Having had some little (very little) experience with ships, boats and such things, I couldn't help doing a double-take at the news that paper navigation charts appear to be on the way out.
[The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] is initiating a five-year process to end all traditional paper nautical chart production...
. . .
For nearly 200 years, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey has produced traditional paper nautical chart products. Originally, this took the singular form of hard copy paper charts, today, there are several raster digital chart formats available to download or print through a NOAA certified agent. Similar to the transition from road atlases to GPS navigation systems that we have witnessed in this digital era, we are also seeing the increased reliance on NOAA electronic navigational charts (ENC) as the primary navigational product and the decreased use of traditional raster chart products. Since 2008, ENC sales have increased by 425%, while sales of paper charts have dropped by half.
The International Maritime Organization now mandates that all large commercial vessels on international voyages use ENCs. In 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard started allowing regulated commercial vessels on domestic voyages to use ENCs in lieu of paper charts. Recreational boaters are also increasingly using electronic chart displays.
. . .
Ultimately, production will be shut down for all raster chart products and services associated with traditional NOAA paper nautical charts...
There's more at the link.
I can understand the rationale behind this. Charts are very expensive to produce, requiring extreme accuracy, a high-quality paper, etc. If the demand for them isn't there, they're probably no longer cost-effective to produce. However . . . what happens when the electronics stop working? Power failures, shipboard malfunctions, even an electromagnetic pulse due to enemy action, can disable electronics before you can say "Boo!" to a goose. Without electronic or paper charts, what's a navigator to do?
I remember using the electronic Decca Navigator System in South Africa. A World War II technology, it became standardized after the war in many countries as an aid to chart-based navigation. It was relatively accurate for its day, and a big advance over older technologies. However, there were far too many ships and navigators who came to rely on it to the exclusion of traditional navigation methods. Some ships didn't even bother to have standard maritime charts of the coast. When the Decca system went down, for whatever reason, some of them had some very hairy experiences trying to navigate their way out of trouble (particularly when ships and small craft around them were doing the same thing, and nobody was paying enough attention to what other vessels were doing. Maritime near-misses and fender-benders were not uncommon.)
I'm always worried when an electronic or automated system doesn't have a physical or manual backup. As all my naval buddies confirm (sometimes profanely), Murphy's Law is alive and well, particularly at sea!
I worry about this on land, too. When I came to this country in the late 1990's, I navigated my way through over 30 states and dozens of cities using paper map books. It was a little awkward sometimes, having to pull over to check a map, then go a couple of miles, then check the map again; but they were adequate for their purpose. I haven't used a paper map in the car for over a decade, thanks to GPS navigation systems . . . but those, too, can fail. I still keep a paper map book in my vehicle, just in case that happens. I wonder how many younger drivers have ever even used one of them? Could they navigate themselves around the country, or through a strange city, without GPS?