the emblem of the BSH    



History of Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt und Hydrographie (Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency of Germany)

The BSH's roots can be traced back to the German states of the 17th and 18th centuries and their maritime tasks. But it was not until the 19th century that Germany embarked on the development of national maritime services. 

The "Nouvel Atlas de Marine", published by the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin in 1749, is considered to be the first German collection of nautical charts. After 1815, responsibility for maritime matters including hydrography was assumed by the Prussian trade ministry. By supreme Cabinet order of 1861, a "hydrographic bureau" was established at the Marine Ministry to carry out hydrographic surveying and issue nautical charts. With a wider range of tasks assigned to it after 1879, this bureau became Germany's Hydrographic Office. It was renamed several times until 1941. 

The first hydrographic surveys off the German North Sea coast were carried out between 1867 and 1869. By 1892, the most urgently needed charts of the North and Baltic Sea waters and a general chart of the English Channel were available. Navigational information had been promulgated in the hydrographic bureau's notices to mariners since 1863.  

Essential data needed by the German maritime services, particularly astronomical and geophysical data, were provided by the Wilhelmshaven Naval Observatory, which had been established in 1874. Its tasks included studies into ship magnetism, chronometer rating for the navy, chronometric service, tidal predictions, wind set-up and storm surge warning service, and measurement of the geomagnetic field. 

The "Norddeutsche Seewarte" (North German Naval Observatory), accommodated at the Sailors' Home in Hamburg at the time, began its work as the first German maritime and meteorological institute on 1 January 1868. It was integrated into the Reich agency "Deutsche Seewarte" (German Naval Observatory) which was established by Reich Act in 1875 and reported to the Imperial Admiralty. From 1881, it was situated on an elevation overlooking the Hamburg harbour piers. Its wide range of tasks included not only the acquisition of marine physical and meteorological data and testing of navigational instruments to improve the safety of shipping, but also the measurement of geomagnetic fields, collection of hydrographic and nautical publications and charts, issue of nautical publications, promulgation of storm warnings for coastal and inland regions, and use of its collected data for navigational and scientific purposes. 

History of the BSH
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Immediately after the Second World War, in the summer of 1945, the British Military Government established the "German Maritime Institute", which combined the governmental functions of the Hydrographic Office, Marine Observatory and  German Naval Observatory. The Allied Control Commission for Germany approved this measure on 12 December 1945 and confirmed the establishment of the new agency named "Deutsches Hydrographisches Institut" (DHI, German Hydrographic Institute). On 1 July 1950, the Federal Minister of Transport, on behalf of the Federal Government, assumed full responsibility for the DHI, in compliance with the decisions of the Allied High Commission. 

Its tasks included:

  • the promotion of maritime shipping and fisheries based on scientific research and  nautical / technical studies;
  • testing of marine equipment;
  • nautical and hydrographic services;
  • issue of official nautical charts and publications;
  • monitoring of sea water for radioactivity and pollutants.

Immediately after 1945, the German Hydrographic Institute (DHI), whose area of responsibility included all of Germany's four occupied zones, also started operating in the Soviet zone. It performed hydrographic surveys, provided Sailing Directions and nautical charts to German and Soviet authorities, and made available oceanographic data. The DHI's activities in the Soviet occupation zone ended when it became part of the administration of the unified economic zone. Thereupon, hydrographic survey groups were set up at the Rostock and Stralsund waterways authorities from 1948. The functions of these groups and other related tasks were later merged to establish a hydrographic institute, predecessor of the German Democratic Republic's "Seehydrographischer Dienst" (SHD, Hydrographic Office), which was founded in 1950. In 1952, the SHD's remit was extended to include aids to navigation. 

In 1990, the German Hydrographic Institute (DHI) and the Federal Board of Tonnage Measurement, which had its origins in the Imperial Board of Tonnage Measurement established in 1888, were merged into a new federal agency named "Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt und Hydrographie" (BSH, Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency). At the same time, additional tasks relating to the promotion of the German commercial fleet and issues regarding flag law were transferred from the Federal Ministry of Transport to the BSH. 

After Germany's reunification on 3 October 1990, the BSH's remit was extended under the terms of the unification contract to also cover the new federal states. The former GDR's tasks in the maritime sector were transferred directly to the BSH. Effective 3 October 1990, a branch office was established in Rostock which took over 200 employees from the former East German Hydrographic Office, Shipping Board, Coastal Waterways Directorate, Meteorological Service, and dredging, towage and salvage services. 

In accordance with the decisions of the Federalism Commission, which had been instituted by the Bundestag and Bundesrat, the Rostock branch office became the second headquarters of the BSH, besides Hamburg. Its nautical hydrography department and the ice and water level forecasting services for the Baltic Sea are now based at Rostock, making it Germany's centre of hydrography. In 2001, the BSH's Rostock headquarters relocated to new office buildings on the former Neptun shipyard premises overlooking the river Warnow. 

Today, the BSH is Germany's central provider of maritime services, with a focus on customer service and product quality. Its customers include shipping and other maritime industries and all those who need data and information about the oceans: business and science, federal and state authorities, departments, and political bodies.



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