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When Returning to Port From Seaward and You See a Red Buoy How Should You Respond?

Written by Anthony Roberts / Fact checked by Jonathan Larson

when returning to port from seaward and you see a red buoy how should you respond

Since waterways are much larger yet less crowded than roads, many boaters assume it isn’t necessary to have waterway signs or objects to warn and inform them.

But this idea is wrong as many lateral marks are created to help boat owners travel more safely in wharves and harbors. For instance, they invented red buoys under US aids navigation to guide sailors in commuting to a port when they return from the open sea.

However, when returning to port from seaward and you see a red buoy, how should you respond? A simple tip is to remember the phrase “red right return boating,” but that’s not all! In this article, we will explain this phrase further and provide more detailed answers to the question.

Stay tuned to learn more!

What Do You Do When You See a Red Buoy While Heading From the Sea Into a Bay?


Although the ocean is vast and freeing, there are still specific rules and regulations that boaters need to follow to commute safely.

To navigate correctly from one location to another on the waterways, boat owners must rely on navigation aids in the same way as road signs are used on the land.

For example, your boat just finished a voyage and is returning to the harbor when you see a red buoy. What should you do?

If you encounter a red buoy and a green buoy on your way back to the home port from seaward, your boat is entering a channel.

Both red buoys and green buoys are known as lateral markers and assist you in determining which side you should pass on to stay in a channel:

  • Based on general guidelines, regardless of whether you are moving from waterways to inland water or a river’s upstream in a river, keep the red buoys to your right and the green markers to your left.
  • Hence, when commuting from seaward to a port, or from a bay to a harbor or a creek, make sure the red buoy remains on your right.
  • Another method is to memorize the traditional phrase “red right returning”, which also means to keep your boat on the right of the red buoy if you see it on the way returning to a dock.

Sometimes you may spot a red and green buoy placed horizontally on the water. These are junction signals utilized when the channel divides.

For boats, the space between these two buoys is the designated route of passage through which vessels should travel.

In this case, since the route will contain red and green areas, the color of the upper section is crucial. If the red buoy is on top, move with it to your right. In contrast, if the higher part is green, have it on the left side.

Red Buoy, Green Buoy, and Lateral Markers


Now that you understand how to respond to a red buoy when heading to a bay from the ocean, let’s find out more about this buoy and its type.

Firstly, lateral markers can be defined as buoys and other signs that designate the boundaries of safe water zones, such as a regulated route through a channel.

The markers are a collaboration of colors and symbols (mostly numbers), which can be seen on buoys or permanently affixed markings.

No matter the kind of buoys or markers present, the colors and numbers share the same function:

  • Red Buoys or Red Lights with even numbers: A red buoy or red light is also called a starboard hand buoy since it indicates the edge of a channel on your boat’s starboard with the number increasing as you return from open water or go upstream.
  • Green Buoys or Green Lights with odd numbers: As you approach the canal from seaward or travel upstream, these marks designate the channel’s edge on your boat’s port (left) side. Similar to red buoys, the numbers on the buoys will frequently grow in a row.
  • Red and Green Buoys/Lights: These are referred to as junction buoys as they are placed at the junction of two split channels to identify the main channel. In this situation, the color of the marker that is placed higher will denote the primary channel.
  • Yellow Buoys: These special navigational aids function differently from the red and green ones. They are used to identify a unique feature or place like harbors, fishing grounds, and dredging/spoil zones. These markers may be lit, and if so, will be a constant or flickering yellow light.

For more information, check out this video: 


When returning to port from seaward and you see a red buoy how should you respond? Now that you know what to do when encountering a red buoy and other lateral markers, there is no need to be confused when heading to a port from seaward and seeing a red buoy. The best way to respond is by memorizing the quote “red right returning” and keeping an eye on surrounding navigational aids.

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