Hydrographic surveys have been conducted in Antarctica by a sailing yacht that were presented at the recent 13th Conference of the Hydrographic Commission on Antarctica (HCA) in Cadiz, Spain, hosted by the Spanish Navy.

According to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), the sailing yacht demonstrated that private and commercial vessels on expeditions in Antarctica can perform official hydrographic surveys and produce navigational charts that are still much needed for the region.

The surveys were conducted by Stephen Wilkins, skipper of the Xplore, in response to the limited availability of navigational data in Antarctica, some of which dates as far back as the early 1900s and – like many areas of the world - does not comply with the latest international standards set by the 81 countries of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO).

Representing the IAATO, Wilkins regularly conducts expeditions to the southern continent.

The IAATO said it in turn actively supports the work of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) through its HCA, which strives to improve and coordinate surveying and charting activity in Antarctica.

Wilkins said in a prepared statement: “We were told that it was impossible for a leisure sailing vessel to perform IHO standard surveys with a multi-beam sonar in Antarctica because of the many challenges involved. However, thanks to the French Hydrographic Office, SHOM, providing a surveyor and Sky Ring Marine in Chile in cooperation with Reson providing a suitable sonar and other support, we proved not only that it could it be done but that the data could be included in charts soon after. Navigational charts can typically take years to produce following a survey, but ours are already available for other navigators.”

During the seven-day survey in January 2013, Xplore and her team surveyed 15.2 square nautical miles including identifying and accurately positioning a shoal which had been marked as “position doubtful.” This has since been officially named "SHOM Rock" to thank the French Hydrographic Office for their support in the project.

Dr Kim Crosbie, executive Director of IAATO said “the costs and difficulties of working in the remote Antarctic environment often limit the abilities of countries to conduct surveys. With regular visits each year by IAATO member vessels, which often have small auxiliary craft and other vessels that can safely access shallow water areas, there is real scope to work collaboratively in improving our knowledge of the sea floor and continue to strengthen safe navigation for shipping. This is one of the reasons why we work closely with the IHOand the HCA”

Representatives from the national Hydrographic Offices of 15 countries with interests in Antarctica attended the HCA Conference in Cadiz. Of importance was prioritizing which regions in Antarctica are in most need of surveying and better charting, and then coordinating which national Hydrographic Offices will take the lead for improving the charts in those areas.