Not every day one hears the argument advanced that there is "no question" that the presence of paper charts aboard a sailing yacht "adds a significant amount of danger and risk"...
It requires having an honest discussion about the equipment and charts onboard. There are 2 reasons:
1. When I looked at the paper charts I used to carry, they were typically 3 years old. I never replaced them yearly and every cruising boater who's boat I went onto never had up-to-date charts. They're just too expensive to maintain and the feeling of them being on paper leads many to think that they're "good enough." Now if you boat in a smaller region, then sure, it's possible to update a couple of charts every year. To be honest, I've never been on a regional boat yet that updated their charts yearly either. It's possible that someone does that somewhere. Most don't.
Contrast that to my electronic charts. My main charts are current to March 2013. Other systems of mine have charts that are (seriously) about 2 weeks out of date. Now in some places (like Maine) that doesn't matter much. But compare that this season to the coast of NJ that has some major changes to the charts. You'd be shocked at the number of buoy and daymark changes every week on charts. I'd estimate that 10 fixed marks are destroyed every week on just the ICW (I'm in a position to know that fact because of our hazard markers). And that's just the ICW.
2. If the most catastrophic failure happened to the GPS satellite system, I'd be left with only the visible chart displays on the variety of screens I have - laptops, tablets, phones, chartplotters. Those displays would allow me to do DR navigation just as easily as paper charts. In fact, it's easier since the old marks can be removed without erasing and damaging the charts. We practice DR on digital displays. If you've never done that, you'd be surprised how nice it is. And there are some products like Coastal Explorer the do real time DR for you. When there's no GPS signal, you enter course, speed, set, and drift, and it plots your live position like like the GPS-derived display although it warns you that it's a DR position. I've yet to see a paper chart that does that.
OK so given that this digital DR mode would only happen in the worst of worst cases of all visible GPS satellites blowing up, this mode of navigation is exactly the same as paper chart navigation on the most beautiful day when every GPS satellite is working perfectly. And the reality is that I've yet to have a moment of GPS constellation failure - and when GPS is working perfectly, paper charts still don't show me my position without a lot of error-prone manual plotting. Now add some bad weather - I mean serious bad weather. I'd rather have the reliable GPS system. And if GPS managed to fail right then during a bad weather event (an incredible coincidence) then I'd be in the same position as paper charts.
I'd suggest there's precious little comparison between my own 30-footer, and a virtual floating city thousands of times her size, equipped with a suite of electronics/nav systems that alone likely represents a greater monetary investment than the value of my boat itself... (grin)
Except for a few facts. Ships have regulations that are carefully determined by governments who want to guarantee safety. Every ship represents significantly more danger and monetary loss than hundreds of copies of my boat. Governments can require (and did) that charts be kept up-to-date - even kept to date with the various notice to mariners. [And again, having an honest discussions about it - do you update your paper charts to the LNTM every week? Digital charts in the US are updated every week today for LNTM.] If there were the slightest bit of extra safety provided by paper charts, governments would require them. They used to. They don't any longer. It's not just for tankers and container ships either.
I think there's a feeling by some that you're not a real sailor unless you've got paper charts below in a nav station or out on deck in plastic. I think those feelings are no longer true in 2013. For me, the cutover happened in 2010. I'd rather see the dim glow of a GPS chartplotter on the passing sailboat's binnacle at night.
It's really OK to throw out your paper charts today. You'd be shocked how nice everything becomes.