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For more than two centuries, mariners, shipping companies and international governments have relied on UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) charts to safely navigate the world’s oceans. Today, the agency announced it will cease its paper chart production and transition to fully digital products by 2027.
Plans to withdraw the UKHO’s portfolio of ADMIRALTY Standard Nautical Charts (SNCs), which are among the most trusted and widely used official paper charts in the world, come as more marine, naval and leisure users primarily rely on digital products and services for navigation. UKHO’s Thematic Charts will also go digital.
The phased withdrawal of paper charts will take place over a number of years and is anticipated to conclude in late 2026. In parallel, the UKHO says it will develop viable, official digital alternatives for sectors still using paper chart products. “This will be a carefully managed process, conducted in close liaison with all customers and stakeholders, including the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) as well as other regulatory bodies, hydrographic offices, industry partners and distributors,” the UKHO said in a statement.
“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,” said Peter Sparkes, Chief Executive of the UKHO. “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. Whether for the Royal Navy, commercial vessels or other ocean users, our focus is on developing and delivering ADMIRALTY digital services that promote safe, secure and thriving oceans.”
Transition to digital charts means the UKHO’s ADMIRALTY Maritime Data Solutions portfolio can be updated in near real-time, greatly enhancing safety of life at sea (SOLAS).
The move to digital navigation solutions comes amid a rapid decline in demand for paper charts, driven by the SOLAS-mandated transition to ECDIS and the wider benefits of digital solutions, including the next generation of navigation services, explained Sparkes.
“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. We will support users of SNCs during the withdrawal of our paper chart portfolio and work with our distributors to help users switch to digital alternatives between now and our planned date of 2026,” he added.
“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. The UKHO aims to be at the vanguard of this digital transition, continuing to provide the assured and globally trusted ADMIRALTY navigation services that seafarers the world over depend on,” Sparkes said.
Baroness Goldie, Minister of State at the UK government’s Ministry of Defence, said digitalization and rapid technological advancements in recent years has changed the world “unrecognisably.”
“When it comes to maritime, one of our priorities at the Ministry of Defence is to make shipping as safe as possible; to achieve this, the industry must continue transitioning to digital tools and technology that share data almost instantly from ship-to-ship or ship-to-shore,” said Minister Goldie.
“As one of the world’s leading authorities on navigational charts, the UKHO is well positioned to recognise the need to deliver a range of digital solutions that enhance safety and data accuracy. The decision to focus on digital products and services makes strategic and commercial sense, helping usher in a new era of maritime navigation, which will be powered by digital innovations,” he added.
Richard Bell, Assistant Director for UK Technical Services Navigation at the MCA, commented:
“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.
“We are committed to working closely with the UKHO, stakeholders and industry to make this vision a reality. Close liaison will be essential, to ensure that the technical and legislative barriers to the proposed change are overcome in advance of the UKHO’s 2026 timeline,” said Bell.
In 2019, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced a similar to plan to transition away from paper charts and move exclusively to electronic navigation charts by January 2025.
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