Conditions favorable to establish the Hydrographic Service in Poland, did not emerge until after the 1st World War, when Poland regained its independence and access to the sea. Immediately after the war, on the 29th November 1918, the Head of State Józef Piłsudski brought into being the Polish Navy. Then, on the 2nd May 1919, the Maritime Department of the Ministry of Military Afffairs was established. With no ships though, they constituted the formal beginning of our Navy, which was preparing to take over a part of the coastline granted to Poland.
Thanks to the Treaty of Versailles signed on the 28th June 1919, the reborn Poland could put dreams of many generations about sailing the seas into practice. Poland was granted only a small part of Pomerania area and the part of the sea coast, from the mouth of the Piasnica River to Kamienny Potok - no more than 70 kilometers long in total (about 140 kilometers including the Hel Peninsula). Gdańsk, so closely tied with Poland throughout centuries, had bee granted the Free City status, and formally, remained outside of the Polish boarders.
The coastal area, which had been granted us was neglected, run-down, and the only railway link of the region with the rest of the country run through the Free City of Gdańsk territory. There was no port that would give capability to develop own shipping industry and to base the Navy, which was just being created. However, almost immediately after the Treaty of Versailles had come into force, i.e. on the 10th of January 1920, Poland took control over the granted stretch of the coast with the historical Act of Marriage to the Baltic arranged on the 10th of February 1920 in Puck. On the same day, the Polish Parliament - the Sejm established the Maritime Commission and passed a Resolution on Construction of the Port of Gdynia.
They are just the events, so historical to our state, that also beginnings of the Hydrographic Service in Poland are connected with, becoming one of the first element of the Maritime Administration, which was being established then, and one of the first Naval component.
It was just a surveying ship, which became the first Polish Navy Ship on the Baltic. She was ORP POMORZANIN, bought in December 1919 in Hamburg and commissioned into the Navy on the 10th of February 1920. Formerly owned by Germany, the ship was quite an old steam ship, constructed in the German shipyard of Sachsengerg brothers at Rosal on the Elbe River in 1893.
On the 19th of February 1920, the Hydrographic Office was established the first institution of this kind in the history of our state. From this day, the date is recognized as the birthday and the Hydrography Day in Poland. Lieutenant Józef Unrug was appointed as Chief of the Office.
The Hydrographic Office was an institution, which reported to the Maritime Department. Its basic responsibilities covered supervision of safety of navigation on the Polish maritime waters, supply ships with the necessary charts and other navigational aides, hydrographic surveying of the sea and coastal areas, compilation of charts and Sailing Directions, supply the Naval Command with oceanographic and hydrographic data, necessary to conduct operations and to train the personnel. During the first period of the Offices' activities, the states' Maritime Administration structures were being developed further.
At first however, the Offices' operations were directed at preparations of the ships and the personnel for conducting hydrographic tasks and for taking over the aids to navigation that existed on the Polish coast, until then, managed by the German administration. Finally, the Hydrographic Office took control over the aids to navigation in April 1920. At that time, the aids consisted of 4 lighthouses (Rozewie, Jastarnia-Bór, Hel and Oksywie), 2 signal stations (Hel, Rozewie), several dozen buoys and signal masts.
The overhaul of the ORP Pomorzanin was finished in April 1920 and the ceremony of raising the Naval ensign and the Captains' flag took place in the Port of Gdynia at 0800 on 1st of May 1920.
In the morning of the next day, the ship let go the lines and after she had left Gdańsk she took course for Puck. From the first days of May 1920, the ship began hydrographic surveying directed at setting out and marking of a safe approaching channel to the Port of Puck.
Further works done by the crew were: evaluation of lighthouses, aids to navigation, signal and meteorological facilities, etc.
During the following years, the present days' division of competences and responsibilities for the hydrographic and safety of navigation matters was established between Hydrographic Service of the Polish Navy and institutions of the civilian Maritime Administration. This is just the division of competences between the Minister of Military Affairs and the Minister of Industry and Trade, that was confirmed by a Decree of the 1st of December 1921 issued by the Council of Ministers. According to this decree the civilian governmental department took over, among other things, matters of the aids to navigation.
