Navigation – channel markers

I’ve read about and had people show me on the water a couple times, about the channel markers in the bay. Yesterday, paddling alone, calm conditions, I finally really studied them. I think I have it figured out, except one thing. I’ll describe. Tell me if I’m wrong.

It’s really very simple. The red triangles mark one side of the channel. Draw a line from one marker to the next. The green squares mark the other side. The red markers are on the right when you are returning from the ocean, going into the bay (red, right, returning.) Tell me if I’ve got any part of this wrong.

Here’s the part I’m less sure about. The numbers on the markers. Are they distance in tenths of a mile from the mouth of the bay? One pair almost directly across from each other in Yaquina Bay said 31 on the green and 32 on the red. Then the next set, further into the bay said 37 on the green and 38 on the red. I don’t have my GPS yet so couldn’t check the distance.

There was also a big red buoy out there. I’m not sure what that was for.


Paul S.

Marker numbers
The navigation aids are numbered sequentially, even numbers for red and odd for green. The distance between them depends lots of things (line of sight, how wide the channel is, if there are serious hazards), but any correlation to distance and number is just a coincidence.

There are lots of navigation courses, many of them free, offered by local power squadrons or other baoting organizations. There are well worth the time and will teach you much more about nav aids, charts, tides, currents, and general baoting safety.

Paragraph #2 - correct. Paragraph #3 - like it was mentioned, the numbers are sequential and do not have any distance references. Any buoy can move in current, with wind or even a boat hitting it and dragging it’s anchor. Because of this, buoy locations as shown on a chart are only an estimation.

red right return
Doesn’t really answer what you asked (that seems to have been covered, but one simple saying to remember is “red right return”. When you are returning to port, the red markers will always be on your right.

Bouy numbers in North America

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start with 1,2,3,4,etc. (with red even and green odd) and the numbers increase as you go from the open sea into the harbor. The numbering is important to identify where you are by referring to a nautical chart. The numbers do not designate distances.

Red Right Return is Wrong
Well, its wrong with regard to kayakers since they should stay out of the main channel whenever and wherever possible. So coming in the red nuns should be on your left and going out the green cans should be on your left too. Of going out the red nuns should be on your right and coming in the green cans should be on your right.

I don’t agree
Paddlers are boaters - period. The rules apply to everyone and red-right-return tells you how the channel is marked and what other boaters are following. Paddlers have no requirement whatsoever to stay out of a channel unless so marked. Turning the rule on it’s head only leads to confusion or worse.

bad news, gayr
I think you’ve been trolled!

Id like to see you come in one of our Inlets while traveling outside the channel. Kayaks are boats and should follow the rules of the road and have as much right to use the channels as any other boats. That said, some common sense should be used to allow other boats the same use by giving way when the situation calls for it and keeping to the edge of the channel of conditions allow.


Federal Nav Aids also called AToNs define laterally where safe water is with Red or Green buoys.

While it is correct that ALL boats can utilize channels and paddlers can exercise rightswhy would you? You can be right…dead right at Ed pointed out.

Commonsense would say that you drafting inches are much better in a place where powerboats cannot go. If you take a channel, the only place the powerboater can be it may not be safe, legal or prudent. You after all cannot impede rights of navigation for others.


I’m with EEL and _rick
Knowing where the channel is allows me to know where I shouldn’t be. You are absolutely wrong to think that kayakers should use the channel because they are boaters too.

Kayakers should always minimize their time spent in the channel wherever possible. Cross at right angles at the shortest distance.


Why Would I?
As stated, traversing areas where shoals create hazards to safe navigation, I will stay in the channel, thank you very much. Comming into an inlet with white water over my head on both sides of the channel many times has taught me that it is much safer to play with the boats in the channel then get pitch polled in the white on the outsides of the channel. The draft of our boats is inches, yes. But, you need more than two feet to paddle effectively, unless you want to use your nice carbon blade to push along the bottom. Following the channel markers will also keep your boat bottom off the oyster beds which makes for a whole lot less gelcoat repair.

That said, I will give ships, tugs, sailboats under sail right of way without thinking twice. But I will stay in a channel when the conditions tell me I should. Playing with the jet skis and power boats is not a problem when everyone follows the rules.


Not Trolling
I understand that when coming in to port the channel is marked with nuns to starboard and cans to port. I understand many assert all vessels are equal and kayakers have just as much right as any other vessel. I understand there are times when being in the channel is not a problem. However, I suggest my comments were appropriate for kayakers for these reasons.

  1. I believe Rule 2 trumps all other rules and if a kayaker causes a problem, it will be very hard to convince the Admiralty Court the other vessel was liable regardless of who was in the wrong regarding other rules. Kayakers are slow, highly manuverable, and very shallow draft. These alone imposes a variety of obligations under Rule 2 that are easy to ignore when reading the other Rules.

  2. You will not endear yourself to those who make a living on the sea by mucking around in the channel. Tell the fisherman eager to get in that he has to slow way up or hug the channel’s edge because you have the right to paddle in the channel? Not good for you not good for other paddlers next time he encounters some.

