Reading The River’s Aides To Navigation

by Dale Kramer

Lake Seminole and our rivers have just what we need to help us safely navigate their waters. They have a very orderly system of buoys, markers and informational buoys to help us along.

Buoys are the artificial markers we are most familiar with. They are floating aides that come in many shapes and sizes. Moored to the bottom of the rivers, they are found in our waters and along the shores. They have distinctive colors, shapes and numbers to guide boaters along a safe course. When used with the right charts, they help boaters find their positions.

Our rivers are marked with a side of the channel system of buoys. Thus the channel lies between these two. You can tell which side of the channel the buoy is on in several ways — by its color or its number or its shape.

Our rivers also have buoys that mark the centers of channels. These may be passed on either side as they mark the preferred channel.

For our Lake Seminole and Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers, we have green for our left (port) side and red (starboard) on the right side while traveling upstream. These markers come in several shapes.

The reds can be triangles mounted on poles, which are secured in either the water or on the river’s bank. Red markers can also be buoys that are conical in shape and float in the water. The conical shaped buoy is called a nun. If numbered, a nun will be even.

The green markers can be squares which, too, are mounted on poles and secured in the water or on the river’s edge. Green markers can also be buoys that are cylindrical in shape and are called cans. If numbered, a can will be odd.

Seafarers use the phrase, “Red on right when returning” to remind them of the correct course between the red and green buoys.  It means that red buoys always mark the right side of the channel when returning to port from open sea, or going upstream in a river. The opposite also holds true. When leaving port towards the sea, red buoys are on the left and green buoys are right.

On some channels, it is difficult to determine seaward direction. On these waters you must compare the aids that you see with a nautical chart. Don’t be confused by local terminology that describes the left bank and the right bank with the flow of the river. So be sure to use your nautical chart.

Occasionally, along the shore line, you will see green markers that are shaped like a diamond and marked with squares. This is also true of red markers. These are best water markers. They indicate that the deepest waters are on that particular side of the channel.

You will also see these shoreline markers with numbers below the colored signs. These tell you the distance that you are from the Woodruff Dam.

Regulatory markers are another buoy found on the lakes and rivers of Georgia. They use orange markings and black lettering on a white buoy to warn of hazards and obstructions, or to give directions and information. They also mark closed areas.

The restricted buoy is a white one, which has an orange circle in which there is black lettering. It also has orange circling the top and bottom of this buoy. This tells of an area where there are navigational rules. No speeding, no fishing, no anchoring, no skiing and slow, no-wake zones are the most common of these rules. They also sometimes have the restrictions of no prop boats allowed in certain areas.

For boats, the prohibited sign indicates a place of danger. This marker is an orange diamond with an orange cross inside. Below this is its message in black lettering. This is on a white buoy that is marked with orange circling the top and bottom. Usually, this is placed because this area is off limits to all boats. These places are swimming areas, dams and spillways.

Next is the danger buoy. This one is an orange diamond shaped on a white buoy with an orange circling the top of and bottom.  The message is in black letters inside the diamond. This warns the boater of rocks, reefs, stumps or snags. Always go with caution in these areas.

Our last buoy is the information buoy. It tells directions, distances, places, where there is food or you can obtain supplies and other non-regulatory messages. This one is an orange square on a white buoy marked by orange circling the top and bottom. Its black lettered message is inside the square.

Whatever the color or message of the buoy, be sure not to pass them too closely. Sometimes the hazard that they mark is right underneath them. However, it can be to one side too. It is just safer to give them some room.

Sometimes buoys are missing, adrift or off of their charted positions. High water, currents or collisions may cause a buoy to move. Yearly, the Coast Guard Auxiliary checks the positioning of the buoys and reports them to the Coast Guard. They will send down a boat from Eufaula to repair the buoys.

There are many more rules of the road. However, knowing what the markers and buoys mean is a great start. Armed with all of this information, you are sure to have a wonderful day out on Lake Seminole.

Dale is a coxswain in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Flotilla 83 – Lake Seminole.  He can be reached at

Photos by Dale Kramer

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