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From Longitude by Fowl to Three-Point Sextant Fix

Prior to the development of modern navigation methods and modern charts, the mariner was left to his own devices both in approaching unknown and known coasts. Although Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer invented the nautical chart in the late sixteenth century, his charts and the char... (read more)

Thirty Years of Discovering the Mariana Trench

Thirty Years of Discovering the Mariana Trench On 23 March 1875, HMS Challenger sounded in 4475 fathoms at latitude 11°24N, longitude 143°16E to the southwest of the Mariana Islands and north of the Caroline Islands. Because this great depth was unexpected, the Chall... (read more)
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The Northern Barrage

Historically, perhaps the naval discipline most related to the work and skills of the hydrographer is naval mine warfare. Successful implementation requires knowledge of the configuration of the bottom in the area to be mined, local tides and currents, and relatively precise... (read more)

Mountains in the Sea

One can hardly discuss the configuration of the deep ocean bed without eventually using the term ‘seamount’. Today, the existence of tens of thousands if not over 100,000 seamounts is taken for granted. But in the not so distant past, their existence was unknown... (read more)
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Pursuing Accuracy

The profession of hydrographer is built upon accuracy of measurement. Ever since Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer produced the first true nautical charts in 1584, hydrographers have been working to improve the accuracy of their measurements. For anyone fortunate enough to have revie... (read more)
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History Selection

'As it Was'

Matthew Fontaine Maury is probably the best known of all hydrographers, and the most celebrated both in his homeland, the United States of America, and in Europe. He served for 18 years as Superintendent of the Depot of Charts and Instruments in Washington during which time... (read more)

100 Years of Service

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Corps). The law forming the service was signed on 22 May 1917 and overnight made the field officers of the then United States Coast and Geodetic Surve... (read more)

Collision at Sea

On 20 June 1860, the iron-hulled United States Coast Survey Steamer Robert J. Walker was proceeding to New York City, its home port. The ship, under the command of Navy Lieutenant John Julius Guthrie, was returning from a successful season surveying in the Gulf of Mexico whe... (read more)

The Neptune Oriental

The article below is reproduced from the Field Engineers Bulletin of the US Coast and Geodetic Survey for December 1936 with minor changes. Lieutenant Earle Deily (1900-1995), the author, was then a veteran of 13 years in the Survey having served on both coasts of the United... (read more)

'As it Was'

<i>The New England Coasting Pilot</i> was the first folio of sea charts of the coast of North America. The work of an English naval officer, they covered the coastal waters from New York to Cape Breton. Cyprian Southack, son of a naval officer, was born in London... (read more)

Past Practitioners

Despite bitter experiences in earlier conflicts, it was not until the French Revolutionary War was in full swing that Britain established a very small ‘Hydrographical Office’ to organise the provision of charts and publications to the Royal Navy. As more ships continued to b... (read more)

'As it Was'

The late Professor Taylor, a former Registrar General for Scotland, whilst researching the Balfour Collection of documents at the National Library of Scotland, came across a set of early sailing directions for the entire coasts of Scotland. They were written on a dozen fools... (read more)

The Discovery of Long-Distance Sound Transmission in the Ocean

The existence of the SOFAR Channel has been known for many years. In the American geophysicist Maurice Ewing’s authorised biographical memoir The Floor of the Sea, the following passage occurs: “The first time Ewing’s seismic gear was tried at a thousand fa... (read more)

Survey Vessel Acadia

On July 5th 2003 the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, the Canadian Hydrographic Service and former officers, staff and crew of the CSS Acadia, gathered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to celebrate her 90th birthday. The Acadia was the pride of the Canadian Hydrographic Service flee... (read more)

Heaven Descended to Earth

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, France, like every other nation, regarded shipwrecks as an inevitable downside of maritime life. There were fewer than 20 lighthouses dotting the French coastline, and these were generally limited to its harbours, intended to guide ship... (read more)
History Selection

As it Was

European hydrographers surveying distant waters in the 18th and 19th centuries whenever possible used the native names for the features on their charts. When communication with local tribes proved difficult names had to be devised; often descriptive of the features concerned... (read more)

In Advance of the Infantry

During World War II, a primary component of the success of American artillery was knowledge of United States artillery location, enemy target location and the direction to that target. In particular, in the case of firing against enemy artillery, these parameters were determ... (read more)

As it Was

Among XVII century astronomers, Halley (of 'comet' fame) was unique in his attraction to working at sea. Nobody quite knows how he acquired his training in seamanship, but from 1698 to 1701 he was given command of a naval 'pink' to make pioneering measurements of compass var... (read more)

