The Naval Hydrographic Department

Printer-friendly version





On account of the seasonal monsoons, the survey year was divided into the Survey Season - November to April - and the Drawing Season - May to September.

Survey at sea used to be done by Survey Groups. Drawing was done by the Drawing office established in Dunmore House in Coonoor since 1900.

The results of hydrographic surveys used to be forwarded to the British Hydrographic Department for publication. These charts were then sent to Bombay. Charts were issued to ships by the Naval Chart Depot located in a corner of the sail loft of the Bombay Dockyard.

Marine Survey was part of the office of the Surveyor General of India.


When the Royal Indian Navy was partitioned in August 1947, its only survey vessel, INVESTIGATOR, was allocated to the Marine Survey of India. In 1947 and 1948, its very first tasks were to survey the approaches to the berths for naval ships in Bombay and Cochin. By mid 1948 however, it became clear that this ship had reached the end of her life and needed to be replaced.


Survey Vessels. In 1949, the Second World War frigate KUKRI was placed under refit to undergo large alterations for conversion to a survey vessel. She was commissioned as a survey ship on 31 October 50.

Surveys carried out. Whilst KUKRI was still under refit, the minesweeper ROHILKHAND, two Seaward Defence Motor Launches (SDMLs) and survey boats carried out in 1949 and completed by 1950, a detailed survey of Kandla and its approaches as part of the project for the development of Kandla as a major port.

Hydrographic Office. Concurrently with this activity, the Navy's seniormost survey officer, Cdr J Cursetji, was deputed to Britain in April 1949 to study the British Navy's Hydrographic Office and prepare a project report on the establishment of a Hydrographic Office in India. He returned to India early in 1950. After visiting all the other survey organisations and facilities in India, he submitted his report in August 1950.


Survey Vessels. KUKRI commenced surveying in December 1950. In July 1951, KUKRI was renamed INVESTIGATOR. She was the fourth consecutive INVESTIGATOR in the Marine Survey of India to bear that name, the first being a twin paddle steamer constructed in Bombay Dockyard in 1881.

The two SDMLs continued to be employed on survey duties. In view of earlier experience that a single survey ship could not cope with survey commitments, the ROHILKHAND was given a temporary conversion for the survey role. She joined the survey fleet in October 1952.

Surveys Carried Out. During 1951 and 1952, surveys were carried out in the Gulf of Kutch, the Andaman islands, the Mahanadi River entrance and Bombay Harbour.

Hydrographic Office. In 1951 Commander Cursetji was appointed as Surveyor-in-Charge, Marine Survey of India. Based on the project report he had submitted, the Government approved the establishment of a Hydrographic Office in phases.


Survey Vessels. Experience with the minesweeper ROHILKHAND showed that she was unsuitable as a self - supporting survey vessel. The sloop SUTLEJ was therefore converted to the survey role. The survey fleet now comprised INVESTIGATOR, SUTLEJ, two SDMLs and new survey boats constructed by the Naval Dockyard Bombay. In addition, plans were crystallizing for the construction in India of a new modern survey ship.

Surveys Carried Out. During 1953 and 1954, surveys continued in the Gulf of Kutch, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Mahanadi River entrance and Bombay Harbour.

Survey Personnel. During the preceding years, a number of officers had been under basic training and had also undergone training in Britain. The manning of three separate surveying units in 1953 was made possible by the availability of these qualified officers who had previously been under training. The shortage of survey recorder sailors however continued to persist.

Hydrographic Office. Having decided to establish a Hydrographic Office in India for the production of navigational charts and auxiliary publications, the services were obtained on loan of the Assistant Hydrographer of the British Navy to advise and assist in setting up the office. He arrived in India in the capacity of the Surveyor-in-Charge of the Marine Survey of India. After considering alternative sites, it was decided to establish the Hydrographic Office at Dehra Dun, where the printing facilities of the nearby Survey of India could be utilised and close liaison maintained between these two Survey Organisations.


