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The South African Navy Hydrographic Office in Simon's Town, featured in Africa PORTS & SHIPS maritime news
The South African Navy Hydrographic Office in Simon’s Town

article by PAUL RIDGWAY

Hydrography is the applied science which deals with the measurement and description of the features of the seas and coastal areas for the primary purpose of navigation. Hydrographic Services support safe and efficient navigation, foster national maritime development, help to safeguard life and property at sea, facilitate the protection of the marine environment and support the administration and sustainable development of the national maritime zones.

More than 80% of international trade in the world is carried by sea. Maritime commerce is a basic element for a coastal nation’s economy. Modern nautical charts are required for safe navigation through a country’s waters and along coasts and to enter its ports.

Chapter V of the International Convention on Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) stipulates the provision of Hydrographic Services as follows:

* Regulation 2.2 defines the following, “Nautical chart or nautical publication is a special-purpose map or book, or a specially compiled database from which such a map or book is derived, that is issued officially by or on the authority of a Government, authorized Hydrographic Office or other relevant government institution and is designed to meet the requirements of marine navigation.”
* Regulation 4 requires that Contracting Governments, “Shall take all steps necessary to ensure that, when intelligence of any dangers is received from whatever reliable source, it shall be promptly brought to the knowledge of those concerned and communicated to other interested Governments.”
* Regulation 9 requires that Contracting Governments, “…undertake to arrange for the collection and compilation of hydrographic data and the publication, dissemination and keeping up to date of all nautical information necessary for safe navigation. In particular, Contracting Governments undertake to co-operate in carrying out, as far as possible, the following nautical and hydrographic services, in the manner most suitable for the purpose of aiding navigation:
* to ensure that hydrographic surveying is carried out, as far as possible, adequate to the requirements of safe navigation;
* to prepare and issue nautical charts, sailing directions, lists of lights, tide tables and other nautical publications, where applicable, satisfying the needs of safe navigation;
* to promulgate notices to mariners in order that nautical charts and publications are kept, as far as possible, up to date; and
* to provide data management arrangements to support these services.

Contracting Governments undertake to ensure the greatest possible uniformity in charts and nautical publications and to take into account, whenever possible, relevant international resolutions and recommendations. Contracting Governments undertake to co-ordinate their activities to the greatest possible degree in order to ensure that hydrographic and nautical information is made available on a world-wide scale as timely, reliably, and unambiguously as possible.

Contracting Governments are all those nations that are signatories to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) resolutions and South Africa is one of them. It is therefore the responsibility of the South African Navy Hydrographic Service to meet these international obligations on behalf of the South African Government.

HMSAS Protea in service from 1950 to 1957, featured in Africa PORTS & SHIPS maritime news
HMSAS Protea in service from 1950 to 1957


The SA Navy has conducted hydrographic surveying since 1922 when the HMS CROZIER converted to HMSAS PROTEA. She was followed by the converted Flower class corvette HMS ROCKROSE, and also named Protea. The current hydrographic survey ship SAS Protea (Hecla Class) was commissioned on 23 May 1972. South Africa joined the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO) as a member in 1951. The South African Navy Hydrographic Office (SANHO) was established in Cape Town on 1 April 1955 as a result of a Ministerial Delegation issued to the SA Navy in 1954 for the provision of a hydrographic service.

HMSAS Protea commissioned in 1972, featured in Africa PORTS & SHIPS maritime news
HMSAS Protea commissioned in 1972 and remaining in service in 2020

Hydrographic Act of 2019

In order to fully comply with SOLAS regulations, the replacement of the 1954 Ministerial Delegation commenced with a draft Proposed Hydrographic Bill of 2017. The Hydrographic Act of 2019, signed and gazetted by the State President of South Africa on 3 June 2020, provides legislative status to the SA Navy Hydrographic Office to be the National Hydrographic Office and the SA Navy Hydrographer to be the National Hydrographer. The Act enables the following:

* To provide for the establishment of the Hydrographic Office;
* Provide for the safety of navigation in the exclusive economic zone and the internal waters of the Republic;
* Ensure that hydrographic surveying is done in accordance with the requirements of internationally accepted specifications and standards;
* Provide for the appointment of the Hydrographer; and
* Provide for the powers and duties of the Hydrographer.

