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The Infamous “Magenta Line” – Going, going . . .

For years now, a debate has raged here on the SSECN, and virtually EVERY other nautical web site and forum, about the so-called “Magenta Line” which appears on NOAA charts covering the various Southeastern USA waterways (and probably in other USA regions as well). The “magenta line” is SUPPOSED to show the best path to take, in order to keep to the best depths. HOWEVER, as many have pointed out, that is NOT always the case. In fact, sometimes, following the magenta line can leave your vessel high and dry!
Now, apparently due more to budgetary considerations than complaints that the “magenta line” does not (at least in places) properly portray the correct channel, NOAA is considering dumping this chart feature entirely.
NOAA is asking for comment and input from the cruising community concerning this deletion. See below for URL’s where your point of view can be recorded.
Our thanks to Captain Quinn for sending us the latest official bulletins from the Department of Commerce re the status of the Magenta Line. And our thanks to Captain Jim Healy for first passing along this question from the SW Florida district of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. All boaters should respond to Federal sources given below, or to Mr. Michael Henderson, S. Florida and Caribbean Navigation Manager, OCS, at
And, by the way, this proposed deletion has brought a FLOOD of comment from the cruising community, both on the SSECN, and on other nautical web sites and forums. A sampling of this input is recorded below:

Customer Feedback on the Expectation and Use of the “Magenta Line” on NOAA Charts Covering the Intracoastal Waterway (ICWW)
While this request pertains primarily to recreational boaters or other shallow-draft vessels, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey (OCS) is requesting comments from the maritime community on the need to:
(a) keep the existing magenta line on the charts, or
(b) eliminate it permanently.
In the 77 years since the magenta line was included on the Intracoastal Waterway charts there have been many changes in navigation and charting, including the use of GPS and Electronic Navigational Charts (ENCs).
Q1: Is there still a need for the magenta line?
Q2: What do today’s users of the ICWW want the magenta line to be?
An indication of the channels the ICWW follows, or a suggested route for traveling the ICWW?
Please send your comments and opinions to:


It looks like this is becoming official. I for one am happy to see it go away for safety sake. .

