Chart Management

Managing a large and growing inventory of charts gets to be a problem on a sailboat with a limited amount of storage. Here's what we learned while cruising on Callipygia.

          We began our cruising career with a manageable collection of charts--the Chesapeake Bay to Maine and back. Then we needed charts to get to Florida. Then to the Bahamas. Then to the Caribbean as far as Trinidad. Then crossing the Atlantic. And, if we make it to Ireland, we'll need charts of the UK. We're reluctant to get rid of any, because--well, you just never know...... But, clearly, the number of charts we have on board is growing with every mile we add to our cruising experience.

          We started out solely with paper charts, and continued to have paper charts of our cruising area even although we were slowly moving to electronic charting. If we had good electronic charts, and good cruising guides, we no longer felt the need to have quite as many paper charts as before, but the rate of growth never shrank much. As we became more proficient at electronic charting, we felt we gained a slight safety edge--so long as electronic charts and GPS work. If we lose power, or equipment dies, we feel the need to have paper charts to fall back on--not to mention the skills and tools to pilot properly, or do celestial navigation. Also, we like to have paper charts to plot our log positions on when we're on major passages. We find that planning a passage, and doing the navigation underway, an interesting and fun task.

          There are essentially two ways to keep paper charts. Folding, or rolling. We started out as "folders" and kept our charts under the cabin seats, or (for chart kits) piled up on a shelf at the nav station. But after a while we got kind of overwhelmed because we had so many paper charts and couldn't quite keep track of which cushion they were under, and so we became "rollers"--except for the charts we were currently using (see below). Then, for long-term storage, we rolled our charts in Batches (of anywhere from 5 - 20 charts), with each Batch secured with 3 rubber bands. A batch contained all the charts for a particular area. A Batch Number was printed in red on a piece of paper with a list of the chart #s in the batch, and then wrapped around the end and secured with another rubber band. We put all the rolls together, wrapped them in plastic, and stored them vertically between the cabin table and the mast. (We wrapped them in plastic, because from time to time we had drops of water coming down the mast.)

          We kept an inventory of all charts, and chart kits, in a spreadsheet, with the following columns:

          We printed out this spreadsheet, sorted by General Area covered, and put a cover sheet with an index on top that for each Batch listed:

          We kept this inventory, pages stapled together, in a plastic sleeve with the other inventories in a wall pocket above the Nav Station. We found this made it easy to see at a glance where to look for a chart, or to find out if we had a particular chart.

          When we were using a particular batch of charts, we reverted to being "Folders", since it's easier to work on charts that have been folded so as to fit on (1) the Nav Station, (2) the refrigerator top, or (3) the cabin table. Most were too big to fit on any of these areas, so we folded the Batch of charts we were currently using for convenience and kept them (folded) under the port-side cushions in the cabin until we were done with them, at which point we rolled them up again to store out of the way. We found Chart Kits, or (BA) Leisure Folios, extremely convenient. These are smaller charts either spirally bound together, or placed as a set inside a plastic cover (which is nice because you can plot on it with a china marker). We far prefered these (where available) to the very large government charts from which they are drawn. However, they're not universally available.

          We kept all our chart catalogued together in a lexan wall pocket in the main cabin. When we ordered charts, we used a yellow highlighter to indicate which ones we'd ordered. That way, when we were planning a cruise, and we went to the chart catalog(s), we could see which ones we already had.


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Bill Dillon (KG4QFM)
Pat Watt (KG4QFQ)
This page was last modified on August 9, 2009

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