In the execution of his/her duties, the South African National Hydrographer is therefore responsible for:

* Compilation, printing, supply and maintenance of local and international charts;
* Coordinator of all charting in the IHO Charting Area H;
* Preparation of Tide Tables and other navigation publications;
* Coordinator within the Worldwide Navigation Warning Service (WWNWS) for the transmission of radio navigational warnings for NAVAREA VII; and
* Custodian for all bathymetric and tidal data for the Republic.

The SANHO has a post structure for 31 staff members, many of whom are non-uniformed or civilian members of the national Defence Force, and comprises five Sections, namely.

* Paper Charting;
* Electronic Navigation Charting;
* Tidal;
* Maritime Safety Information and Nautical Publications; and
* Detached Survey Operations and Survey Training.

The latter Section is closely linked to the survey vessel SAS Protea. It conducts detached surveys around the coast utilising small craft of opportunity or a survey motor boat (SMB) from SAS Protea. Additionally this Section conducts all the hydrographic survey training of Ratings and Officers as well as foreign learners as part of a regional capacity building initiative.

International Commitments

South Africa has been a full member of the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO) since 1951. Active participation in IHO committees and working groups ensures that the SANHO continues to deliver products and service of the highest international standards. SANHO is represented on the following IHO Committees:

Capacity Building Sub-Committee.
ENC Standards Maintenance Working Group.
Hydrographic Commission on Antarctica.
Hydrographic Services and Standards Committee.
Inter-Regional Coordination Committee.
Marine Spatial Data Infrastructures Working Group.
Nautical Cartography Working Group.
Southern Africa and Islands Hydrographic Commission.
Tides, Water Levels and Currents Working Group.
World-Wide ENC Database Working Group.
World-Wide Navigation Warning Service Sub-Committee.

National and International Capacity Building Initiatives

In order to build in-house capacity, the SANHO utilises bilateral agreements with United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO) to train Defense Act Personnel (DAP), or uniformed personnel, as cartographers. Furthermore, the SANHO has also embarked on enrolling cartographers for tertiary studies to obtain qualifications and register as Geomatics Technicians. In addition to training offered to the SA Navy survey recorders and officers at the SANHO Training Facility, the SANHO has also provides training opportunities in hydrographic surveying and cartography to several neighbouring states, and has also assisted with the installation of tide gauges in Namibia and Mozambique. Through regional partnerships and SAIHC, the SANHO continuous to provide capacity building initiatives in hydrographic surveying, marine cartography and Maritime Safety Information. The SANHO is developing e-Learning material for the Regional partners for Maritime Safety Information, Tide and Water Levels and Basic Hydrographic Surveying Techniques in an effort to boost capacity building.

The way it was, a shoreside survey party of the early years, feature in Africa PORTS & SHIPS maritime news
The way it was, a shoreside survey party of the early years

Gathering of New Information

Although all the waters around the coastline of South Africa have been surveyed, some areas (± 40%) still require surveying by modern standards. This is an ongoing task and SAS Protea aims to spend approximately 180 days per year at sea on survey operations. SAS Protea underwent a modernisation, some years back, in terms of underwater sensors to enable her to conduct deep-water surveys. The modernisation included the fitment of a deep-sea echo sounder and a multi-beam system with a 3000 metre-range capability. The three SMBs are also fitted with multi-beam echo sounders for inshore survey operations.

The Hydrographic Office is responsible for the issue of Hydrographic Instructions to the survey vessels in accordance with a prioritised survey plan specifying the surveying requirements.

The completed survey is rendered to the Hydrographic Office and once it has passed a rigorous validation process, it is accepted and incorporated into the survey database. This new data is then used to update existing charts and publications or to produce new charts or new editions.

Use is also made of satellite imagery and aerial photographs as well as visits to harbour authorities in order to obtain the latest information about harbour changes and developments for inclusion into the products of the SANHO.

Where possible the SANHO contributes to the General Bathymetric Charts of the Oceans (GEBCO) by providing data collected by research and other vessels operating from South African ports and within RSA waters to the IHO GEBCO Data Centre in the USA.

Products and Services

South African products conform to International Standards and recommendations issued by the IHO.

