Boating safety should be of paramount importance whenever you are on the water. The best way to ensure you and your boat stay safe is to learn all of the common boating signs that are used to communicate hazards and directions. The good news is that you can learn the most common signs with this quick guide so you’ll be out on the water fishing in no time!

Learn the Shapes

Before we dive into the specifics of boating signage, we first want to direct your attention to the different types of signs you will see. Most boating safety signs will come in four different shapes which can tell you a little bit about what type of sign you are looking at, kind of like the iconic eight-sided stop sign. A sign that is meant to convey instructions or directions will be a plain square or rectangle with text telling you what to do next. A sign with a diamond on it is used to denote danger and will tell you what kind of danger is ahead with the letters inside the diamond. Meanwhile, a diamond with an X on it means that no boats are allowed in that location, and text below the diamond may indicate what activities are going on in the area like swimming or fishing from the shore. Lastly, a circle means that you may proceed as long as you follow the rules listed inside the circle, such as a speed limit or a directive to stay to one side.

When it comes to navigational indicators, you will notice that the green signs that serve as mile markers will be square, while the red signs will be triangular.

Learn the Colors

Along with the signs that give you directions, you will also see a variety of navigational signs along the way. These navigational aids improve boating safety by ensuring that you know your position and which direction you are traveling at all times. They can also help you in the event of a mechanical failure if you need to tell somebody where you are at.

On the port side of the stream, or your left as you travel upstream, you will see markers colored green. They may come in a variety of shapes or they may be placed on buoys in the water. Some of these navigational signs may have a flashing green beacon to draw your attention. Each sign will have a number on it, indicating how many far up the stream you are.

Likewise, on the starboard or right side, there will be red numbered beacons and signs. As you travel, you will notice that these signs alternate so that the odd numbers are on the left and the even numbers are on the right. A good way to remember what to do is the phrase “Red, Right, Returning” which means that RED markers will be on your RIGHT side when RETURNING from open waters.

The only other color you will need to know on the water is a white light. White lights and beacons are often used to highlight regulatory signs such as those described above for giving you directions when entering a new area. White lights should be kept on steady to make reading the signs easy for boat operators.

Boat Signs

As you travel through the waters you will also encounter a range of signs that have both red and green bands and indicate more than one channel for navigating. Usually, there is a preferred channel for most traffic, with a secondary channel available. If the buoys have green over red, it is telling you that the channel to your left heading upstream is the preferred route. On the other hand, red over green indicates that you should stick to the right.

Finally, if you see a buoy that features red and white stripes, it means that you are in safe water. This means that there is open water on all sides until you reach the next buoy. These areas are great for practicing your boating safety techniques. When you reach a buoy that has a black stripe on top it indicates that there may be isolated dangers in the area so you should slow down and pay attention until you get back to safe water.

All of these boat signs have been developed to communicate with boat operators today. This system of colors and shapes can be used to help you know what to expect as you travel, even in unfamiliar places. It can also help you navigate with the help of your maps so you can track your progress along the way.

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