Saturday, August 4, 2012

Canadian eCharts for Electronic Chart Systems

Most Northwest mariners will eventually head up the inside Passage to Alaska or at least to the beautiful inland Canadian waters of the Inside Passage, not to mention trips to the Gulf Islands, just northwest of the San Juans, and for these ventures we will need charts.

Canadian paper charts serve well, indeed, some mariners even are biased toward Canadian paper charts when they have an option of US or CND. Obtaining and using these are the same as always. Catalogs work the same, prices about the same, and outlets the same.

What is dramatically different once we cross the border, however, is the use of echarts, which is more and more a part of our routine navigation–or at least it should be considered if not yet done.  Even if one does not choose to navigate point to point by ECS (electronic charting system), echars remain extremely valuable for route planning, since many ECS include one button display of tides and currents–some will even pull in the latest weather map and forecasts.

The big difference for US mariners is, unlike the US NOAA echarts, which are all free of charge, Canadian echarts are not free. Being not free, also means they are encrypted, which adds a layer of complexity to their use.

Another layer of complexity is the new generation of echart programs from Nobeltec and MaxSea called Time Zero do not run standard format echarts at all, which has pros and cons for users and suppliers. If we were all running Macs, we would be accustomed to this control for the sake of conformity–it is not all a matter of revenue. Otherwise, modern echart programs like Coastal Explorer, Memory-Map,  and OpenCPN will run echarts from any source.

Next we have the common decision to make that applies to all echarts: Do we want raster charts (called RNC), which are graphic images of the actual printed charts, or do we want vector charts (called ENC), which are essentially formulas for the various components of the chart, which are then drawn on the fly as the ECS displays them. There are pros and cons to each, which we discuss in a forthcoming post.

I would venture to say that most mariners entering into the use of echarts for the first time will prefer the RNC, since they look like the charts they are used to. If asked, that would also be our strong recommendation. RNC are large files; Enc are small files.

Both sides of Vancouver Island and Puget Sound is 1500 MB from one source as RNC, where as the same region covered by ENC would be about 100 MB or less.

There are several sources for the Canadian echarts. The primary one is the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) who actually make the charts.  They in turn have licensed the rights to sell the charts to several other companies worldwide.

CHS has also licensed them to be incorporated into proprietary GPS charting systems, but that is not the topic at hand.These are usually sold on cartridges that plug into the GPS units.  For now we are discussing echarts purchased to be viewed and used in your own ECS system, meaning some echart navigation software program.

--------  Price comparison for Vancouver Island waters -------- 

Raster charts (RNC) in BSB v4 format

(1) CHS price $175 each, sold separately for inside and outside.
Runs in most programs that will run BSB4 format. (Will not run on Time Zero products). They seem to still include a chart viewer on the CD, but this viewer will not work on 64-bit systems such as Vista and Win7.

(2) MapMedia charts $300 for inside and outside, sold together.
These run on the new Time Zero ECS from Nobeltec and MaxSea. Includes 3d data and satellite images. They also include some inland waterways, and some related 3d and sat photo data.

Both offer free updates for the first year. MapMedia plans to charge half price after that, and CHS plans to sell us a new set after that…. but both of these programs will certainly change.

Vector Charts (ENC) in S-57, v3.1 format

(1) CHS price is $600, for each side.
The inflated price is because these are certified for use on commercial shipping, which (A) require more rigorous format standards (ECDIS), and (B) the customer base has more money.  Recall again, that the US counterparts of these are free, but they do not offer any Canadian charts... in fact, Canada has prohibited even any overlap of these as of July 2012 (see

(2) MapMedia S-57 $300
Covers inside and outside, but there is not option but to include 3d data and satellite images. The extra products provided are not needed for navigation, but added in large part to justify the high costs for these files.  These charts do not meet the ECDIS standards, nor other standards for vessels required to carry charts on board.

In principle there is an advantage to the MapMedia vector chart base besides the price, in that they offer for sale vector charts from several sources, including Jeppsen and Navionics. Vector charts are not all the same (this is not one of their advantages over raster charts!), so with inside information we can chose the ones that work best for a given region.  

MapMedia is a French company that is owned by the same company (Signet) that owns Nobeltec and Maxsea. Signet is jointly owned by Furuno-Japan and their French partner.


Rjdsmith said...

Hi David,

How do you actually purchase the maps from MapMedia? I found their site and can navigate to and even download the maps I would like, but have no idea how to use the .dbv format they come in.



David Burch said...

I think you buy them from Nobeltech or MaxSea websites.

David Burch said...

Just ran across this older article and some of this info is outdated, in particular the prices, which are lower now. Check with Captains Nautical Supply in Seattle. They sell the Canadian echarts in all formats. Also if you use Rose Point software, they have all BC in RNC or ENC for $99 each that run on their program Coastal Explorer. I think official CN price is now $199 for these.