Canadian Safe Boating Course

Transport Canada has made changes to the online exam process and study guide. The old Boater Exam boating license course and test was discontinued on April 15th, 2011. Take the NEW Canadian Online Boating Course! The course material below remains as a resource for all who boat on Canadian waters—particularly experienced boaters who already have their Pleasure Craft Operator Card.


Chapter 7: The Buoyage System

In 1983, Canada adopted the buoyage system, or aids to navigation, used internationally. This system includes port hand buoys, starboard hand buoys, cardinal buoys and special buoys.

Aids to Navigation

Aids to navigation are devices (buoys) or systems (collision regulations), that are external to the pleasure craft.  They are provided to help the operator of a pleasure craft determine position and course.  They can additionally warn the operator of dangers or obstructions and advise the operator of the location of the best or preferred route.

Port Hand and Starboard Hand Buoys

Port hand buoys are green and starboard hand buoys are red. They show which side of a channel is safest to travel; accordingly, they mark channels or hazards.  Generally, green buoys must be passed on the left side of a craft heading upstream, i.e., against the current.  Red buoys must be kept on the right side of a craft when proceeding in the upstream direction.  A simple rule is red to the right when returning, or the three “R’s”: red, right, return.

In many places, the direction of the current is determined by consensus or by the tide.  It is important to be thoroughly familiar with the aids to navigation in your region.

Port Hand Buoys

Green in colour.  They can be shaped as:

  • cans
  • spars
  • pillars

If they do not have a green light they will be flat on top

Starboard Hand Buoys

Starboard Hand Buoys

Red in colour.  They can be shaped as:

  • conical
  • spars
  • pillars

If they do not have a red light they will be conical on top.

Green port hand buoys

  • marks the port (left) side of a channel or the location of a danger and must be kept on the port (left) side of a pleasure craft when proceeding in the upstream direction;
  • it is coloured green;
  • displays identification letter(s) and odd number(s);
  • if it carries a top mark, the top mark is a single green cylinder;
  • if it carries a light, the light is green and is a flashing (FI) 4 s or quick flashing (Q) 1 s;
  • if the buoy does not carry a light, it has a flat top.

Red starboard hand buoys

  • Marks the starboard (right) side of a channel or the location of a danger and must be kept on the starboard (right) side of a pleasure craft when proceeding in the upstream direction;
  • is coloured red;
  • displays identification letter(s) and even number(s);
  • if it carries a top mark, the top mark is a single red cone, pointing upward;
  • if it carries a light, the light is red and is a flashing (F1) 4 s or quick flashing (Q) 1 s;
  • if the buoy does not carry a light, it has a pointed top.

Bifurcation buoys

  • You may pass buoys with red and green bands on either side in the upstream direction.
  • The main or preferred channel is shown by the colour of the top band.
  • For example, if a red band is on top, you should keep the buoys on your starboard (right) side.

Know that a port hand day beacon is a beacon that

Port Hand Day Beacon
  • marks the port (left) side of a channel or the location of a danger during daylight hours
  • it must be kept on the port (left) side of a pleasure craft when proceeding upstream;
  • it is square with a black or green coloured square centered on a white background with a green reflecting border .. it may display an odd number made of white reflecting material

Know that a starboard hand day beacon is a beacon that

Starboard Hand Day Beacon
  • marks the starboard (right) side of a channel or the location of a danger during daylight hours and must be kept on the starboard (right) side of a pleasure craft when proceeding upstream;
  • it is a red coloured triangle centered on a white background with a red reflecting border; and may display an even number made of white reflecting material

Cardinal Buoys

There are four types of cardinal buoys: north, south, west and east.  Cardinal buoys are used to indicate the direction of the safest waters.  A north cardinal buoy indicates that the deepest or safest water exists to the north of the buoy.  The vessel must travel north past the north buoy; in this way, the buoy is between the hazard and the craft.  The same principles apply to all of the cardinal buoys.  For more details on the hazard indicated by the buoy, a nautical chart must be consulted; the buoyage system is therefore used in tandem with nautical charts.

There are two ways to distinguish among cardinal buoys: by colour and by the shape of their conical top marks. The direction of the point indicates the type of cardinal buoy.  Accordingly, the cones on a north cardinal buoy point north, and on a south cardinal buoy, point south.

