When you are learning how to sail or out enjoying a nice sail on the water, you will encounter a large variety of buoys. While some are large and tall, others are red or yellow. Each shape and colour has a meaning and when you are sailing, you should know their respective meanings to navigate a safe sailing trip.
General Navigation Buoys
When entering a harbour or port, you will encounter green and red buoys. Each buoy has its unique meaning. The red indicates that your portside of the boat must line up with the buoy and the green must line up with starboard. When leaving the harbour, the green buoy must be on the right side of the channel and the red buoy must be on the left hand side of the channel. While the green may have odd numbers on it, the red will have even numbers. When returning to the harbour, the buoy rules are reversed, so the red buoy must be on the right and the green on the left.
Red Lighted Buoys
If you encounter a red lighted buoy, it means that the water is deeper where it is located than the surrounding area. For example, you may encounter a red lighted buoy on beaches, where a deeper area of water may be present.
Red and black coloured buoys are used to indicate dangerous areas of boaters and swimmers. This type of buoy can indicate anything from dangerously shallow water for boats to larger underwater rocks or shoals. When you spot a black and red buoy, be prepared to steer well around it to avoid any damages to the boat.
Safe Water Buoys
The safe water buoys help sailors navigate through safe waters and stay far from shallow waters and shores. They can also represent the best point of passage through a channel of water or under a bridge. Safety water buoys are red and white in colour. If you are sailing and spot on of these buoys close to the boat, make sure to navigate close to it, as it is the safest passage for you to pass. You can pass this type of buoy on either side.
Emergency buoys have diamond shaped signs that have an orange border. The overall shape can also be triangular, square or a circle. It is the orange border on a white background that identifies the buoy as an emergency buoy. These types of buoys are used to indicate no wake zones or no water skiing, for example. There should be plenty of space around these buoys so you can navigate your boat well around them to avoid any damage, in case water skiers come to close to the buoys.