Here is the latest release on the Magenta Line. [October 2, 2013]
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Intracoastal Waterway Route ‘˜’˜Magenta Line” on NOAA Nautical Charts
AGENCY: National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (NOAA), Department of Commerce.
ACTION: Request for comments.
SUMMARY: Since 1912, a series of nautical charts of the Intracoastal Waterways, produced by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and, subsequently, NOAA, have depicted an Intracoastal Waterway Route, a ‘˜’˜recommended route” known to recreational boaters and commercial mariners as ‘˜’˜the magenta line.” Coast Survey originally added the line to the charts to show the best route through the Intracoastal Waterway but it has not been consistently maintained since its last comprehensive update in 1936. Aware of safety concerns, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is removing the
‘˜’˜recommended route” from NOAA nautical charts. We are also issuing a Local Notice to Mariners, advising
caution in using the line in charts where it has not been removed. The Office of Coast Survey invites written comments about whether NOAA nautical charts should depict a recommended route through the Intracoastal Waterways.
DATES: Written, faxed, or emailed comments are due by midnight,December 26, 2013.
ADDRESSES: Email comments to, or fax to 301’“713’“4019. Written comments may be mailed to Lt.j.g. Leslie Flowers, Office of Coast Survey, 1315 East-West Highway, #6312, Silver Spring MD 20906.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Lt.j.g. Leslie Flowers, telephone 301’“713’“2730, ext. 115;
1. Background
The first known appearance of what is commonly referred to as the ‘˜’˜magenta line” is in a set of eight charts (each
titled ‘˜’˜U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey INSIDE ROUTE”) included in a nowdefunct U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey
publication, Inside Route Pilot, 1st edition 1912. (As a sample, the chart edition from 1913 is in the NOAA
Historical Maps & Charts Collection: historicals/preview/image/4DNo3’“13.)
The U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey published seven editions through 1935, when their depiction of the Intracoastal
Waterway Route underwent a major update. As the agency pointed out in their 1935 annual report, ‘˜’˜the existing
[pre-1935] charts of this system of waterways have been based principally on surveys made from 60 to 80 years ago
and, necessarily, are obsolete in many respects.” The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey received substantially more
appropriations from the Public Works Administration in 1935, which allowed the agency to update the Intracoastal
Waterways Route on nautical charts.’˜’˜[W]hile the entire area has not been surveyed, by concentrating on the through route and its most important tributaries, sufficient field surveys have been made so the charts of the entire route can be produced,” the agency director reported.
At some point, the Inside Route Pilot was discontinued (the latest edition in the NOAA Central Library is from 1936)
and USC&GS changed its charting system. Beginning in 1936, the ‘˜’˜Inside Route” series of charts were absorbed
into the Intracoastal Waterway nautical charts. From 1936 to the present, the Intracoastal Waterway Route has
remained on Intracoastal Waterway charts, largely without changes or updates.
See more information on the history of the Intracoastal Waterway Route at
2. Current Status of the Intracoastal Waterway Route on Nautical Charts
Numerous examples can be found where the charted Intracoastal Waterway Route (‘˜’˜magenta line”)passes on the wrong side of aids to navigation; crosses shoals, obstructions, shoreline; and falls outside of dredged channels, etc. Coast Survey is taking several actions to address the problems.
First, Coast Survey is systematically removing the Intracoastal Waterway Route ‘˜’˜magenta line” from new editions
of affected nautical charts. Second, Coast Survey is preparing chart notes for dozens of charts that are updated but not issued as new editions, and where the magenta line will not be deleted. Coast Survey will revise the chart notes and publish the revised notes in the Local Notice to Mariners. The LNMs will warn: ‘˜’˜The general
location of the Waterway is indicated by a magenta line. Mariners are advised to follow the aids to navigation and avoid charted shoals and obstructions.”
Third, Coast Survey is updating the position of the magenta line on current charts (not scheduled for new editions)
when authoritative reports or information indicate proper repositioning.
Fourth, Coast Survey is considering the options for future charts: should NOAA continue to depict the ‘˜’˜magenta
line,” and what should the ‘˜’˜magenta line” designate?
3. Public Comments
The director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey invites interested parties to submit comments to assist Coast Survey as it decides whether to maintain a new or updated magenta line depicting an Intracoastal Waterway Route on Intracoastal Waterway nautical charts. Comments may address whether recreational or commercial mariners need a magenta line depicting a specified Intracoastal Waterway Route, and whether that should be a federal government charting responsibility.
Additionally, the director specifically seeks comments regarding:
1. How do you currently access the magenta line? On paper nautical charts, raster navigational charts, electronic
navigational charts, commercial paper chart books, commercial charts, or other?
2. How do you use the ‘˜’˜magenta line”? Do you consider it to be a general route, a specific trackline, or a reference line?
3. Given limited government resources, what are your ideas for how NOAA should develop and maintain a reinstated magenta line?
4. How do you use the Intracoastal Waterway? Recreationally or commercially? Locally or long distance?
5. What are your boat’s length and draft?
Authority: 33 U.S.C. Chapter 17, Coast and Geodetic Survey Act of 1947.
Dated: September 13, 2013.
Rear Admiral Gerd Glang,
Director, Office of Coast Survey, National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
[FR Doc. 2013’“23440 Filed 9’“25’“13; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510’“JE’“P
Sunshine Act Meeting
The Board of Directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service gives notice of the following meeting:
DATE AND TIME: Wednesday, October 9, 2013, 9:00’“10:30 a.m. (ET).
PLACE: Corporation for National and Community Service, 1201 New York VerDate Mar
Kevin R Quinn

Keep the magenta line please. Not only is it historically important, but it shows where the deepest water should be. Again, please keep the magenta line.
Bob Corier

Keep the line as a suggested route. Without the magenta line, we’ll all have to do a lot of additional chart gazing to figure out how to navigate some of the open areas where the channel is not apparent. (Think about Jacksonville around the St. Johns river.)

I think this is an excellent idea for a couple of reasons. Too many boaters blindly follow the magenta line rather than using their eyeballs and common sense and get into trouble. If they take away the magenta line, it may force some boaters to be familiar with at least basic navigational skills.
Chuck Baier

Keep the Magenta Line; it is a quick easy to view guide and I think most people use it as such.
Gene Goodman

I have cruised the ICW between Key West and New York about six times now. As a pleasure boater, my travel is mostly relaxed and carefree. Part of the reason for that is ample advance planning (which I enjoy), careful use of charts and GPS as well as navigating the waterway with my eyes focused on the markers, buoys and other boats.
The `Magenta Line’ is very dated and often times is suggests a path that simply is wrong. While I have never followed the magenta line as an exact course, I do find it helpful in determining the direction (path) of the ICW. This is especially true where the ICW makes turns when entering and exiting open bays and sounds, as well as rivers where the course direction might be confusing.
My suggestion is to revise the Magenta `Line’ to a Magenta `Path’ that simply shows the course direction and turns in the ICW, much like you might `highlight’ a road map or see directions displayed on an automotive GPS.
By doing this, the `Magenta Path’ continues to aid in navigation and safety of transiting vessels without being the end-all-be-all LINE that some people will follow to a fault.
Thank you for your consideration.
Best regards,
Peter Ferrara

