Navigational Essentials: Decoding Channel Markers

  Navigational Essentials: Decoding Channel Markers




Even though the open waters don’t have traffic lights or roads, they are still guided by important navigational aids called channel markers. Once you know how to interpret marker buoys, you can be certain that you’re doing things right to ensure the safety of your passengers, and other boats on the water.


Why They’re There

Channel markers indicate the sides of a navigable channel; you can avoid sand bars and other hazards by keeping within the markers. They also show where junctions with other channels occur, as well as forks or splits in a channel. Channel markers can show the safe side to pass a hazard. And on wide bodies of water, they mark the safe centerline.


Red and Green Markers

Navigating channel markers can be straightforward once you know the basics: red markers are generally triangular and bear even numbers, while green markers are square and carry odd numbers. A handy mnemonic when returning from sea towards the intercoastal waterway is “red, right, returning.” This means the red markers should be on your right (starboard) side as you head inland. Conversely, when you’re departing the marina heading seaward, green markers will be on your left (port) side.


Marker Numbering The numbers on channel markers increase as you move from open water towards the shore or a marina. Therefore, lower numbers like one or two mark the beginning of a channel leading into larger bodies of water, and higher numbers appear as you approach more inland areas.


Special Channel Marker Features As you navigate through the channel into the intercoastal waterway, pay special attention to additional markings on the channel markers. Red markers in the ICW feature a yellow triangle above the numbers, whereas green markers display a yellow square. These symbols are crucial for proper navigation: keep the yellow triangle towards the continental land mass side. For instance, if you’re sailing south along the East Coast towards Key West, the yellow triangle should remain to your right throughout your journey.




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