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Once you leave your local frog pond, you’ll eventually be faced with navigation on the open water. Although all this looks confusing at first, think of them like road signs and markings you navigate on the highway every day. First, let’s start with buoys and markers.



Yellow paint isn’t going to cut it out here on the water. Instead, we use buoys and markers to mark the safe edge of waterways. You need to stay between those markers when entering a channel or heading out to sea. But that isn’t the whole story. First off, there are two main directions while boating: toward open water and away from it. Or, if you’re on a river, upstream and downstream. And there are two main buoy colors that mark the edges of the channel: red and green.

When you’re heading away from open water, or upstream, remember the phrase “Red Right Returning” and keep the red even-numbered on your right. The green odd-numbered buoys will be on your left. As you return from open water, or head upstream, the numbers will be increasing. And it’s the opposite when heading toward open water: green odds on your right, red evens on your left. And the numbers will be decreasing as you head out.


So with that in mind, let’s see if you can figure out the right actions for these scenarios.

Scenario one: if we’re headed toward open water and we see only one green buoy ahead, would you keep the buoy on your right side or keep the buoy on your left side? The answer is keep the green buoy to the right side. Going toward open water or heading downstream, we keep the green on our right and the red on our left side.

Scenario two: if we’re headed away from open water and see only a red buoy, would you keep the buoy on your right side or keep the buoy on your left side? Remember “Red Right Returning,” and keep the buoy on the right.


And don’t be confused if you see a junction buoy. A buoy with both red and green colors marks the junction of two channels. If green is on top, the preferred channel is to the right. If red is on top, the preferred channel is to the left. And keep in mind that buoys and markers come in different shapes, but they all follow the same red-green, even-odd systems. These white things are markers too. You’ll see them all over the water. They’re called regulatory markers, and they warn us about hazards, controlled areas, and areas off limits to boats. They tend to be pretty self-explanatory, so respect what they say for your own safety and the safety of others on the water. Follow these basic rules, and you’ll be well on your way to safely navigating the open waters.

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