I would like to see the magenta line kept on charts. It provides a `guide’, not a rigid line. A recent trip north to the Chesapeake we found cruisers going aground at the north end of the Alligator River in an area that has been well publicized, but ignoring the megenta line and following the notice to mariners we had no problem. We also sailed accross the Albemarle, OFF the magenta line and had continual crab pot invasions’¦ returning we generally followed the magenta line and had none. Keep it as a `guide’.
John Lark

The magenta line is a widely respected ‘˜suggested course’ for safe navigation. Although today’s electronic aids and a good look out the window also help with navigation, it has helped a lot of mariners easily stay in deep water.
Please retain the magenta line.
Betty Robinson

Keep magenta line. While it may not always be accurate indicator of deep water in a channel, it certainly provides guide for what side of markers to be on when in intersecting waterways that have confusing channel markers.
Gary Schumacher

I have only made the trip from Norfolk, VA to FL and back one time. From this, I can say that the magenta line was a significant aid in planning and executing the trip. I am not sure where I would have gotten the information had it not been present. My question/concern: If the magenta line disappears, will the current (largely minimal) efforts to keep the waterway open also disappear over time?
Soul Tender

I view the magenta line as merely a suggestion…maybe not even that. It’s a helpful aid in understanding the general route of the ICW. However, it seemed to me that this past spring as we headed north, there was more discussion on the VHF about shallow water and boat groundings. A common complaint from the errant skippers was that “I’m right on the magenta line”! Case in point; as we approached Fernandina Beach from the south, there is a sweeping turn to the right between markers 1 & 18. One captain who had been particularly active on the VHF ran aground close aboard #1. He turned too sharply, cut the corner too close and “stuck the landing”. Obviously, he should have stay to the outside of the turn where we found almost 15′ of water.
The message is that you need to use the magenta line as an aid and not as the gospel. That’s the view from the cheap seats.
Randy Pickelmann
Morning Star

I agree, the magenta line should be removed, the channel , especially through mud and sand bottom channels, is constantly moving. The deepest part of the channel is predictable and follows the “rule of the deepest channel in soft bottom streams”. For those new to this forum who missed the discussion of this 18 months ago as everybody was coming north from Florida through Georgia and finding they were running aground following the magenta line, let me restate the rule, which is posted on the Salty Southeast Sailor site. The primary rule is that the outgoing tidal current cuts the deepest channel. The incoming tidal current cuts the next deepest channel. Frequently, the center of the channel is the shallow place. So, you need to keep track of whether the tide is coming up (in) or going down (out) where you are at any time. In natural channels, those that generally following the naturally cut rivers and creeks, the charts will be generally pretty accurate except that the deepest channel may be further to the outside of
the outside curves that are shown on the chart, especially if that curve is the outside curve for both the rising and falling tide. On these curves your position on the chart plotted may actually be in the marsh. If not, the deepest water will be on the outside curve as the water flows out, and this will occur frequently in areas of S curves. The deep water will continue along the outside side of the channel downstream of the curve. When you encounter man made cuts, noted on the chart with dotted lines down both side of the dredged area, if the dredged area is along a natural stream, they pretty well follow the “rule”, but these areas silt in because the natural flow of the water slows down due to incoming streams or a widening of the stream, so caution is recommended as you transit these areas. If your boat draws less than 4′, you can run most channels of the ICW at low tide, and see exactly where the deepest channel is, even the Little Mud River and observe the results of the “rule”. I have frequently
run the Little Mud at near 0 water, and able to see and follow the deepest water, far removed from the magenta line, and never see less than 6′. At half tide or above it is easy to run aground in “the middle of the channel”, because that isn’t where the deep water is. The Little Mud follows the “rule” perfectly.
Probably the most questionable areas are where the dredged channel is perpendicular to the natural channel, Hells Gate in Georgia is a good example of this. The shallow areas will start on the upstream side of the dredged cut as the water falls, with the next shallow area showing up at the downstream side, with the deepest water found about 1/3 of the channel width from the downstream side. Again exercise some caution as you enter these channels, once into the channel the water will be pretty deep until you get to the exit.
So, follow the channel, not the magenta line, if there is still one on your chart. This will take a little observation and thought, but once you’ve got it you will find it easy to find the deep water.
Chuck Gorgen

