If you use the simple phrase “Red Right Return” as a reminder, when you see red and green buoys, you’re off to a good start. But often, these symbols can become confusing. For example, it’s easy to know you’re “returning” when heading into a creek or back to the dock – but what about when you’re traveling along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), a string of channels that provide passage along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, which way is returning? What do the different shapes mean? Why do they have numbers? There’s a lot to learn, but really, they are rather logical, so a quick review should enable you to traverse the waters more safely – and reduce the stress you might feel when navigating in unfamiliar territory.
While the numbers change on buoys and markers, red are even numbered, green display odd numbers, and the numbers increase as you head inland. A red buoy/marker means you should keep the marker to your starboard (right) side and a green buoy/marker means it should be on your port (left) side as you are entering from open sea or heading upstream. If a buoy/marker has a light, the light color will correspond to the color of the buoy/marker and will also flash at different intervals helping you to identify the marker at night when you may not be able to see the marker number.
A buoy or marker that is both red and green, indicates a junction of two channels. The top color denotes the direction of the primary channel. For example: green on top means the primary channel is to your port (left) side, and red means the primary channel is in the starboard (right) direction.
Because it is not clear which way is “returning” on the ICW, these red and green markers have yellow symbols added to them. A yellow triangle means keep the marker on the starboard (right) side of your boat, and a yellow square means keep the marker on the port (left) side. Markers for the Western Rivers System of the United States are similar in that they are red and green and the same color rules apply, but the numbers on the markers are different. There, they denote the distance you are from the mouth of the river. You would be wise to become familiar with the system of markers used in the area where you will be boating.
Other important markers to recognize include:
Non-lateral markers, which are white, yellow, and black – have nothing to do with the channel. Found on lakes and rivers, they give directions and information, warn of hazards and obstructions, and mark controlled or closed areas.
Safe water markers have red and white vertical stripes and indicate that the marker can be passed on either side.
Inland water obstruction markers are denoted by black and white vertical stripes and indicate an obstruction to navigation. You should not pass between these markers and the nearest shore.
Mooring buoys are white with a horizontal blue band. Usually found around marinas and areas where boats are allowed to anchor, these are the only buoys you can legally tie up to.
Taking a little time to become familiar with waterway traffic symbols will make your time on the your Grady much more enjoyable, and greatly reduce your risk of boat damage or personal injury. Click here for an easy interactive buoy and marker review.