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Raster vs vector charts – what’s the difference?

My clients often ask me about raster (also called RNC) and vector (ENC) charts which I offer with my systems. They want to know which is better, and what are their pros and cons. I will proceed to concisely explain raster vs vector charts below. I supply navigation laptops and tablets which can be loaded with various charts to suit your needs. If that’s something you are interested, you can always contact me!

Raster vs vector marine charts compared. Same data, different format.
This is an example of the same area displayed on a raster chart (top) and a vector chart (bottom) at the same zoom level.

You don’t necessarily need to choose one kind or the other. I supply systems with both sets at once. You can switch between them quickly and easily. Indeed, many of my clients prefer to get both sets. Furthermore, there are many online chart viewers which can help you determine which kind you prefer. Just take a look!

Raster vs vector charts: similarities

  1. Both types raster and vector charts provide an alternative for paper charts for marine navigation.
  2. Raster and vector charts have depths and depth contours, bottom types, navigational markers, and display the same underlying data.
  3. Both sets can cover the exact same area, if available.
  4. ENC and RNC can have the exact same level of detail, provided they are generated from the same survey source.
  5. Each allows for switching between different zoom levels.

You can always contact me to discuss raster vs vector charts!

Raster charts explained (RNC)

Raster charts are essentially an electronic image of a paper chart. If you are familiar with the paper charts, you may prefer the look of raster charts. A raster chart set will have many different zoom levels. Each different zoom level represents a different image. Hence, zooming in and out may change the image in a less smooth manner than vector charts. Because of the fact that these are simply large numbers of images, raster charts likely take up more space than vector charts for a given resolution and area.

At the end of the day, they just look good to many people, and I concur. The paper chart feel allows less customization, but is preferred by many.

Vector charts explained (ENC)

A vector is a digital representation of data. Vector charts are not stored as images, but rather as digital objects. Each buoy or navigational marker can contain additional information accessible by clicking on it. Due to this, vector charts allow much more customization than raster charts:

  1. You can hide or display objects. If things are too cluttered, you can hide things which are not relevant for the time being.
  2. Vector charts allow you to can customize the size of depth sounding or other objects as you desire.
  3. You can change depth units to meters, feet, or fathoms. The depth sounding numbers change to be accurate in the selected unit!
  4. Sometimes, you can change the color scheme of the charts to the one you prefer.
  5. Safety depths can be tweaked to your liking.
  6. Amount of detail shown different zoom levels can be changed.

Vector charts are likely the future of marine charts. Raster vs vector may be hard to decide. However, why not have both? I offer systems with both sets for only an extra $75.


Why choose a laptop chartplotter?

My systems can be much more affordable than commercial chart plotters such as Garmin, Lowrance, Simrad, B&G, Furuno, Humminbird, Raymarine, Si-Tex and will be supported forever! Furthermore, I believe that some of the commercial chart plotter brands gouge their customers. Companies force clients to upgrade by no longer supporting older units. In addition, they charge exorbitant fees for simple things like a bigger screen size. Don’t hesitate to contact me and I will help pick the right unit for your boat! I am always happy to answer questions, and provide additional information. For example, exact dimensions, video demos of how something works, precise capabilities, screenshots of charts in your area, and more.