Paper Charting Information

Use of Paper Charts in Australian Waters Explained

Who publishes official paper charts covering Australian waters?
Official charts are those issued by, or on the authority of, a Government authorised Hydrographic Office or other relevant government institution. The Australian Hydrographic Office (AHO) is Australia’s national charting authority. All official nautical charts covering the Australian Charting Area are published and updated by the AHO. 

The Australian Hydrographic Office (AHO) publishes and updates approximately 500 official paper nautical charts.

Coverage includes Australian, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and Australian Antarctic Territory waters published as 'Aus' charts and Solomon Islands waters published as 'SLB' charts. For details, visit our Australian Chart Index 'online catalogue' or refer to our paper index charts, Aus 5000, Aus 5001 and SLB 1001, which are available from AHO Distribution Agents.

Selected AHO published paper charts are reproduced by the UK Hydrographic Office in their world-wide Admiralty chart series. AHO published charts within the Admiralty chart series are easily identified by their 'Aus' and 'SLB' chart numbers.

The AHO has been publishing paper nautical charts since 1942. They are relied upon and trusted by Australian and international commercial vessels, recreational vessels and the Royal Australian Navy.

What are the benefits of official paper charts over non official paper charts?
Official paper nautical charts:

  • Are issued by, or on the authority of, a Government authorised Hydrographic Office or other relevant government institution.
  • Are quality controlled and Government assured. Each paper nautical chart results from months of painstaking work to ensure that it is as accurate as possible.
  • Are updated regularly for navigationally critical information. Updates for Aus and SLB charts are published fortnightly. 
  • Enable commercial and recreational vessels to meet chart carriage regulations.

Non – official paper nautical charts:

  • Are not issued by, or on the authority of, a Government authorised Hydrographic Office or other relevant government institution.
  • May not be so rigorously quality controlled.
  • May not be updated as regularly for navigationally critical information.
  • Do not enable commercial vessels to meet chart carriage regulations.

Which paper chart services include official Aus and SLB charts?

AHO chart series: The AHO distributes the full portfolio of Aus and Solomon Islands charts via AHO Distribution Agents.

UKHO Admiralty chart series: A selection of charts from the Aus and SLB series is reproduced by the UK Hydrographic Office in their world-wide Admiralty chart series. The charts included in this series cater for large international commercial vessels and provide coverage of major shipping routes and commercial ports. Approximately 260 out of the total of 500 Aus and SLB charts are included. Aus and SOlomon Islands charts within the Admiralty chart series are easily identified by their ‘Aus’ and 'SLB' chart numbers.

Aus and SLB charts which are not reproduced by the UKHO are not listed in their catalogue (but the limits are shown on the face of their reproductions). If you use the UKHO catalogue, you should be aware that a more appropriate Aus or SLB chart at a large scale may be available from an AHO Distribution Agent.

Aus and SLB charts included in the Admiralty chart series are available from British Admiralty Chart Agents (

How will I recognise an official Aus chart of Australian waters?
You will be able to recognise AHO published official paper nautical charts by their ‘Aus’ chart number and the AHO crest above the chart’s name.

How will I recognise an Aus chart reproduced in the Admiralty chart series?
Aus charts which have been reproduced by the UK Hydrographic Office for inclusion in the Admiralty chart series will have a statement to that effect in the lower margin of each chart.  If not, the chart has been directly produced and supplied by the AHO.

How are official paper charts kept up to date?
It is extremely important that all chart users keep their paper charts up-to-date for the latest safety-critical information.  It is necessary to meet chart carriage regulations and to keep your vessel and all on board safe. 

Notices to Mariners updates are the means by which all national hydrographic services provide the latest safety critical information to mariners. The AHO produces Notices to Mariners updates affecting Aus and SLB charts and publishes them in fortnightly Australian Notices to Mariners editions. The UK Hydrographic Office then copies the selection of Notices applicable to the Aus and SLB charts included in their Admiralty series and re-publishes the content of the Australian Notice in Admiralty Notices to Mariners editions. Notices copied in Admiralty Notices to Mariners are allocated a new Notice number but the original AHO Notice number is referenced as source information.

AHO chart series: Aus and SLB charts that have been directly produced by the AHO and supplied from an Australian chart agent (including certain agents in Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Korea, New Zealand, Norfolk Island, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, the UK and USA) should be hand corrected using Australian Notices to Mariners.  Notices are published fortnightly on Fridays and are available for free download from the Notices to Mariners section of this website or emailed to you via the free eNotices subscription service.  Some AHO Distribution Agents also offer a paper Notices to Mariners service for a fee to cover their production costs.

Broad instructions on how to hand correct Aus and SLB paper charts can be found in the Guide to Updating Nautical Charts fact sheet on this website.  Detailed step by step instructions are included in the Australian Chart and Publication Maintenance Handbook availablefree from this website

UKHO Admiralty chart series:    Aus and SLB charts reproduced by the UK Hydrographic Office and supplied from an Admiralty chart agent can hand correct their paper charts either using Australian Notices to Mariners editions or Admiralty Notices to Mariners Editions. 

