There is no doubt that the coastlines can be treacherous to sailors and boaters alike; if sailors are unfamiliar with the islands and shoals, and the way that rocks often extend much further underwater behind islands and at the end of points than can be seen with the naked eye, the coastline can be a hazard lurking just beneath the surface of even the calmest of water. In a storm, if one is trying to get into a harbor for cover and sails too close to the land, the rocks can be violent and destructive. At the same time, the coastlines are a very valuable resource. They are beautiful and fragile and need to be protected as much as possible. Boating accidents on the coastline can cause extensive damage. Small boats can catch fire and damage trees and wildlife; larger boats, such as oil tankers or dolomite freighters, can cause even greater damage. If free charts were provided to boaters of all vocations, the seas could be a much safer and more well-protected place.
Many times, public taxes and other funds are used in government-led research to produce charts in the first place. From this point of view, it is quite wrong and unethical to then sell these charts back to the public. The public, if they have honestly paid their taxes, has already paid for the charts. They need and deserve to then be given these charts. If one sees the fruits of the money given, one will not so much resent paying the taxes in the first place. In that way, it is similar to paying for road construction: if one sees that the roads are being worked on and improved, making them much nicer to drive on, one will not mind so much letting go of that extra money. Free charts should be provided not only because they make for a safer way of life, but because the public should not have to pay twice for the same thing.
Thankfully, there are ways to go about getting free electronic charts. This is one of the great benefits of GPS and computer technology, as the charts only need to be produced once in an electronic fashion and can then be distributed extensively to all those who need and desire them. NOAA, through the Office of Coast Survey, will alloy the downloading of files that chart the coastlines and seas for all of the United States of America. This is invaluable information that is being distributed, as it is from a very recent survey and so is quite up to date. These full-color nautical charts are easy to read and understand, so the average boater with the proper unit can understand them and put them into use when boating anywhere in the United States.
If one does not have a GPS unit or has one that is not compatible with the electronic charts being given out by the NOAA, they also offer the same charts in multiple paper formats. There are charts that can be ordered and mailed to any address, high-quality charts that can then be used with any type of watercraft. If one does not want to wait for them to arrive — or perhaps does not have the time, if a trip is coming up quickly — the charts can also be downloaded and printed off at home. These will be of a lower quality, since they will be made to fit on standard computer paper, and printed on a home printer, but they are much better than sailing or boating blind, hoping one can recognize the dangers of the sea before they get too close and cause some sort of disaster to occur.
It is a bright spot in the boating and sailing world to see that free charts are being provided. This is a very necessary service, and means there is no excuse to set out upon the water without some sort of a chart, whether an electronic version or a paper version rolled up and stored in a pocket. With these charts, made so recently and taking all the coastlines into account, the seas should be safer than they have ever been at a time in the nation’s past.