Reading NOAA Charts : The Coastline
The member group of symbols NOAA charts use to represent the nature of the shoreline, in this case shorelines of varying degrees of height and steepness, are helpful to sea kayaking enthusiasts planning overnight kayak camping trips. Typically when learning how to navigate, sea kayakers and other small-boat users spend considerable amounts of time warming up reading charts.
One element of chart reading is knowing how to interpret symbols. If we’re planning an overnight seakayaking trip to a new area, or are planning a trip for a large group, one helpful skill is learning how to anticipate the nature of a shoreline we haven’t been to before, but which is described by the relevant chart. We’ll want where we can safely land and set up camp. Or we need to anticipate bailout areas where we can duck in if the weather turns for the worse or someone gets overtired or hurt. Or more simply, where we can land to eat, take a break and go to the bathroom.
Some shorelines are simply too sheer and cliffy to land on. Others give way to dunes that provide shelter from the wind. Still others are so rock and boulder strewn that landing on them can be difficult if not impossible when the seas are up. Finally there are coastline areas long and low and flat, and sandy, on which landings are easy if the waves aren’t beyond the skills of everyone in the group.
Here’s a simple chart reading quiz: What’s your take on the kind of shoreline each of the chart symbols pictured represent? Keep in mind that NOAA doesn’t deliberately try to make symbols mysterious or even obtuse. Rather, they’ve tried to make the symbols as intuitively interpretable as possible. Hint: each of the symbols represents a coastline that is not flat.
Knowing the nature of the shoreline we can expect to encounter does a lot to help us plan more successful, enjoyable trips. High, sheer bluffs and cliffs, for example, typify the so-called Bold Coast of downeast Maine. There are no places to land and seek shelter along these sections, and even a cursory glance at the chart reveals the coast’s height and bluntness. Not only would looking at the chart remind us of this inhospitable fact. We would also quite reasonably surmise that seas in the area will typically be rough with refracted and reflected waves, and that in rough weather the likely safest passage along this shore would be up to a mile off, where the seas would be less chaotic.