Soon with Lieutenant Tadeusz Bramiński as the Chief, Hydrographic Service of the Polish Navy was renamed Hydrographic Office of the Polish Navy (HOPN) and subordinated to the Commandant Naval Port of Puck. The personnel was limited to just five persons, working in Gdynia in two small rooms of a summer house, near the present Kaszubski Square, and in some rooms in Puck where the store of charts and navigational equipment was. On the 25th February 1922, the ORP Pomorzanin was decommissioned, removed from the List of Fleet, and transferred to the Ministry's Department of the Military Affairs.
Publication of the Wiadomosci Zeglarskie (Notices to Mariners), correction of charts and navigational aids as well as compilation of Sailing Directions began in 1921. To carry out surveying works, it acquired another vessel, which was an ex-German steamboat. Having these surveys and formerly made by the ORP Pomorzanin as its base, it started to work on the first publication of the Office, which was a Provisional Plan of the Roads and the Port of Gdynia (published in 1923).
With the year 1923 coming to an end, important decisions advantageous to HOPN development were taken. The Command of the Navy confirmed reorganization of the Office and its transfer to Warsaw to be incorporated into structures of the Command with powers of a central service, the ships and the charts and navigational equipment's store being stationed on the coast as it had been so far.
The next important undertaking was in 1924 - the beginning of efforts to admit Poland to the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) in Monaco. Formally, Poland joint IHO on 26th July 1926. A representative of HOPN took part for the first time in deliberations of the 2nd Hydrographic Conference in 1926.
Until September 1939, Hydrographic Office of the Polish Navy performed its normal hydrographic works. The most important of them included:
Setting out and marking of navigable channels and ports' areas to meet requirements of the Navy and all other forms of shipping: among other things, of the Port of Gdynia, which gained significant importance as a Baltic port before the 2nd World War and as an investment in the Polish economy.
Carrying out necessary surveys and hydrographic works: among other things, of the sea bottom bathymetry in maritime areas and in ports to meet requirements of the charts production, magnetism in the Polish maritime areas, setting out leading lights, and testing ranges.
Publication of charts, navigational aids and other nautical publications.
Establishment and maintenance of the navigational warnings' promulgation system - they were being issued systematically twice a year in two languages Polish and French as well as the Wiadomosci Zeglarskie weekly (Notices to Mariners; the first issue in 1921).
After the 2nd World War, in July 1945 the Hydrographic Office was reactivated within structures of the Naval Headquarters. Lieutenant Commander Karol Zagrodzki was appointed as its first Chief. From the very beginning, the Office took up performing of hydrographic tasks, arising form the necessity to set out and to mark the new shipping routes and to compile the new charts covering the Polish maritime areas, which grew considerably in comparison with the pre-war ones. Compilation and publishing of the Wiadomosci Zeglarskie once done weekly, and the first post-war chart was issued in 1946.
The hydrographic surveying was performed by successive hydrographic ships; at first ORP Zuraw (then, renamed to ORP Kompas) and ORP Baltyk from 1945. The works were also done by a number of smaller hydrographic boats and launches. In 1959, the Hydrographic Support Section (now, a squadron) was established, which comprised all the maritime, coastal surveying, and radio navigation components. The present-day surveying ships (ORP Kopernik in service since 1971, ORP Arctowski and ORP Heweliusz the Naval ensign being raised for the first time in 1982) have also carried out, apart from surveying meeting requirements of HOPN's own production of charts and nautical publications, a lot of various scientific projects, rescue missions and tasks in support of the Naval operations.
Throughout its post-war history, the Office took part in works of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) in Monaco, the Baltic Sea Hydrographic Commission (BSHC) established 1983 and the European Regional Electronic Navigational Chart Coordinating Centre (RENC); the Office's personnel was also a part of international exchange of experiences, shared with the other national Hydrographic Offices and co-operation with many national institutions and companies in the fields of navigation, hydrography, meteorology, oceanography, geodesy, cartography and information processing technologies.