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CHANNEL MARKING

One of the most important functions of marine aids to navigation is to keep larger vessels or any boats that have deep draft out of shallow areas where they could run aground and be stranded. Running aground has always been one of the greatest dangers to marine traffic and shipping, so consequently an elaborate system of channel markers has evolved to help boat operators and ship captains steer their vessels through the potentially treacherous waters that are usually found near land. Channel markers make use of natural corridors of deep water, such as river beds and tidal cuts, as well as man-made canals and dredged deep water channels created for the purpose of navigation.

Solar Powered PEL3 Sector Light installed on Columbia River in 2009

            

The Columbia River serves as one of the United State's most vital trade routes; it is responsible for transporting over 40% of the United State's export of wheat, and around 40 million tons of cargo each year. The river's volume combined with the impact of the North Pacific make the Columbia River Bar one of the most treacherous and difficult to navigate lengths of water in the world. To mark the dredged channel of the Columbia river and help the specialized Columbia River Bar Pilots navigate the treacherous waters, in 2009, BuoysAndLights installed a PEL-3 sector light mounted on a small 6' x 6' square platform perched in the middle of the river. A Carmanah DuraGEN 240-2-12 solar power generator was chosen to provide remote power the light. The complete package included a vegaweb remote control and monitoring system which allows the pilots to operate (turn ON/OFF) the PEL-3 wirelessly from miles away, use the internet to monitor the solar power generator and to check the overall health and operational status of the light.

 

 
 

 

The PEL-3 and PEL-6 precision sector lights show a different colour when viewed from different on the water. The mariner sees a single light which is red, white or green in colour at any point in time. From the colour of the light he can determine the lateral position of the vessel. With optional oscillating boundary, the signal alternates between two colours in proportion to the distance across the sector. PEL sector lights indicate the precise vessel position in confined waterways. They are used in situations where extreme accuracy is required, or where only a single station is possible. Each light is custom-configured for its site requirements.

 
 

 

Waterways such as bays, big rivers, natural and man-made harbours and near shore coastal areas are often navigable to a wide range of large and small vessels, and such areas should have in place a system of buoys, channel markers and other aids to navigation. These aids to navigation are essential in such busy areas, and serve marine traffic much the same as roads and highways and their associated signs and signals serve to control automobile traffic.

A standardized marine marker system allows mariners to safely navigate coastal and inland waterways. The majority of these buoys and markers do not have written instructions printed on them like highway signs but they are just as easy to read once you understand them. The two primary means of determining what an aid to navigations function is are color and shape. This is more useful in the marine environment than a printed sign would be, as colors and shapes can be recognized in difficult conditions such as rain, fog or low light. Critical buoys and markers can also be equipped with solar powered flashing marine lights to aid in night time navigation.

 

 
   

LATERAL BUOYS

 
 

 

 

PORT-HAND BUOYS

Port-hand buoys are green in color and mark a danger or the left-hand side of a channel (when facing upstream). When traveling upstream, a port-hand buoy should always be kept on the port side of the vessel. Port-hand buoys are flat on top.

  • A port-hand buoy's top-mark is a single green cylinder.

  • If equipped with a light, it is green in color and operates on either a (F1) 4s flash cycle

  • (Q) 1s quick-flash pattern (single flashes 1 second apart).

  • This buoy is identified by letters and odd-digit numbers.

 

 
   

 

STARBOARD-HAND BUOYS

Starboard-hand buoys are red in color and mark a danger or the right-hand side of a channel (when facing upstream). When traveling upstream, a starboard-hand buoy should always be kept on the starboard side of the vessel.

  • A starboard-hand buoy's top-mark is a single red cone pointing upward.

  • If equipped with a light, it is red in color and operates on either a (Fl) 4s flash cycle

  • (Q) 1s quick-flash cycle (single flashes 1 second apart).

  • This buoy is identified by letters and even-digit numbers.

 

 
 

 

 

   
 

 

When traveling upstream, port-hand (green) buoys should always be kept on the port (left) side of the vessel and starboard-hand (red) buoys should be kept on the starboard (right) side of the vessel (the reverse is true when traveling downstream)

A simple way to remember on what side to leave buoys when traveling upstream is to use the mnemonic (new-mawn-ick) code "red, right, return", which means "keep red buoys on the right (starboard) side of the boat when returning upstream". Traditionally, the term upstream means any direction that is moving up-river, into a harbor, or toward a shoreline.

 

 
 

 

JUNCTION (BIFURCATION) BUOYS

Port junction buoys and starboard junction buoys (also called bifurcation buoys) are special lateral buoys that are employed when a channel splits. These buoys are used to indicate which of two channels is the main channel.

 
 

 

PORT JUNCTION (BIFURCATION) BUOY

Port junction (bifurcation) buoys are green in color with a red horizontal band across the midsection. Junction buoys are used to mark a junction where one channel splits into two. You may travel on either side of the marker. To enter the preferred or main channel, keep a port junction buoy on your port side when traveling upstream.

