| AIDS TO NAVIGATION...
ARE THE ROAD SIGNS OF THE WATERWAYS
This pamphlet is designed to help the recreational boater better understand the principle use and identification of the U.S. Aids to Navigation System. We hope you take the time to become familiar with this important pamphlet before you go boating. In fact, you should keep this pamphlet on your boat for future reference as needed.
U.S. AIDS TO NAVIGATION SYSTEM
The waters of the United States and its territories are marked to assist navigation by the U.S. Aids to Navigation System. This system employs a simple arrangement of colors, shapes, numbers and light characteristics to mark navigable channels, waterways and obstructions adjacent to these.
Aids to Navigation can provide a boater with the same type of information drivers get from street signs,
stop signals, road barriers, detours and traffic lights. These aids may be anything from lighthouses, to minor lights, daybeacons, range lights, and sound signals, to lighted or unlighted buoys. Each has a purpose and helps in determining location, getting from one place to another or staying out of danger. The goal of the U.S. Aids to navigation System is to promote safe navigation on the waterway.
The U.S. Aids to Navigation System is intended for use with Nautical Charts. Charts are one of the most important tools used by boaters for planning trips and safely navigating waterways. Charts show the nature and shape of the coast, buoys and beacons, depths of water, land features, directional information, marine hazards and other pertinent information. This valuable information cannot be obtained from other sources, such as a road map or atlas.
The primary components of the U.S. Aids to Navigation System are beacons and buoys.
Beacons are aids to navigation structures that are permanently fixed to the earth’s surface. They range from lighthouses to small, single-pile structures and may be located on land or in the water. Lighted beacons are called lights; unlighted beacons are called daybeacons. Beacons exhibit a daymark to make them readily visible and easily identifiable against background conditions. Generally, the daymark conveys to the boater, during daylight hours, the same significance as does the aid’s light or reflector at night. Buoys are floating aids that come in many shapes and sizes. They are moored to the seabed by concrete sinkers with chain or synthetic rope moorings of various lengths connected to the buoy’s body. They are intended to convey information to the boater by their shape or color, by the characteristics of a visible or audible signal, or a combination of two or more such features.
PRIVATE AIDS TO NAVIGATION
A Private Aid to Navigation is a buoy, light or daybeacon owned and maintained by any individual or organization other than the U.S. Coast Guard. These aids are designed to allow individuals or organizations to mark privately maintained channels, privately owned marine obstructions, or other similar hazards to navigation. For further information, contact your local Coast Guard District Aids to Navigation
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulates the placement of mooring buoys in all navigable U.S. waters. Those wishing to establish mooring buoys need to contact their local Army Corps of Engineers.
- A safe boater will always have the appropriate nautical chart(s) onboard their vessel. The exact meaning of an aid to navigation may not be clear to the boater unless the appropriate chart is consulted.
- Boaters who pass too close to a buoy risk collision with a buoy, the buoy’s mooring, or with the obstruction which the aid marks. Boaters must not rely solely on any single aid to navigation for determining their position, particularly buoys. Environmental conditions, seabed slope, composition, and collisions or other accidents may cause buoys to shift from their charted positions, sink or capsize.
- Boaters should not come close to beacons due to the danger of collision with rip rap (stones/broken rocks), structure foundation, or with the obstruction/danger which the aid marks. Always maintain a safe distance from all aids to navigation.
U.S. AIDS TO NAVIGATION SYSTEM
On navigable waters and some waters marked by States
LATERAL SYSTEM (As Seen Entering From Seaward)
Lateral Aids to Navigation generally indicate which side of an aid to navigation a vessel should pass when channels are entered from seaward. In the absence of a route leading from seaward, the conventional direction of buoyage, generally follows a clockwise direction around landmasses. The most important characteristic of an aid is the color. The “3R” rule “Red Right Returning” is the essential rule of thumb for using the lateral system. This means that when entering one body of water from a larger body of water (i.e. returning to a harbor from a bay or sound), keep the red aids to starboard (right) side and green aids to port (left) side. In addition, each aid is numbered, and these numbers increase as entering from seaward.
