anyone thinks an EMP is going to affect a ships navigation equipment. Maybe someone can enlighten me with something that didn’t come from a movie.

You can have poor navigation practices with modern equipment just like you could with paper charts, but it’s never the fault of the best available equipment.

Hackers took ‘full control’ of container ship’s navigation systems for 10 hours - IHS Fairplay - RNTF (

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That article is full of holes and looks what some Hollywood writer’s idea of “hacking a ship” would be.

What (typical) ship has any of the actual controls linked to any sort of system that could be remotely hacked? FFS, you can always control the engine and steering gear directly.

Before anyone brings up GPS spoofing, paper charts wouldn’t help in that case either since 99.99% of mates I see plotting on paper these days, just put GPS positions anyways.


Hacking a modern ship is as simple as installing team viewer on an operating station that is linked in the ships network.

That’s not how modern ocean-going vessels, (specifically 8k TEU box ships) are designed, built or operated.

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The paper chart by itself is just an inert piece of paper. In order to navigate someone has to use the chart to obtain information.

The navigator/electronic chart is overall less prone to errors and failures than is the navigator/paper chart combo.

I agree. But that statement lends itself to the inevitable duality of Internet forum logic, which forces reasoning into opposite camps, and seldom recognizes nuance. Given only two choices to use, plotters or paper charts, our navigators would go with plotters.

But they are not limited to two choices. They choose both, because in specific difficult areas parallel indexing, as well as having a stable reference when the plotter scale is being changed frequently, gives our navigators an advantage they prefer.

If they were just running from a dock 200 miles offshore to a rig they wouldn’t need charts, But they are continuously threading a navigational needle through solid granite. So they prefer an edge in the most difficult parts.

When I asked them how they would quantify their dependence on plotters vs charts for their navigational work they expressed it as 70/30. 70% of their daily navigational work is accomplished on plotters. 30% is recourse in one way or another to charts.

We carry 300 charts on our runs. I would like to cut that in half, or more, to save money. Tyvex charts are expensive. But it’s up to the navigators.

It reminds me of blood pressure cuffs. We carry both modern digital blood pressure monitors aboard as well as the old-style cuff. The digital type is much better. But our medical trainers say there will be times when the patient’s arm is too big or too small for the plastic cuff, and the old style gives them an edge in certain situations. It can eliminate ambiguity.

So for medicos it’s not one or the other. It’s not an issue of reliability. It’s a matter of being a professional skilled at using a particular tool for a particular use in a particular situation.

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