Navigational Charts and other Charts

The South African paper chart folio currently consists of 104 charts; 44 of which are international (INT) charts. The majority of navigational charts and publications are printed at the Naval Printing Unit situated in Simon’s Town and stored and issued from the SANHO Chart Depot. All products are available to the public through a network of appointed chart agents. Since 2007 the SANHO has also introduced a Print-on-Demand (POD) facility at the Office for the printing of paper-based navigational charts. The acquisition of high-end large format inkjet printers to support the POD requirements of paper chart products is also being addressed through the Hydrographic Capability Replacement Project. POD will eventually overtake conventional lithographic printing method of reproduction. This will enable the SANHO to reduce the National stock level of printed charts and migrate to a POD system, enabling the SANHO to be less dependent on external sources of paper chart reproduction as well as the time required to enable chart corrections to be made on charts in stock.

In addition to its national charting policy covering the waters of South Africa and Namibia, the Hydrographic Office has an international charting responsibility to provide full coverage in the IHO Charting Region H (Southern Africa and adjacent islands) as well as in Region M (Antarctica) (for the approaches to Dronning Maud Land where South Africa has a research station SANAE IV).

Instructional Charts, Dam Charts, Small Craft Charts and a newly proposed Leisure Craft Chart series of waters of interest to leisure craft are also produced.

Electronic Navigational Charts (ENCs)

In 2003 SANHO became the first African Hydrographic Office to produce and publish ENCs on the continent. These charts are based on the paper navigational chart and therefore have an equal standing as a navigational product in terms of IMO Regulations.

The SANHO conforms to international resolutions with respect to the production of electronic charts and navigation publications. In this regard the SANHO produces Electronic Navigation Charts (ENC’s), which comply fully with IMO / IHO S57 data exchange format. The SANHO is also preparing for the new S100, S101 and S104 (which includes tidal data as a layer of data within ENC’s) IHO standards and specifications. These digital charts are maintained and distributed via a Regional Electronic Navigation Chart Centre for final validation, and are then distributed through a system of Value Added Resellers (VARs) of IC-ENC to the end user.

The SANHO in conjunction with the IC-ENC is in the process of developing a non-ECDIS navigation service aimed at use on board small vessels not fitted with ECDIS systems. To date fifty-seven ENCs are commercially available and maintained up to date from Notices to Mariners.


The SANHO is responsible to produce the following hydrographic publications:

* South African List of Lights and Radio Signals.
* South African Sailing Directions.
* Volume I – General Information.
* Volume II – Namibia and West Coast.
* Volume III – South and East Coasts.
* South African Symbols and Abbreviations for Charts.
* International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (Colregs 72).
* Catalogue and Indexes of SAN Charts, ENCs and Hydrographic Publications.
* South African Tide Tables.
* Annual Summary of SA Notices to Mariners.
* Cumulative List of SA Notices to Mariners.

Maritime Safety Information (MSI)

The National Hydrographer is the International as well as the National NAVAREA-VII Co-ordinator and is also responsible for the Coastal Radio Navigation Warnings (CRNW) for South Africa as well as Namibia. He is thus responsible for the collection, collation and dissemination of all information relevant to the safety of navigation within the requirements of the World-Wide Navigation Warning Service (WWNWS).

Tidal Service

The tide gauge network is critical in the calculation of the tidal predictions for South Africa and Namibia, and spans from Walvis Bay on the West Coast to Richards Bay on the East Coast. The Tide Gauge Network has been completely upgraded with all twelve tidal stations having radar type gauges. The South African Navy Tide Gauge Network communication method has been upgraded from land lines to GSM communication. Solar power has been installed in Cape Town and Simon’s Town and will be expanded throughout the network. Bi-annual calibration and maintenance site visits are carried out by the Tidal Department.

Based on this database of tide recordings, the tidal predictions for each year are produced and published in the South African Tide Tables. These Tide Tables are available in hard copy from appointed chart agents. Limited data is also provided for the current month as well as the month thereafter on the SANHO website.

This Section also supplies near real time data to the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning Centre as well as several institutes that monitor sea level rise, both nationally and internationally.

The SANHO Website

SANHO maintains a website ( ) in which the information about current and new hydrographic products and services is provided as well as the provision of certain data and publications such as MSI, Notices to Mariners and tidal information.

