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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 will be pleased to assist you.

Purchasing Nautical Charts and Publications for Navigational Use

Where do I purchase charts for navigational use?


To purchase nautical charts for navigational use, whether in paper or digital format, please contact a Chart Dealer near you.

If you are looking for charts for non-navigational use, please fill out the CHS intellectual property application form.

What types of digital charts are available from the Canadian Hydrographic Service?


Canadian Hydrographic Service charts are available in digital form as either a Raster Navigational Chart (RNC) or as a vector Electronic Navigational Chart (ENC). Both charts use navigation software to provide navigators with an electronic alternative to paper charts. To learn more, visit our page describing the difference between raster charts and vector charts.

Does the Canadian Hydrographic Service sell individual digital charts?


Yes. Use the Chart Index to explore the geographical extent of products produced by the Canadian Hydrographic Service; including paper charts, vector Electronic Navigational Charts (ENC), and digital raster charts (BSB).

Why doesn't the Canadian Hydrographic Service make its charts available for free like the United States of America does?


Government policies vary greatly from country to country, resulting in differences in the way that they finance their services. Some services may be provided universally while others include cost-recovery through user fees. The Canadian Hydrographic Service collects revenues from the sale of our products and services in order to partially cover the cost of producing and maintaining those products and services.

We recognize the interest in low-fee and no-fee geographic data, which is why the Canadian Hydrographic Service has reduced the prices of its electronic charts, both vector and raster, by more than 50% since 2007. In addition, the Canadian Hydrographic Service provides free access to some digital products, for personal use, and also provides straightforward and cost effective access to Canadian Hydrographic Service digital products for those wishing to use our products commercially.

Registering and Installing your Digital Charts for Navigational Use

How do I create my GCKey Account to use the CHS Digital Data Portal?


Please visit this page and follow the instructions to create your CHS Digital Data Portal account in order to register and download your Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts and digital chart updates.

How do I install Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts?


Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts can only be downloaded from the CHS Digital Data Portal. For more information on using the CHS Digital Data Portal, download the user guide.

How many computers or devices can I use my digital charts on?


Your licence is for the installation and use of the product by you on your own primary device, plus installation of one backup on the same or another device owned by you. In the case of installation and use of S-57 ENC(s) on board ships, this licence is for the installation and use of the S-57 ENC(s) on one ship, plus nine (9) additional copies on the same ship, plus installation of one backup of each S-57 ENC on the same ship or another device owned by you. This licence is not a licence for multiple, non-concurrent or concurrent network users/workstations; for such uses, a site licence is required directly from CHS. Please read the End-User Licence Agreement for more information.

How does the Canadian Hydrographic Service update its chart information?


When the Canadian Hydrographic Service is informed of new information relevant to marine navigation, hydrographers confirm its existence, location, contours and measurements accurately and the CHS publishes a notice in the Notices to Mariners (NOTMAR) so that the mariners update their impacted chart(s) and nautical publications. Mariners can register with Notice to Mariners to receive email notifications of any updates to their charts.

By law (Division 6 of the Navigation Safety Regulations, 2020), it is the mariner’s responsibility to ensure that they carry the required charts and nautical publications and that they are up-to-date.

For instance, mariners must ensure that their chart is the most recent edition. The edition date is indicated on the bottom left corner of all charts, which differs from the release date. Mariners can verify the correct edition date by accessing the Notice to Mariners web site or CHS' List of Charts.

When it is urgent for safety considerations that the new information is provided to mariners, a Navigational Warning (NAVWARN) is issued on the NAVWARN website.

How often are digital chart updates distributed?


Once you have registered your product, you will have access to two years of free downloads via the CHS Digital Data Portal. You simply need to log in and check the status of the product to see if updates are available. Product updates are released periodically as new data becomes available, has been validated, and integrated onto the product. Different products are updated on different schedules, and it is important that you check the CHS Digital Data Portal regularly for updates to ensure that your chart files are up to date. Find out more about how to update your paper and digital charts.

Can I register products that are from 2020 or earlier?


No. As stated in the CHS End User Licence Agreement, Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts are valid for registration and updates for two years after the initial date of registration. In order to continue to receive updated charts, please contact a dealer near you to purchase your products again.

I have a CD that is several years old. How can I update my CD?


Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts are now provided via digital download only using the CHS Digital Data Portal. Products that are on a CD are no longer supported. In order to receive up-to-date charts, please contact a dealer near you to purchase your products again.

