I've found myself confused about buoy markers and marine signs more than once on a variety of waterways in Canada and the U.S.
In my early paddling years, on a large lake with several islands, I found myself kayaking towards a black and red buoy. Not knowing its meaning and thinking it was a channel marker indicating a safe passage between islands, I paddled towards it. When I got closer to it, I said, "Oh shit!", it's a buoy indicating DANGER. I could suddenly see the big shoal it was sitting on, and I was paddling right for it with an unfavourable wind when I should have been taking extra care to paddle well away from it.
Now, every spring, I make an effort to review some of the navigation aids. They can be confusing and I tend to forget things over the 6-month long winter in Canada.
The image above is a red and white FAIRWAY BUOY
It is parked on land as it waits for the water to thaw. I took a picture of it so you can see what's in the water with you. It is heavy, solid as a rock, and comes to a nasty point at the front. You don't want to get too close to it or get pushed into, or under it by wind, waves, current, or big boat wakes.
A fairway buoy is used to mark safe water and is usually used to mark a channel entrance, the centre of a shipping channel, or a landfall. This buoy indicates that there is safe water to pass on either side but it should be kept to the port (left) side of your vessel when proceeding upstream or downstream. It is painted half in red and half in white. If it is equipped with a light, it is white in color and operates on a flash cycle (flashing Morse Code "A", which is a short, then long flash, repeated 10 times per minute).
There are good, free, online resources and navigation courses you can take. If you're going to paddle in waters with navigation aids and motorized craft, you need to know the rules of the water, or at least some of them, before heading out.
In Canada, sea kayaks are subject to small vessel regulations.
Under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, Transport Canada is the government department responsible for pleasure boating. Sea kayaks are subject to Small Vessel Regulations under the Act.
For more information, see page 16, Regulations: Sea Kayaking Safety Guide, Transport Canada
For more information about navigation aids, and their meaning, here are a few links for pleasure craft operators in Canada. This more detailed information is also very useful for the paddler sharing the same waters with motorized craft.
- Free online boating safety course, by Freecourse.ca, certified issuer of official Transport Canada Pleasure Craft Operator Cards, regulations, aids to navigation, emergencies
- Aids to Navigation - Safety Afloat (pdf) - Drawings, explanations, and a practice quiz with answers
Happy and safe trails!