In this article, I am only going to focus on the markers on Lake Gaston. In my next article I will focus on the ‘lateral markers,’ or what we call ATON’s. (Aids TO Navigation).
Our lake runs ‘west’ to ‘east’ and is about 34 miles long. Our shore line is over 350 miles. We have many ‘creeks’ and the varying depths and obstructions make it important to know how to safely navigate.
First, a little basic navigation. There are two types of ‘markers’ on our lake. That is, markers found on both the ‘main lake’ (the river) and those up in the ‘creeks’. These are placed to assist boaters in navigating our lake. These buoys are fixed to the lake bottom by a weight and tethered by a line or chain. On our lake – these are called ‘Non-Lateral Markers’. These are navigation aids that give
information other than the edges of safe water areas. The most common are regulatory markers that are white and use orange markings and black lettering. These are found on lakes and rivers and are used to:
- 1. Give direction and information
- 2. Warn of hazards and obstructions
- 3. Mark controlled areas
- 4. Mark off-limits area.
Let’ discuss each
1. ‘Information’: These have squares on them and provide information such as places to find food, supplies, and repairs; and they give directions, distances, and other nonregulatory information.
2. ‘Danger area’: These have diamonds on them and warn of dangers such as rocks, shoals, construction, dams, or stumps. Always proceed with caution and keep a safe distance. Never assume that every hazard will be marked by a buoy !
3. ‘Controlled Areas’: These have circles on them and indicate a controlled area such as no wake, idle speed, speed limit, or ski zone.
4. ‘Exclusion Area’: These have crossed diamonds on them and indicate areas off-limits to all vessels such as swimming areas, dams, and spillways.
Several years ago Dominion Power installed ‘mile markers’. The first mile marker is one mile from the Gaston Dam, then two, three, four………..etc. These have been a tremendous aid to our boaters. It has also been a great assist to those of us in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Coast Guard, and both VA and NC Wildlife in helping find boaters in distress. If you concentrate on each of these – when you break down – you can give us your last position. We can then find you with much more ease. Remember the size of our lake !
Now, here I would like to point out something very important! These buoys are very expensive – and require a great deal of hard work insuring that each of these buoys are in their proper location. We’ve had situations in which some boaters deliberately damage these buoys. Some don’t like the lights on the top of some of the buoys. These are obviously there to assist the night time boaters. Whenever damage is done to these buoys – we all pay! Our tax dollars at work folks. Let’s don’t waste our tax dollars. Be courteous and stay away from the buoys. Dominion Power owns the mile markers: Both VA and NC own many others in their state: And the ‘private’ buoys are owned by individual owner(s).
Stay away: Let’s talk about that. You NEVER tie up to a buoy. And, if you are at planing speed – stay at least 50 feet away from these buoys. Your bow waves can move them off position. If these are danger buoys – they can stray away from huge rocks in the lake which are really hard on the bottom of your boat. If any of you have ever had to pay to have fiberglass repaired – you will appreciate my remarks. Repairing fiberglass is expensive.
Learn more about all aspects of being a better boater by coming to the US Coast Guard Auxiliary’s next boating safety class.
Our boating safety classes are taught the third Saturday of each month from March to September. For information on enrolling in this class – please call 252 535-3335
Now, let's talk about the markers on the Inter Coastal. These buoys and markers are the "traffic signals" that guide boat operators safely along some waterways. The also identify dangerous or restricted areas and give directions and information. As a recreational boat operator you will need to know the lateral navigation markers and non-lateral markers of the U.S. Aids to Navigation Systems. If you never do any boating on the inter-coastal – you'll never remember what I'm going to address in the following paragraphs. However, if you do decide to go boating on the inter-coastal – be sure to brush up on your navigation 'buoys'. It can get real hairy out there with markers that you are unfamiliar with.
Let's review a few
Colors and Numbers mean the same thing regardless of what kind of buoy or marker on which they appear.
Red Colors (Red Lights & Even Numbers) - These indicate the right side of the 'channel' as a boater enters from the open sea or heads upstream. Numbers will usually increase consecutively as you 'return from the open sea' or head upstream.
Green Colors (Green Lights & Odd Numbers) - These indicate the left side of the channel as a boater enters from the open sea or heads upstream. Numbers will usually increase consecutively as you return from the open sea or head upstream.
Let me veer off my train of thought for just a moment. You have heard the expression "Red ... Right ... Returning". That means keep the 'red' buoys on the 'right' side of your boat when 'returning' from the sea.
Now I'm going to confuse you a bit. You run into...
Red & Green Horizontal Stripes - Oops... it's 'red... right... returning' – but the buoys have both colors!
These are placed at the junction of two channels to indicate the preferred (primary) channel when a channel splits. In other words, you have come to a 'split in the road'. If green is on the top, the 'preferred' channel is to the right. If red is on top, the 'preferred' channel is to the left. The light color matches the top stripe. These are also sometimes referred to as 'junction buoys".
Remember – you might be navigating your vessel way up a river to get home. Unlike Lake Gaston – you can go several hundred miles.
Let's talk about 'Shapes'
Nun buoys: These cone-shaped buoys are always marked with red markings and even numbers. They mark the right side of the channel as a boater enters from the open sea or heads upstream.
Can buoys: These cylindrical-shaped buoys are always marked with green markings and odd numbers. They mark the left side of the channel as a boater enters from the open sea or heads upstream. (I'm always reminded of a can of string beans…and when I was young, they tasted 'odd').
Other kinds of buoys and markers
Lighted buoys: These buoys use the lateral marker colors and numbers discussed above. In addition, they have a matching colored light.
Day beacons: These are permanently placed signs on land or are attached to structures such as posts in the water. Common day beacons are red triangles (equivalent to nuns) and green squares (equivalent to cans). These may also be lighted.)
The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) is a chain of local channels linked together to provide an inland passage along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts. Channels that are part of the ICW are identified by yellow symbols on channel buoys and markers. Buoys and markers that bear these yellow symbols are serving a dual purpose.
If you are following the Intracoastal Waterway in a clockwise direction starting from New Jersey and heading to Brownsville, Texas, then:
Any marker displaying a yellow triangle should be passed by keeping it on the starboard (right) side of the boat. Any marker displaying a yellow square should be passed by keeping it on the port (left side) of the boat. This is true regardless of the shape or color of the channel marker or buoy on which the ICW symbols are displayed. That is, when you are following the Intracoastal Waterway, the yellow triangles and squares should be used as guides, rather than the colors and shapes of the Lateral System markers on which they appear.
Western Rivers System
This system of markers is used on the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The major difference from the U.S. Aids to Navigation System lateral markers discussed previously is that navigation markers on the Western Rivers System are not numbered. Numbers displayed below day beacons along this system are not associated with the right or left side of the channel; these numbers indicate distance from the river mouth (except on the Ohio River where the numbers indicate distance from the headwaters).
OK Folks ... with the last two 'lessons' in navigating – are you ready to take an extended trip to South America? I doubt it. I hope you have learned enough with these last two articles to know how much you 'don't know'. The point I hope you came away with is that you need to take a good navigation course to learn all the 'ins ... and outs' ... of navigation. Hopefully this just whets your appetite.
Learn more about all aspects of being a better boater by coming to the US Coast Guard Auxiliary's next boating safety class.
Our boating safety classes are taught the third Saturday of each month from March to September. For information on enrolling in this class – please call 252 535-3335.