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The paperless wheelhouse: Requirements for electronic charts

Being able to navigate on paper charts might be a mark of an experienced sailor, but keeping a stack of charts on board is no longer a hard requirement. Even those charts you keep in the wheelhouse for backup might not be strictly necessary, according to a Coast Guard guidance released last year.

If you decide to go completely paperless, you’ll still need a backup - just an electronic one. And the requirements may make the owners of small boats decide to stick with paper backups, at least for now.

Your second electronic system will need to meets the same requirements as your main electronic navigation system, according to the Coast Guard, including the following:

  • The charts must be official.
  • The electronic charting system must comply with the standards set by the Radio Technical Commission for Maritime Services.
  • The electronic system must be integrated with your radar, gyro-compass, automatic identification system and external position-fixing device.

In addition, your backup system must connect to a backup power supply, since a power failure is one of the most likely scenarios for needing to revert to your backup.

Smaller vessels may stick to paper backups for now. But as navigation systems and other marine technology gets better and better, these requirements may not seem so onerous.

Whether you're done with paper charts for good or proud to keep them around, your goal should be the same: being able to safely navigate throughout your voyage, no matter what happens at sea.

Especially in bad weather, your navigational system may be your best defense against collisions, running aground or other disasters. Having two systems you can rely on is an essential part of keep your boat and crew safe. 

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