Red and Green, Go-Between: A Guide to Buoys and What They Mean
Written by: John Maguire
Buoys are navigational devices that float on top of the water. Boaters will find and use buoys on rivers, lakes, intercoastal waterways, and the open ocean throughout the world. Some buoys are equipped with lights on the top, but others do not have lights. Buoys also come in different shapes. A buoy with a conical top is known as a "nun," while a buoy with a flat top is called a "can." Another type of navigational device that may be found on the water is known as a beacon. Beacons are permanently fixed, usually to the floor of the body of water. Beacons may have lights, but some do not. Those beacons without lights are called day beacons. When navigating the water in a boat, whether it's a large sailing yacht or a small fishing boat, you need to learn the nautical information communicated by buoys and beacons. This information is provided to keep boaters safe from harm and to help them avoid potential issues that might lead to accidents or property damage.
What Are Buoys?
- Buoys are navigational aids that float on top of the water and are placed strategically to give boaters crucial information about the waterway.
- Buoys have to be self-righting in the water and made of durable, hard plastic, according to regulations.
- Lights on buoys are in place for nighttime navigation, and they will vary in color and display, possibly steady or flashing.
- The purpose of buoys is twofold. Some are there to aid boaters so they know about hazards that might cause problems, while others are in place to show boaters where they can safely travel.
- Boaters may encounter buoys on any type of waterway around the world.
- Think of buoys as traffic lights of the waterways for boaters.
History of Buoys
- Buoys date back to ancient Egypt, when Egyptians devised them to mark rocks and other hazards.
- The jurisdiction of the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities was implemented in 1982.
- Today, the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities is responsible for managing all navigational lights and buoys around the world.
Types of Buoys and Their Uses
- Buoys might signal the presence of manmade objects or natural occurrences that could be dangerous. Buoys can point out rocks, shallow waters, and designated channels.
- Buoy marks include lateral, cardinal, isolated danger, safe water, special, and emergency wreck marks. Boaters need to know the differences between the marks so they understand the information presented on buoys.
- Leads are pairs of navigational marks placed to show safe passage channels for boats entering a dangerous or challenging channel.
- Navigational markers include buoys, sound signals, range lights, day beacons, and lighthouses.
- Many waterways have preferred and secondary channels, which are marked by channel markers.
- Boaters shouldn't have problems maintaining course in preferred channels if they keep red markers on the right side of the boat and green markers on the left side of the boat when returning to port.
- Numbers on red nun buoys are always even, and they will get larger as you get closer to port.
- If buoys have lights, they will be the same color as the buoy, and they may be steady or flashing.
- If buoys have numbers, they will decrease while you are heading downstream and increase while you are heading upstream.
- A preferred channel will usually be deeper than a secondary channel.
- An anchorage buoy designates areas where boaters can anchor their crafts.
Navigational Signals From Buoys
- Red and green channel markers show boaters where the boating channels are in waterways.
- Regulatory markers will show boaters what they can or cannot do in specified areas.
- Some buoys provide information about the locations of points of interest that are nearby, such as state parks or public docks.
- A mooring buoy is a special buoy to which boaters can secure their vessels.
- Inland waters obstruction markers have black and white stripes, showing ships where hazards are underwater.
- A green can buoy means pass to the right, and a red nun buoy means pass to the left when moving upstream.
- A diamond shape with a "T" inside it on a buoy means "keep out."
- Buoys with circles are control buoys, usually indicating speed limits.
- A boat with divers will put up a flag to indicate that divers are in the area so other boaters will maintain a safe distance.
- A navigational buoy with vertical red and white stripes indicates the center of a channel. Boaters need to travel immediately to the left or right of this channel marker.
- A navigational buoy with vertical black and white stripes indicates an obstruction.