When we travel via watercraft, we often come across some smallish, typically red, green, or yellow floating structures. Although known as buoys, they are also referred to as signals, markers, or even beacons.
However, they are not exactly the same thing. In this article, we will talk about buoys – different types of buoys and what they mean.
A buoy is a floating device that floats on the water and has a variety of uses. Mainly help the boats to navigate or sail safely from place to place.
Some buoys give you a sense of direction, like whether you should go north or south, whether you can enter a channel or not, mostly information like safe channels, shallow water, dangerous rocks, and so on.
Buoys can also be used to provide some specific information like marking a shipwreck area, pipelines area, or swimming area, restricted area, and more. Buoys can be categorized into two main groups.
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Types of Buoys Explained
You can see a wide variety of buoys if you set out for a trip. They all have different purposes and meanings. Based on the purpose or functionality, buoys can be divided into two main categories. They are as follows:
Directional buoys are buoys that provide direction or information related to direction. The sole purpose of this kind is to assist a boater in navigating the water.
In this category, you can find Lateral Channel buoys, Cardinal buoys, and Bifurcation buoys. To break things further-
A port side buoy marks the port(left) side of a channel or marks the location of a danger that will be on the left side when you pass. It’s painted in green color. Portside buoys may or may not have a light indicator on top.
- When proceeding upstream, it must be kept on the port (left) side of a craft.
- When proceeding downstream, it must be on the port side if using a downstream only channel or on the starboard side if using a multipurpose channel.
Starboard Side Buoy
A starboard side buoy is painted in red color. Similar to the portside buoy, it marks the starboard(right) side of the channels or indicates that the location of danger will be on the starboard side.
- When traveling upstream, must be kept on the starboard (right) side of a craft.
- On the downstream travel, it must be kept on the starboard side when using a one-way channel or on the port side when taking a two-way channel.
When a channel is divided into branches, a bifurcation buoy is used to mark the junction point. The main purpose of this buoy is to indicate the main channels. A Bifurcation buoy has three bands of alternating red and green colors. You may pass this buoy from either port or starboard side, but the color on the top is preferred.
- If the top color is red, you should treat it as a starboard buoy.
- If the top color is green, you should treat it as a portside buoy.
When there is something of danger in the middle of a wide body of water, cardinal buoys are used to redirect the mariners toward a safe direction. Cardinal buoys are marked in yellow and black stripes and have pointed arrows of different combinations to indicate the proper direction.
- The north cardinal buoy is painted black on the top half and yellow on the bottom half, and it has two pointed-up arrows on top.
- The south cardinal buoy is the opposite of the north. It has a yellow top and black bottom, as well as two pointed-down arrows.
- The east cardinal buoy has two black stripes both on top and on the bottom, with a yellow band in the middle. It has a downward arrow underneath an upward arrow.
- The west cardinal buoy is just the opposite. One black stripe is sandwiched between two yellow stripes on the top and the bottom. The orientation of the arrows is also the opposite.
If you happen to locate a north cardinal buoy, you should pass through the north of it. The same is with the other cardinal buoys as well. Pass a south buoy from its south side, and so on.
Informational Buoys Explained
Other than the directional buoys, there are some special buoys that are used to relay specific information to the captains. These buoys are less common and a lot more case sensitive. Such as –
Isolated Danger Marks
As the name suggests, it indicates hidden dangers, such as a submerged rock, shallow water, shipwreck, or something similar in the middle of an otherwise safe water body. It reminds you not to get close. It has a distinct black and red stripe pattern with two black balls on top of it.
An anchorage buoy is used to mark the outer limits of designated anchorage areas. It is colored in vivid yellow with a clear anchor sign painted. Typically, they are used to specify an area where ships are safe to be anchored. They may or may not have light indications.
This type of buoy is used to mark an area where boaters are warned of exceptional places or events like firing ranges, raceways, underwater structures, etc. Cautionary buoys are colored in plain yellow without any specific markings.
Special Information Buoy
You can identify a special information buoy by its white color with an orange square symbol on two opposite sides. There are two horizontal orange bands above and below the square. If there is any specific information the mariner needs to know, the information is painted or drawn by means of words or symbols.
It indicates random hazards like rocks and shoals. It is colored white with an orange diamond symbol on two opposite sides. More like a special information buoy, it also has two horizontal orange bands above and below the diamond symbol. It usually does not carry any special information, but it genuinely means “stay away.”
This buoy separates an area where boating is controlled. It is colored white with an orange circle in the middle on two opposite sides. It also has two horizontal orange bands on the upper and lower side of the circle symbol.
In the areas marked by this symbol, you will be forced to comply with the limitations regarding speed, pathing, and a lot more. The type of limitations will be shown in the circle with a symbol or black figure.
Keep Out Buoy
This is a special buoy that marks an area prohibited for boats. It usually refers to private property, or habitat of endangered animals, or something similar that has a high value to keep it private.
This kind of buoy is colored white with an orange diamond symbol and an orange cross within it on two opposite sides. It also has two horizontal orange bands on the upper and lower side of the diamond symbol.
Buoys are used to ensure safe water travel. It’s a great tool as a safe water marker. Always remember the symbol of buoys and their meanings and the rule of passing it to avoid any accident. As long as you follow the instructions, you and your mates will not only be safe but also return home, hopefully with an incredible story to share.