Frequently Asked Questions

These frequently asked questions have been sub-divided to better assist you in locating the information you require. If your question is not answered here, please contact us at and we would be pleased to assist you.

Customer Questions

  • Am I required by law to carry CHS charts? What are the Charts and Nautical Publications Regulations of the Canada Shipping Act?


    Most vessels of any kind in Canada have an obligation to carry and use official charts and publications and to keep them up to date. The chart carriage requirements are listed in the Charts and Nautical Publications Regulations, 1995 of the Canada Shipping Act.

    CHS paper charts meet the requirements of the chart carriage regulations. CHS digital charts meet the requirements of the chart carriage regulations under certain circumstances. CHS Electronic Navigational Charts (ENCs) meet the requirements provided they are used with an Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS). CHS raster charts meet the requirements only if paper charts are carried and used as a backup.

    For further information on which charts meet the official requirements, please see our CHS Official Products and CHS Licensed Manufacturers.
  • How does CHS update its chart information?


    Many mariners understand the importance of having charts onboard but it's just as important to ensure your charts are up to date. If a buoy has changed or there is a new obstruction, you need to know about it before you encounter it, not after. CHS regularly updates charts and it's essential you have the latest updates for safe navigation.

    CHS is an active partner in the Canadian Coast Guard Notices to Mariners system, which issues critical navigation updates for Canadian navigable waters. CHS applies these notices to its charts and publications on a regular basis. You can register on the Notices to Mariners web site to receive email notifications of any updates to your charts.

    For purchasers of digital charts, CHS operates a chart updating service and updates are included for a one-year period, from the date of product purchase.

    Find out more about how you can update your paper and digital charts.
  • What is the difference between a hydrographic chart and a topographic map?


    A hydrographic chart (also known as a nautical chart or marine chart) is an essential tool used by mariners to guide them safely from port to port. These charts are specifically designed to meet the requirements of marine navigation by showing the depths of water, the nature of the sea bottom, elevations, configuration and characteristics of the coast, dangers, and aids to navigation.

    A topographic map focuses on the horizontal and vertical positions and features of land. A topographic map uses contours or comparable symbols to show mountains, valleys, and plains.
  • Are there any nautical charts of my lake?


    Canada has the longest coastline in the world and many inland navigable waters within its boundaries. Due to budget limitations CHS is restricted to charting only some of the largest of Canada's inland waterways, as well as our coastal waters. Priorities for future charts are based on the greatest need.

    However, a provincial agency may have charted the lake you are interested in or they may know of some private company that has produced a chart.
  • What is chart datum?


    Chart datum is the reference plane to which depths on a published chart, all tide height predictions, and most water level measurements are referred. Canadian charts use datums that are deliberately set low so that the amount of water actually present in a given place will rarely ever be less than what is stated on the chart.
  • Is there any way that I can print the charts out on my own printer for backup?


    Your software may allow you to print images of your digital charts on your printer. However, please be aware that images printed this way may be incomplete, and that only official paper charts issued by the Canadian Hydrographic Service meet the chart carriage requirements of the Charts and Nautical Publications Regulations, 1995, under the Canada Shipping Act.
  • Are CHS product catalogues available?


    Yes, CHS offers free product catalogues which you can order by contacting CHS at or (613) 998-4931. Chart catalogues are also available free of charge from most dealers.

    You can also view and, in some cases, print our online catalogues:

  • What digital products does CHS offer?


    CHS offers digital charts in two formats: raster charts (BSB format) and Electronic Navigational Charts (vector charts in the international S-57 standard). The raster charts are available on a series of 24 CDs and the Electronic Navigational Charts (ENCs) are available individually or on a series of nine CDs. You can search this web site for digital charts.
  • Does CHS sell individual digital charts?


    Yes. CHS offers individual Electronic Navigational Charts (ENCs) and individual raster BSB chart for sale, through its dealer network.   Please consult this list of Dealers that sell individual raster BSB charts.  
  • Do the chart numbers used for CHS digital charts correspond to the CHS paper chart numbers?


    The chart numbers listed on the back of CHS CDs correspond to the paper chart numbers for easy reference.

    However, the actual file numbers for the individual digital charts on a CD may or may not correspond with the paper chart number, depending on whether it is a raster chart or an Electronic Navigational Chart (ENC).

    The raster chart number is essentially the same as the paper chart number – the first four digits match the paper chart number. Our ENCs do not match the paper chart numbers as they follow a separate numbering system for ENCs. If you have purchased a series of ENCs, the back of your ENC CD will indicate the equivalent paper chart numbers for your convenience. The CD also contains a text file which indicates the paper chart equivalents.
  • What is the difference between raster (BSB) and vector (ENC) charts?


    Many CHS charts are available in digital form in either raster (BSB) or vector (Electronic Navigational Chart) format. Both kinds of electronic charts enable a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver to position your vessel on the screen in real-time, and both can make remarkable contributions to safer navigation.

    Raster charts are simply an electronic image of the paper charts, and provide no more information than a paper chart. Raster charts are digitized by scanning the paper chart. Each tiny segment of each line on a chart is converted to a raster picture element or pixel. These pixels are similar to a television picture or magnified newsprint in that they appear as dots on a grid. Beyond geo-referencing (allowing the cursor to sense the latitude and longitude of a vessel's position), there is no intelligence inherent in the image. Many recreational boaters have adopted raster electronic charting systems because the charts are less expensive, and the navigation software required for these charts has been tailored to meet the needs of the recreational boater. BSB v4 raster charts are not GIS compatible. Contact us at for information.

