United Kingdom Hydrographic Office
The United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (or UKHO) is an organisation within the UK government responsible for providing navigation
Navigation is the process of monitoring and controlling the movement of a craft or vehicle from one place to another. It is also the term of art used for the specialized knowledge used by navigators to perform navigation tasks...

al and other hydrographic
Hydrography is the measurement of the depths, the tides and currents of a body of water and establishment of the sea, river or lake bed topography and morphology. Normally and historically for the purpose of charting a body of water for the safe navigation of shipping...

 information for national, civil and defence requirements. The UKHO is located in Taunton, Somerset on Admiralty Way and has a workforce of approximately 1000 staff.

The office is an executive agency
Executive agency
An executive agency, also known as a next-step agency, is a part of a government department that is treated as managerially and budgetarily separate in order to carry out some part of the executive functions of the United Kingdom government, Scottish Government, Welsh Assembly or Northern Ireland...

 of the Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)
The Ministry of Defence is the United Kingdom government department responsible for implementation of government defence policy and is the headquarters of the British Armed Forces....

 and is directly responsible to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State
A Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State is the lowest of three tiers of government minister in the government of the United Kingdom, junior to both a Minister of State and a Secretary of State....

 and Minister for Veterans
Service Personnel and Veterans Agency
The Service Personnel and Veterans Agency was officially launched on 2 April 2007 and is part of the UK Ministry of Defence. SPVA provides personnel, pensions, welfare and support services to members of the UK Armed Forces and veterans and their dependents...

. The current minister is Andrew Robathan, MP
Andrew Robathan
Andrew Robert George Robathan is a British Conservative politician, and Member of Parliament for South Leicestershire in Leicestershire...

. The Chief Executive of the agency is Ian Moncrieff, BA, CBE who took over in October 2011 after the previous CE, Mike Robinson, left unexpectedly.
The agency is self-funding and has Trading Fund
Trading Fund
A trading fund is a UK executive agency, government department or part of a department, which has been established as such by means of a Trading Fund Order made under the Government Trading Funds Act 1973....

 status and so protects the copyright in its publications.

Rear-Admiral Nick Lambert is the current UK National Hydrographer and Deputy Chief Executive (Hydrography). He took up post in August 2010.

In December 2007 the UKHO announced a downsizing exercise codenamed 'project AMBER' aimed at reducing overheads by allowing large numbers of staff to leave under an early release arrangement. The UKHO launched the Admiralty Vector Chart Series in April 2008.


The Admiralty's
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

 first Hydrographer
Hydrographer of the Navy
Hydrographer of the Navy is a Royal Naval appointment. From 1795 until 2001 the post was responsible for the production of charts for the Royal Navy, and around this post grew the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office...

 was Alexander Dalrymple
Alexander Dalrymple
Alexander Dalrymple was a Scottish geographer and the first Hydrographer of the British Admiralty. He was the main proponent of the theory that there existed a vast undiscovered continent in the South Pacific, Terra Australis Incognita...

, appointed in 1795 on the order of King George III
George III of the United Kingdom
George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death...

 and in the next year the existing charts were brought together and catalogued. The first chart the Admiralty produced (of Quiberon Bay
Quiberon Bay
The Baie de Quiberon is an area of sheltered water on the south coast of Brittany. The bay is in the Morbihan département.-Geography:The bay is roughly triangular in shape, open to the south with the Gulf of Morbihan to the north-east and the narrow peninsular of Presqu'île de Quiberon providing...

 in Brittany
Brittany is a cultural and administrative region in the north-west of France. Previously a kingdom and then a duchy, Brittany was united to the Kingdom of France in 1532 as a province. Brittany has also been referred to as Less, Lesser or Little Britain...

) did not appear until 1800.

Dalrymple was succeeded on his death in 1808 by Captain Thomas Hurd
Thomas Hurd
Captain Thomas Hannaford Hurd was an officer of the Royal Navy, who rose to the rank of captain, becoming the second Admiralty hydrographer, a Superintendent of Chronometers and a Commissioner for the discovery of longitude...

, under whose stewardship the department was given permission to sell charts to the public. Hurd oversaw the first production of "Sailing Directions" in 1829 and the first catalogue in 1825 with 736 charts. Rear-Admiral Sir W. Edward Parry
William Edward Parry
Sir William Edward Parry was an English rear-admiral and Arctic explorer, who in 1827 attempted one of the earliest expeditions to the North Pole...

 was appointed Hydrographer in 1823 after his second expedition to discover a Northwest Passage
Northwest Passage
The Northwest Passage is a sea route through the Arctic Ocean, along the northern coast of North America via waterways amidst the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans...