For a step by step guide on how to use either Australian Notices to Mariners or British Admiralty Notices to Mariners to update Aus charts reproduced by the UK Hydrographic Office, see the Correcting Australian Paper Charts (from BA) fact sheet.

Who are official paper nautical charts suitable for?

What are the paper chart carriage rules and regulations in Australian waters?
SOLAS Vessels:
The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) - Chapter V requires that vessels (other than fishing vessels) greater than 500 tonnes, or vessels greater than 50 tonnes when engaged on international voyages, carry up to date official nautical charts, sailing directions, list of lights, notices to mariners, tide tables and all other nautical publications necessary for the intended voyage. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) also requires that the master or officer in charge of navigation use the largest (most detailed) scale charts for the intended route, corrected with the latest available information.

In Australian waters, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority sets the rules, under the Australian Navigation Act, for vessels entering and operating within Australian waters.  The Australian implementation of SOLAS regulations are set out in AMSA Marine Orders / Notices. 

If you are a SOLAS mariner and want to find out about paper chart carriage requirements in Australian waters you should consult the following Australian Maritime Safety Authority Marine Order and Marine Notices: 

An Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) operating with official Electronic Navigation Charts (ENC) may also be accepted as meeting the chart carriage requirements of SOLAS Chapter V, subject to certain requirements.  Mandatory carriage of ECDIS (with official electronic charts) is progressively being enforced on SOLAS regulated ships engaged on international voyages under a rolling adoption program from 1 July 2012 to 1 July 2018. See our Electronic Charting Information page for more information. 

Australian State Registered Commercial Vessels:                        
Non SOLAS class commercial vessels are required to comply with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's National Standard for Commercial Vessels (NSCV).

Aus paper charts when kept up-to-date, will allow commercial vessels 12 metres or more in length and engaged in Australian domestic operations to meet the NSCV regulations.  However, it is good practice to carry appropriate nautical charts on vessels less than 12m in length when operating outside port and harbour limits.

For more information about carriage requirements, refer to NSCV Section B on area and vessel types and Part C, Subsection 7C regarding Navigation Equipment at:

Recreational Vessels:  
In New South Wales, Northern Territory and South Australia it is a requirement to carry an official chart when going offshore or beyond smooth waters.  In all other states it is recommended as good practice.

Aus paper charts, when kept up-to-date, will allow recreational vessels to meet state chart carriage regulations.  

See the table below for further details: 


Chart carriage requirements  

Interstate Marine Authorities 


Recommended for smooth, partially smooth and beyond smooth waters 

Maritime Safety Queensland

New South Wales

Required for open waters

NSW Roads and Maritime Services


Advisable for all waters 

Transport Safety Victoria

South Australia

Unprotected waters
All Vessels > 10 nautical miles from Shore

Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure


Advisable for all waters

Marine and Safety Tasmania

Northern Territory

For vessels > 5 metres

Who publishes non-official paper charts covering Australian waters?
Some State marine and maritime safety organisations produce boating maps, though these are suitable for recreational use only.   A small number of commercial organisations sell reduced scale copies of old US copies of Australian charts.   However, as United States of America authorities ceased copying Australian charts in the early 2000s, these reduced scale copies of copies are now very out of date and should not be relied upon.   They are not authorised for use by commercial vessels of any size.

What Paper Chart is Appropriate for my Intended Voyage?
An appropriate chart is one that is of scale appropriate to the navigational task at hand, noting that scale determines the level of details included in each chart.

Small scale charts depict large areas and are intended for overall passage planning and ocean transits. 

In coastal and constrained areas it is good practise to use the largest scale chart available.  Large scale charts are those that cover a small area but have a high level of details.  These should be used when close to land or offshore hazards.

How accurate are paper charts?
All charts, whether paper or electronic, contain data which varies in quality due to the age and accuracy of individual surveys.  In general, remote areas away from shipping routes tend to be less well surveyed, and less frequently, while areas of high commercial traffic are re-surveyed frequently to very high levels of accuracy, particularly where under-keel clearances are small.  It is quite accurate to consider a chart as a jigsaw of individual surveys pieced together to form a single image.

To enable mariners to assess the limitation of hydrographic data from which charts are compiled and to assess the level of risk to navigate in a particular area, the AHO developed a system known as ‘Zones of Confidence’ (ZOC).  This system has since been adopted internationally and is used on official paper and electronic charts. The various zones are displayed on paper charts in a small diagram known as a ZOC Diagram.  A similar rating system is used for ENC.

Below is an example of a ZOC diagram for a paper chart.

5-Aus202 ZOC diagram.jpg


Detailed information about the accuracy of paper charts and full instructions on how to interpret ZOC diagrams can be found in the Accuracy and Reliability of Charts fact sheet on this website. 

What other information do I need?
Paper (and electronic) charts are complimented by a series of nautical publications which contain additional information to assist navigation. AHO published charts are complimented by the following types of nautical publications:

See Chart Related Information on this website for a detailed list of recommended publications to accompany the use of AHO published charts.

Where do I buy Aus and SLB paper charts?
The full portfolio of Aus and SLB paper charts is commercially available through AHO Distribution Agents. Selected reproductions of Aus and SLB charts included in the UK Hydrographic Office’s Admiralty chart series are available from Admiralty Chart Agents.