Marine Charts and Nautical Publications

Safe boating is more than just a matter of operating your boat in a responsible way. Before heading out on the water, you should familiarize yourself with local water hazards or dangerous conditions that may effect the safe operation of your boat.

One way to do this is to refer to a marine chart or nautical publication to determine the location of hazards on the lake, river or ocean you’re boating on as well as the location of safe harbours or shelter. You can also talk to local operators and marinas that are familiar with the waters to ask about specific hazards that you may come across or dangers you should avoid.

Marine charts are like a map of Canada’s waterways. They show safe navigation routes and the location of markers, buoys and local water hazards. To navigate safely on Canada’s waterways, every boater should know:

  • How to use a compass along with marine charts
  • How to plot a course using a marine chart
  • Positioning methods
  • How to locate and reference navigation aids on a marine chart
  • How to properly use electronic navigation equipment

Boat operators should check navigational references and publications (including tide tables) for water levels, times of low, slack and high tides and the direction of water flow. Marine charts and tide tables are published by the Canadian Hydrographic Services (CHS).

If you’re carrying nautical charts onboard they must be updated with information from Notices to Mariners available from CHS, to be sure they contain the latest changes to routes, buoys and water depth.

Marine charts depict:

  • Depth
  • Underwater hazards
  • Location and character of charted shipping routes
  • Aids to Navigation including lights, buoys and markers
  • Traffic routes
  • Adjacent coastal areas and landmarks around a body of water
  • Navigational hazards
  • Places to take shelter in the event of foul weather

The Charts and Nautical Publications Regulations require that boat operators carry the latest and largest scale versions of the following onboard with them:

  • Local Marine Charts
  • The required publications and documents (such as ‘Current Atlases’ and ‘Tide Tables’). You may be exempt from these requirements if your vessel is under 100 tons and powered by oars or if you have substantial knowledge of the local waterway.

Topographic Maps

Topographic maps can be useful to boat operators. Topographic maps depict natural and artificial features on land and include illustrations of shoreline contours, rocks, elevations and land features or hazards near or above the waterline.

In some instances, such as when a nautical chart or publication is unavailable for a body of water, topographic maps may aid in the navigation of local waterways. However, topographic maps are intended primarily for use on land, they do not depict underwater hazards, navigation aids, channels or Anchorage areas.

Topographic Map

Using a Compass

You can use a magnetic compass to determine your direction and your position on a marine chart. However, be wary when using a compass, a magnetic compass can be affected when in the proximity of metallic and electrical devices and may provide false information.

Using a Compass when Boating

Using a Marine GPS Device

Marine GPS (Global Positioning System) devices can be used to identify your location. Some of today’s systems are able to pinpoint your position to within several feet. Marine GPS devices are becoming a popular tool with boating enthusiasts.

Marine charts and nautical publications are now available in electronic format can be used in conjunction with Marine GPS to offer boaters an extremely high degree of navigation certainty. Keep in mind that Marine GPS may only be accurate to within 30 m and automotive GPS will not provide the information you need on the water.

Local Hazards

Local water dangers to be aware of include:

  • Low head dams
  • Currents
  • White water
  • Tides
  • Sudden winds
  • Overhead cables
  • Underwater cables
  • Bridges
  • Quickly building high wave conditions
  • Rapids