Will Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts work in a handheld GPS?


Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts work on any device where the manufacturer provides a mechanism for importing Raster Navigation Charts in the BSB format or Electronic Navigational Charts in the S-57 format onto the device, as well as the related functionality to use the data. Please consult the manufacturer of your device for more information.

How do I load my digital charts on my navigational software or handheld device?


Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts are compatible with many navigation software packages. Please consult with the manufacturer of your navigation software and/or your device for information on how to install as well as transfer Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts from your computer. Unfortunately, due to the large number of software packages on the market, the Canadian Hydrographic Service cannot provide software technical support for these packages.

Questions about Nautical Charts

Am I required by law to carry Canadian Hydrographic Service nautical charts and publications on board my vessel?


Yes. Carriage requirements and application are provided for in Division 6 of the Navigation Safety Regulations, 2020, made under the authority of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, administered and enforced by Transport Canada.

For further information please take a moment to read about our legal framework.

Can I print Canadian Hydrographic Service nautical charts or publications on my own printer as a backup?


All title and Intellectual Property Rights in and to the Product are the property of the Crown and are protected by law.

While your software may allow you to print images of your Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts using your own printer, please be aware that images printed this way may be incomplete, and will not meet the requirements of the Navigation Safety Regulations, 2020, under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.

Digital publications as published on our website may be printed or reproduced in any format, without charge or further permission, provided that it is for non-commercial purposes, i.e. not for sale, trade or any profit whatsoever. To be used for navigation, the reproduction must be an unaltered, true copy of the publication found as published on our website, and kept up-to-date at all times.

Publications shall not be printed or otherwise reproduced in whole or in part for commercial purposes (i.e. in the purpose of sale, trade or any profit whatsoever), without prior written permission from the Canadian Hydrographic Service.

Is there complete digital coverage of Canadian waters?


Although there is broad digital coverage of Canadian waters, in some areas Canadian Hydrographic Service field data may only be available in paper format. A significant number of charts are available in electronic form, but not all. Some charts are not suitable for use with modern navigation systems such as the Global Positioning System, and for safety reasons the Canadian Hydrographic Service cannot make these charts available until they have been reconstructed. Refer to our Chart Index to explore the extent of products produced by the Canadian Hydrographic Service.

Are there any nautical charts of my lake?


Canada is a large country, has the longest coastline in the world and many navigable waters within its boundaries. CHS does not have the resources to survey and chart all waters, and by law, has no obligation to chart all of them. The Canadian Hydrographic Service makes decisions on what waters to survey and chart in priority, depending on relevant considerations, such as the safety of navigation, the efficiency and density of maritime traffic and the natural features of the area (tides, currents, winds, geography of the area, hazards). Accesses to ports and waters accessible to ocean-going vessels are a priority.

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 water level will seldom fall below it and only rarely will there be less depth available than what is portrayed on the chart. The following three criteria place somewhat more restriction on its choice. Chart datum should be:

  1. so low that the water level will but seldom fall below it,
  2. not so low as to cause the charted depths to be unrealistically shallow, and
  3. it should vary only gradually from area to area and from chart to adjoining chart, to avoid significant discontinuities

In geodesy a datum is defined by a set of parameters specifying the reference surface or the reference coordinate system. Therefore two types of datums are required: a horizontal datum, which forms the basis for computations of horizontal control surveys in which the curvature of the Earth is considered, and a vertical datum, to which elevations are referred.

For further questions related to the vertical datum, please refer to our tides and currents page.

Questions about CHS data for non-navigational Use

What licensing options are available to acquire Canadian Hydrographic Service products and data for non-navigational use?


A variety of licensing options are available, depending on the type and intended use of the data. Please visit the licensing options page to learn more. If you are interested in obtaining data, fill out an intellectual property application form.

Can I purchase datasets with more soundings than displayed on a chart (i.e. denser data at a larger scale)?


The Canadian Hydrographic Service conducts hydrographic surveys that collect all the reference field data for the information displayed on a chart. These data sets, commonly called field sheets or source data sets, are composed of numerous soundings at a larger scale. Data may be available in digital or graphic form depending on its age and location. Please fill out an intellectual property application form if you are interested in obtaining data.

How do I obtain charts or data that will work with Geographic Information System (GIS) programs like ESRI ArcGIS?


To obtain charts or data that will work with GIS programs, please fill out an intellectual property application form.

