It's not that you really need any charts to voyage somewhere. But, in the middle of a "dark and stormy night", you may need just one to save your life. The trick is to possess the particular one you need at just the right moment. Ah, therein comes the rub! Naturally no one comes with the proverbial "crystal ball", with which one can see the future. Instead you can assume that unless you have bought all the charts, whatever you have will not consist of the one you need!
On the other hand, if you won't have the one you need, then why bother buying any at all? If you can imagine yourself in the middle of this dilemma, it won't take you long to see the opportunity to shell out a couple of thousand dollars. But a couple of thousand won't buy the whole world, if you are lucky it will cover the route from San Francisco to Seattle or similar such.
What is the well papered sailor to do? I know what you are thinking. Any sailor worth his salt is a master of improvisation. You reason that there must be alternatives. Naturally, you're sort of right.
Notice that I did not include electronic charts in any of the discussion above. The simple fact is that they will cost you in addition, for what are you to do if the electronic box fails?
The problem with chart booklets is that they are only available for limited areas of the world and will require supplements in some cases. As for the chart reproductions. They are made on large b/w copying machines. You can imagine what sort of clarity of detail that leads to. I only use them to cover areas that I am unlikely to actually go. I supplement them with real colored government charts. So, what does this all mean? You can save a lot of money, if you choose alternatives wisely, otherwise you can go berserk collecting tons of large rolls of paper.
My own collection consists of several thousand dollars of colored government charts, many chart booklets, roll after roll of b/w reproductions from Bellingham Chart Printers, and about 100 US Coast & Geodetic Survey Topographic(7 1/2') Maps of the US Pacific Coast. Is this enough? Not really. I have most of the materials from Florida to Cape Flattery, some for Alaska and British Columbia. Even then I still run across something new to make trips safer.
It is very unsafe to be operating around shallow water, hard land and other fixed objects without the most detailed charts available. Many of the accidents that you hear about occur due to a lack of adequate charts. What you don't hear about is how the lack of a chart lead to the accident. Charts lead to good decisions made at the right time. The reverse is also true.
Most of the close calls that I can remember having came about because of a lack of a chart. Don't leave home without them! Coastal charts are not harbor charts and offshore charts are not coastal charts. It is a huge mistake to use charts with low levels of detail for approaching land.
The difference between an amateur and a professional? The professional is scared! After you've had a good scare, you may get a chance to become a professional.
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