The Difference Between Raster vs Vector Charts


If you are new to sailing, you may not be very familiar with the different types of charts used when navigating the waters. Raster and vector charts are popular among boater and sailors.

Weighing the benefits and limitations of vector and raster charts can help you make an informed decision. In this article, we will focus on comparing the raster vs vector charts. By the end of the article, you should have the ability to decide which one fits your needs better.

Raster vs Vector Charts Comparison

If you have not been wearing sailing shoes and heading out to the waters for a long time, there is the possibility that you may not be familiar with the meaning of either the raster or vector charts. To make the comparison of vector vs raster charts much easier, we will begin by defining each chart. In the first section, we will discuss the raster charts.

Raster Charts

Raster charts are basically electronic pictures of a common paper chart. The pictures are generally obtained via a detailed and accurate scanning process. This means that if you decide to use a raster chart after wearing your sailing shorts and pants, the information you will be using will be the same as the one available on the paper chart.

It is not uncommon for raster charts to feature the same NOAA chart number. This is, however, largely dependent on the app or software you decide to use after rigging your sailboat.

The navigation programs focus on joining the charts together in an ideal, seamless, and quilted electronic version. The zooming ability allows the boaters and sailors to access more information when compared to using the paper chart.

The Raster Chart Advantages

If you decide to use the raster charts after you put on your sailing sunglasses, you will get to enjoy the following benefits:

  • Raster charts retain all the information available on the paper chart. This means that you get to access everything, including buoy number and description, depth sounding, and land features. You will even find the names of the streets bordering the water on the raster charts.
  • The fact that the raster charts match the paper charts means that you can use the charts on your app and the paper charts at the same time. If you need a wide view, all you will have to do is check your paper chart.
  • If you are familiar with the paper charts, you won’t have to spend your time learning how to use the raster charts.

The Raster Charts Disadvantages

As you probably already know, everything with a positive side does have a negative side. If after buying your pontoon boat you decide to use the raster charts, you should expect to deal with the following limitations:

  • If you compare vector vs raster charts in terms of the storage space they use on electronic devices, raster charts use significantly more space. For example, the raster charts for a single region will occupy the same space as the vector charts for the whole country.
  • The font-size is fixed. They become too small when you zoom out and blurry when you zoom in. This makes it harder to read at both extremes.
  • Zooming in too far on a small-scale raster chart so that you can see the location of your boat could offer the wrong impression.

Vector Charts

If you have been using a boat steering wheel for a long time, chances are, you have heard someone refer to the vector charts as ENC charts, which is their alternative name. Vector charts use a graphics format that makes it possible for the charts to be presented in a more schematic method.

If you compare raster vs vector charts in terms of the land information offered, you will note that the vector charts offer much less information about the land and other features. Generally, the water depths are presented more using color layers than by the surroundings.

As you zoom in, you will notice that the information changes. Unlike on the raster charter, the information does not just get larger on the vector charts. You get more information instead, including more depth surroundings.

The Vector Charts Advantages

If you opt to use the vector charts with any type of boat, you should expect the following benefits:

  • Less storage space is required on the electronic device.
  • Since apps and programs making use of the vector charts feature all the US waters, you won’t need to get additional charts when you decide to go rough water boating in a new area.
  • Zooming on the chart moves to the large- and small-scale charts both seamless and unnoticeable.
  • Vector charts feature a cleaner look. This is because they offer less information on any screen.
  • The majority of apps and vector charts often feature additional layers and features, including marina information and social features.

The Vector Charts Disadvantages


If you decide to use the vector charts after wearing your sailing gloves, you should expect the following limitations:

  • Vector charts present less information. They often leave out land features and names. If you are used to paper charts, this could be confusing.
  • Specific information, for example, descriptive buoy data, will not appear on the screen before you move the cursor to the screen and select it. On raster charts, this information is always available.
  • Having to look back and forth between the vector chart on your electronic device screen and the large paper chart could be confusing.
  • To use the vector chart correctly, a learning curve is involved.

Globo Surf Overview

As you have seen, both the vector and raster charts do feature benefits and limitations. After going through the comparison of the vector vs raster charts, you should find it much easier to make your decision.

It is worth noting that the chart you end up choosing will be largely dependent on personal preference. As you have probably seen in this raster vs vector charts comparison, both charts are accurate enough for use during navigation.

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Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!