There are things happening to change US Charts big time and they started a few years ago to actually happen.
These free charts are BSB
charts that Maptech
used to sell in sets on CD. Maptech actually is the US contractor for making the NOAA charts and they are required to make the maps available at reasonable cost. These were the printed charts you used to buy plus they sold scanned images
as the BSB
sets on CD (still do). So if you alkready have BSB charts download like all heck and get them all.
1. Pre printed paper US charts are history
. Only paper charts you will be able to get are "Print on Demand". These you would get at any retail outlet that you may have got the old paper charts at. They are printed as you order them on a water
resitent paper and ink on a large format color plotter at the store. They really are nice looking and pretty durable. More durable than the old printed paper charts. They also will reflect most accurate information. So paper charts are better than before (not sure about the price).
2. You'll be able to download free ENC
vector charts direct from NOAA or US Army Corps of Engineers (Inland Waterways). Many if not most of these are done, but some are missing some details and not fully complete. These will be the best there is to get as far as being current
and having the most details and accuracy. They derive straight from the editors of the real charts. So are the Print On Demand charts. All US charts are made electronically and the old mylar masters are long gone. Old school
. That process has been going on for a long while and is about fully completed. By end of next year I would think for sure.
3. You'll be able to download all the charts as PDF files. Basically the large charts are made into 16 or 20 pages by slicing ip the raster charts and dropping the resolution about 1/2. Not suitable for plotting but still pretty good. I have some in the cockpit
. Right now most of the Chesapeake is done. The rest will come too. Sure you could download them all and print them out. Considering what it will cost you proably don't wat to go that route
if you want them all. I think the Maptech chart books
are nicer and worth the money
So while number one is not free number 2 and 3 are free. Maptech also has a PDA based tool that you also can download charts for free to a PDA (why am I not excited). The PDA software
is $20 so it's a cheap
deal. You can download to the PC then upload to the PDA.
So this leaves Maptech where?
They still make money
from NOAA the way they always had. They need a new game
to sell you stuff. The charts that are free are the old ones but still basically the same database as the new ones, but they won't be maintaned any more. Only the vector data base will be maintained and distributed as noted above.
Maptech also is now selling the paper chart books
with a CD that has all the charts plus lots of other stuff like aerial photo's and overlays of facilities that go with it. If you ever bought one of the large format chart books they now add a CD too. These won't go away but they are adding more value to them. They also want you to purchase
their viewers and chart software
. The BSB charts are worthless without a software app tha supports BSB charts. Almost all the popular packages do that. Some do it better by seamlessly moving between the various charts others are just viewers for the chart you load one at a time.
So the real future is vector ENC
charts as there won't be new raster charts as before. They are not needed by the folks that used to require them. Commercial
ships can now use ENC charts legally and so will all the outlets selling paper maps printed on demand. This is just a way to get you into using Maptech stuff so it really is a decent deal for now.