  3. Typically there is more to see and it is more pleasant to be paddling out of the channel.

  4. Even if under all rules you are in the right, ignoring the tonnage “rule” is just stupid and it doesn’t take much tonnage to trump a kayak.

To channel or not to channel…
When we are in Maine near even a smaller fishing harbor, with lobster boats coming in at the end of the day, local paddler’s (and us) stay out of the channel and out of the boats’ way. Not only is there a practical aspect - the way the channel often bends to get into the harbor it’d be unrealistic to expect them to see us in time - these guys are out there making a (tough) living. We are the tourists who have the bucks to pay for the fancy boats and drysuits and afford the rentals. There is no way I can see it being fair to be yet another thing that they should have to watch out for - it is completely unnecessary for us so there is no reason to make life harder for them. Same thing around here - the barges that come down the Hudson can’t be expected to manuver around a couple of kayaks in their way, and it can be hard for them to even see us.

Similar to rules of the road for biking (as in non-motorized). The law says we have the right to the road. But the road bicyclists who want to live a while look for routes with acceptable shoulders to the road to be able to get over and no or vew blind turns where a car couldn’t avoid us if they drove it tightly. And if we ride responsibly the state police don’t feel like they have to be nervous every time there is a major ride event.

To each his/her own
Safety of Life at sea is important. I dont believe any one would give you a hard time looking for safe water.

In maritime law (Im sure there is some one out there that knows page and verse) there is no single responsible party in a mishap. Considering one of the rules requires you to break all the rules to prevent collision.

That being said…

The people I paddle with cross channels in a group at right angles in a highly visible fashion. We try not to impede the other boater’s right to navigate in a safe manner and stay were we can operate allowing others to operate where they can. It’s not only safe, its being a good doobie, and worth fostering mutual respect and appreciation on the water.


This debate is off track
Red-Right-Return - that is the rule and my point was that paddlers should know the rule because we are boaters. We shouldn’t turn that into Red-Left-Return.

Some, to win an argument I guess, have turned this into a debate about slowing down commercial boat traffic. I didn’t suggest that - BUT - if the only safe place for me is in the channel then the other boats will have to slow down. I wouldn’t typically paddle in such a place however.

What I find amusing is the construction of an scenario strictly for the purpose of argument. Are the only channels that are marked those for large commercial fleets? No, most are for recreational boats. Knowing Red-Right-Return tells me how the boats will line up as they enter the channel. If I choose to paddle to the right of the red markers, that’s my choice, but it doesn’t change the rule.

Matter of perspective

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Not trying to create an argument and everyone should know the Rules as well as what those funny colored things are for. I'm sure I and many others are thinking in terms of the conditions we paddle in and in upper New England virtually every harbor is a working harbor. So for us, dealing with working boats is more common than with pleasure boats or larger vessels like tankers and ferries.

I am aware the perceptions of many fishermen regarding kayakers is not good and it usually stems from bad experiences with folks who don't know the rules, who needlessly don't give them space, and whose actions have created bad situations that scared them. So that colors my views on the subject. Fair enough?

I understand
and my point is that we shouldn’t make up new rules. If we behave like other boats we are predictable and predictability is an element of safety. Trying to teach kayakers that red-right-return is wrong, which is what your post said, would lead to confusion. The solution is simple: red-right-return – and stay out of the way of larger boats in a confined channel wherever possible.

I suspect that…

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Maryland has both more open harbor entries and shallower water to either side than where some of us paddle in New England. Particularly in Maine, where the harbors tend to be quite confined, are often tucked around the corner of an island and channels have to be run around rocks that may exist at low tide but can be completely covered by the normal 10 to 11 foot high tide, it is quite easy to stay out of the channel. Except at a very low tide there is usually no compelling reason for a kayak to have to be traveling in it.

The education argument seems a bit overdone to me - again it may be that we are used to more contained harbors so everthing is at a very "seeable" scale. Even if we are paddling to the outside of the channel markers, it doesn't impede our ability to see and interpret them correctly. We are following exactly the same path in as we would inside the channel, except that the travel is shifted say 10 feet or so to one side. I don't see where that should be confusing for anyone who had the wits to be playing in that environment to start with.

I personally find that the most confusing part of the channel marker stuff happens when it is one of these little harbors tucked behind and island or close into a cove, and the markers are set up so that there is a preferrred inbound route on one side and an outbound route on the other to yet another small adjacent harbor. So if you are paddling over to the harbor on what has been marked as the preferred outbound side to the next little harbor, the colors are exactly backwards from what seems to make sense. Friendship Harbor is like this, so are some others up that way.

Right Celia
You are correct in your assumption that areas differ. In some of the areas that I normally paddle there are channels cut with a dredge which could very well mean that if you are off by 3 feet you could very well see the depth change from twelve feet to two feet. Several normal paddle areas with “cut” and marked channels like this are subject to ocean ground swells and/or wind generated swells. When a tame 6’ ocean swell feels the bottom shoal from twelve feet to two feet it stands up and breaks. Some of the others apparently are fine with paddling in a straight up and down breaking wave higher than I could reach with the tip of my paddle, but I am not at that level and never will be. I will stay in the channel and out of that kind of water.

Happy Paddling,