What's in a Name? Part 1 'Owen'

In the summer of 1953 two British surveying ships were lying in No 2 basin in Chatham Dockyard. Owen had recently returned (with me as a watch-keeper) after a busy two-year commission working in the Mediterranean, Red Sea and Persian Gulf. The brand new Vidal was completing... (read more)

The Dutch Way of Measuring Depths

Once upon a time there was no satnav, multibeam sonar or a computer to handle a survey system. Hydrographic surveying was done ‘by hand’ with instruments long forgotten, instruments which boasted accuracy which would nowadays make your hair stand on end. Which in... (read more)

'As it Was'

In 2004 the Provincial Government of the Åland Islands in Finland celebrated the 150th Anniversary of the destruction of Bomarsund, the great, Russian fortress built during the occupation of 1808 to 1854. Much of the credit for this rests with a British naval hydrographic su... (read more)

The Arctic Field Party

 It seems ironic that in the early stages of the Cold War, the United States Government sent surveyors and hydrographic engineers to the coldest reaches of the North American continent. For these men, it was truly a Cold War. From 1945 through 1953 field parties of the... (read more)

System Without Fixed Points

Radio-acoustic-ranging (RAR) navigation, developed within the US Coast and Geodetic Survey (C&GS), was the very first survey-quality navigation system that did not need to see fixed, known objects on land for inshore piloting navigation or astronomical bodies for celesti... (read more)

‘As it Was’

At my interview for a job at Canadian Hydrographic Service, I had to answer all the usual sort of questions posed to me by two very formidable men. Finally, the time came to speak my own questions and thoughts! Considering a statement on family heritage might be an appropria... (read more)

'As it Was'

It is hard to imagine today that there was once a time when no side scan or multi-beam sonar existed to cover the entire sea bottom. Even after the echo sounder had taken the place of lead and line, sounding tracks lay a hundred and more metres apart, depending on the scale... (read more)
History Selection

Getting to California

During the California Gold Rush, many people from around the world left everything behind - including their jobs - to seek their fortune in California. A copy of one of the more interesting historical documents from this period resides in the NOAA Central Library. This docum... (read more)

As it Was

On 2 November 1902 the Antarctic research ship, Scotia, sailed quietly down the lower Clyde from its berth in the yards of the Ailsa Shipbuilding Co., on its way to Antarctica. There was no fanfare nor publicity, for this was the Scottish sabbath. and moreover its leader and... (read more)

'As it Was'

Matthew Fontaine Maury is probably the best known of all hydrographers, and the most celebrated both in his homeland, the United States of America, and in Europe. He served for 18 years as Superintendent of the Depot of Charts and Instruments in Washington during which time... (read more)

As it Was

Over a period of 30 years, from 1867 onwards, the Norwegian Hydrographic Service made an epic and complete hydrographic survey of the Norwegian continental shelf. For the first time The Hydrographic Service had a vessel purpose built for hydrographic surveying off shore. The... (read more)

A Note on Fifty Years of Multi-beam

The year 2013 marks the Fiftieth Anniversary of the first installation of a multi-beam sonar sounding system. A review of the early development of multi-beam sonar systems follows. On 1 May 1960, a United States U-2 spy plane flown by Francis Gary Powers was shot d... (read more)

Challenger: the Life of a Survey Ship

With this publication, the author – George Stephen Ritchie, founder and first editor of this column – marked himself as a noted maritime historian and, particularly, a historian of the art and science of hydrographic surveying. Admiral, then Captain Ritchie had b... (read more)

Ernst Knorr and Shaping the Hydrographic Surveying Profession

Ernst Peter Rudolphus Knorr was born in the city of Thorn in West Prussia in 1819. He emigrated to the United States and made his way to Washington where he became associated with the Navy. Starting as a civilian clerk he rose over the years to be the senior draughtsman in t... (read more)

'As it Was'

In 2004 the Royal Netherlands Navy for the third time in 75 years named one of two newly constructed hydrographic survey ships <i>Snellius</i>. Willebrord Snel van Royen (lat. Snellius) was professor of mathematics at the University of Leiden at the beginning of... (read more)

The Making of an Earth Measurer

In the April 2009 issue of Hydrointernational, Carl Aslakson was mentioned as having devised a method of determining the velocity of light by using Shoran (short-range navigation). This article traces Aslakson’s professional career from his beginnings as “a farm... (read more)

Tide Prediction in Colonial America

Although tidal ranges in America are, in general, less than in Europe, they have still had an impact on history. Many harbours were only accessible with high tide, introducing a lunar influence on the maritime economy. However, misjudgement of tide levels also played a cruc... (read more)