Types of Buoys and Markers

A buoy is a device that floats on the water to help boat operators. The Canadian Coast Guard installs buoys that guide boat operators on the waters; these are a type of navigational aid.

What is a buoy?

Lateral buoys system

Port hand buoy

port hand buoy is on the left side of the channel when heading upstream.

  • A port hand buoy marks the port (left) side of a channel, or where a danger is located;
  • must be kept on the port (left) side of a pleasure craft when proceeding upstream;
  • is green;
  • If the buoy has a light, the color of the light is green;
  • top is flat;
  • If it is numbered, it bears an odd number; 
  • displays identification letter(s);
  • can be shaped as: cans, spars or pillars.

Starboard hand buoy

starboard hand buoy is on the right side of the channel when heading upstream. 

  • A starboard hand buoy marks the starboard (right) side of a channel or where a danger is located.
  • It must be kept on the starboard (right) side of a pleasure craft when proceeding upstream direction.
  • It is coloured red.
  • If the starboard buoy has a light, the color of the light is red.
  • Its top is cone-shaped
  • and if it is numbered, it bears an even number.

Bifurcation buoy

bifurcation buoy is used to mark the point at which a channel divides into two branches.

A bifurcation buoy is used to mark the point where a channel devises in to branches. You may pass this buoy on either side (port or starboard side) when moving upstream. It's coloured with red and green bands. The main or preferred channel is shown by the color of the top band.

Bifurcation buoys are used at junctions (where one channel splits into two channels). Naturally, one of the two channels will be wider, deeper, and safer; it is the main channel. The purpose of the bifurcation junction buoy is to indicate which channel is the main channel.

Isolated danger buoy

An isolated danger buoy marks an isolated danger on the water.

  • An isolated danger buoy is moored on an isolated danger (such as a wreck) in a secure or safe body of water.
  • It is used to mark an isolated hazard in waters which are otherwise navigable.
  • It is usually moored directly on or above the danger
  • It is used to mark a large rock, shoal or sunken ship

Junction daybeacon

junction daybeacon marks a point where a channel divides.

Starboard junction day beacon

The starboard junction daybeacon has a red diamond with a red triangle inside. It marks the junction of two channels and may be passed on either side. If the preferred channel is chosen, it should be kept to one’s starboard side when proceeding in an upstream direction.

Port junction day beacon

The port junction daybeacon has a a red diamond with a green square inside. It marks the junction of two channels and may be passed on either side. If the preferred channel is chosen, it should be kept to one’s port (left) side when proceeding in an upstream direction. 

Day Beacons are not buoys. They are affixed to a post, tree, rock, bridge support, etc.  

They are similar to lateral junction buoys, they mark on which side they may be safely passed and are dependent on whether one is proceeding in an upstream or downstream direction.

Hand daybeacon

hand daybeacon is similar to a lateral buoy.

  • A port hand day beacon is similar to a port hand lateral buoy.
  • It points out the left side of a preferred channel.
  • It must be kept on the left when the craft is going upstream
  • It is a black or green square centered on a white background with a green reflective boarder.
  • It has no lights and is visible only during daylight.

Special buoys

Anchorage buoy

An anchorage buoy marks the outer limits of designated anchorage areas.

What is an anchorage buoy?

  • An anchorage buoy is a buoy that marks the outer limits of designated anchorage areas.
  • because an anchorage buoy marks the perimeter of anchorage areas, consult a chart for water depth.

Anchorage buoy color?

  • It's coloured yellow.

Anchorage buoy symbol?

  • Has a black anchor on it.

Anchorage buoy lights?

  • If it carries a light the light is yellow and it will flash once every 4 seconds.

Cautionary buoy

cautionary buoy marks an area where mariners are to be warned of dangers.

cautionary buoy (coloured yellow) is a buoy that marks an area where boaters are to be warned of dangers such as firing ranges, raceways, seaplane bases, underwater structures or areas where no safe through-channel exists and where traffic separates.

Mooring buoy

A mooring buoy marks an area for mooring or securing vessels.

What colours appear on a mooring buoy?

A mooring buoy is white with an orange stripe.

Information buoy

An information buoy displays information to the driver of the boat.

  • An information buoy is a buoy that displays, by means of words or symbols, information of interest to the mariner.
  • It is white, with an orange, open-faced square symbol on two opposite sides, and two orange horizontal bands, one above and one below the square symbols.

Hazard buoy

hazard buoy marks random hazards such as rocks and shoal. It is white with an orange diamond on two opposite sides and two orange horizontal bands.

Control buoy

control buoy marks an area where boating is restricted.

  • control buoy is a buoy that marks an area where boating is restricted.
  • It's coloured white, with an orange, open-faced circle on two opposite sides and two horizontal orange bands, one above and one below the circles
  • a black figure or symbol within the orange circles shows what the restriction is (speed limits, wash restrictions, etc.)
  • if it carries a light is shall be yellow and flash once every 4 seconds.

Keep out buoy

keep out buoy indicates an area closed to navigation

  • The keep out buoy is a buoy that marks an area where boats are prohibited.
  • It is white. There is an orange diamond and an orange cross within it, on two opposite sides, and between two orange horizontal bands.

Diving buoy

diving buoy marks an area where diving activity is taking place. It is a flag coloured red with a white diagonal stripe, extending from the tip of the hoist to the bottom of the fly.

If a diving operation takes place from aboard a pleasure craft, Code flag Alpha or flag A (white and blue) from the International Code of signals which means “I have a diver in the water, keep well clear and at low speed” must be displayed.

Swimming buoy

swimming buoy defines a swimming area.

  • swimming buoy is a buoy that marks the perimeter of a swimming area. 
  • It's coloured white.
  • if it carries a light, the light is yellow and it will flash once every 4 seconds.
  • May not be charted.

Cardinal buoys

Cardinal buoys point out a danger while referring to the four cardinal points.

Everywhere in Canada when you're navigating on the water, the cardinal buoys are used to indicate the location of the safest waters. For example, the north cardinal buoy indicates that navigable waters are north of the north cardinal buoy. It's coloured yellow and black and has a different flashing white color light on the top. How the strips are placed tells you which of those navigation markers buoy you encounter, i.e. a north cardinal buoy, a south cardinal buoy, a west cardinal buoy or a east cardinal buoy.

North Cardinal Buoy

  • A north cardinal buoy is located so that the safe water is to the north of the buoy

  • It is coloured black and yellow

  • The top is painted black indicating that it is a north buoy. The lower haft is painted yellow

  • If this buoy does not carry a light, it will be spar shaped

South Cardinal Buoy

  • A south cardinal buoy is located so that the safe water is to the south of the buoy

  • It is coloured black and yellow

  • The black is positioned on the bottom indicating that it is pointing south. The upper portion is painted yellow.

East Cardinal Buoy

  • East cardinal buoy is located so that the safe water is to the east of the buoy

  • It is coloured black and yellow

  • The black is positioned on the top and the bottom with the yellow portion in the middle to indicate that it is an east buoy

West Cardinal Buoy

  • West cardinal buoy is located so that the safe water is to the west of the buoy

  • It is coloured black and yellow

  • The black is positioned in the center to indicate that it is a west buoy The yellow is positioned top and bottom.