I was requested to send the email I posted here on to NOAA, which I did. The following is their reply. I snipped most of the original email I sent to NOAA as you can find it in T&T emails for Sept 28th, if you wish to read it again. Of particular interest to me was the quick response. The Federal Register website (see below) is quite
informative. “Somebody up there” listens… I encourage all of you to send your comments to

I like the magenta line but only as a general reference. Novice cruisers are sometimes induced into a numbing dangerous reliance. I’m sure most of us know cruisers who handed the helm over to a spouse only to run run
aground with an explanation of “…it’s not my fault I was right on the magenta line…”. The magenta line is a great casual reference of the general location and direction of the ICW but not ever intended as a valid reference of the channel. It is a general ICW locator, valuable at complex unfamiliar intersections e.g. ICW crossing a major seaway where the markers for returning from sea dominate. Also, many quilting chart programs are not exact in processing the various quilted charts together that have different datums and surveys. Once again, most of us have experienced our
vessel icon displayed on the chart plotter as travelling on land. I still find the magenta line comforting as a quick reference but certainly do not consider it an essential navigational aid and do not expect the NOAA cartographers to maintain it as such.
Also, Larry’s suggestion of crowd sourcing depth data is a good one but unfortunelty lacks many controls and oversight necessary for reliability without liability. Isn’t there already chart plotter company (Navionics??) MFD and devices that has the ability to unload crowd sourcing of depth and routes for their charting that now or did it fail.?
“Carolyn Ann”

I think the removal of the magenta line will be a huge mistake. We have only travelled the ICW once from North to South and without the general guidance of the line, I am sure we would have gotten lost in some areas. As any experienced boaters knows, all navigational aids are there to assist you, and a smart boater uses them all, but knows none are the complete answer. Without the reference to the magenta line to tell you which route is the real ICW, I fear people will get lost up some unknown channel, even with the ICW marked channel markers.
Of course, older GPS systems will still have the line shown, and allow one to use it. Lets hope NOAA has the sense to leave it allow.
Ian Murdoch
Miss Joanie

Removal of the “Magenta Line” takes away that which defines the very existance of the ICW(s). No line, no ICW. Sure, there are plenty of intra-coastal channels, some to somewhere, more to nowhere.
NOAA’s concerns for safety and/or fear of litigation can be easily be resolved with a disclaimer noting the line is for “reference only, not for navigation”.
As for NOAA’s need to save costs, they/we need to appreciate that the ICW is a National Asset, not unlike a National Park — the envy of many a nation lacking anything equivalent. Speaking for myself, Its very presence inspires me to, well … boat! “Do the Great Loop”, be a “Snowbird”, and so on.
Putting a Majenta Line on a chart must surely be a cheap way to leverage such a huge National Asset.
No mention is made by NOAA of what is to become of the navigation aids bearing the unique ICW markings. It follows that without the Magenta Line to define their placement, those too will dissapear.
Chris Hayes m/v MOONSHINE

I have traveled the FL to NY and return route twice a year for the last 9 years. Mostly outside but some in some areas always inside and because of weather sometimes long runs inside. The Magenta line is an excellent reference guide and should be kept, whether as a line or as a shading. There are many intersections and confusing alternatives. I believe there will be many groundings and mishaps if it is removed completely.
Robert Scalia

Please do not remove the magenta line. We have traveled the ICW. Several times and found the line to avoid confusion at several intersections especially in s.c. And ga. We all know that depths in the channel is relative . At least with the line we know which creek to travel. Please, leave well enough alone.
Greg Howard

As with any navigation aid, sometimes it is helpful while others not. For the most part I find it helpful. It’s just another reference point.
Clint Wadsworth

The magenta line provides a quick guide to the ICW route. As long as you realize that depths on it are not guaranteed, nor for that matter is it always in the right place it is very useful and should be maintained. Removal might be good for Tow BoatUS or Seatow but not for the rest of us.
David Boxmeyer

I think we need a magenta line or something like it to depict where the ICW is. It is more of a planning tool. Always follow the markers not the line. Without the line how would you know which route to take when looking at a chart? There are a lot of intersections on the ICW and having the line show you which way to go is nice. With that said if they put ICW marks on the markers on the chart like there is on the actual markers that would work too.
Mike SV Bay Tripper

I would strongly endorse retention of the magenta line. Not so much for its supposed mid-channel pathway but much more for its practical assistance where the ICW takes ambiguous turns ‘“ here it can clearly guide a cruiser who is less than familiar with the ICW to take the appropriate course where there may be several alternative paths.
Michael Levy

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