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» Online Classroom   » Inland and Coastal Navigation   » Public Discussion of Inland and Coastal Navigation   » Red right returning — A closer look

Author Topic: Red right returning — A closer look
David Burch

 - posted October 28, 2020 04:33 PM      Profile for David Burch           Edit/Delete Post 
Here are some interesting notes from one of our Starpath students and online course graduates, recently returned from a round trip family cruise to New Zealand, now back to enjoying the PNW coast in his Valiant 37, SV Thistle. He invites others to share their experience in such matters.

Hi David,

I have now finished beating this dead horse and thought you might be interested in the autopsy findings. (RIP)

Here is Hayden Passage in Clayquot Sound, not exactly as seen on CHS # 3674, but close enough for discussion.


[David added: note the interesting chart viewer he is referencing.]

The current vectors are faint, but you can see the feathers on the flood arrow pointing NW to SE.

The markers are laid out red-right-returning AGAINST the flood, which is unusual, to say the least.

I always thought red-right-returning was WITH the flood, moving from seaward to landward.

I figured there must be another criterion being applied here to determine the positions of the aids to navigation, so I dug a little deeper.

Here are two more interesting examples.

Swinomish Channel, as you pointed out to me,viewable on the same site, is a curiosity...the current is all one way, but the red/green layout is reversed in the middle as you pass La Conner.

Skidegate Channel, also viewable on the site, is...well, unique in its own way, of course, with flood vectors at the two entrances pointing in opposite directions, but red is right all the way as you transit east to west from Hecate Strait to the Pacific, not obviously landward!

That did it...I had to seek help from a higher authority.

Here are some responses I got from USCG, NOAA, CCG and CHS when I inquired about all this. Note that none of the four really acknowledge any ambiguity or contradictions among themselves!


"This link https://msi.nga.mil/Publications/APN is to the American Practical Navigator or other publications. Volume I chapter 7 , section 726, page 124 discusses Maritime Buoyage Systems, quoted here:

726. IALA Lateral Marks Lateral marks are generally used for well-defined channels; they indicate the port and starboard hand sides of the route to be followed, and are used in conjunction with a conventional direction of buoyage. This direction is defined in one of two ways: 1. Local direction of buoyage is the direction taken by the mariner when approaching a harbor, river estuary, or other waterway from seaward. 2. General direction of buoyage is determined by the buoyage authorities, following a clockwise direction around continental land-masses, given in sailing directions, and, if necessary, indicated on charts by a large open arrow symbol. In some places, particularly straits open at both ends, the local direction of buoyage may be overridden by the general direction. "

(The IALA referred to is attached below. Section 2.1 on page 14 defines "conventional direction of buoyage" in terms of returning to port from seaward or else clockwise around land masses, but without specific reference to any current direction, N/S/E/W, or the "upstream/downstream" criterion in the American Practical Navigator.)

"North America uses the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) system B. The US Aids to Navigation system follows IALA-B for our buoyage system (see attached region diagram). It is a lateral system. So you are correct when you say Red-Right-Returning. But the key part is red-right-returning FROM SEA. This expression refers to the fact that when returning (entering a channel or port from the open sea or proceeding upstream), a boater must keep the red Aids to the right (starboard) side of the boat. The US has two other marking systems, Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) and US Western Rivers. But if you don’t operate your vessel in those regions we don’t need to go into detail."

"Finally, the buoyage system follows a clockwise rotation around land masses (see direction diagram). When you were in Hayden Passage in Canadian waters you may have entered a channel north (against the conventional direction) of the major island or land mass. And while transiting south and the channel was marked red-right-returning from sea at the southern portion of the island. So it may have seemed as if it was marked in reverse. If the tidal currents happen to align with the buoyage direction it’s only coincidence."

Canada CG said:

"Thank-you for reaching out to the Canadian Coast Guard regarding the aids to navigation in Hayden Passage. To answer your question, in accordance with the Canadian Aids to Navigation System, we design our aids to navigation systems in a North/South direction as opposed to the ebb/flood direction. In addition, we have various channels throughout our coast that are in East/West direction and in these circumstances we design North/South as much as possible, but in some circumstances, we will mark the channel as you stated landward as opposed to seaward. For your reference I have attached the Canadian Aids to Navigation System document TP968 as a reference. I hope this helps. Thanks a lot for reaching out and stay safe!"

"A port hand buoy marks the port (left) side of a channel or the location of a danger which must be kept on the vessel’s port (left) side when proceeding in the UPSTREAM direction. A port hand buoy is coloured green. A starboard hand buoy marks the star-board (right) side of a channel or the location of a danger which must be kept on the vessel’s starboard (right) side when proceeding in the UPSTREAM direction. A starboard hand buoy is coloured red."

(However, "upstream" is not defined.)

"There are a number of factors that go into the design process for the aids to navigation systems and in this instance there were two factors for why the red-right-returning does not seem to conform to the normal: 1) there was a great deal of input from a number of tug and barge companies and captains that use the area and they felt that transiting north through the passage to shelter through storms was ‘returning’ to safety with the red aids on the right and 2) when there is not a clear destination through passages that can be seen as landward we tend to design with northward being the returning ‘port’."


So there you have it: seven different criteria!






tugboat captains' request

and, my absolute favorite, "coincidence."

From: Starpath, Seattle, WA

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