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UK Hydrographic Office bidding farewell to paper charts

Photo: Pixabay paper_ship_navigation_chart
The UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) has set out a timeframe to bid farewell to paper charts and going fully digital.

For hundreds of years mariners relied on paper charts for ship navigation, however this has changed dramatically in recent decades with the rise of digital navigation, and UKHO is set to make its chart portfolio fully digital by the end of 2026 with the end of production of paper charts.

UKHO said the withdrawal of paper charts would be phased over a number of years through to 2026 developing viable, official digital alternatives for sectors still using paper chart products. 

Peter Sparkes, Chief Executive of the UKHO, said: “We understand the significance of this announcement, given the distinguished history of the UKHO’s paper chart production and the trust that mariners have placed in ADMIRALTY charts over the generations.

“The decision to commence the process of withdrawing from paper chart production will allow us to increase our focus on advanced digital services that meet the needs of today’s seafarers. As we look to the future, our core purpose remains the safety of shipping operations and delivering the best possible navigation solutions to achieve that.”

The UKHO has seen a rapid decline in demand for paper charts driven by the SOLAS-mandated transition to ECDIS and the wider benefits of digital solutions providing services such as optimisation and weather routing.

“Shipping is moving quickly towards a future underpinned by digital innovations, enhanced satellite connectivity at sea and optimised data solutions, supporting the next generation of navigation,” Sparkles said.

UKHOShip officer using an electronic chart

Richard Bell, Assistant Director for UK Technical Services Navigation at the MCA, said: “The MCA recognises the benefits of official digital navigation products for safe navigation, at a time when paper products make up a minority of navigation products being used at sea. This announcement by UKHO represents a clear vision for the future of navigation, which will need to be supported by official equipment and data suited to the needs of the different maritime end users. 

While the shift to electronic charts and navigation has been an inexorable there have been some concerns that with the spoofing of GPS signals that retiring the sextant and paper for good could be premature, acting as a manual back-up if a vessel’s electronic navigation systems are compromised.

More information on the UKHO’s withdrawal from paper charts can be found here