What is the vertical datum for the Canadian Hydrographic Service Non-Navigational (NONNA) dataset?


There are various valid vertical datums associated with Canadian Hydrographic Service bathymetric sources. The NONNA cells are created by combining multiple Canadian Hydrographic Service sources into 1 NONNA cell. If even 1 contributing source is on a different datum, then we cannot definitively say what the NONNA cells vertical datum is. The Canadian Hydrographic Service is working to vertically adjust all contributing sources to a PACD (Presently Adopted Chart Datum), however, there will still be some ambiguity regarding the vertical datum.

On most Canadian coastal charts the surface of lower low water, large tide (LLWLT) has been adopted as chart datum. However, the term "lowest normal tide" or "LNT" has been retained on the charts since it encompasses a variety of other choices for chart datum on some older charts.

In non-tidal waters, chart datum is often assigned an elevation on some vertical reference system. On the Great Lakes, water level and chart datum elevations are presently referenced to International Great Lakes Datum (IGLD) 1985.

Once all contributing sources are PACD, we will be able to state that the NONNA products are referenced to PACD, however, this not a uniform datum because it encompasses multiple datums.

You can also read the full NONNA FAQ here.

Questions about Tides, Currents, and Water Levels

Where can I obtain Canadian tidal predictions?


Tidal predictions, observations, and forecast information can be obtained from our web services which are available from our Tides, currents, and water levels website. Alternatively, there are seven separate volumes of the Canadian Tide and Current Tables publication which can be downloaded by visiting the nautical publications section of our website.

How do I get water level information by phone?


The Canadian Hydrographic Service provides Canadians with timely information and updates to current water levels activity including tidal predictions. Chart your own course safely by finding out water levels by phone. By calling 1-877-775-0790, you can listen to tidal predictions on the Water Level Information System of the Canadian Hydrographic Service.

What is the difference between tidal predictions and forecasts?


Tidal Predictions: Estimation of past, present, and future water levels. This estimation is based on a calculation method that mainly takes into account astronomical phenomena. It does not include meteorological effects on water levels.

Forecasts: Projected future water levels, including approximation of all sources of water level variability. The calculation is based on the combination of tidal predictions and recently observed differences between tidal predictions and real-time observations. Forecast information is only for operational stations providing real-time observations.

Questions about Value Added Resellers (VARs)

What are the differences between Canadian Hydrographic Service and Value-Added Reseller (VAR) products?


Value-Added Reseller (VAR) products are created by third parties under licence from the Canadian Hydrographic Service and incorporate Canadian Hydrographic Service data along with other value-added data or services, but these products do not meet the requirements of the Navigation Safety Regulations, 2020 under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.

For more information, please refer to the Value-Added Reseller section of this web site and our list of authorized manufacturers.

Which companies are licensed through Canadian Hydrographic Service as VARs?


To find an up to date list of Canadian Hydrographic Service VARs, click on the following link: CHS Official Products and CHS Licensed Manufacturers.

Do you provide exclusive licences for value-added products?


No. The Canadian Hydrographic Service only issues non-exclusive, non-transferable, non-assignable licences.

Is there screening criteria?


Yes, each application is screened prior to approval.

Do copyright and intellectual property rights stay with the Canadian Hydrographic Service?


Yes, copyright and intellectual property rights remain the property of the Crown. Your Value-Added Reseller (VAR) licence does not transfer copyright, and does not authorize the sale, sub-licence, lease, or assignment of the Crown's data, or application for any patent in relation to the Crown's data.

Are VAR products recognized under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001?


No, VAR products do not meet the requirements of the Navigation Safety Regulations, 2020 under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and VAR products must carry a disclaimer to that effect.

Are VAR products recognized as Canadian Hydrographic Service products?


No, VAR products are not recognized as Canadian Hydrographic Service products for the purposes of navigation.

Can I use the Canadian Hydrographic Service crest on my VAR product?


No, VAR products may not include the Canadian Hydrographic Service crest, the original product name, or any other annotation that may be interpreted as a Canadian Hydrographic Service product or an endorsement by the Canadian Hydrographic Service or by the Crown.

How do I acquire the source materials once a licence has been granted?


The Canadian Hydrographic Service will provide the necessary materials once a licence has been signed and the appropriate royalty payment has been made.

Are VARs required to submit regular reports?


Yes, reports pertaining to the production and sales of the VAR products are required on a regular basis and these reporting requirements are detailed in the applicable licence agreement.

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