Reading Buoys and Marks

How to Read Water Buoys & Channel Markers? | Maui Boating Safety Tips

Many boaters on the water really have no clue as to what all the marks and buoys out there really mean. And those are the ones that get in trouble.

As a basic, remember the “Three R’s.” And they are not from the old school days of reading, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmatic.

The 3 R’s are “Red Right Returning.”

This means when coming back to port you should keep the red marks to the starboard (right) side of the boat and the green marks to port (left) side of the boat. That will keep you in the channel.

Obviously, when heading out to sea, the opposite would be true. (Note of caution: if you are entering a channel in certain foreign, non-USA countries, the opposite rules may be in effect).

Some may ask, “What if you cannot see the color of the marks?” Well, the red day marks are triangles and the red buoys are nun buoys (tapered from wide to narrow at the top), while the green day marks are square and the green buoys are cans (square shaped). So, even if you cannot tell the color, you should be able to tell by the shape.

Here is a tricky one, though. Suppose you are traveling on the IntraCoastal Waterway and you are neither leaving nor entering port.

The answer is to keep the “Green to Seaward.” For example, if you are traveling from Miami to Jacksonville, Florida you would keep the Green Marks to the starboard side (right) and the Red Marks to the port side (left), or “Green to Seaward.”