Gear & Outfitting

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach of us more than we can ever learn from books.”

–John Lubbock

Charts Vs Maps

Navigating on the water can be a little tricky for the novice. More than ever before, people rely more heavily on technology to get them from point A to point B. We can easily say, OK Google, take me to Bowman Bay and magically our phone will guide on us on our way. On the water, we usually don’t have the luxury of Google or Siri to navigate for us. 

 Waterproof GPS devices can be used to display our position, heading, and speed and most now can display a chart as well but we should not rely on these devices as they will fail at some point. On journeys, I bring along a GPS loaded with charts and waypoints but I also bring along a set of paper charts and/or maps which I use as my primary tool for navigation along with a compass or two.

A chart or nautical chart, provides a very detailed and accurate representation of the coastline which depicts varying tidal levels and water forms, critical to a marine navigator as It shows information on the area beneath the water surface, normally not visible to the naked eye, which can and is very critical for safe and efficient navigation. Charts may also depict identifiable land masses or objects to aid in navigation.


A map such as a topographical map emphasizes land forms with detailed contour lines, hiking trails, campgrounds, and various roads. Some USGS Topographical maps will even have some features found on a nautical chart such as depth contour lines and rocks but not as detailed as found on a nautical chart.


Paddling on the Washington Coast I find having both a set of Nautical Charts and USGS Maps to be useful. A chart won’t show you that there is a remote trail near the shore that leads out to a road in case of an emergency, but a map may. Maps also tend to have little hidden gems on them that you don’t get on a chart such as memorials, petroglyphs, and waterfalls.

There are many places you can get charts and maps from online sources for free and print them yourself many of which are listed in The Trip Planning area of the Resources Section on this website.

If you want to by an Official NOAA chart I recommend Captains Nautical located in Seattle as they are a small local business. They print on demand and usually have it to your door in 2 days or less from time of ordering in the Puget Sound vicinity. It’s also a really cool shop to visit as well.