Nautical charts, also known as hydrographic charts or admiralty charts, are maps of the oceans, seas, and sometimes rivers, designed for safe navigation by ship.  They show such information as water depths (usually as point soundings, but sometimes as contours), coastlines, rocks, islands, sandbanks, wharves, anchorages and navigational aids such as buoys and lights. Some charts also include coastal views or urban details.

Charts are usually issued by the navies of maritime countries. Most countries produce charts only for their own coasts and surrounding waters, but some, such as the UK and US, produce charts for all seas.


 Detail from Australian hydrographic chart AUS830, Russell Island to Low Islets, MAP G8961.P5 svar (P STACK).

Charts in the Library's collection

The National Library holds one or more charts produced by the following countries:

Australia (also covers PNG and East Timor)

Pacific:                  New Zealand (also covers Samoa, Tonga, Cook Is & Tokelau)

Europe:                UK, France, Germany (includes pre-1918 charts of German Samoa and New Guinea), Netherlands (includes Indonesia), Spain, Portugal, Yugoslavia, Norway, Russia

Asia:                      Turkey, India, China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia

Africa:                   South Africa

Americas:            USA, Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina

[Antarctica: for charts of Antarctic waters: see Australia, NZ, UK, US, France, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina].


Using charts

Explanations of chart symbols and abbreviations are produced by several countries. The British Admiralty version can be requested here.

Charts are revised by hand with minor amendments issued as “Notices to Mariners”, and eventually reissued as completely new editions when necessary. Australian Notices to Mariners can be found here.


Boating charts

Several Australian states produce charts of local waterways for recreational boating (rather than commercial shipping). These are catalogued individually in the Library’s catalogue. For more information see the state maritime agencies chart listings for Queensland ; NSW ; Victoria and WA.