Preferred Channel Marks are found at junctions of navigable channels and often mark wrecks or obstructions. A vessel may normally pass this aid on either side, but the top color band indicates the preferred channel. If the top band of the aid is red, it is treated as a red mark and kept to starboard as the vessel passes it while returning from sea. Caution: It may not always be possible to pass on either side of preferred channel aids to navigation. The appropriate nautical chart should always be consulted.
NON-LATERAL AIDS TO NAVIGATION
TYPICAL INFORMATION AND REGULATORY MARKS
When lighted, may display any light
rhythm except quick flashing and flashing (2)
NW □ WHITE LIGHT ONLY
Information and Regulatory Marks are used to alert vessel operators to various warnings or regulatory matters.
|Boat Exclusion Area|
explanation may be placed outside the crossed diamond shape, such as Dam, Rapids, Swim Area, etc.
the nature of danger may be indicated inside the diamond shape, such as Rock, Wreck, Shoal, Dam, etc.
type of control is indicated in the circle, such as slow, no wake, anchoring, etc.
for displaying information such as directions, distances, locations, etc.
|Buoy used to display regulatory markers|
|May show white light|
may be lettered.
INTRACOASTAL WATERWAY (ICW) MARKS
The ICW runs parallel to the Atlantic and gulf coasts from Manasquan Inlet, New Jersey to the Mexican boarder. Aids to navigation marking the ICW display unique yellow symbols to distinguish them from aids marking other waters. Yellow triangles indicate aids should be passed by keeping them on the starboard (right) side of the vessel. Yellow squares indicate aids should be passed by keeping them on the port (left) side of the vessel. A yellow horizontal band provides no lateral information, but simply identifies aids to navigation as marking the ICW.
Note: When following the ICW from New Jersey thru Texas, keep yellow triangles on your starboard, yellow squares on your port regardless of the color navigation aid they appear on.
may show white
reflector or light
Mooring Buoys are white with a blue horizontal band. This distinctive color scheme is used to facilitate identification and to avoid confusion with aids to navigation.
SPECIAL MARKS - MAY BE LETTERED
INLAND (STATE) WATERS OBSTRUCTION MARK
may show white
reflector or quick flashing white light
These aids are not intended to assist in navigation, but rather to alert the vessel operator to a special feature or area (anchoring, traffic separation, fish net area, cable or pipeline, military exercise areas, jetties, etc.)
State Water Obstruction Mark is a black/white vertically striped buoy used to indicate to a vessel operator that an obstruction to navigation extends from the nearest shore to the buoy. This means "do not pass between the buoy and the shore." This is replacing red/white vertically striped buoy within the USWMS (see below)
WESTERN RIVERS MARKING SYSTEM (As Seen Entering From Seaward)
mark junctions and obstructions
composite group flashing (2+1)
PREFERRED CHANNEL TO STARBOARD
PREFERRED CHANNEL TO PORT
Topmost band green
Topmost ban red
|Western Rivers Marking System is a variation of the standard U.S. Aids to Navigation System and is found on the Mississippi River and tributaries above Baton Rouge, and on certain other rivers which flow toward the Gulf of Mexico. Red daybeacons, lights, and buoys mark the starboard banks and limits of channels as vessels "return from sea" or proceed upstream. Green daybeacons, lights, and buoys mark the port banks and limits of navigable channels while going upstream. The Western River System varies of the standard U.S. system as follows:
River Bank Names: When traveling downstream the banks are named “right” and ‘left”. The right bank has green aids and the left bank has red aids, thus the west bank of the Mississippi is its right bank and it has green aids. To avoid confusion, commercial river traffic often calls the right bank the right descending bank and the left bank the left descending bank, expressed in this way, leaves no room for doubt.
1) Buoys are not numbered.
2) Beacons are not numbered but normally have an attached ‘Mile Marker board that indicates the distance in statute miles from a fixed point (normally the river mouth).
3) Diamond-shaped non-lateral dayboards checkered red-and-white or green-and-white, similar to those used in the U.S. Aids to Navigation System, are used as Crossing Daybeacons where the river channel crosses from one bank to the other.
4) Lights on green buoys and on beacons with green daymarks show a single flash, which may be green or white.
5) Lights on red buoys and on beacons with red daymarks show a double flash [Group Flashing (2)], which may be red or white.
