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.

Customer Questions

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


Vessels of any kind in Canada have an obligation to carry and use official charts and publications issued by or on the authority of the Canadian Hydrographic Service, and to keep them up to date. The chart carriage regulations are listed in the Navigation Safety Regulations, 2020 under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.

  • CHS paper charts meet the requirements of the chart carriage regulations.
  • Canadian Hydrographic Service 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 Navigational Charts (RNCs) 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 list of CHS Official Products and CHS Licenced 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 that 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 its charts and it is essential that 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 Notice to Mariners web site to receive email notifications of any updates to your charts.

It is the mariner’s responsibility to ensure that the edition date of 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 (view figure 1 below). Mariners can verify the correct edition date by accessing the Notice to Mariners web site and/or CHS' List of Charts.

For purchasers of Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts, CHS operates a chart updating service and updates are included for a two-year period, from the date of product purchase. Find out more about how you can update your paper and digital charts.

Figure 1. Location of the edition date on Chart 3598

Figure 1. Location of the edition date on Chart 3598

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 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 surveyed the lake you are interested in or they may know of a 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?


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 that only official paper charts issued by the Canadian Hydrographic Service meet the chart carriage requirements of the Navigation Safety Regulations, 2020, under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.

Are CHS product catalogues available?


Yes. CHS offers free product catalogues which you can order by contacting CHS at or by accessing our online catalogues. Chart catalogues are also available free of charge from most dealers.

What digital products does CHS offer?


CHS offers Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts in two formats: Raster Navigational Charts (RNC) in the BSB format and Electronic Navigational Charts (ENC) in the international S-57 vector format. RNCs and ENCs are available individually or regional collections. You can search this web site for digital charts.

What is BSB?


BSB refers to the format of our raster charts. The BSB format was developed subsequent to a 1994 agreement between three corporations, Better Boating Association, Inc. (BBA), James W. Sewall Company (Sewall), and Blue Marble Geographics, Inc. (BMG), who formed a partnership named BSB Electronic Charts LLP to engage in manufacturing and distributing a digital computerized database of nautical charts.  BSB Electronic Charts LLP was purchased by Maptech in 1997.

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.

What is the difference between raster (BSB) and vector (ENC) charts?


Many CHS charts are available in digital form as either a Raster Navigational Chart (RNC) in the BSB format or as an Electronic Navigational Chart (ENC) in the S-57 vector format. Both kinds of electronic charts, when used with navigation software, relieve the navigator of many of the traditional paper chart routines, and contribute to safer navigation.

RNCs are simply an electronic image of the paper charts and as such provide no more information than that available on the paper chart. Raster charts are digitized by scanning the paper chart. Beyond geo-referencing, there is no intelligence inherent in the raster image.

ENCs are vector charts or "smart charts" and are coded with additional information not available in paper or raster charts. ENCs carry a wealth of geo-spatial intelligence through a database of information associated with them. On an ENC the user can click on different features, such as a light or buoy, and retrieve additional information about the feature.

For more information, please visit What is the difference between a raster chart and a vector chart?

Does CHS sell individual digital charts?


Yes. CHS offers individual Electronic Navigational Charts (ENCs) in the S-57 vector format and individual Raster Navigational Charts (RNCs) in the BSB format for sale through its dealer network. If you would like to submit a licence request for this data for non-navigation purposes please visit the CHS Digital Data Portal. Please note that products intended for navigational use must be acquired through the CHS dealer network.

Do the chart numbers used for CHS digital charts correspond to the CHS paper chart numbers?


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

The RNC 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. The compressed folder (zip) contains a text file which indicates the paper chart equivalents.

As a developer of electronic charts systems, what standards do I have to follow?


To ensure that your electronic chart system meets the carriage requirements under the Navigation Safety Regulations, 2020 of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 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.

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 Navigation Safety Regulations, 2020 of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.

What is the time period of a CHS licence?


When you purchase Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts, the End User Licence Agreement (EULA) is valid for two years from the date of purchase and entitles you to receive free updates and free new editions for two years from the date of purchase. Your product must be registered with the CHS Digital Data Portal to receive updates. After your two-year licence expires, if you wish to continue to receive chart updates as well as new charts and new editions, you must purchase a new licence.

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


You will have to acquire a new chart collection from an authorized CHS dealer. Please see the list of digital chart dealers.  Charts are now provided via digital download only.

Why doesn't CHS make its charts available for free like the United States does?


Canada and the U.S. have different domestic, fiscal and social policies. 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 digital charts available. Effective in 2015, CHS offers free updates for two years from the date of purchase of our digital products.

What file formats are available to download for the NONNA-100 bathymetric dataset?