Survey Vessels. In 1954, survey commitments began to mount. It was assessed that at least four ships needed to be continuously employed on survey duties. During these four years:-

(a) In 1954, Government sanctioned a new 2500 ton survey ship to be built in collaboration with a French firm at Hindustan Shipyard Ltd (HSL) at Visakhapatnam. Its keel was laid in 1957.

(b) The Ministry of Transport and Communication, on whose request most of the project surveys were being carried out, bore the entire cost of converting the sloop JAMUNA for the survey role. JAMUNA was commissioned as a survey vessel in November 1956.

(c) SUTLEJ had been doing survey temporarily since 1953. During her 1957 annual refit, her hull and machinery state were so poor as to require a major refit. It was decided to convert her for permanent employment as a survey ship during her D2 refit at MDL.

Surveys Carried Out. Between 1954 and 1958, surveys continued to be carried out in the Gulf of Kutch, the Gulf of Cambay, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and ports on the east and west coasts.

Survey Personnel. The shortage of survey officers and sailors continued to persist.

Hydrographic Office. The Hydrographic Office was established in temporary accommodation at Dehra Dun in June 1954.

On 15 August 1954, the name of the Marine Survey of India was changed to Hydrographic Branch of the Navy . The designation of the Surveyor in Charge was changed to Chief Hydrographer. Captain J Cursetji took over as Chief Hydrographer in 1956. The office shifted into its new buildings in 1957.

From the outset, it proved difficult to get trained civilian technical personnel for the Hydrographic Office. Surveyors had to be obtained on loan from the Survey of India and draftsman and hydrographic assistants had to be trained on the job. This expedient continued for several years.

Publications. From 15 February 1958 onwards, Indian Notices to Mariners started being published from the Naval Hydrograhic office.

Navigational warnings continued to be issued from the Naval Chart Depot in Bombay.

In 1956, India became a member of the International Hydrographic Bureau. From 1957 onwards, the Chief Hydrographer started representing India at the International Hydrographic Conferences in Monaco.

1959 - 1964

Expansion of the Hydrographic Branch

In 1959, the Navy forwarded to the Ministry its proposals for the expansion of the Hydrographic Branch. Discussion continued till 1963 with no tangible results. In 1963, the Navy put up revised and updated proposals, pointing out that adequate charting of Indian waters was a prime necessity for the maritime defence of India and therefore was the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Defence. The 1963 paper envisaged the requirement of 4 ships for seaward survey and 4 smaller survey craft for inshore coastal survey, phased over a period of 5 years.

On 25 March 1965, the Chief Hydrographer was re-designated as Chief Hydrographer to the Government of India. This gave official recognition to the advice he gave to the various maritime agencies.

Survey Vessels. From 1959 onwards, the survey fleet consisted of JAMUNA and INVESTIGATOR. SUTLEJ rejoined in 1960 after her permanent conversion for survey duties.

The new survey ship being constructed in HSL to a French design was inordinately delayed. Ten years after it had been sanctioned, she was commissioned as DARSHAK on 28 December 1964. She had a helicopter to assist in survey duties; her living and working spaces were air conditioned; she had fluorescent lighting throughout, automatic telephones and two 35 foot survey launches.

Surveys Carried Out. Between 1959 and 1964, surveys continued of both coasts, the Laccadive Islands and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Survey Personnel. Various steps were tried to overcome the persistent shortage of volunteers for survey duties:

(a) Officers found unsuitable for the Air Arm were selected for the Hydrographic Branch. These officers however declined to volunteer to stay on as survey officers.

(b) Junior officers started being attached to surveys ships for periods of 2 to 3 years.

(c) Officers of the survey branch started being transferred to general service appointments for experience.

Hydrograhic Training School

Until 1959, no proper facilities existed for training personnel in Hydrography. Officers and sailors joined the branch on recommendation by their Commanding Officers. Their skill and dedication was rewarded in accordance with General Instructions for Hydrographic Surveyors.