North Cardinal Buoy

North Cardinal Buoy
  • A north cardinal buoy is located so that the safest water exists to the north of it
  • It is coloured black and yellow
  • The top half is painted black indicating that it is a north buoy...the lower half is painted yellow
  • If this buoy does not carry a light, it will be spar shaped
  • If it carries a top mark...they will both point upwards to indicate north

South Cardinal Buoy

South Cardinal Buoy
  • A south cardinal buoy indicates that the safest water exists to the south of it.
  • 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
  • If this buoy does not carry a light, it will be spar shaped
  • If it carries a top mark...they will both point downward to indicate south

East Cardinal Buoy

East Cardinal Buoy
  • An east cardinal buoy is located to indicate that the safest water exists to the east of it
  • 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
  • If this buoy does not carry a light, it shall be spar shaped
  • If it carries a top mark...they will point in opposite directions to indicate that it is an east buoy

West Cardinal Buoy

West Cardinal Buoy
  • A west cardinal buoy is located to indicate that the safest water exists to the west of it.
  • 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.
  • If this buoy does not carry a light, it shape be spar shaped
  • If it carries a top mark...they will point in towards each other to indicate that it is a west buoy

As with any buoy...when encountered you should refer to your Nautical Charts for specific information.


Light Characteristics of Cardinal Buoys

The lights on all cardinal buoys will be white in colour, (if the buoy is so equipped).  In order to identify these buoys in darkness or reduced visibility, each one can be distinguished by different light flash characteristics.

The flash characteristics are based on the same numbering principle as an ordinary time clock.

The number of flashes coincides with the position of the face of the clock.

 

North buoys flash at the rate of 1 per second or 60 per minute. A very quick flash can also be used — 10 flashes every 5 seconds.

 

West buoys flash at the rate of 9 times in 15 seconds. A very quick flash can also be used — 9 flashes every 10 seconds.

Light Characteristics of Cardinal Buoys

East buoys flash at the rate of 3 times every 10 seconds. A very quick flash can also be used — 3 flashes every 5 seconds

 

South buoys flash at the rate of 6 times in 15 seconds followed by a single long flash. A very quick flash can also be used — 6 flashes every 10 seconds plus 1 longer flash at the end of each group to mark the end of 1 flash cycle.

 

Card North
Card East
Card South
Card west

Special Buoys

Finally, special buoys serve a variety of purposes.  They are not primarily aids to navigation, but rather provide the boat operator with a host of information.  Some are cautionary buoys to mark firing range or seaplane bases, while others gather weather information, locate prohibited areas or mark designated mooring areas.  The shape of the special buoys is not significant; they are identified by their symbols, drawings and colours.

Cautionary Buoy

Cautionary Buoys
  • they mark an area where mariners are to be warned of dangers such as firing ranges, racing courses, seaplane bases, underwater structures or areas where no safe through channel exists and of traffic separations.
  • they are coloured yellow
  • they display identification letters
  • if it carries a top mark it shall be a single yellow ‘X’ shape
  • if it carries a light, the light shall be yellow and flash once every 4 seconds

Anchorage Buoy

Anchorage Buoys
  • it is used to indicate areas which are favourable
  • for overnight anchoring • they are yellow in colour
  • they usually have an anchor symbol clearly visible
  • if it carries a light the light is yellow and it will flash once every 4 seconds.

Mooring Buoy

Mooring Buoys
  • used to moor or secure vessels
  • it is the ONLY buoy that you may legally tie your vessel to
  • usually found in designated anchorage areas
  • when in reduced visibility, be aware that other vessels may be present and tied up

Control Buoy

Control Buoys
  • it is used to mark an area where boating is restricted
  • it is coloured white
  • it has an orange, open-faced circle on two opposite sides and two orange horizontal bands, one above and one below the circle
  • a black figure or symbol inside the orange circle indicates the nature of the restriction.
  • if it carries a light is shall be yellow and flash once every 4 seconds

Hazard Buoy

Hazard Buoy
  • it is a buoy which marks random hazards such as rocks and shoals
  • it is white in colour
  • it has an orange diamond on two opposite sides and two orange horizontal bands, one above and one below the diamond symbols
  • if it carries a light the light is yellow and flashes once every 4 seconds

Information Buoy

information Buoy
  • it displays information of interest to boaters.  The message can either be displayed using lettering or symbols.
  • it is white in colour
  • it can be distinguished by the orange open-faced square symbol on opposite sides and the two horizontal bands, one above and one below the square.
  • if it carries a light it shall be yellow and it will flash once every 4 seconds

Swimming Buoy

Swimming Buoy
  • it is used to mark the perimeter of a swimming area
  • it is white in colour
  • if it carries a light, the light is yellow and it will flash once every 4 seconds.

