SAN Hydrographic Office marks 70 years of service

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The crew of SAS Protea (A324), affectionately and widely known as the SA Navy’s “White Lady” because she is not armed, serve on the flagship of the maritime service’s hydrographic efforts.

Today (Monday, 21 June) is along with Winter Solstice in the southern hemisphere, International Hydrographic Day, highlighting the importance of this branch of science and its continued relevance. This is especially true of South Africa which is an ocean trade-dependent country.

SA Navy (SAN) assistant hydrographer Commander Christoff Theunissen said South Africa, through the SAN Hydrographic Office (SANHO), is proud to be part of the day and uses it to commemorate the achievements and strides in developing and promoting hydrography.

South Africa this year marks its 70th anniversary as a member of the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO) where former SAN hydrographer Abri Kampfer is now director.

The SANHO was established in 1955, four years after South Africa joined the IHO. In 1972 the SAN acquired its first purpose-built survey vessel, the then modern Hecla Class SAS Protea, still commissioned and in service. Protea was upgraded and modernised throughout her service life with the latest hydrographic and positioning technologies to stay relevant and produce world-class surveys.

Carrying two survey motor boats (SMB) and additional SMB in reserve, Protea and her SMBs are fitted with multi-beam echo sounders, single beam echo sounders, accurate global navigation satellite positioning systems as well as commercial off-the-shelf survey acquisition and processing software. This enables Protea to conduct coastal and deep water surveys to a depth of 5 000 metres. The SMBs enable inshore surveys, as well as harbour and approaches surveys to depths as shallow as 2m.

“Since the establishment of SANHO in 1955, it has been essential in supporting safe navigation at sea in the South African region. This led to a hydrographic service recognised as the best in Africa and observed globally by the IHO as a leading hydrographic service. Hydrographic data and products produced by Protea are further processed in Cape Town to provide paper and electronic navigation charts (ENCs). Not only does SANHO produce vital products critical for safe navigation around the South African coast, it maintains a network of coastal tide gauges around the South African and Namibian coasts monitoring and reporting state of tides as well as producing the annual South African Tide Tables publication,” Theunissen writes.

Included in the SANHO’s work are the National Nautical Chart Series; International Nautical Chart Series charts for South Africa and Namibia; ENCs (electronic navigational charts); general bathymetric charts of the oceans (GEBCO); various training and small craft charts; ocean navigation plotting sheets and monthly notices to mariners (for correction charts and publications) as well as three volumes of Sailing Directions.

In 2019 Parliament passed the Hydrographic Act giving the SANHO and the National Hydrographer legislative status enabling the establishment of the Hydrographic Office to provide for the safety of navigation in South Africa’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the country’s internal waters to ensure hydrographic surveying is done in accordance with internationally accepted specifications and standards. The national legislature demands the SANHO supply mariners operating in South Africa’s maritime zones with up to date and accurate hydrographic and maritime safety information.

This includes provision of marine geospatial information with the main goal of contributing to the development of South Africa. This is primarily achieved through participation in Operation Phakisa with the aim of unlocking and developing an oceans economy and promoting sustainable use of coasts and the marine environment. The SANHO actively contributes to two Phakisa initiatives on Marine Spatial Planning (MSP), sharing hydrographic data for proper planning and utilisation of natural marine resources through the Coasts Information Management System (OCIMS) and a spatial management tool for MSP data. Sharing hydrographic data coupled with the international trend of increasing digital data availability and products gave rise to SANHO’s current philosophy of moving from product centric to data centricity.

The new philosophy coupled with the hydrographic capability replacement project which will see the acquisition of a replacement for Protea and upgrade the SANHO production system, training facility, chart depot and archive will ensure effective co-operation and more participation at national and international level.

All this is geared to the SANHO credo “Your Chart, Our Art: Actively Contributing to South Africa’s Development.”

Project Hotel, for  a new hydrographic survey vessel for the SAN, saw progress being made, with the new vessel (pennant number A187) currently under construction by Sandock Austral Shipyards. It is projected to be delivered in June 2023 and will take over the hydrographic survey function from the ageing Protea (49 years old) which will be retained for training purposes.

In addition to the hydrographic survey vessel, Project Hotel provides for the delivery of two SMBs and a sea boat as well as a  fully operational inshore survey motor boat, in reserve, and the upgrading of the SANHO.



The SANHO upgrade is on schedule and “progressing well,” according to a May update from Armscor. All major civil works are complete and all equipment installed, Armscor said. Teledyne CARIS was selected to deliver a full software solution to the SANHO as part of Project Hotel.