Complete Guide to Buoys

The Complete Guide to Buoy Meanings

Whether you're piloting your pontoon, skippering your sailboat or somewhere in between, knowing the different types of buoy markers and how to read them can help you navigate safely. This complete guide to buoys aims to give you a better understanding of how buoys and maritime markers are used to navigate, moor and regulate, why they're important and what the colors really mean. 

Buoys - What are They Used For?

A buoy is a buoyant device that floats on the water’s surface, commonly used to help boat captains navigate safely from place to place. Some buoys act as navigational aids, providing a sense of direction, like what side of the channel you’re on, while others communicate no wake zones, shallow water, bottom hazards and so on. Buoys can also be used to mark areas of interest, such as national parks or swimming areas

Nun Buoys & Can Buoys

What is a nun buoy?What is a nun buoy?

Nun and can buoys, also known as channel markers, exist for the sole purpose of communicating information related to direction. A green can buoy marks the port side (left) of a channel while a red nun buoy marks the starboard side (right) of the channel when navigating in the upstream direction. If you see a buoy marked with three bands of alternating green and red, it is a bifurcation buoy. This type of buoy marks the junction point of a divided channel.

You See a Red Buoy, What Should You Do?

Although our brains are wired to relate the color red with stopping or danger, this is not the case when it comes to red buoys. Used as essential navigational tools, red buoys indicate the right side of a channel when returning from open water. So, what should you do when you see a red buoy? Simply make sure to keep the red channel marker on the right side of your vessel as you return to shore. An easy way to remember this is with the illiteration red right returning.

You See a Green Buoy, What Should You Do?

Working in conjunction with red channel markers, green buoys serve as a way to communicate navigational information to boaters. When you see a green buoy on your way back to port, simply keep it on the left side of your boat. 

Mooring Buoys

What is a mooring buoy? What colors are on a mooring buoy?What is a mooring buoy? What colors are on a mooring buoy?

Used by boaters to secure their vessels, mooring buoys are often used in place of traditional anchors so as not to damage fragile marine ecosystems or seabeds. Additionally, mooring buoys help give boaters a visual guide when docking alongside others, minimizing the possibility of collisions. By way of heavyweight chains or ropes, a sinker is attached to the buoy and placed on the seabed, keeping the vessel in one place. While you may occasionally come across an all white mooring buoy, they are typically white with a blue horizontal band.

Regulatory Buoys

What is a regulatory buoy?What is a regulatory buoy?

Like road signs on the highway, regulatory buoys communicate rules and alert boaters to hazards ahead. These buoys are a critical maritime tool that keep people safe while navigating open water. Often, regulatory buoys are white with orange stripes or symbols and display a cautionary message for boaters. You might see these inland waters obstruction markers indicate things like no wake zones, no swimming, PWC areas, speed limits and more. Sometimes, these markers will have flashing lights to draw extra attention.

Commercial & Low-Drag Buoys

What is a low-drag buoy?What is a low-drag buoy?

Specially designed for the commercial fishing industry, low-drag buoys make the retrieval of crab pots faster and safer. Low-drag buoys ease the strain on both the crew and gear, a much needed advantage in what is commonly considered the most dangerous job in the world. Commercial and low-drag buoy's colors can vary, with red and green buoy markers and yellow buoys being the most common.

Meteorological Buoys

What is a weather buoy?What is a weather buoy?

Commonly found in oceans and lakes, these high-tech buoys measure and monitor things such as air temperature, wind speed and direction, wave height and more. The buoys then transmit the data collected to satellites for real time data analysis. Typically, meteorological aids are either orange or red and white vertical buoys.

Life Buoys

What is a life buoy?What is a life buoy?

A life buoy, sometimes referred to as a life ring, is a flotation device that can be thrown or dropped to someone in the water. The line attached is then used to pull the person to safety. This life-saving device adds buoyancy to the distressed individual, preventing drowning.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What colors appear on a mooring buoy?

A: Mooring buoys are white with a blue horizontal band.

Q: What does a green can-shaped buoy mark?

A: Cylindrical can-shaped buoys mark the edge of the channel on your port side (left) when entering from the open sea or heading upstream.

Q: What does a red cone-shaped buoy mark?

A: Also known as Nun buoys, red cone-shaped buoys mark the edge of the channel on your starboard (right) side when entering from the open sea or heading upstream.

Q: What does a regulatory buoy with a diamond symbol indicate?

A: Watch out! This buoy signifies danger, marking areas that are hazardous for boaters. You may find these boat buoys in areas of submerged rocks or shoals.

Q: What is the area between a red and green buoy?

A: The area between red and green navigational buoys is safe for passage!

Shopping for Buoys

Buoys are an important part of boat safety and need to be durable and visible. Lippert supplies marinas, municipalities and private harbors with regulatory floats and markers that feature rotationally molded, high-density poly shells that stand up to the toughest applications. Plus, we offer a three-year flotation warranty on our hard skin options.

Equip your boat with our marker buoys to create a water ski racecourse, or to communicate with other boaters about no wake zones, or potential hazards. Made to last, our products feature a uniform wall thickness and do not crack over time. They have an extremely strong shell and take on the toughest applications.

So, there you have it, the complete guide to buoys. Hopefully after reading this post, you have a thorough understanding of the most common types of buoys, their meanings and their applications.