Safety is paramount. In the world of maritime recreation, there was never a more true statement. Sometimes, we like to think our lightweight and sleek pontoon or deck boat can maneuver comfortably through channels and waterways. So we traverse to and from open water with the "big sea, little boat" mentality. Like any form of travel, however, there are important rules to follow that could save your boat, your finances, or even more importantly, your life.
If you have spent any time navigating through harbors and channels, you may have seen many strange markers and buoys placed--arbitrarily it seems--throughout the waterways. You may not, however, be acquainted with some of these less well known markers that serve to inform boaters of well-hidden, underwater obstructions and other hazards encountered while enjoying a day on the water.
Green (Can) Markers- When traveling from the harbor to the open water, these markers will be located on your starboard side and signify the rightmost edge of the channel you are navigating through. When returning from open water, you'll find these markers on your port side.
Red (Nun) Markers- When navigating out to sea, you will find these at your port side and they will signify the leftmost edge of the channel. When coming back to harbor, these markers will be found on your starboard.
Preferred Channel Marker- A stationary marker or buoy that indicates a bifurcation or "fork" in a channel. Also known as a junction marker, the PCM is used to inform incoming or outgoing boaters as to which channel is the primary channel for navigation. This particular marker will have both the green color of the "Can" buoy and the red color of the "Nun" buoy and whichever color is located at the top of the buoy defines how the PCM should be treated.
Dual-Purpose Aid- These yellow markers located on the red (Nun) and green (Can) buoys that define the edges of a channel and are used to show that there are intersecting waterways. These markers are found on an "ICW", or Intra-coastal waterway, and signify the "intersection" of the waterways. The two types of DPAs are a yellow square (which would be placed on a green Can buoy, or represents a green Can, whether the buoy is actually green or not) and a yellow triangle (which will be placed on a red Nun buoy, or represents a red Nun, whether the buoy is actually red or not).
Special-Purpose Marker- Colored yellow, this marker serves a wide variety of purposes. Just like a street light, the yellow color serves as a caution signal to any nearby boaters. The SPM can signify that there could be activities such as dredging (underwater excavating,digging,mining), spoil areas (locations where dredging sediments and deposits have been piled up, which leaves an area in the channel shallower than normal) and even military exercise areas, which I'm sure you is a place you don't want to find yourself drifting through.
Range Marker- These important markers are found in pairs and set to inform boaters of their relative position to the "safe and center" of a channel. When the boats position in the water causes the two markers to align, a boater may safely navigate their boat through the narrow waters of a channel as they sail into the harbor. These markers are set ahead of the channel and on the land.
Isolated Danger Marker- This particular marker or buoy couldn't be more visually imposing. Painted with red and black stripes, the IDM signifies that there is something dangerous within the immediate area. Whether it be a rock, a wreck or any other hazardous obstruction, boaters should be cautious when traveling through the area.
Information and Regulatory Markers- These particular markers are usually associated with a label either written within a red diamond or circle, or posted just below. These also can signify a dangerous area nearby or an area with special regulations or advisories.
Being able to correctly identify and understand these safety markers and what they represent could be the difference between a perfect day drifting on the swells and an untimely accident. So the next time you find yourself setting out in your deck or pontoon boat and are confronted by one of these markers, remember to be informed, be aware and be where your heart is: On the water.