The first attempt at providing systematic training began in 1959 with the establishment of a Hydrographic Training Unit at the Naval Chart Depot Bombay. It conducted short duration course for quartermaster sailors. Progressively, the shortage of junior recorders eased but the shortage of senior recorders was unavoidable until the junior recorders acquired the qualifications and experience to be promoted.

Due to constraints of space, this unit was shifted to Cochin in 1961. It was temporarily located in a wing of the ND School and named as the Naval Hydrographic School.

Publications. Apart from the publications of new charts, Sailing Directions and Indian Notices to Mariners, the Indian List of Lights was published in 1961.


Survey Ships. From 1965 to 1974, the survey fleet consisted of DARSHAK, INVESTIGATOR, SUTLEJ and JAMUNA. INVESTIGATOR was decommissioned on 30 Sep 74.

In 1970, Government sanctioned the replacement of INVESTIGATOR, SUTLEJ and JAMUNA in a phased programme. Orders could not be placed, however, because MDL was fully stretched with the Leander frigate project and GRW was not geared up to construct large ships.

In 1972, when considering the distribution of ship construction work between MDL and GRW, Government decided that new survey ships would be constructed at GRW. The first of the three replacement ships was ordered on GRW in 1972. The ship was to be fitted with modern survey, navigation and manoeuvering equipment, indigenous propulsion machinery with a Pleuger rudder and be fully airconditioned.

In 1973, Government approved the indigenous construction of four survey craft for inshore survey work.

In 1975, due to financial constraints, NHQ rescheduled the placement of orders:

(a) Survey ships 2 and 3 were deferred to the 1974-79 plan. NHQ timed the orders for these two survey ships to be delivered in 1978 and 1979.

(b) The four survey craft were deferred to the 1980-84 plan.

Surveys Carried out Normal surveys continued to be carried out on both coasts, and the Andaman, Nicobar and Laccadive Islands.

Other Survey Activities :-

In 1967,

(a) SUTLEJ carried out the survey in connection with the establishment of the DG Range at Goa.

(b) INVESTIGATOR carried out surveys in Visakhapatnam harbour in connection with the new Dockyard Project.

In 1968 DARSHAK continued the surveys in connection with the DG Range at Goa.

In 1969 JAMUNA carried out surveys of the Submarine Exercise Area off Visakhapatnam.

During the 1968-69 season:-

(a) DARSHAK carried out oceanographic surveys from Bombay to the Gulf of Cambay with scientists from Naval Physical & Oceanographic Laboratory (NPOL) and National Institute of Oceanography (NIO). National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) scientists, embarked on board. Observations were made pertaining to physical and chemical properties of sea water, marine biology, bathymetry, geology and magnetic profiles.

(b) SUTLEJ, carried out oceanographic observations with a team of scientists from NPOL. Magnetic profiles upto 35 miles offshore were obtained.

During the 1973-74 season, DARSHAK was employed on Defence Oceanography and Marine Resource Surveys, in which all maritime research agencies of the nation participated. This was the first venture of its kind and yielded valuable data.

Survey of the Gulf of Kutch. Survey of the Northern portion of the Gulf had begun in 1948. During the 1974-75 season, the Ministry of Transport placed the lighthouse tender MV SAGARDEEP at the disposal of the Chief Hydrographer. Using two Side Scan Sonars provided by the Indian Oil Corporation, DARSHAK and SAGARDEEP surveyed most of the Gulf of Kutch. The results of these surveys enabled delineation of the deep water channel to the off-shore oil terminal at Salaya for use by the Very Large Crude Oil Carriers (VLCCs) which brought crude oil from the Persian Gulf to the refineries in Gujarat.