Supply of Data

The SANHO is the nodal point for all Marine Environmental Information (MEl) for the SA Navy. In this regard the SANHO will co-ordinate the collection and collation of all requests for MEl data and provide services and products to meet the statutory and specific requirements of the SA Navy. Operation Phakisa which means “hurry up” in Sesotho has been implemented by the South African Government to make use of the Ocean’s Economy also known as the Blue Economy to contribute towards the economic development of South Africa. The SANHO is also fully committed to providing continued support to ensure the successful implementation of Operation Phakisa Initiative 6, Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) and Initiative 10 Oceans and Coastal Information Management System (OCIMS) project by providing access to accurate, complete, current and well maintained spatial information. The SANHO plays a crucial role in MSP by being actively involved as a participant in the National Working Group (NWG), participating in the South African Spatial Data Infrastructure (SASDI) workshops and meetings to ensure compliance, adherence to policies, standards and specifications for the base data sets, in order to accomplish South Africa’s national and international priorities. The SANHO also provides data to approved individuals, academia and commercial companies for academic and commercial usage under data usage agreements.


SANHO was awarded the trophy as the best exhibitor at the 21st International Cartographic Conference held in Durban, in 2003.

Captain Abri Kampfer, the previous SA Navy Hydrographer (2003 – 2017) was awarded the prestigious Alexander Dalrymple Award for services to hydrography at the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office’s World Hydrography Day celebrations in 2009. The award is a symbol of recognition for outstanding dedication and contribution to world hydrography and as such is an extremely prestigious award in this sector. It takes its name from Alexander Dalrymple who established the UK Hydrographic Office in 1795 and is regarded as a leading figure in the history of the development of hydrography.

Conceptual image of the new HSV, featured in Africa PORTS & SHIPS maritime news
Conceptual image of the new HSV

New Technologies

The replacement of SAS Protea and her systems is being addressed under the Hydrographic Capability Replacement Project that is currently underway. The new Hydrographic Survey Vessel (HSV) will be capable of being deployed independently within the African theatre to conduct surveys in support of peace support and peace keeping operations in the SADC region. The HSV will be fitted with hydrographic sensors capable of conducting ocean depth surveys from 50m to 7000m.

The sensors that will be fitted includes Multi Beam Echo Sounders that will produce Digital Terrain Maps of the sea floor and provide a full seafloor search capability to the RSA. Secondary survey systems include a Single Beam Echo Sounder and a Side Scan Sonar. The HSV will be fitted with a limited suite of oceanographic survey technology, capable of conducting current measurements, sound velocity observations, seismic and magnetic surveys as well as meteorological observations. The project also includes three survey motor boats, also capable of independent survey operations.

The SMBs will be utilised for survey operations in the inshore and surf zones from 2m to 50m, and harbours and approaches where under keel clearance is critical. The HSV as well as the SMBs will be fitted out with common survey systems and will be able to integrate with each other seamlessly. The Hydrographic Information, Navigation, Acquisition and Processing System (HINAPS) that is currently the basis of the survey systems utilised by the survey fleet, will be replaced by Teledyne CARIS planning, acquisition and processing software, in conjunction with Kongsberg survey systems under the Hydrographic Capability Replacement Project. This larger suite and greater family of operating systems will be fully integrated with the newly installed Teledyne CARIS cartographic software at the SANHO, realising the “ping to chart” philosophy and capability.

The infrastructure upgrade uniquely positions the SANHO as a data centric organisation to serve the marine community in the future.

The first SMB undergoing sea trials, featured in Africa PORTS & SHIPS maritime news
The first SMB undergoing sea trials


Since its establishment the SA Navy Hydrographic Office has demonstrated innovative planning and rendered excellent service and as a result has earned a reputation with the international hydrographic community for proven professional conduct. After 65 years of dedicated service, the SA Navy Hydrographic Service is abreast with modern technology and has embraced the challenges of ENC production, Print-on-demand technology and data centricity. The South African Navy Hydrographic Service will strive to continue its national, regional and global effort for increasing safety at sea and protecting the marine environment and to live up to its vision:


Paul Ridgway, London correspondent for Africa PORTS & SHIPS maritme news


Collated by Paul Ridgway

Editor’s note:
We are most grateful to the South African Navy Hydrographic Office (SANHO) for valuable assistance with this article.
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