Nautical charts are based on hydrographic surveys. As surveying is laborious and time-consuming, hydrographic data for many areas of sea may be dated and not always reliable. Depths are measured in a variety of ways. Historically the sounding line was used. In modern times, echo sounding is used for measuring the seabed in the open sea. When measuring the safe depth of water over an entire obstruction, such as a shipwreck, the minimum depth is checked by sweeping the area with a length of horizontal wire. This ensures that difficult to find projections, such as masts, do not present a danger to vessels navigating over the obstruction.
Nautical charts are issued by power of the national hydrographic offices in many countries. These charts are considered "official" in contrast to those made by commercial publishers. Many hydrographic offices provide regular, sometimes weekly, manual updates of their charts through their sales agents. Individual hydrographic offices produce national chart series and international chart series. Coordinated by the International Hydrographic Organization, the international chart series is a worldwide system of charts ("INT" chart series), which is being developed with the goal of unifying as many chart systems as possible.
There are also commercially published charts, some of which may carry additional information of particular interest, e.g. for yacht skippers.
The nature of a waterway depicted by a chart may change, and artificial aids to navigation may be altered at short notice. Therefore, old or uncorrected charts should never be used for navigation. Every producer of nautical charts also provides a system to inform mariners of changes that affect the chart. In the United States, chart corrections and notifications of new editions are provided by various governmental agencies by way of Notice to Mariners, Local Notice to Mariners, Summary of Corrections, and Broadcast Notice to Mariners. In the U.S., NOAA also has a printing partner who prints the "POD" (print on demand) NOAA charts, and they contain the very latest corrections and notifications at the time of printing. To give notice to mariners, radio broadcasts provide advance notice of urgent corrections.
A good way to keep track of corrections is with a Chart and Publication Correction Record Card system. Using this system, the navigator does not immediately update every chart in the portfolio when a new Notice to Mariners arrives, instead creating a card for every chart and noting the correction on this card. When the time comes to use the chart, he pulls the chart and chart's card, and makes the indicated corrections on the chart. This system ensures that every chart is properly corrected prior to use. A prudent mariner should obtain a new chart if he has not kept track of corrections and his chart is more than several months old.