CHS is currently only providing the NONNA-100 in GeoTIFF and XYZ (Ascii) format. Users of the data are welcome to use the data formats provided to export to other file formats that may be desired. It is incumbent upon the data user to search out methods that could be used to convert to different data formats.

Technical Support

Creating your 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 access your Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts.

How do I contact CHS if I have questions about my charts?


If you have any questions about your Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts, please contact CHS by email at and we would be happy to assist you. CHS is pleased to offer support in both official languages.

What do I have to do to install Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts?


You must download your CHS digital charts from the CHS Digital Data Portal.  You will need to sign up for a GCKey account which will grant you access to the web application. Once logged in to the CHS Digital Data Portal, you will be able to download products and their updates for the duration of your licence agreement.  After having downloaded the files, you will need to decompress (unzip) them and run the setup.exe that is found within.  Direct the installer to place the files in C:\Chartkit which is the most commonly used folder for electronic navigational chart software.  If there is no setup.exe, simply copy the contents of the folder to C:\Chartkit.

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


When you purchase Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts, you will have a licence for the installation, registration and use of the Raster Navigational Charts (RNC) 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 (ENC) you may use up to nine copies of each ENC on one ship, plus one backup.

Can I register products that are from 2016 or earlier?


You may continue to use your product if it is already installed; however, products from 2016 or earlier are no longer supported for new registrations and/or updates. 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 maintain safe navigation, please contact a dealer near you to renew.

How and how often are updates distributed?


Once you have registered your product, you will have two years of free downloads that will be available via the CHS Digital Data Portal. You simply need to log in and check the status of the product. Monthly updates are available through this web application whenever updates are applicable.

If your products are two years old or older, they are no longer eligible for updates. In order to help facilitate navigation safety, please obtain a new product from a dealer near you.

Do the CHS digital chart collections contain navigation or viewer software?


No. Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts collections do not contain navigation or chart viewing software.

How do I load my 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, CHS cannot provide software technical support for these packages.

Alternatively, you can purchase Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts from third parties in a format that is compatible with the iPad (for example), but the Canadian Hydrographic Service digital charts product you purchased is only supported by CHS for use on Microsoft Windows computers.

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.

There are manufacturers of handheld units and other devices that participate in the CHS Value-Added Reseller Program and are licenced to use CHS charts and data. Value-added products do not, however, meet the chart carriage requirements of the Navigation Safety Regulations, 2020 under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.

How do I apply the downloaded BSB updates on a Mac?


To enable raster navigational chart updates on a Mac, use "The" (which is a free download from the Mac App Store) to open the chart zip archive file.

  1. Use The to open the zip file.
  2. Copy these files from BSBCHART into the current chart folder, replacing any previous versions of files with the same name.
  3. Reload the charts into the navigation program and verify if the new files are being used by looking at the Notices to Mariners date information on the charts and comparing it to the information in the 20xx_.TXT file that is in the root folder of the zip file.
How does one obtain charts or data that will work with GIS programs, e.g. ESRI ArcGIS?


To obtain charts or data that will work with GIS programs, please visit the CHS Digital Data Portal to submit a licensing request.

Value-Added Resellers

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, click on the following link: CHS Official Products and CHS Licenced Manufacturers.

Do you provide exclusive licences for value-added products?


No, exclusive licences are not granted for value-added products to Value-Added Resellers (VARs). CHS only issues non-exclusive, non-transferable, non-assignable basis.

Is there screening criteria?


Yes, each application is screened prior to approval.

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


CHS will provide the necessary materials once a licence has been signed and the appropriate royalty payment has been made.

Do copyright and intellectual property stay with CHS?


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?


VAR products do not meet the requirements of the Navigation Safety Regulations, 2020 under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 because they are not official products issued by CHS. VAR products must carry a disclaimer to that effect.

Are VAR products recognized as official CHS products?


VAR products are not recognized as official CHS products for the purposes of navigation. Official CHS charts and publications must be used for navigation.

Can I use the CHS crest on my VAR product?


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

Are VARs required to submit regular reports?


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

Is there complete digital coverage of Canadian waters?


Although there is broad digital coverage of Canadian waters, in some areas CHS field data may only be available in paper format. A significant number of charts are available in raster 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 CHS cannot make these charts available until they have been reconstructed. Please refer to our catalogues of digital charts.

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


CHS conducts hydrographic surveys that collect all the reference field data that supports 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. They may be licenced in a similar fashion as the CHS charts. Data may be available in digital or graphic form depending on its age and location.

What formats are field sheet or source data sets available in?


An online catalogue of field data is available on the Digital Data Portal. Please contact us at for more information on pricing and formats.

What licensing applies to field sheet or source data sets?


A variety of licensing options are available, depending on the intended use of the data, the legal status of the requestor and the type of data being requested.  Please visit the Digital Data Portal or contact us at for details.

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