Hong Kong Electronic Charts

Hong Kong Charts and Licensing Saga

Recently Navionics announced that the Hong Kong Hydrographic Office (HKHO) had sent them a letter informing them that they had to remove the Hong Kong Chart data they were using as they had not paid a license fee for it. Navionics replied saying they were paying a license but to the UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO – the publisher of Admiralty Charts).

I have spoken to a very well intentioned and reasonable chap at the HKHO and he explained to me that though they do license their chart data for sale through the UKHO, it is not licensed for on sale to other chart suppliers, and that UKHO had stated that in their data supply agreements to not only Navionics, but also Garmin and C-Map.

In any case, Navionics pulled HK chart data from their products in December.

Garmin have also announced that HK chart data is being pulled from the next release of Garmin charts (out in February).

C-Map has not made any announcement as yet but we are expecting them to also pull HK chart data from their next release.

Now you can get all hot and bothered about this and say it is all terribly unfair and stupid, but if you look at it the other way, companies like Navionics have been charging you for charts which they themselves have not paid for, and locking you into a single source of supply as well! A great way indeed to make a profit! Not the HKHO’s fault therefore…

We expect that the major publishers of charts for non commercial shipping chart plotters (called ECS by the IMO) will eventually make a valid licensing agreement with the HKHO but there is definitely a hole at the moment, and that hole especially concerns those using PC based chart plotters and iPhone/iPad systems.

Now, you can buy the HK Charts directly, but only in format called S-57, which of course is not supported by the proprietary (closed) chart plotting systems from Simrad/Raymarine/Garmin etc.

So what to do?

I can state already that Expedition – the offshore routing software, which runs on Windows based PCs, used by the boys on the Volvo Race and of course on our own races offshore here – are implementing support for S-57 charts. Expect it by the time you might want to update your charts – I would guess June time.

I do not have information from other PC-based chart plotter program publishers on what they will do, but for PC, Mac and Linux based system there is a perfectly reasonable chart plotter program called OpenCPN (www.opencpn.org) which DOES support S-57 charts. I now have this running in my office with the HK Charts from the HKHO (www.hydro.gov.hk costing HKD 904/year) and also with the offshore charts from the East Asia Hydrographic Commission (http://scsenc.eahc.asia/) which are currently free, though will shortly cost USD20/year.

OpenCPN is not Expedition – it does not have the advanced racing features nor offshore route planning but nonetheless it is a lot of chart plotter program for exactly nothing: it is distributed under the GNU licensing scheme which makes it FOC. Just pay the license fee for the charts and install them.

For iPad / iPhone there is an App on the Appstore called SEAiq Open. It costs HKD318. It also supports S-57 charts from the above two sources and I can report it works just fine and appears to have a lot more features than the Navionics or iNavx programs I have used before.

You will need some basic computer skills to get this all up and running of course (which is why the packaged products sell so well) but nothing too bad.

SEAiq requires you to install the charts into OpenCPN first, then you zip them up and transfer them to your iPhone using iTunes to get them onto the phone.

What is better about S-57 charts?

The HKHO will not be the last of the HO s around the world to start restricting their data to S-57 formats, and nor the last to make sure they are actually paid for their data either.

They are the now and the future of charts coming from Hydrgraphic offices world wide. The S-57 format was designed to be easily updateable and to record all of the data for an area at whatever zoom level you are in (unlike the charting system being used on Vestas in the VOR for example!) so alarms can be set. Depending on who they are from, updates get issued at regular intervals – so if a lighthouse is off for a month, the chart gets updated for that, and when it comes back on line then the chart gets updated again – and these vary from weekly to monthly depending on the HO involved.

The HKHO at the moment does not support you buying the chart data on line – you have to go there yourself and buy the CD – but you do download the updates online using an assigned username and password which expires annually, which is when you have to renew the license of course.

The EAHC charts are available online, but these are offshore charts only of course.

I am still exploring how to get Philippines charts (I have had one reply to my email but not much follow up). I will later check on Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand etc. I would hope for us to be able to provide S-57 charts from all of these sources in time but I think this WILL take time of course!

UKHO electronic charts are available in HK. The ones containing HK chart data are around double the price of the HKHO charts and are themselves based on the HKHO charts so not really much point there, and of course in S-57 format (or in its encrypted S-63 variant) in any case.

I will report more when there is more to report!

Simon Boyde

Storm Force Marine Ltd