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The United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (or UKHO) is an organisation within the UK government responsible for providing navigational and other hydrographic information for national, civil and defence requirements. The UKHO is located in Taunton, Somersetmarker on Admiralty Way and has a workforce of approximately 1000 staff.

The office is an executive agency of the Ministry of Defence and is directly responsible to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and Minister for Veterans. The current minister is Kevan Jones, MP. The Chief Executive of the agency is Mike Robinson, appointed in 2006.The agency is self-funding and has Trading Fund status and so protects the copyright in its publications.

Rear Admiral Ian Moncrieff is the UK National Hydrographer and Deputy Chief Executive (Hydrography).

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.

History

The Admiralty's first Hydrographer was Alexander Dalrymple, appointed in 1795 on the order of King George III and in the next year the existing charts were brought together and catalogued. The first chart the Admiralty produced (of Quiberon Baymarker in Brittany) did not appear until 1800.

Dalrymple was succeeded on his death in 1808 by Captain Thomas Hurd, 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 was appointed Hydrographer in 1823 after his second expedition to discover a Northwest Passage. In 1829, at the age of 55, Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort became Hydrographer. During this time, he developed his eponymous Scale and saw the introduction of official tide tables in 1833 and the first "Notices to Mariners" 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.

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; HMS Vidal. 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, 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 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".

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