New to navigation: what paper charts do you recommend?

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  • #17366
    Phil Jones

    Hello SKABC members. Peggi (my wife) and I recently purchased a tandem kayak and joined SKABC. It’s a pleasure to be here.

    Although we’ve done many kayak trips with guides over the years, we are now interested in getting competent at navigation on our own and want to make sure we can do it ‘old school’, using paper charts instead of relying too much on technology. We purchased Ferrero’s 2nd edition of “Sea Kayak Navigation”, which seems well written as we delve into it. Now we need some charts to work with and we are looking for recommendations. Where do you get your charts and tide tables? Do you purchase Canadian Hydrographic Service pcharts/tables from local dealers? Do you print from online sources? etc. Any guidance you can provide to newbies would be much appreciated. Thanks, Phil Jones

Viewing 13 replies - 1 through 13 (of 13 total)
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  • #17418
    Phil Jones

    I want to thank everyone for all of the informative replies. Lots to learn which is both exciting and humbling!

    I bought CHS Chart 1 and a chart for Indian Arm, starting my paper chart journey. Then, based on some info from Nick I also looked into OpenCPD, went down that rabbit hole, and found this comment on OpenCPD: “Note: O-Charts carries affordable official licensed Canadian charts now”. Further down that rabbit hole, and Euro 20 later, I had a full set of charts for the West coast of Canada installed in OpenCPD. They don’t meet “carriage requirements” but seem pretty good for exploring/planning/etc. Just wanted to share in case this is news for any of you. If anyone wants to learn more about this, let me know. Here’s a PNG from a screen grab.

     oeSENC Chart, Indian Arm (o-chart in OpenCPD)

    Maureen Benzon

    I love my chest of charts. I keep them loosely folded, in no particular order. I buy a chart when I kayak in a new area. It’s as good as a bookcase. Every time I go to my chest to find a chart, I page through all my used ones, and the memories of those trips come flooding back.

    Buy the charts at any marine outfitter, use and enjoy them!

    btw. I also travel with a GPS. It is a fun toy that can be used to check speed and position if you are not sure. Best of all you can save your track and print using the electronic chart when you get home. I use Blue Chart and love it! It is worth the investment, but they are funny about licensing, so if you upgrade your unit you have to buy the software again, and that seems very wrong, but entering waypoints is much easier on a laptop than on the device. I don’t delete waypoints so if I revisit an area, I get the memories popping up again. Welcome to the wonderful world of kayaking.

    Next year be sure to sign up for the Navigation course for some real inspiration.

    Ellen Wood

    Another point I forgot to mention is that you should probably get yourself a copy of Chart 1, which explains all of the chart symbols. You can purchase a hard copy or it’s downloadable for free at

    Phil Jones

    Thanks for the resources Daniel!

    Phil Jones

    Thanks for your generous offer of some phone coaching Ellen. We may take you up on that. I think I’ll start by going and buying some chart(s?) for Indian Arm and dig into those for a bit. Then when I have my list of questions, I’ll probably reach out via e-mail. Thanks! Phil

    Phil Jones

    Thanks Yekaterina! We were thinking of starting off as you suggest, with familiar territory such as Indian Arm and maybe Pitt Lake. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Phil Jones

    Thanks Nick! I was wondering about buying and printing electronic charts, laminating them, etc. What nav application do you use on your computer?

    Ellen Wood

    I’m a professional mariner – I navigate big ships for a living, but my real passion is kayaking! I’m always happy to help my fellow kayakers whenever I can because many have helped me. Several years ago, a friend and I also circumnavigated Vancouver Island using only a Chart and compass for navigation – no electronics whatsoever so I’m a big believer in the “old school” methods.

    Most local marine stores carry charts as do some kayaking stores. Your best bet would be to go there and pick up a chart catalogue, which is free. The chart catalogue is basically a chart covering the area (in our case, it covers the whole west coast). You can then pick an area you where you’d like to go and it will show you the chart number(s) you will need. They’re colour coded for larger and smaller scales – one red one blue, but I can’t recall which is which. Pick the largest scale ones you can for the area – i.e. the ones that have the most detail but cover the smallest area. You especially need these ones for kayaking because the details are more important for kayakers than anyone else. Please stick with only charts from the Canadian Hydrographic Service (or foreign equivalents), where ever you decide to buy them.

    Anyways, I’d be quite happy to discuss these things more if you have questions. You can contact me at I’m working right now – the hours are long and rest is critical. I’m home in about 10 days and can talk further then, but for now I can answer quick questions by email.

    Daniel Del Vecchio

    I am new to this too but here some of the ressources I used or learn from:


    also SKABC have a library with some books on the subject.



    Yekaterina Yushmanova

    Welcome to be club! Nick and Tracey did a great overview of the options out there. My two cents to add: I found it very useful when learning the basics to get a chart of a local area where I paddle often (False Creek, Deep Cove, etc). I would chart a course even for a half day paddle at home, locate a spot or two of interest, and then practice following the course on the water and locating the spots. Made me faster and more confident.

    I usually buy the charts from the stores Tracey mentioned, but Nick is right that laminated once are easier to use and last better.

    Nick Heath

    Yes, welcome, Phil.

    I’m not recommending what I do, but I’ll tell you anyhow…

    Yes, I have many paper CHS charts, some old some newer. I love them and, for the information that they contain, they are inexpensive, but they are inconvenient. To start, they are not a good fit in a chart case that is usable in a kayak. Secondly, they need lots of home storage space, preferably flat. Thirdly, one never seems to have the correct chart when wanting to view one on a cold winter night at home…

    So electronic charts are far more convenient because one can view which ones you want, print out (and laminate) those that you will need on a trip and save some money, too. A printed laminated chart is (I think ) the best for kayaking, although the purist navigator will complain that the necessary pencil notations cannot then be made as you check your running fixes and do dead reckoning (deduced reckoning, really) as you paddle along.

    I have 2 sets of CHS electronic charts – one a bit old (8 yr) and one ancient.  I regularly use the ancient ones because they have no security key and after changing computers numerous times I eventually lost the security code to the newer ones.

    Technically, the master of a vessel must carry current charts and that means updating them annually or whenever a ‘Notice to Mariners’ is issued for that area.  This is definitely overkill for kayakers, who don’t need to know that Q53 buoy has been moved 15 m to the W or that the revised charted depth in Friendly Channel is actually 7.8 m rather than the originally published 8.5 m. The terrain does not move much.

    I will be happy to share some or all of these old charts with you. To read them you will need a navigation application on your computer. There are some good ones that are free or some inexpensive ones you can buy. You can usually save output as a pdf and use a colour printer at some retail outlet if you don’t own one.

    Another way to go is to use Navionics – always current (as required), available for your handheld devices, but not to easy (for me at least) to print off to take with you.

    I would never rely on electronic gizmos for 100% of nav needs.

    At one time I bought Garmin’s BlueCharts for my GPS and that worked well for a while, until the device ate them – an expensive loss!

    I prefer route planning on a computer and CHS electronic charts do that well.

    I’m sure there will be others with very differing opinions!

    Phil Jones

    Thanks Tracey! That’s very helpful!

    Tracey Pham

    Welcome to the club Phil and Peggi. It’s a great idea to use charts for navigation even if you have a GPS, it is not “old school” at all. If you are in Vancouver, you can buy charts and tide tables at Ecomarine on Granville Island, or Steveston Marine on W 5th or Richmond. The club also runs a Navigation course every year usually earlier in the season that talks about navigating, so you can look out for it next year in April/May.

    Happy paddling!

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