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What’s it like working as a Cartographer?

As the producers of navigational charts, Cartographers are an important cog in the maritime business machine. Without the charts that Cartographers produce, navigating the world’s oceans and entering channels and ports would be an extremely hazardous task for our seafarers.

Cartographers have a passion for maps and a patient work ethic that allows them to work on a single sheet for several days or even weeks at a time. And with virtually no margin for error, a Cartographer must strive for absolute precision in collection and analysis of field data, and the transposing of that data on to charts that will eventually become an essential navigational tool for the maritime industry.

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What kind of work can I do?

Drawing on technical, scientific and design skills to make maps, hydrographic Cartographers either create navigational charts, or update existing ones. Pooling a number of primary resources, Cartographers use high-tech equipment and graphic design and image manipulation software to measure, model and analyse geographic information. Combine this with the use of aerial photographs, collection and analysis of data from sensors and satellite technology, and hydrographic (marine) surveys, the varied knowledge required for this role becomes clear. A Cartographer’s role can vary widely, and typical work activities include designing maps, graphics, illustrations and layouts; communicating information through the use of color, symbols, style and other means; using computers to compile and produce graphs for specialist and general users; researching, selecting and evaluating map source data for use in the preparation or revision of maps and charts to various scales; and analyzing and evaluating mappable information.

Where can I work?

Serving the maritime industry, Cartographers are employed by national hydrographic offices and will also have opportunities to work abroad, for example for oil companies.

On land, potential employers include government departments and national organisations such as meteorological offices, aviation authorities; local, district and regional authorities; and the private sector, such as map publishers.

A Cartographer specializing in the hydrographical industry combines the excitement of charting the seas with the precision of the land-based surveyor.

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How big is this sector?

The advent of computerized mapping techniques and Geographical Information Systems have inevitably reduced the need for Cartographers and there is now enormous competition for comparatively few jobs. Today, about 10% of cartographers are self-employed – a figure which is expected to climb – and short-term contracts are becoming increasingly common.

A degree in a mapping-related course will improve your chances of securing a job as a Cartographer, or there may be options to start a career as a cartography or mapping technician. Training on-the-job will include learning new technology such as digital mapping systems.