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Buoys and Markers

220-6.19 (1)

Whenever the Director of the Marine Police Division of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources shall determine that in the interest of public safety, it is necessary to restrict the speed of boats or boating activities on, or prohibit the entrance of boats into, certain areas of the waters of this state, or otherwise regulate or prohibit the use of boats or water skis (including all devices similar to water skis) in such areas, he shall designate such restricted areas by appropriate sign or bouy.

220-6.19 (2)

It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to place or maintain any regulatory markers (signs or buoys) on the public waters of this state without first having received permission for the erection of such regulatory marker from the Marine Police Division of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. When permission for the erection of such marker is given, same may be only of a standard type and with standard lettering and colors which shall be specified and designated by the Marine Police Division. 

Any person, firm or corporation desiring to place or erect reulatory markers on the public waters of this state must first make application to the Marine Police Division for permission.....  This can be done by contacting the District Enforcement Office responsible for overseeing that body of water.

The following criteria will be adhered to when considering requests for restrictions of boating on the public waters of the state:

  • Fuel Docks
  • Public Launch Areas
  • Any area determined by the Director of the Marine Police Division to be in the best interest of public safety.

U. S. Aids To Navigation System (ATON)

Buoys and markers are the "traffic signals" that guide boat operators safely along some waterways. They also identify dangerous or controlled areas and give directions and information. As a recreational boat operator you will need to know the lateral navigation markers and non-lateral markers of the U. S. Aids to Navigation System.

Lateral Markers

These navigation aids are used to mark the edges of safe water areas; for example, to direct travel within a channel. The markers use a combination of colors and numbers which may be applied to buoys or permanently placed markers.

Colors and Numbers: The colors and numbers mean the same thing regardless of what kind of buoy or marker on which they appear:

Buoy - Red LightedRed Colors, Red Lights And Even Numbers
These indicate the right side of the channel as a boater enters from the open sea or heads upstream. Numbers will usually increase consecutively as you return from the open sea or head upstream.

Buoy - Green LightedGreen Colors, Green Lights And Odd Numbers
These indicate the left side of the channel as a boater enters from the open sea or heads upstream. Numbers will usually increase consecutively as you return from the open sea or head upstream.

Buoy - RedRed And Green Colors And/Or Lights
These are placed at the junction of two channels to indicate the preferred (primary) channel when a channel splits. If green is on top, the preferred channel is to the right. If red is on top, the preferred channel is to the left. These are also sometimes referred to as "junction buoys."

Buoy Shapes:

Buoy- NunNun Buoys
These cone-shaped buoys are always marked with red markings and even numbers. They mark the right side of the channel as a boater enters from the open sea or heads upstream.

Buoy-CanCan Buoys
These cylindrical-shaped buoys are always marked with green markings and odd numbers. They mark the left side of the channel as a boater enters from the open sea or heads upstream.

Other Kinds of Buoys and Markers:

Buoys-LightedLighted Buoys
These buoys use the lateral marker shapes, colors and numbers discussed above. In addition, they have a matching colored light.

Buoy-DaymarksDaymarks
These are permanently placed signs attached to structures such as posts in the water. Common daymarks are red triangles (equivalent to nuns) and green squares (equivalent to cans). These may also be lighted.

Boater's Tip

Buoys-Lighted
In most circumstances you can use the term
"Red Right Returning"
as a reminder of the correct course when returning from open waters or heading upstream.

Click here to see an example of a buoy system on a waterway and a navigational chart

Variations On The U. S. Aids To Navigation System

Some waters of the United States have slight variations on the lateral navigation markers. You should be aware of these if you boat on these waters.

Intracoastal Waterway (ICW)

The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) is a chain of local channels linked together to provide an inland passage along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts. Channels that are part of the ICW are identified by yellow symbols on channel buoys and markers. Buoys and markers that bear these yellow symbols are serving a dual purpose -- they are navigational aids for both the U. S. Aids to Navigation System and the Intracoastal Waterway.

If following the Intracoastal Waterway in a clockwise direction starting from New Jersey and heading to Brownsville, Texas, then:

  • Any marker displaying a yellow triangle should be passed by keeping it on the starboard (right) side of the boat.
  • Any marker displaying a yellow square should be passed by keeping it on the port (left) of the boat.

This is true regardless of the shape or color of the channel marker or buoy on which the ICW symbols are displayed. When you are following the Intracoastal Waterway, the yellow triangles and squares should be used as guides, rather than the colors and shapes of the lateral navigation markers on which they appear.

ICW Green ICW Red

ICW symbols are most commonly found on daymarks.

Non-Lateral Markers

Non-lateral markers are navigational aids that give information other than the edges of safe water areas. The most common are regulatory markers that are are white and use orange markings and black lettering. These markers are found on lakes and rivers and are used to:

  • Give direction and information
  • Warn of hazards and obstructions
  • Mark controlled areas
  • Mark closed areas.

Regulatory Marker - InformationInformation
These squares indicate places to find food, supplies and repairs, and they give directions, distances and other non-regulatory information.

Regulatory Marker - DangerDanger Area
Diamonds warn of dangers such as rocks, shoals, construction, dams or stumps. Always proceed with caution. Never assume every hazard will be marked by a buoy.

Regulatory Marker - RestrictedControlled Area
Circles indicate a controlled area such as no wake, idle speed, speed limit or ski zone.

Regulatory Marker - Prohibited Exclusion Area
Crossed diamonds indicate areas off-limits to all boats, such as swimming areas, dams, and spillways.

Other Non-Lateral Markers

Safe Water MarkSafe Water Mark
These are white with red vertical stripes and indicate unobstructed water on all sides. They mark mid-channels or fairways and may be passed on either side.

Inland Waters Obstruction MarkInland Waters Obstruction  Mark
These are white with black vertical stripes and indicate an obstruction to navigation. You should not pass between these buoys and the shore.

Mooring BuoysMooring Buoys
These are white with a blue horizontal band. They are usually placed in marinas and other areas where boats are allowed to anchor. These are the only buoys you may legally tie up to.

 

 

 

The text and graphics on this page are used by permission. Copyright © 2007 Boat Ed.

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