The annual UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) report has revealed that gross profit from defence customers increased from £8.7m in FY20/21 to £9.4m in FY21/22, while overall operating profit dipped in FY21/22 to £25.3m, down from £30.4m in FY20/21.

Active for more than 225 years, the UKHO plays a significant role in providing navigational charts and data for use by military and commercial customers around the world. With 95% of UK trade arriving into the country by sea, navigational data provision is of key importance.

The UKHO operates as a trading fund from within the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and is 100% owned by the position of the UK Secretary of State for Defence by way of public dividend capital. Its work with the UK MoD sees the provision of surface and subsurface charts and navigational data for use by Royal Navy (RN) surface and submarine fleets.

According to the annual report, revenues increased to just short of £164m, alongside ‘increased defence and other Government work’. As a Trading Fund within the MoD, the UKHO pays no corporation tax.

Elsewhere, revenue by regional market saw Europe, Middle East, and Africa dip to £116m in FY21/22, down from £123.5m in FY20/21. Conversely, Asia-Pacific increased from £31.2m in FY20/21 to £44.6m in 21/22, while revenue from the North America market dipped by around £2.5m.

The results come just days after the UK released its new maritime security strategy, which among environmental targets and countering illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing, also called for an improvement of seabed mapping less than two months after a 25% numerical cut was made to the Royal Navy’s ocean-going naval hydrographic survey fleet following the decommissioned of HMS Echo in June this year.

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Ditching the paper trail

Also, in late-July, the UKHO announced its intention to develop options for the withdrawal from global paper chart production by late 2026 to increase focus on its digital navigation products and services. The 26 July release revealed plans were underway to withdraw the UKHO’s portfolio of ADMIRALTY Standard Nautical Charts and Thematic Charts, in response to more marine, naval, and leisure users primarily using digital alternatives.

According to the UKHO the ADMIRALTY Maritime Data Solutions digital navigation portfolio can be updated in near real-time. Speaking at the time, Peter Sparkes, chief executive of the UKHO, said that existing customers would be supported during the withdrawal of paper charts.

The move to digital navigation solutions has been accompanied by a decline in demand for paper charts, driven by the Safety of Life at Sea-mandated transition to electronic chart display and information systems.

Baroness Goldie, Minister of State at the UK government’s Ministry of Defence, said that ‘one of the priorities’ at the MoD was to aid shipping transition to the use of digital tools in order to enable the near immediate sharing of data from ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore.

Within the 68-page UKHO annual report, the word ‘digital’ was mentioned on 40 occasions, indicating the clear direction of travel the organisation is heading in with regard to paper charts. The latest results saw a further £7.5m rise in digital product revenues, and a £4m fall in paper product revenues this year.