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Boating Buoys: A Guide to Aids to Navigation You May Encounter on the Water

Aids to navigation is a system or a “Road Map” of devices on the water and are provided to help the operator to determine his position and course. The Aids to Navigation System also warns the operator of dangers or obstructions in the waterway or can advise the operator of the location of the best or preferred route.

When you refer to the “Chart” that you should have onboard the area you are boating, note that it will include markers, buoys, as well as beacons, and lighthouses.

FYI: A popular memory aid and a “RULE” for this system are “Red Right Returning” The red buoys will always be on your right or starboard side when you are returning or heading upstream. The Buoys are reversed when heading downstream, green is on your starboard and red is on your port. Port Hand Buoy marks the port (left) side of a channel and must be kept on the port (left) side of your craft when going upstream is colored green displays identification letter(s) and odd number(s)

if it has a light, the light is green and is a flashing (FL) 4s or quick flashing (Q) 1s Starboard Hand Buoy marks the starboard (right) side of a channel and must be kept on the starboard (right) side of the craft when proceeding upstream is colored red displays identification letter(s) and even number(s)

if it carries a top mark, the top mark is a single red cone, points upward if it carries a light, the light is red and is flashing (FL) 4s or Quick Flashing (Q) 1s

Cardinal Buoys

Cardinal Buoys are used to indicate the direction in which the safest water exists. This diagram shows the location of the danger for each of the four Cardinal Buoys.

North Cardinal Buoy

North Cardinal Buoy is located so that the safest water exists to the north of it; is colored black and yellow in approximately equal areas above the waterline; the top half of the buoy is black and the lower half is yellow;

if it carries a top mark, the top mark is two black cones, one above the other, points upward; if the buoy carries a light, the light is white and is a quick flashing (Q) 1 s or very quick flashing (VQ) 0.5 slight; and if the buoy does not carry a light, it is normally spar-shaped.

East Cardinal Buoy

East Cardinal Buoy is located so that the safest water exists to the east of it; is colored black with one broad horizontal yellow band; if it carries a top mark, the top mark is two black cones, one above the other, base to base if the buoy carries a light, the light is white and is a group quick flashing three Q(3) 10 s or a group very quick flashing three VQ(3) 5 slight; and if the buoy does not carry a light, it is normally spar-shaped.

South Cardinal Buoy

South Cardinal Buoy is located so that the safest water exists to the south of it; is colored black and yellow in approximately equal areas above the waterline; the top half of the buoy is yellow and the lower half is black if it carries a top mark, the top mark is two black cones, one above the other, points downward; if the buoy carries a light, the light is white and is a group quick flashing six-plus long flash (Q(6) + Lvl) 15 slight or group very quick flashing six-plus long flash (VQ(6) + Lvl) 10 slight; and if the buoy does not carry a light, it is normally spar-shaped.

West Cardinal Buoy

West Cardinal Buoy is located so that the safest water exists to the west of it; is colored yellow with one broad black horizontal band;

if it carries a top mark, the top mark is two black cones, one above the other, point to point; if the buoy carries a light, the light is white and is a group quick flashing nine Q(9) 15 slight or a group very quick flashing nine VQ(9) 10 slight; and if the buoy does not carry a light it is normally spar-shaped.

Cautionary Buoy

Cautionary Buoy marks an area where mariners are to be warned of dangers such as firing ranges, racing courses, seaplane bases, underwater structures of areas where no safe through channel exists and of traffic separations; is colored yellow; displays identification letter(s); if it carries a top mark, the top mark is a single yellow “X” shape; and if it carries a light, the light is yellow and is a flashing (Fl) 4 slight.

Diving Buoy

Diving Buoy marks an area where scuba or other such diving activity is in progress; is colored white; carries a red flag not less than 50 centimeters square with a white diagonal stripe extending from the tip of the hoist to the bottom of the fly; and if it carries a light, the light is yellow and is a flashing (Fl) 4 slight.

Keep Out Buoy

Keep Out Buoy marks an area where boats are prohibited; is colored white; has an orange diamond containing an orange cross on two opposite sides and two orange horizontal bands, one above and one below the diamond symbols; and if it carries a light, the light is yellow and is a flashing (Fl) 4 slight.

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