Whether you use paper or electronic charts you must learn what the symbols, colors, and notations mean. In the U.S. and other countries there is a publication (paper and electronic) called Chart No. 1, which has all the chart symbols and words used on charts published by a particular country. In the U.S. you can download Chart No. 1 from www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/mcd/chartno1.htm. (In 2012 paper copies were not being printed by the U.S. government, but plans are being made for chart agents to be authorized to print paper copies.). An excellent source for a paper copy is Nigel Calder’s book, How to Read a Nautical Chart (A Complete Guide to the Symbols, Abbreviations, and Nautical Data Displayed on Nautical Charts). It has all of Chart No. 1, plus detailed explanations. Nautical bookstores and on-line booksellers stock this book. It should be aboard every boat that uses charts – you can’t remember everything and unfamiliar symbols may be very important to know.
Priscilla Travis spends more than 110 days each year on the water, takes photos, and writes about nautical topics.