Adventures in Boating Washington Handbook
The Official Boating Handbook of the Washington State Parks - Web Version
Table of Contents
U.S. Aids to Navigation System (ATON)
Buoys and markers are the "traffic signals" that guide vessel operators safely along some waterways. They also identify dangerous or controlled areas and give directions and information. As a recreational vessel operator, you will need to know the lateral navigation markers and non-lateral markers of the U.S. Aids to Navigation System.
These navigation aids mark the edges of safe water areas; for example, directing travel within a channel. The markers use a combination of colors and numbers, which may appear on either buoys or permanently placed markers.
Red colors, red lights, and even numbers indicate the right side of the channel as a boater enters from the open sea or heads upstream.
Green colors, green lights, and odd numbers indicate the left side of the channel as a boater enters from the open sea or heads upstream.
Red and green colors and/or lights indicate the preferred (primary) channel. If green is on top, the preferred channel is to the right as a boater enters from the open sea or heads upstream; if red is on top, the preferred channel is to the left.
Red Right Returning is a reminder of the correct course when returning from open waters or heading upstream.
Nuns are red cone-shaped buoys marked with even numbers.
Cans are green cylindrical-shaped buoys marked with odd numbers.
Lighted Buoys use the lateral marker colors and numbers discussed above; in addition, they have a matching colored light.
Daymarks are permanently placed signs attached to structures, such as posts, in the water. Common daymarks are red triangles (equivalent to nuns) and green squares (equivalent to cans). They may be lighted also.
Non-lateral markers are navigation aids that give information other than the edges of safe water areas. The most common are regulatory markers (shown below) that are white and use orange markings and black lettering. These markers are found on lakes and rivers.
Squares indicate where to find food, supplies, repairs, etc. and give directions and other information.
Circles indicate a controlled area such as speed limit, no fishing or anchoring, ski only or no skiing, or "slow, no wake."
Crossed diamonds indicate areas off-limits to all vessels such as swimming areas, dams, and spillways.
Diamonds warn of dangers such as rocks, shoals, construction, dams, or stumps. Always proceed with caution.
Other Non-Lateral Markers
Safe Water Markers are white with red vertical stripes and mark mid-channels or fairways. They may be passed on either side.
Inland Waters Obstruction Markers are white with black vertical stripes and indicate an obstruction to navigation. You should not pass between these buoys and the nearest shore.
Mooring Buoys are white with a blue horizontal band and are found in marinas and other areas where vessels are allowed to anchor.