Hydrographic office

A hydrographic office is an organisation which is devoted to acquiring and publishing hydrographic information.

Historically, the main tasks of hydrographic offices were the conduction of hydrographic surveys and the publication of nautical charts. In many countries, various navigation-related services are now concentrated in large governmental organisations, sometimes termed "maritime administration" (however, the International Hydrographic Organization uses the term "hydrographic offices" for its member organisations).

Besides nautical charts, many hydrographic offices publish a body of books and periodicals that are collectively known as nautical publications. The most important of these are:

Hydrographic organisations may also be involved in services such as:

  • pilotage
  • search and rescue
  • maintenance of lighthouses and other aids to navigation
  • ice breaking
  • weather observation and information
  • sea traffic information and surveillance
  • maritime research
  • regulatory affairs of ship safety


In the development of hydrographic services, shipping organizations played a part, but the major players were the naval powers. Recognizing hydrographic information was a military advantage these naval organizations, usually under the direction of a "Hydrographer," utilized the expertise of naval officers in collecting hydrographic data that was incorporated into the navy's collection. In order to distribute the processed information (charts, directions, notices, and such) these organizations often developed specialized printing capabilities.

Hydrographic organisations of some countries


Hydrographic tasks in Australian waters were performed by the United Kingdom's Royal Navy since the 19th century. In 1920 the Australian Hydrographic Service was formed as a part of the Royal Australian Navy.


In Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), hydrographic surveying and charting is conducted by "Kort & Matrikelstyrelsen" (KMS), a division of the Ministry of Environment.


Starting in 1883, the "Georgian Bay Survey" was responsible for hydrographic surveying of Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. Its geographic area of responsibility increased and in 1904 the name was changed to the "Hydrographic Survey of Canada." The current name, Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS), was adopted in 1928.


In France, the first official organization, the French Dépôt des Cartes, Plans, Journaux et Mémoires Relatifs à la Navigation, was formed in 1720.


The "Bundesamt für Seeschiffahrt und Hydrographie" (BSH) is the German federal hydrographic office. Its offices are located in Hamburg and Rostock. The BSH is responsible for a wide variety of services, among them hydrographic surveys, nautical publications, ship registration, testing and approval of technical equipment, oceanographic research, development of nautical information systems, and maritime pollution surveillance. The BSH runs six ships for survey and research purposes.

In 1945 the tasks of various predecessor organisations (among them the German Navy's hydrographic service, the Wilhelmshaven maritime observatory, and the "Deutsche Seewarte" under Georg von Neumayer) were concentrated in the newly created "Deutsches Hydrographisches Institut" (DHI) in Hamburg. In 1990 the DHI and the corresponding East German organistion, the "Seehydrographische Dienst der DDR" in Rostock were integrated to form the BSH in its present form.

United Kingdom

The British, despite being active in hydrography, did not follow with official organization of the Hydrographic Department within the Admiralty until 1795. With that department the Royal Navy, while still relying on ordinary naval vessels and officers, organized the Royal Navy's Surveying Service with specially equipped and manned vessels.

Royal Navy charts and the related surveys were reputedly officially started as a result of the loss of Admiral Sir Clowdesley Shovell on an uncharted reef off the Scilly Isles. However that event happened in 1707.

The United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO) is now a part of the Ministry of Defence rather than a naval department.

United States

In the United States two organizations were leaders in hydrography. The civilian Coast Survey was founded through an 1807 Congressional resolution and became the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. That organization was eventually incorporated into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The naval equivalent was started with the establishment of the Depot of Charts and Instruments in 1830 that by 1854 was designated the U.S. Naval Observatory and Hydrographical Office. The hydrographic portion became the U. S. Naval Hydrographic Office under the Hydrographer of the Navy. With the popularization of oceanography in the early 1960s (partly due to President Kennedy's interest) the name was changed to the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office in 1962. That office, as a matter of historical and semantic interest, and the U.S. Naval Observatory are still part of the command overseen by the "Oceanographer of the Navy" with headquarters at the Naval Observatory.


"Sjöfartsverket" is the Swedish national hydrographic organisation. Established in 1956 and governed by the Ministry of Industry, Employment and Communications, Sjöfartsverket is responsible for most aspects of safe navigation in Sweden. This includes maintenance and marking of fairways, surveying and charting Swedish waters, pilotage, search-and-rescue (in cooperation with other organisations), ice-breaking, and safety inspections.


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