How You Can Memorize the Waterway Marker System

waterway marker system, How You Can Memorize the Waterway Marker System

“Red Right Returning” is so easy to remember that it’s usually the first aspect of the U. S. Aids to Navigation marker system that new boaters learn. In teaching sailing classes, it’s one of the topics new sailors are most concerned – and confused – about. I’ve been teaching sailing for over 30 years, so I’ve got some memorization tricks to help you. Here’s an easier way for you to remember the various rules.

waterway marker system, How You Can Memorize the Waterway Marker System

Red Right Returning Is Only Half the Rule

However, it’s only half the story. It really should be remembered or memorized as: “Red Right Returning Upstream From Sea.” That upstream bit, however, can be very tricky to determine, so I’ll leave it completely aside for now.

Pretend you never heard of it. So, I’m going to teach you how to read the markers, in a very basic, elementary, understandable manner.

waterway marker system, How You Can Memorize the Waterway Marker System

Returning versus … Heading to Sea!

“Red Right Returning” works quite well when there is only one direction that could be considered “returning,” such as when you are sailing offshore, and need to come back through an inlet to get back into an inland waterway.

One direction is returning to land, and the other direction is going out to sea.

waterway marker system, How You Can Memorize the Waterway Marker System

Inbound and Outbound

Another example would be leaving the waterway and entering a marina into an enclosed basin; a marina that has one channel for traffic incoming and outbound – there is only one direction considered “returning,” and that’s back to the dock.

waterway marker system, How You Can Memorize the Waterway Marker System

ICW Intracoastal Waterway

The Intracoastal Waterway – ICW – runs from New Jersey to Texas, and for the waterways, there is not really a “Red Right Returning,” but rather, a “Red Right & Upstream.” Who is to say that travelling toward Maine is “returning?” Or maybe to Miami?

If one boat is returning to Maine, and another boat is returning to Miami; who is going to scurry around swapping the markers so that both vessels get to announce, “Red Right Returning?” That would not work. So, you cannot use “Red Right Returning” to navigate the ICW. You can use “Red Right Returning and Upstream” – if you can remember which way is upstream. That’s tricky! Especially with tide changes!

waterway marker system, How You Can Memorize the Waterway Marker System

Another Memory Device – Clockwise

Instead, an easy way to remember what goes where is “Red Right Clockwise Around the United States.” Yeah, you can’t really sail clockwise around the entire US, however, this memory device eliminates several confusions, such as sailing on the East Coast of Florida, or on the West Coast of Florida. Some people even use the saying, “Red Right to Brownsville, Texas.”

So, if you are on the East Coast of Florida, say North Florida travelling from Jacksonville to Key West, you are going clockwise, and the reds will be on your right. If you are on the West Coast of Florida, maybe travelling from Tampa to Steinhatchee, reds will be on your right. In both cases, you are travelling “clockwise.”

waterway marker system, How You Can Memorize the Waterway Marker System

Red Dirt, Green Ocean

Therefore, a trip from Pensacola to St. Pete, or a trip from West Palm Beach to Daytona Beach would be anti- or counter-clockwise, and the markers would be carried opposite from RRR. The reds would be on your left, greens on your right.

Another way to remember is even easier – find the nearest “green ocean,” and put the green markers to that side of the channel. Find the major bulk of the “red dirt,” and put the red markers to that side of the channel. Yes, there is a strip of beach East of the waterway – but that’s not really dark red dirt, and the closest green body of water does lie in that direction.

waterway marker system, How You Can Memorize the Waterway Marker System

Naviguessing

Try it out – picture any trip carrying you North on the East Coast of Florida – reds on your left, greens on your right toward the Atlantic Ocean. Now reverse that, go South – red dirt is on your right, green ocean on your left. Try it again for the West Coast of Florida. It works.

waterway marker system, How You Can Memorize the Waterway Marker System

Never Eat Shredded Wheat – North, East, South, West

The time that can become a bit confusing is on those stretches of Intracoastal Waterway when the channel runs due East or West, in that case, just remember your overall direction of travel – North or South. When you turn East or West, you might have “red dirt” on both sides, which could be confusing.

Ok, so, new saying; “Red Right Returning and Red Right Clockwise Around the United States.”

waterway marker system, How You Can Memorize the Waterway Marker System

Odds and Evens, Reds and Greens

Other things to remember: Green Lateral Markers are to be kept to your left (port) side when proceeding upstream / returning from sea. Odd numbers will be displayed, and will increase as you head upstream. The shape is square-ish, so you can tell whether you are looking at a red or green when the light is in your eyes, and all you see is a black blob.

Red Lateral Markers are to be kept on your right (starboard) side when proceeding upstream / returing from sea. Even numbers will be displayed and will increase as you head upstream. Again, shape aids you in distinguising red triangles from green squares.

waterway marker system, How You Can Memorize the Waterway Marker System

Preferred Channel Markers

Red & Green Lateral Markers (they have red and green both on the one marker) may be passed either side. These sometimes are called “Preferred Channel Markers,” and the main or preferred channel is indicated by the color of the topmost band. If the top band is green; turn to starboard and keep it on your left / port side. If the top band is red; turn to port and keep it on your right / starboard side.

waterway marker system, How You Can Memorize the Waterway Marker System

IALA Region A and Region B – USA is B

Until the 1970’s, there were more than 30 buoyage systems used around the world. In 1971 the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities was established. Developing a unified, worldwide buoyage system to keep all vessels safe at sea was accomplished by 1980.

Region A includes Europe, Australia, New Zealand, parts of Africa, India, and most of Asia.

When entering a harbor in this region, marks to port are red and marks to starboard are green.

Region B includes North America, Central America and South America, plus the Philippines, Japan and Korea.

When entering a harbor in this region, marks to port are green and marks to starboard are red (red, right, return!).

waterway marker system, How You Can Memorize the Waterway Marker System

Reference Tools

You could say “Red Right Returning and Upstream” if you can remember which direction is considered upstream…

BOATERexam.com has a great reference tool with a section on Aids to Navigation. https://www.boaterexam.com/navigationrules/aids-to-navigation.aspx

The Western River Markers – Mississippi River and its tributaries above Louisiana – are similar to the ATON – U. S. Aids to Navigation – but use distance in miles to the river mouth instead of marker numbers.

waterway marker system, How You Can Memorize the Waterway Marker System

THIS! You Need These!

From the reputable Weems & Plath – this device has nav aids, rules of the road, light characteristics. Weems & Plath Marine Navigation ROADrule Marine Navigation Aids, Rules of The Road and Light Characteristics (USATONS, U.S. Waters) is one of the best, most user-friendly devices like that that I have seen.

There’s also the Weems & Plath Marine Navigation LIGHTrule Lights, Shapes and Maneuvering Signals Key (COLREGS, U.S. Waters) available.

What to read next: Reds and Greens – Distinguishing Channel Markers

waterway marker system, How You Can Memorize the Waterway Marker System

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waterway marker system, How You Can Memorize the Waterway Marker System

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