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Ships, boats and other water going vessels travel the world's waterways carrying cargo and people for commerce, business, work and pleasure. Many of these waterways are vast and some are dangerous with very little to show for directions or destinations. Marine navigators and vessel operators alike are responsible for knowing where on the waterway their boat is located and also for obeying the "Rules of the Road" for ships and boats. Marine navigation is a combination of knowledge and experience in finding an accurate position on the waterway and using any and all of the available visible indicators to travel safely from one point to another. Modern marine navigators can now use electronic equipment to locate their positions precisely but visual reference indicators such as buoys and marine navigation lights are essential to show safe passage and mark nautical hazards.




























Aids to navigation (AToN) are devices or systems that are external to a vessel and that help watercraft operators determine position, course, warn of dangers and/or obstructions and/or indicate the location of safe or preferred channels or routes. Aids to navigation take many forms and can include buoys, marine lanterns, day beacons, range markers, rotating or flashing beacons and lighthouses. has access to a full range of large, medium or small navigation buoys, marine nautical lights, solar powered marine lanterns, day marks, range lights, sector lights and rotating beacons. These marine navigation products can be combined with specialized services tailored to meet specific project requirements no matter how small or large. Our staff has years of combined experience in the marine navigation industry with extensive knowledge of the rules and regulations covered in the National Waterways Protection Act as well as the various marine Coast Guard and IALA requirements. We take great pride in our ability to assist our customers in making the correct choices on the wide variety of marine visual reference indicators.



IALA refers to International Association of Lighthouse Authorities. The IALA buoyage system is split into 2 regions A and B. Region B is mainly areas of the world with American influence, Region A is mainly areas with United kingdom influence. The shape of a buoy determines which type of mark it represents throughout both regions. CAN shaped buoys are left to port and CONE shaped buoys are left to starboard. CAN and CONE colors are reversed from region A to B, for example in region B CAN buoys are green in color and CONE buoys are red. In region A the opposite is true, CAN buoys are red in color and CONE buoys are green. All other buoys such as cardinal and isolated danger buoys are the same no matter which region they are in.

The map below shows the IALA regions around the world.


The information and buoy colors on this page refer to IALA Region B




Lateral buoys indicate safe routes by marking the left and right sides of the deepest water. There are four main types of lateral buoys: port-hand buoys, starboard-hand buoys, port junction buoys and starboard junction buoys.



Floating Buoys are held in place by cables and/or chains which are attached to anchors.

There are 3 basic types of floating  buoys:

  • Lighted Buoys

  • Spar Buoys

  • Can 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.



Standard day beacons are usually fixed aids, meaning that they are erected either on land or on a pole or structure permanently erected in water. Day beacons are so named because they are unlighted and, thus, they are visible only during daylight hours. Standard day beacons serve exactly the same purpose as lateral buoys; thus there are four standard day beacons:

Port-hand Day Beacon


Port Junction Day Beacon


Starboard Junction Day Beacon


Starboard-hand Day Beacon




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



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).



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).



Range day beacons are shore-mounted aids to navigation that indicate to a vessel when it is on the safest route through a channel or harbor. Range day beacons are constructed so that there is an upper marker and a lower marker. The lower marker is constructed near ground level at the shore (see photo above left) while the upper marker is attached to a tower, located several meters behind the lower marker. One navigates through the channel by maintaining a course that keeps one marker aligned top and bottom with the other. When the two markers are lined up vertically, you are on the recommended course.



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




BuoysAndLights has years of combined experience supplying marine navigation solutions to harbour authorities, large and small marinas and commercial customers worldwide. For more information on our marine navigation 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