    Vector charts (Electronic Navigational Charts) are "smart charts" and carry additional information not available in paper or raster charts. Vector charts carry a wealth of geo-spatial intelligence within the data and have a database of information associated with them. On a vector chart, you can click on different features, such as a light or buoy, and retrieve additional information. For example, a wharf appears only as an image on a raster chart, but the vector system can identify it as a wharf and attach attributes to the wharf, such as height, length, age, ownership, number of berths and facilities – data that might otherwise be available only by consulting the relevant printed Sailing Directions.

    Vector charts also allow users more control over the display of the chart, such as the ability to turn different layers of information on and off. Because the vector system offers more powerful navigational flexibility and tools, it is the system of choice for large commercial ships. When combined with GPS, radar, ship course, speed and draft in an Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS), the Electronic Navigational Chart (ENC) becomes part of a powerful system that allows mariners to know their ship's position instantly and accurately and to be warned of dangerous situations.
  • What is BSB?


    BSB refers to the format of our raster charts (version 4.0). BSB Electronic Charts LLC was the company that developed the BSB format originally. BSB refers the initials of the founders. BSB Electronic Charts was purchased by Maptech in 1997. BSB v4 raster charts are not GIS compatible. Contact us at for information.
  • What is S-57?


    S-57 describes the standard to be used for the exchange of digital hydrographic data between national hydrographic offices, and for the distribution of digital data and products to manufacturers, mariners, and other data users. In Canada, the national hydrographic office is the Canadian Hydrographic Service.

    The most significant digital product being delivered in the S-57 format is the Electronic Navigational Chart (ENC). S-57 was adopted as an official International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) standard by the XIVth International Hydrographic Conference, Monaco in May 1992. The S-57 standard is also specified in the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Performance Standards for Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS).

    To find out more about the S-57 standard, visit the International Hydrographic Organization web site.
  • As a developer of electronic charts systems, what standards do I have to follow?


    To ensure your electronic chart system meets the carriage requirements under the Canada Shipping Act (Charts and Nautical Publications Regulations, 1995), it needs to be an Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) that conforms to the standards set by the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

    The ECDIS is a powerful onboard navigational tool that uses official Electronic Navigational Charts (ENCs). For a system to be certified as "ECDIS compliant" it must be tested and approved by an independent authority.

    The IHO web site contains a wealth of information on all aspects of electronic charting:

    The IMO web site contains information on performance standards.

    Systems that are not ECDIS compliant are called Electronic Chart Systems (ECS). If an ECDIS does not use the official Electronic Navigational Charts from a country's national hydrographic office, it cannot be considered an ECDIS but is instead an ECS. This is an important distinction because the carriage requirements are different for Electronic Chart Systems as outlined under the Canada Shipping Act (Charts and Nautical Publications Regulations, 1995).
  • What is the time period of a CHS license?


    When you purchase a CHS Digital Charts CD, the End User License Agreement (EULA) is valid for one year from the date of purchase and entitles you to receive free updates and free new editions for one year from the date of purchase. Your product must be registered to receive updates. Registration is also required to allow you to decrypt and use your product.

    Registration can take place online or by phoning 1-866-833-6676.

    After your one-year license expires, if you wish to continue to receive chart updates as well as new charts and new editions, you must purchase a new license.
  • I have a CD that is several years old. How can I update my CD?


    You will have to purchase a new CD from an authorized CHS dealer. Please see the list of digital chart dealers.
  • How many computers or devices can I use my digital charts on?


    When you purchase a CHS digital charts CD, you will have a licence for the installation, registration, decryption and use of the charts by you on your own primary device or computer, plus installation of one backup on another device owned by you. In the case of Electronic Navigational Charts (ENCs) you may use up to five copies of an ENC on one ship.
  • What are the differences between CHS and Value-Added Reseller (VAR) products?


    Value-Added Reseller (VAR) products are created under licence from CHS but are not "authorized" by CHS for use in navigation. These charts do not meet the chart carriage requirements and paper charts must also be carried unless the user has an Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS).

    VAR products are considered as aids to navigation and official CHS charts must be carried and used. Official products issued by CHS are updated regularly whereas VAR products are not required to be updated with the latest CHS data. For more information, please refer to the Value-Added Reseller section of this web site and our list of authorized manufacturers.
  • Which companies are licenced through CHS as VARs?


    To find an up to date list of CHS VARs, and click on the following link: CHS Official Products and CHS Licensed Manufacturers.
  • The 5th character in the BSB v4 product ID codes looks like the letter "O" and also a Zero, which is it?


    The 5th character of each product ID is actually the number "0" (zero)
  • Why doesn't CHS make its charts available for free like the United States does?


    Internationally, the United States is the only country where electronic charts are available at no charge. Canada and the U.S. have different domestic, fiscal and social policy. In the U.S. copyright laws prohibit the federal government from claiming copyright protection for the information it produces.

    In Canada, by contrast, there is no barrier to the government exercising its copyright, or from earning revenues from such copyright. As such, there is an expectation that CHS will earn revenues and royalties from the sale of charts and publications in order to partially cover the cost of publishing, distributing and maintaining those products. Surveying and charting benefit our nation as a whole, therefore the costs of conducting hydrographic surveying and producing the charts are borne by the government and funded through parliamentary appropriations. Anyone accruing a specific benefit from the use of the derived products is expected to contribute by paying a portion of the incremental costs associated with publishing, supporting, maintaining and distributing the products.

    Prices for Canadian paper charts, publications and electronic charts are among the lowest in the world. In fact, in March 2007 CHS reduced the prices of its electronic charts, both vector and raster, by more than 50% and has been constantly increasing the number of charts on most CDs. CHS also offers free updates for one year from the date of purchase of our digital products.

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