This article is an excerpt from NauticEd’s online Skipper Large Keelboats Course, a comprehensive online sailing course for beginner to intermediate sailors to learn how to sail large sailboats 26 ft (8m) and above. The Skipper Large Keelboats course is part of the Skipper Course Bundle of online courses, also teaching you how to master maneuvering under power and docking!

You can learn to sail and improve your sailing with NauticEd, the international leader in sailing education.

Chart Symbols

Studying a harbor layout does very little good without understanding the symbols and what they signify. It pays to learn the symbols found on nautical charts.

These are widely available in an array of nautical books and on the reverse side of many charts. The most readily available and always up-to-date source is found in your maritime government; in the USA it is NOAA—Office of Coast Survey. This PDF downloadable book contains globally used symbols. The book is called

Chart No. 1: Symbols, Abbreviations, and Terms.

Download the Chart 1 on the Internet for free by going to: 

Or get a spiral-bound hard copy on Amazon for $12 or so.

Amazon – Chart 1

An example of the pages inside chart 1 is shown here. This is an excerpt from Section K.

chart 1

Chart 1 Section K Excerpt


View this animation, which takes you through some of the symbols and elements of a chart.


Chart Familiarization Animation


Chart 1

It is imperative that you not gloss over this section as you read, so we advise that you really gain access to Chart 1 now. Below we will take you through some of the more common symbols and give you a brief view into Chart 1.

Now look up the symbols on the following pages of Chart 1:

  • C 13. Learn the heights of land.
  • Not sure why Bridges are in Section D under Cultural Features—but they are. Check those out.
  • F 14. Jetties and Piers.
  • Peruse Sections H, I, and J to learn currents, depths, and bottom types.
  • Pay particular attention to Section K—Rocks, Wrecks, and Obstructions.
  • View L 30.1 to see the submarine cable shown in the animation above.
  • View M 10 through 18, then figure out the two examples of routing measures shown for paper and electronic charts.
  • Study N 2 and N 12.
  • Get a feel for Section P—Lights and Section Q—Buoys and Beacons. We’ll go through these later. Study Q 130 in particular.
  • Peruse R, S, and T.
  • See that there is a list of abbreviations and an index at the end.
  • Finish by viewing the Appendix.

Another Source of Information on Symbols

Admiralty Chart 5011

Admiralty Chart NP5011 is the equivalent to the U.S. Chart 1 and is published by the UK Hydrographic Office. 

You can learn more in the Skipper Course....

Knowledge and theory for longer distances and overnight sailing in diverse conditions. The Skipper Course is a comprehensive online sailing course for beginner to intermediate sailors wanting to learn how to sail larger sailboats 26ft to 56ft. Or upgrade to the Skipper Course Bundle of online courses to also master maneuvering under power and docking!

Source: Skipper
Topic: Coastal Navigation
Authors: Grant Headifen, NauticEd Global Director of Education
NauticEd is a fully recognized education and certification platform for sailing students combining online and on-the-water real instruction (and now VR). NauticEd offers +24 online courses, a free sailor's toolkit that includes 2 free courses, and six ranks of certification – all integrated into NauticEd’s proprietary platform. The USCG and NASBLA recognize NauticEd as having met the established American National Standards.