Electronic Surveying Equipment In 1966-67, the Ministry of Transport provided DARSHAK with a medium range position fixing system, the Hi-Fix chain, to progress surveys in the Gulf of Cambay. Prior to the introduction of Hi-Fix, surveys in mid- ocean used to be done painstakingly by laying beacons and fixing with sextants or taut wire. Hi-Fix was a major milestone in the modernisation of surveying equipment.

Surveys in Bangladesh After the 1971 war, DARSHAK carried out surveys in Bangladesh till March 1972.

Survey Personnel

Direct Entry Survey Officers The intake of officers into the Hydrographic Branch used to be from General Service volunteers. Since far too many officers reverted to General Service after a short stint of surveying, Survey Officers started being directly recruited from 1965 onwards.

Survey Allowance and Survey Bounty In 1968, to attract more volunteers for survey duty, both these allowances were revised upward.

(a) Survey Bounty for Sailors Employed on Survey Duties

  Rs per year
Survey Recorder 1 ‑ CPO Rs 450
Survey Recorder 1 ‑ PO and below Rs 390
Survey Recorder 2 Rs 330
Survey Recorder 3 Rs 240

(b)   Survey Allowance/Survey Bounty for officers


Category Survey Allowance Rs p.m. Survey Bounty Rs p.m.  
Asst Surveyor Class 4 50 850 Minus Survey Allowance  received during the  period involved
3 60 950 -  do  -
2 85 1350 -  do  -
1 100 1850 -  do  -
Charge Allowance
Lt Cdr 100 1800 -  do  -
Commander 100 1800 -  do  -
Captain Nil 1800 -  do  -
In 1969, Survey Bounty was sanctioned for MCPO's
MCPO 1  Rs 570 per year
MCPO 2 Rs 510 per year

Modernisation of the Naval Hydrographic Office Dehra Dun

To cope with the growing volume of chart production, the complement of officers and technical and administrative civilian staff was increased in December 1966. A `Morusawa' Photo Typesetting Machine was installed in 1967. All `letter' and `figure' work, which previously used to be fair drawn manually, was photographed in original on the photo typesetting machine and the prints were then mounted on the fair-drawing original.

In March 1971, the printing of charts commenced on the new lithographic and letter-press machines.

In 1975, the printing complex was augmented by a double colour, rotary offset machine and allied printing equipment.

The Environmental Data Unit

The Environment Data Unit was established at the Hydro- graphic Office in 1974. During 1975, this unit processed, analysed and intercepted the data received from :

(a) DARSHAK's Oceanographic Expedition of 1973-74.

(b) The USA's National Oceanographic Data Centre.

(c) The International India Ocean Expedition.

In 1975, the Naval Hydrographic Office was nominated by the Government of India as the National Centre for archiving and dissemination of Bathythermograph (BT) data. The Government directed that BT data collected by all vessels of national agencies be forwarded to the Naval Hydrographic Office.

International Co-operation

The International Hydrographic Bureau (IHB) assigned to the Naval Hydrographic Office the responsibility of preparing nine bathymetric plotting sheets, based on source material received from data centres the world over. These were incorporated in the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO).

Naval Hydrographic School

Sanction for establishing a permanent Hydrographic School at Cochin was first issued in April 1965. Later it was decided to locate the school at Visakhapatnam. Eventually, in 1975, sanction was accorded to establish the School at Goa.


Lattice Charts.  The production of Decca Lattice navigation charts was taken up in 1967. The first of the series covering the approaches to Paradeep Port was published in April 1968.

Coastal Charts and Indian Sailing Directions.    The publication of the coastal series of charts for the West Coast of India started in 1968. The publication of Indian Sailing Directions for this area commenced in 1970.

Extension of Coverage of Notices to Mariners.    Commencing March 1972, the coverage of Notices to Mariners was enlarged to include the entire North Indian Ocean area. This ensured that important information relating to the safety of navigation was available to ships expeditiously .

Bathymetric Chart of the Northern Indian Ocean.    This chart was published in July 1973.

