Red Right Returning

One of my fellow teachers in the Green Bay Sail and Power Squadron taught the buoy system.  Wayne would introduce his segment by coming front and center and in a very large voice utter the infamous, “RRRRRRRRRRR.”  He would then inform the students he was not participating in the annual “Talk like a Pirate Day,” but delivering a reminder on how to get back home.  Red Right Returning or R-R-R.

When the Admiral (my wife) got comfortable on our first sail boat, she declared her desire to expand our horizons by telling me she was tired of “circle-sailing.”  That meant leaving the confines of our familiar sailing territory and heading for new ports.  I had to learn to check charts, water depths, find marinas, and all those other details preparing for that adventure.

Ports of call are located on charts.  The pathways to these ports are also listed on the charts.  These pathways are identified by a series of buoys to lead you to the right spot without getting into the hazards that are often present as you leave the relatively deep water to enter into the shallower water of the port.  Shifting shoals, cut channels, rocks, wrecks, swim areas, and other hazards are marked by characteristic buoys to keep you from getting into trouble.

As you come into most ports you are often greeted by the safe water mark with its horizontal red and white stripes.  At night its familiar light characteristic Morse (Mo) Code “A” encourages you to move toward the mark.  It usually sets your vessel up for entrance to the channel leading to the harbor.

Entering the channel you will notice it is guarded by lateral buoys of red and green colors.  Red buoys are on the right side and green on the left side of the channel as you come from the “big” water toward the pier head.  Keeping the vessel to the right, marking off the red buoys as you past will lead you to the harbor.  Thus the saying, “Red right returning.”  Be sure to check your chart for the layout of the buoy system entering your destination harbor.  Sometimes the buoys appear to be reversed.  No the Coast Guard did not make a mistake, but buoys are laid in direction of coming from the larger body of water to the smaller. 

That is why, for example, that the buoys appear to be reversed when entering the Bay of Sturgeon Bay (WI) from the Bay of Green Bay (WI).  Using your chart as a reference you will discover that the Sturgeon Bay connects Lake Michigan (the bigger water) with the Bay of Green Bay.  The ports of Green Bay have the red on the right side once again.

These buoys (some lighted; some not) can also act as landmarks.  Using your charts and the Light List for your area you will discover that the Light List gives coordinates for most of the lights.  If you can sail to a light, look it up in the Light List to discover its position. You now have a backup to your GPS should it fail.  Now that open water doesn’t seem so immense if you use the references available to you and plan your trip before you leave.

Light Lists, International Buoyage Systems, range lights and more are material discussed in US Captain’s Training class as well as classes offered on the water by On Board Academy.  The more you know, the more enjoyable boating becomes.  You’ve got the helm.