 

 

 
 

 

STARBOARD JUNCTION (BIFURCATION) BUOY

Starboard junction (bifurcation) buoys are red in color with a green horizontal band across the midsection and are used to mark a junction where one channel splits into two. To enter the preferred or main channel, keep this buoy on your starboard side when traveling upstream.

 

 
 
   

FAIRWAY AND ISOLATED DANGER BUOYS

In addition to the buoys described above, the lateral system includes fairway buoys and isolated danger buoys.

 
 

 

 

FAIRWAY BUOY

A fairway buoy is used to mark safe water and is usually used to mark a channel entrance, the centre of a shipping channel, or a landfall. This buoy indicates that there is safe water to pass on either side but it should be kept to the port (left) side of your vessel when proceeding upstream or downstream. It is painted half in red and half in white. If it is equipped with a light, it is white in color and operates on a flash cycle (flashing Morse Code "A", which is a short, then long flash, repeated 10 times per minute).

 
 

 

 

ISOLATED DANGER BUOY

An isolated danger buoy is used to mark an isolated danger such as a rock, shoal, or a wreck. The buoy is moored on or above the danger and has navigable water all around it. To be safe, stay well away from this type of buoy. Consult the chart for information concerning the danger (dimensions, depth, etc). This buoy is painted black with a horizontal red stripe midway up. If equipped with a light, it will be white in color and will operate on a flash cycle (giving two flashes every 4 seconds).

 
 

The picture below illustrates how lateral buoys may be used to mark channels. The middle of the channel is marked with a fairway buoy. The channel divides at the port junction buoy. One enters the preferred channel (to the right) by keeping the port junction (bifurcation) buoy on the port side of your vessel when going upstream.

 

 
   

CARDINAL BUOY SYSTEM

Cardinal buoys are a special system of buoys that indicate a hazard by reference to the four cardinal directions (points) of the compass: north, east, west, and south. A cardinal buoy indicates that the safest water exists in the direction indicated by the cardinal point (direction) represented by the buoy. Cardinal buoys and lateral buoys are the two main systems of navigational aids used on Canadian waters.

Main Characteristics of Cardinal Buoys:

  • Yellow and black

  • White lights - flash characteristics indicated below (if equipped)

  • Two conical top-marks: directions of points have significance

  • Black top-mark cones point to the black portion(s) of the buoy

  • Lettered - no numbers

  • White retro-reflective material

 

 
 

 

 

NORTH CARDINAL BUOY

A north cardinal buoy is positioned so that the safest water lies to the north. The top half of the visible portion is black and the bottom half is yellow. The top mark is two stacked cones, black in color, both pointing up (like a needle pointing north on a compass). If it is equipped with a light, it is white in color and operates on either a (Q) 1s quick flash cycle (single flashes one second apart) or on a (VQ) 0.5s very-quick flash cycle (single flash every half second). If the buoy does not carry a light, it is normally spar shaped.

 
   

 

SOUTH CARDINAL BUOY

A south cardinal buoy is positioned so that the safest water lies to the south. The top half is yellow and the bottom half is black. The top mark is two stacked cones, black in color, both pointing down (like a needle pointing south on a compass). If it is equipped with a light, it is white in color and operates on a ((Q6)+LFl)15s cycle (six single flashes one second apart and one 3-second flash, every 15s) or a ((VQ6)+LFl)10s (six single flashes one half second apart and one 3-second flash, repeated every 10s. If the buoy does not carry a light, it is normally spar shaped.

 
   

 

EAST CARDINAL BUOY

An east cardinal buoy is positioned so that the safest water lies to the east. This buoy is black in color except for a broad horizontal yellow band around its midsection. Its top mark consists of two stacked black cones; the top one pointing up, the bottom one pointing down. Its light is white in color and operates on a (Q3) 10s cycle (three flashes one second apart, repeated every 10 seconds) or a (VQ3)5s cycle (three flashes one half second apart, every 5 seconds). If the buoy does not carry a light, it is normally spar shaped.

 
   

 

WEST CARDINAL BUOY

A west cardinal buoy is positioned so that the safest water is located to the west. This buoy is yellow in color except for a broad horizontal black band around its midsection. Its top mark consists of two stacked black cones; the top one pointing down, the bottom one pointing up. Its light is white in color and operates on a (Q9) 15s cycle (nine flashes one second apart, every 15 seconds) or a (VQ9) 10s cycle (nine flashes one half second apart repeated every 10 seconds). If the buoy does not carry a light, it is normally spar shaped.

 
 

Did you know:

Our solar powered marine lights are commonly used on our buoys for channel marking applications. These lights are available in a range of high visibility colors including yellow/amber, with a visible range from 1 up to 5 nautical miles.

BuoysAndLights has years of combined experience supplying channel marking solutions to harbor authorities, large and small marinas and commercial customers worldwide. For more information on our channel marking solutions or to discuss your marine navigation project requirements, please give us a call or contact us today for a free consultation.

 
 

 

 

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   Buoys and Lights Website Updated 2011  
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