Indian Nautical Almanac.     In September 1974, the Naval Hydrographic office published the Indian edition of the 1974 Nautical Almanac. It was identical to the Almanac being jointly produced by Britain and the USA and was produced under arrangements with them.

International Arrangements for Exchange of Reproduction Materials     Three charts of the Persian Gulf area and the chart of Malacca Straits, were published in 1973, from reproduction material received from the British Hydrographic Department under a charting arrangement. Publication of the Nautical Almanac, identical to that produced by the UK and the USA, was commenced in 1975 under arrangements with these countries.

Goodwill Cruise

In April - May 1970, DARSHAK undertook a goodwill cruise to Southeast Asia. This was the first time that an Indian built survey ship visited countries in this region.

President's Review of the Fleet.

DARSHAK, JAMUNA and SUTLEJ took part in the President's Review of the Fleet at Bombay on 28 December 1969.

International Hydrographic Bureau

Chief Hydrographers have had the distinction of being elected to the International Hydrographic Bureau in Monte Carlo.

Commodore DC Kapoor was the first Chief Hydrographer to be elected to the Directing Committee in April 1972. He then served as a Director in the Bureau till 1982, having been re-elected for two successive terms.

Rear Admiral FL Fraser served from 1982 to 1987 as the President of the Directing Committee.


Re-Scheduling of the Survey Season

As a result of refit programmes and employment on other naval duties, it was found that survey ships and craft were not always available in the survey season. Deployments therefore started being made in locations where survey work was feasible even during the monsoon season.

Survey Vessels

DARSHAK, SUTLEJ and JAMUNA continued on survey duties until the new survey vessels commissioned.

In 1977, DARSHAK was fitted with all the new survey equipment which was being fitted in the new survey ships under construction.

In 1977, sanction was accorded for the construction of four 185 ton, survey craft which would not only work in conjunction with survey ships in coastal waters, but also independently carry out surveys of all ports, harbours and their approaches.

New Survey Vessels Commissioned
Sandhyak Survey Ship (GRW) 26 Feb 81
Nirdehak Survey Ship (GRW) 04 Oct 83
Makar Survey Ship (GSL) 31 Jan 84
Mithun Survey Ship (GSL) 31 Mar 84
Meen Survey Ship (GSL) 23 Jun 84
Mesh Survey Ship (GSL) 31 Oct 84
Nirupak Survey Ship (GRW) 14 Aug 85
Investigator Survey Ship (GRW) 11 Jan 90
Jamuna Survey Ship (GRW) 31 Aug 91
Sutlej Survey Ship (GRW) 19 Feb 93
Old Survey Ship Decommissioned
Sutlej 01 Dec 78
Jamuna 31 Dec 80
Darshak 15 Jan 90

All six survey ships of the SANDHAYAK class were equipped with the latest available electronic equipment and facilities for Hydrographic work.

The Survey craft were not found to be stable enough for survey work when the weather was not calm.

Naval Hydrographic School Goa

The new school at Goa was constructed within INS GOMANTAK and commissioned in three phases between 1978 and 1987. Meanwhile courses for Direct Entry officers and sailors, and for Civilian Field Assistants including some from foreign countries, continued to be conducted on facilities borrowed from other Naval units at Cochin.

In 1980, the Hydrographic School was given UNDP aid of 3.5 million US Dollars for acquiring modern surveying training equipment. Thereafter, it was awarded Category A certification by the International Hydrographic Organisation and recognition as the Regional Training Centre for the Asia Pacific region.

The present role of the Naval Hydrographic School is:

(a) To train Indian Naval officers and sailors in the field of Hydrography and allied instrumentation.

(b) To conduct courses for Civilian Hydrographic personnel from ports and other Central Marine Agencies.

(c) As the Regional Hydrographic Training Centre, to conduct courses for civilian and service personnel of South East Asian countries.

In 1997, the Naval Hydrographic Office and the Naval Hydrographic School were re-designated as the National Hydrographic Office and National Hydrographic School.