Checking Local Hazards

Because water hazards are constantly changing, boaters should not become complacent with their knowledge of local waterways and their hazards. Before each trip, boat operators should make themselves aware of any existing or new local hazards that may impede the operation of their watercraft.

Local nautical charts should be reviewed for such obstacles as overhead barriers, cables, rapids, tides, currents and other local hazards in the area of travel. It is also important to be aware of and avoid any swimming areas. Even kayaks and canoes can harm swimmers.

Nautical Charts

Nautical Chart

Many boaters today use a combination of electronic devices including GPS receivers, cellphones, and mobile applications with chart overlays to navigate their surroundings.  . Although technology is playing a much larger part in navigation, nautical charts are still an important safety tool that a boat operator can employ. Nautical charts show the specific characteristics and shape of the coastline, including the depth of the water, as well as the location of all Aids to Navigation and prominent landmarks and ports. Other relevant local navigational information will also be included. Because all waterways, including lakes, rivers and oceans, are constantly changing, nautical charts are constantly maintained and are updated regularly. Their accuracy makes them an essential tool for boater safety.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Ocean Service (NOS) is responsible for the production of a variety of nautical charts that are created and maintained to meet the safety needs of the boating public. Other related products are also available. Their offerings include nautical charts in a variety of different scales and formats. A chart that covers a relatively large boating area is a “small scale” chart, while a chart that covers a smaller area is “large scale” and will show much greater detail.

Boaters may purchase NOS nautical charts directly by mail from the NOS Distribution Branch or through any authorized agent. More than 1,700 authorized agents sell NOS nautical charts across the country. To obtain a listing of local agents, boaters can contact the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office at 1-(888) 990-6622 or

Obtaining the most current chart details is important for boater safety, as major storms and wave movements can alter the coastline. Updated chart information is available from the “Local Notice to Mariners,” which is updated weekly by the U S Coast Guard and available online at