6) Isolated danger marks and Safe water marks are not used.
Mile Markers: These markers are some of the most useful aids on a river. They are attached to beacons or displayed in other easily seen places and indicate distances in statue miles, the unit of measurement on the Western Rivers System. With the exception of the Ohio River, mile markers indicate the distance up stream from the mouth of a river. Ohio River markers start at its headwaters and indicate the distance downstream. Mile Markers also help a vessel operator locate his/her position on a river chart.
Crossing Daybeacons: Because the navigable channels of rivers swing from bank to bank as the river bends, diamond-shaped crossing daybeacons are used to assist river traffic by indicating where the channel has changed from one side of the river to the other. Crossing daybeacons are always on the opposite side of the river. When a diamond-shaped crossing daybeacon is sighted, the vessel operator should head for the “diamond”, and treat the color of the daybeacon as a channel mark (i.e. red mark keep to the left bank when traveling downstream).
River Buoys: Changes in river channels caused by fluctuations in water level, current speed and shifting shoals make buoy maintenance a continuous task for the Coast Guard. In wintertime where rivers freeze, buoys are lost or moved from position. Because of their somewhat temporary nature, river buoys do not have letters or numbers and are not usually shown on river charts.
NAUTICAL CHART (FICTITIOUS)
BRIDGE LIGHTING AND OTHER SIGNALS
|Bridge Lighting: In U.S. waters, the Coast Guard prescribes certain combinations of fixed lights for bridges and structures extending over waterways. In general, red lights (A) are used to mark piers and supports, and green lights (B) mark the centerline of the navigable channel through a fixed bridge, If there is more than one channel through the bridge, the preferred route is marked by three white lights (C) placed vertically. Red lights (0) are also used on some lift bridges to indicate the lift is closed, and green lights (E) to indicate that the lift is open to vessel traffic. Double-opening swing bridges are lighted with three lights on top of the span structure so that when viewed from an approaching vessel the swing span when closed will display three red lights (F), and when open for navigation will display two green lights (G).|
Vertical Lift Span Bridge
Double-Opening Swing Bridge
Double Leaf (lift) Bascule Bridge
Vertical Lift Span Bridge
Double Opening Swing Bridge
|Clearance Gauges are extremely valuable to vessel operators because they indicate the vertical distance (clearance) between the “low steel’ of the bridge channel span and the waterline (They do not indicate the depth of water under the bridge). These gauges are permanently fixed to the bridge pier or structure and located on the right side of the channel facing approaching vessels. Each gauge is marked by black numbers and foot marks (lines) on a white background board. The picture to the right illustrates a clearance of approximately 7 feet 9 inches, since the 8-foot mark line is not visible. |
|Drawbridge Opening Signals: The operator of a vessel requesting a drawbridge to open shall signal the bridge tender, and the bridge tender shall acknowledge that signal. The following are the most common types of signals a vessel operator should use to request an opening:
1) Radiotelephone Communications - Most bridges monitor VHF-FM channels 13 and 16 with the exception of bridges in Florida. In June 1996, the FCC published a notice stating that all boaters throughout the State of Florida should hail bridge tenders on VHF-FM channel 9 to reduce the high amount of traffic on channel 13. Boaters operating in Georgia and South Carolina are encouraged to follow the same procedures.
Note: Boaters should always use “low power (1 watt) output” on their VHF-FM marine radio when hailing a bridge tender.
2) Sound Signals - These signals shall be made by whistle, hom, megaphone, or hailer. To request an opening, the vessel operator shall give the “opening signal” consisting of one prolonged blast (4 to 6 seconds duration) followed by one short blast (about 1 second duration). The draw tender shall reply with the same sound signal (one prolonged followed by one short) acknowledging that the draw can be opened immediately. When a vessel approaches a drawbridge with the draw in the open position, the vessel shall give the opening signal. If no acknowledgment is received within 30 seconds, the vessel may proceed, with caution, through the open draw. When a draw cannot be opened immediately, or is open and must be closed promptly, the draw tender shall give five short blasts sounded in rapid succession after the vessel’s opening signal request.
Further information on drawbridge regulations and opening signals for bridges over the Navigable Waterway can be found in the U.S. Coast Pilots.