Does anybody get a little confused about channel markers and which side to pass on? It’s really easy when there is a line of reds and greens that create an obvious pathway but… what about when they are spaced far apart or there is a side channel splitting off or the ICW markers show up backwards? It can get confusing and with the shoals in this part of the gulf, mistakes can mean running aground and maybe costing you a $300-$600 prop! Also, when am I returning? Channels run every which way from one bay to another, cuts between marinas and outlets, how do we know when it is returning or going out?
Let’s try a little clarification and see what we can learn today. One of BluWave Boat Rentals‘ most significant concerns with renters on the boats is whether their experience will protect them from running aground as they navigate the area. Channel markers are placed in conspicuous places to mark safe water for navigating through channels without danger. They are color coded with red and green for that purpose. All Red and Green markers provide safety with lateral significance. That is, the red and green markers tell boaters to pass on one side or the other safely. Reading the markers and knowing WHICH side is paramount! Only red and green markers provide “sides to pass on” (lateral information).
For this system to work, there has to be a Conventional Direction of Buoyage; a unified direction of movement for the US waters. The conventional direction is from seaward to land and in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) the direction is clockwise from New Jersey to Texas. That means on the eastern coast of FL the ICW direction is north to south and on the western coast (Suncoast) the direction is from south to north. If I am heading north in the ICW in Sarasota or Clearwater red will be on the right (Starboard side) as I proceed whether going to sea or returning. Green would be on the left (port) when going northbound. The ICW markers have an additional marking on the channel marker, they have a smaller YELLOW square or triangle at the top of the marker. This indicates you are in the ICW. Coming back from Egmont to Sarasota or Anna Marie (southbound) then means the red will be on the LEFT in the ICW, even though you are returning from seaward. No matter what color marker is on the right or left in the ICW always keep the yellow triangles to starboard and the yellow squares to port when going in the conventional direction!
Red and green markers also have numbers on them; no other markers will be numbered. Red will be even numbered and green will be odd numbered. Red is always on the right when the numbers are increasing! That’s right, numbers increase from seaward to land and in the conventional direction of buoyage. If you are in a small crossover channel and don’t know if you are returning or going, watch the numbers on the buoys or look at your chart, as the numbers increase, keep red on the right as you pass.
Last part of this educational moment, there are some markers that have a green over red on one marker or a red over green. These are Preferred Channel Markers, see picture at top right. You may pass on EITHER side but the top color is the preferred color and its best to treat the marker as though it was the top color. If lighted, it will have the light of the top color only and flash in a 2+1 group (2 flashes, pause, 1 flash – repeat).
We provide a good GPS chart with markers on the boats for your safety and convenience. This tool is NOT sufficient alone, it is not enough without the eyes of an experienced captain and a good chart! Reading the water colors, the flow of current, and watching the markers is the only way to be sure you are in safe water! Hopefully this will be helpful information. Remember, we have a link on our website where you can obtain a FREE Boaters license for any state, just click on NASBLA Free Boaters Safety from BoatUS – that easy!