What is the best nautical chart format: vector or raster?

Your navigation area, usage and habits are some of the many criteria to take into account before making the right choice for your nautical chart. Raster or Vector, let’s get into their differences.

Vector charts are extremely accurate at their reference scales (as long as they are not “over-zoomed”), but can appear quite different from traditional paper charts. MapMedia mm3d Vector Charts allow you to customize your chart display.

Vector charts

Main advantages

  • Good display at any scale.
  • Detailed information on specific objects of the map (eg. buoys).
  • Ability to configure charts and filter data.

Main drawbacks

  • Very different display from paper charts.
  • Vector charts become very inaccurate when over zoomed.

Raster charts

Main advantages

  • Similar appearance to marine paper charts.
  • Reliability of true color copy of official hydrographic offices paper charts.

Main drawbacks

  • Raster charts appear “grainy” when over zoomed.
  • The depth units cannot be changed.
  • There is no possibility to "hide" information on the map.

Where do electronic charts originate?

Marine Raster Charts are geo-referenced, digital images of the Official Hydrographic Office and select private navigational charts. True color copies of the official paper chart of the hydrographic services, marine raster charts are the most reliable, allowing you to display on screen the official paper charts that you were accustomed to using.

Marine Vector Charts utilize a vector database to build the chart display. This data is stored in layers and records every nautical chart feature such as coastlines, buoys, lights, etc. These features and their attributes such as position, color, size, shape, and others are stored in a database allowing them to be selectively displayed and interrogated. In many areas of the globe where there’s no hydrographic service, vector maps are often the only reference.

Whatever chart format you use, updates are essential for safe navigation. Electronic charts are updated at least once a year.

What is the best chart format: Vector or Raster?

Vector charts or raster charts? The choice is complex and raises a real debate between two schools. Hard to say which format is better than the other, and in the end the choice often lies on user habits or personal preference. Traditional paper chart users tend to like Raster Charts, since visually these are an exact reproduction of the paper chart. Vector Charts are stored as a database and drawn on the computer or plotter screen by the software, thus the display of a Vector Chart does not resemble a paper chart.

Which chart formats are compatible with my software?

The more versatile your software is, the easier it will be to find the best and most accurate charts for your specific area. TIMEZERO’s main advantage is its compatibility with a wide range of marine chart formats:

  • Marine Raster charts: MapMedia mm3d Raster
  • Marine Vector charts: CMAP & HOs S-57
  • TZ Professional is compatible with the official encrypted S-63 charts.
    Find out more more about S-63 charts

Access to worldwide cartography with

Mapmedia offers a wide range of over 6000 marine Raster charts restoring the accuracy and reliability of national hydrographic offices paper charts. Mapmedia also produces Vector charts through collaborations with the best charts editors of the market: C-Map and some national hydrographic services (database S-57 for USA and Norway). Mapmedia is able to provide a complete catalog of vector charts along with marine raster charts.