Monday, March 11, 2019

How to Fold a Chart

Ask a dozen cruising mariners how best to fold and store charts, and you will likely get a dozen different answers. So with that background, we boldly go on and proclaim what the best method is!

First though, we should say that if you have just a few charts, it really doesn't matter much how you keep them, it will always be easy to find what you want. The crucial issue of chart storage comes into play when you have a lot of charts, because then the situation can get very much out of hand in just one long trip or a season of day sailing with multiple charts.

The long tested solution is to fold them chart-side in, blank white paper side out, either once or twice, depending on the chart size. Most charts take two folds. Then label the corner with the chart number, as shown in Figure 12.26-1. It is best to use a consistent size and style of lettering. We’ve found that a bold Sharpie pen is ideal for this.

Figure 12.26-1. Best method for folding charts: chart-side in, labeled on the folded corner with chart number and perhaps name. Stacked in numerical order. From our text Inland and Coastal Navigation.

Then arrange the charts in numerical order and store them flat somewhere, preferably in a sealed garbage bag or other waterproof wrapping. Under a settee cushion might work, or under a bunk mattress.

The virtue of this method of folding and stacking is that when you are looking for a chart in the stack, each chart presents only one corner. Folded this way, you have a crisp, uniform presentation for all charts. If you try to fold them right side out and use the nice large chart numbers printed in each corner, then each chart will present four sheets to you as you search the stack, and they will not be uniform at all. It should in principle not be the case, but sometimes charts must be found in a hurry, and this is the method that best solves the problem.

In the old days, we would get a free printed chart catalog from your local chart dealer... but printed chart catalogs are now a thing of the past. We want one of these catalogs so we can index what charts we have on board, but now we have to get a PDF of one and print it to get the pages we need. Find a link to the chart catalog pages at Any voyage of a few days could take many charts—at least in the old days before electronic charts. Here is an example headed to Maui, which would call for two catalogs Pacific Coast and Pacific Islands. We can print the pages we need and highlight the charts we have on board. Put the catalog pages into plastic page protectors, then they go in with the charts. The HI section might look like the following.

This type of visual overview of what you have on board is very helpful, especially on long voyages on inland or coastal waters. On a long run on inland waters your index will be referred to frequently. You might use your catalog to find the ones you need for the day, pull them all out, and stack them on the chart table. When done, they can be refolded and inserted in proper numerical sequence back into your main stack for the trip back.

For a boat with a lot of charts, I cannot stress how important this operation is. On most new boats I ever sailed on, the very first thing that had to be done was spend the afternoon organizing the charts. This procedure usually reveals multiple copies of identical charts, as well as important ones that are way outdated. If you find duplicates, you might want to note the chart date in the label, and then decide what to do about them later on. In any event, they will be easy to find after this operation.

If you ever visit any Navy, NOAA, or USCG vessel that does not have a 4 by 5 foot chart locker, which can store them all unfolded, then you will almost certainly see the charts folded in the manner described above. In fact, even ships with chart lockers often use this system, which is how I first learned of this technique—buying a stack of old charts from a Navy shipyard. The technique has since been confirmed from other sources and personally tested for many years.

What now postdates my early learning and practice of this method is the advent of echarts. Headed to HI from Seattle, for example, there is no reason at all that your nav program should not have stored every chart from the states of WA, OR, CA and HI. They are free, and much easier to download by state than individually. I would also take both RNC and ENC of the ones I anticipate actually using. The others are just bail out options if something goes wrong.

Furthermore, there is also no reason at all that PDF versions of all the charts you might ever conceivably need in any contingency are not also stored in your phone or tablet. Electronics are vulnerable, but if put the chart sets in many devices onboard, you are fairly likely to have one when needed.

This allows us to be more judicious in choosing our relatively expensive paper charts ($19-$25; echarts are free), which might then reduce our selection to a bare minimum needed to cover the unlikely circumstance that all electronics are lost.

Recall, too, in the contingency mood, the valuable exercise we have in our course on making a working chart sketch from the description of a waterway found in the Coast Pilot.

Not sure we need a video to show this process, but there is one....

How to fold charts

Other video notes on charts...

Erasing property of charts

Remember you can Iron charts

What happens when nautical charts get wet


Woodlands said...

Great information and series of videos. Thanks!

Andrew de Andrade said...

Of the print-on-demand companies, which one do you think uses the best paper in terms of balancing durability (like from getting wet and folded) and ability to handle pencil markings that erase well?

Basically, if price were no object, what print-on-demand charts would you invest in if you were starting today? Buy once, cry once.

If the charts you recommend are very expensive, which print-on-demand charts do you think provides the best value? bang for the buck.

David Burch said...

We have a video on wet charts and another one there showing you can dry and iron them! In that test the paper from did the best when wet. Check out east view geospatial for the largest selection of paper types. link at