. In 1829, at the age of 55, Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort
Francis Beaufort
Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort, FRS, FRGS was an Irish hydrographer and officer in Britain's Royal Navy...

 became Hydrographer. During this time, he developed his eponymous Scale
Beaufort scale
The Beaufort Scale is an empirical measure that relates wind speed to observed conditions at sea or on land. Its full name is the Beaufort Wind Force Scale.-History:...

 and saw the introduction of official tide table
Tide table
A tide table, sometimes called a tide chart, is used for tidal prediction and shows the daily times and height of high water and low water for a particular location...

s in 1833 and the first "Notices to Mariners
Notice to Mariners
A notice to mariners advises mariners of important matters affecting navigational safety, including new hydrographic information, changes in channels and aids to navigation, and other important data.Over 60 countries which produce nautical charts also...

" in 1834. By the time of Beaufort's retirement in 1855, the Chart Catalogue listed 1,981 charts and 64,000 copies of them had been issued to the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...


In the 1930s the collection of oceanographic and naval meteorological data started. At the start of the Second World War chart printing moved to Taunton but the main office did not move until 1968. Metrication of charts began in 1967 while digitisation started in the 1980s. "Admiralty Raster Chart Service" began to be produced in 1996 and in 2000 online services were started. In April 2008 the UKHO launched its AVCS (Admiralty Vector Chart Service) which aims to get round the inability of many smaller hydrographic offices to produce electronic charts by incorporating them into the Admiralty service.

Originally data was mainly collected using ordinary Royal Navy ships. In 1953, the first purpose-built survey vessel was launched; . The current ships form the "Hydrographic Squadron". The use of the echo sounder and other electronic equipment in the 20th century saw a big increase in the quantity and quality of the data collected.

Under the Public Records Act 1958
Public Records Act 1958
The Public Records Act 1958 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom forming the main legislation governing public records in the United Kingdom....

, UKHO became an authorised 'place of deposit' which has given it the responsibility of maintaining its own archive. Its documents date from 1755. Its prime customer is the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 for which it produces hydrographic, oceanographic and geophysical products and services. The UKHO also produces a range of outputs for the leisure market. It collects tidal information from around the world and publishes the "Admiralty Tide Tables" (in 4 volumes) and provides an online service called "Easytide".


Most UKHO publications are available in both paper and online versions. Publications include charts, nautical publications and astronomical publications. Notable nautical publications include Admiralty Sailing Directions (Pilots, 74 volumes), Admiralty Tide Tables (4 volumes), Admiralty List of Radio Signals (6 volumes), Admiralty List of Lights and Fog Signals (10 volumes) and more. Notable astronomical publications include The Nautical Almanac
The Nautical Almanac
The Nautical Almanac has been the familiar name for a series of official British almanacs published under various titles since the first issue of The Nautical Almanac and Astronomical Ephemeris, for 1767: this was the first nautical almanac ever to contain data dedicated to the convenient...

and The Astronomical Almanac among others.

Access to data and criticisms

As with the Ordnance Survey for land mapping, the Hydrographic Office possesses a government monopoly on data for nautical charts and publications in the UK, while, although a part of the Ministry of Defence, also acts as a Trading Agency or commercial entity. This means that it is supposed to be totally self-funding from the commercial sale of its data and derived products - whilst at the same time it is supposed to be the public supplier of information. In 2010/11 it made a profit of almost £22 million from its commercial activities. These issues are very different to those of the Ordnance Survey where data is gathered at public expense. The UKHO sources much of its information from foreign governments to whom it pays a royalty fee and thus is no burden on the UK taxpayer.

The UKHO has a complex set of licences, according to the use of the product and its value . Whilst it generally allows use for non-navigational purposes at little or no cost, where licencing is for use in a navigational product (which can obviously compete with its core commercial activities), a higher licence fee is charged. Furthermore there are some data sets that it uses in its own products that it refuses to make available to other organisations.

In the Information Fair Trader Scheme Report on the UKHO in April 2011 it states that the UKHO data wil not be included in the Public Data Corporation to make govvernment owned data more freely available (part 3, item 29), but it does recommend that the UKHO implements a "Free Navigational Licence" (part 3, item 37).

External links

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