Diving Buoy

Diving Buoy
  • it is used to mark an area where scuba or other such diving activity is in progress
  • it is coloured white and it carries a red flag not less than 50 centimetres square with a white diagonal stripe extending from the tip of the hoist to the bottom of the fly
  • if it carries a light the light shall be yellow and flash once every 4 seconds

Particular care must be taken when boating in waters where there are divers. A vessel engaged in diving must display a blue and white flag (International Code A Flag, see left). A red and white flag carried on a buoy is used to mark areas where diving is in progress, although divers may stray from the boundaries of the marked areas.

Be sure you know what the ‘diver down’ flags look like. If you see either flag, keep well clear of the vessel and diving site, and move at slow speed.


Keep Out Buoy

Keep Out Buoy
  • A keep out buoy marks an area in which boats are prohibited
  • it is white in colour
  • it has an orange diamond containing an orange cross on two opposite sides and two orange horizontal bands...one above and one below the diamond symbols
  • if it carries a light the light is yellow...flashing once every 4 seconds.

Scientific Buoys (O.D.A.S.)

Scientific Buoys
  • An ocean data acquisition system  buoy collects  meteorological and other scientific data


Fairway Buoy

Fairway Buoy
  • usually found at the entrances to channels or used to mark the center of a channel
  • it may be passed on either side but should be kept on the port (left) side of your vessel when proceeding in either direction

Isolated Danger Buoy

Isolated Danger Buoy
  • 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

In addition to the above mentioned special buoys, you could also encounter posted command signs or warning signs.  These can be used to relay a host of information or provide warnings of impending danger. Some of these are:

  • no wake zones
  • no anchorage area signs
  • speed limit zone signs
  • low head dam hazard signs
  • overhead or underwater power line hazard signs
  • pipe line hazards signs

It cannot be stressed enough that every time you encounter a sign or buoy you should reference your nautical charts to ensure that you correctly interpret the information.


The Nautical Chart

The Different Types of Chart

A simple visit to a map store will quickly convince you of the vast range of products available. Outdoor enthusiasts can find topographical maps for mountain excursions, or guide maps to lakes and rivers to plan their canoe expeditions.

Naturally, travelers can plan their trips with a land, tourist or road map, and farmers can see the boundaries of their fields on a farm map.  For boaters, the nautical chart is vital tool.

Main Features of a Nautical Chart

Nautical charts provide information on waterways.  They give useful information to boaters, especially on water depth, the type of bottom, the type of shoreline, current direction, coastal altitude, easily identifiable landmarks and aids to navigation.

The Canadian Hydrographic Service publishes all nautical charts.  For pleasure craft, large scale maps (i.e., covering a small portion of the region) are often the most useful because of all the detail they contain.

To know which regional chart is most appropriate for your activity, consult the Nautical Chart Catalogue.  This catalogue is a large map showing the area covered by each available chart.  For information on how to obtain charts, contact the Canadian Hydrographic Service.

Importance of the Nautical Chart to Boaters

Charts provide a host of information to boaters that only detailed knowledge and experience of the waterway could replace.

Using a nautical chart makes the boaters task in a rescue situation easier in many ways.  It:

  • identifies a launch site
  • shows the best route in light of currents, rapids, obstacles, etc.
  • shows the location of waterway
  • allows for an assessment of distances
  • shows location on the water.

On receiving a distress call, the time may not seem right to carefully study a nautical chart. However, if the chart is available, the knowledge gained could mean the difference between locating and successfully helping out at a water accident or a tragedy.

Topographical maps are maps of the land areas depicting natural and artificial features of the land, including elevation contours, shoreline, rocks, land features above water, and cultural features:

  • They are intended primarily for the use of the general public on the land;
  • They are published by Natural Resources Canada and some provincial authorities;
  • 3 They are sometimes used when navigational maps (charts) are not available, but they usually do not depict: underwater hazards, marine aids to navigation, channels, anchorage areas etc.

Other Navigation Aids

A magnetic compass can be used to help the operator of a pleasure craft find directions.  It must be remembered however that a magnetic compass is influenced by the proximity of metallic and/or electrical devices.  In order to avoid false information, make certain that the compass is mounted in an area free of magnetic and electrical interference.

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