Basic Visual Navigation for Boating – Day Marks

For the new boater, looking at a paper chart or chart plotter for the first time and matching it up with what you see on the water can be a humbling experience. Without a chart, just knowing what those navaids mean can be confusing. Listed below are three basic Day Marks. Day marks are on pilings stuck in the mud, and are used in shallow water. These navigational aids are universal throughout North and South America. For Europe, and other parts of the world, you will find that the colors and how you pass the marks will be reversed.

Lateral Buoyage System

Red and green day marks are part of the Lateral Buoyage System. That means their function is to tell the boater where the lateral edge of the channel is. These marks are the only marks that are numbered. So, when you see a number on a mark, match that number up with your charting tools to know exactly where you are. The numbers should increase as you move up the channel, and decrease heading out towards open water. If you find that the numbers are not increasing or decreasing in order, don’t panic. Stop the boat and retrace your course. Chances are you followed a red or green day mark for another channel. Always check your number sequence.

Red Day Mark

Red Day MarkerRed Right Returning is the way to remember this mark. Pass it on your right – starboard — side heading from open water into a harbor or river. These marks are a red triangle, with even numbers, and the numbers increase numerically as you follow the channel to your upstream destination. “2”-“4”-“6”-“8”. “2” will be the first red day mark going into a channel.

Green Day Mark

Green Day MarkGreen Day Marks indicate the other side of the channel. Keep them on your left – port – side going upstream. They are always green, square, and have odd numbers, starting with “1”, and increasing going upstream, or from open water into a harbor or channel. “1”-“3”-“5”-“7”. “1” will be the first mark you will encounter heading into a channel.

Preferred Channel Marker

Preferred Channel MarkerAs you head towards your destination, you’ll arrive at a split in the waterway. In the middle, you’ll see a mark with no number — but possibly with letters — that can’t seem to make up its mind whether it’s red or green. No worries. It’s called a Preferred Channel Marker, and it’s giving you a choice of which way to go. On this marker, the green band on top indicates that the preferable waterway is to starboard, leaving this mark to port. You could also take the other waterway, but it is not as Preferred. In this case, “SC” stands for Sunset Creek, the non-preferred channel. To go to Sunset Creek, leave this mark to starboard. To take the preferred channel, leave this mark to port. Either color band, red or green, might be on top. Honor the mark based on the band color on top.

Plan Your Boat Outing Ahead of Time

Before you head out on your water adventure, review the chart for your boat outing so you will have an idea of what you’ll be seeing. Check the weather report, and let someone know where you are going, and when you’ll be back.

These are the most basic navigational aids you might see on the water. As you gain more experience, even on your local waters, you’ll realize there is much more to learn about navigation. The safe boater will know about a lot more than lateral and preferred marks.

Having said that, red and green day marks, and preferred channel markers are a good place to start. Stay tuned to GetMyBoat and “Starboard Thoughts” for more posts about fun and safe boating.


How to Anchor a Boat

Whether you’re stopping for a swim in a secluded cove, or cooking up lunch with the crew, knowing how to safely and securely anchor your vessel is an essential skill of boating.  Though all watercraft are different, there are some general principles to abide by when tackling this important task.  Below is a guide to dropping anchor.

Getting Acquainted

Locate the anchor you’ll be using and identify its parts.

  • On most cruising boats, the anchor will be stowed in an anchor well, beneath the foredeck, or at the bow of the boat.

  • Heavier boats may have a Danforth or plow anchor, while smaller boats can use a simpler, mushroom design.

  • Identify the anchor rode, the line that connects the anchor to the boat.  It could be made of chain, rope, nylon or a combination.

  • The anchor, rode, and shackles are called ground tackle.

Choose an Anchorage

Pick a spot that’s protected from the wind and waves by land or offshore reefs.

  • The area should be sheltered from boat traffic.

  • It should provide enough space between your boat and others. Wind and current will cause boats to swing once anchored.

Prepare the Anchor

Allow plenty of time to prep the anchor before reaching your intended stopping point.

  • Check the water depth. This will tell you how much rode you’ll need to let out.

  • Add the distance from the bow of the boat and the top of the water to the depth to determine how far your bow is from the seabed. Multiplying the total by 5 will tell you how much rode you’ll need for calm conditions during the day. If the weather is harsher, or you plan on anchoring overnight, multiply it by 7 to 10.  This is called the scope ratio.

  • Take the anchor out of its storage place and rig it to the rode. If it’s already attached, make sure the shackles are secure.

  • Flake the necessary amount of line onto the deck so it will run freely. If the anchor is on a bow roller or windlass, make sure it won’t get caught.

  • Cleat the anchor line where you want it to stop.

Get in Position

Once in the bay or cove, note how other boats are anchored and follow suit.

  • Slowly steer your boat upwind or upcurrent. You should be about equidistant from your closest neighbors and your target anchored location.

Lower the Anchor

  • If there are at least three people aboard, station a person midship to communicate between the helmsman and the bow man.  Use hand signals:
    •  Back up: Face palm aft, motion towards stern.
    • Go forward: Face palm forward, motion forward.
    • Slow down: Face palm down, move arm up and down.
    • Speed up: Face palm up, move arm up and down.
    • Stop: Extend arm with hand made into a fist.
  • Stop your boat and lower the anchor quickly, either hand over hand or with a windlass, until you feel it reach the bottom.

  • Put the boat’s engine in slow reverse.  Let out the anchor line while the boat backs away.

  • Once it’s fully deployed, the boat should come to a halt, securely setting the anchor.  Throttle up in reverse — called backing down — on the anchor to assure it’s set. If the anchor line shows a V-shaped wake while backing down, the anchor is dragging. Let out more scope until it digs in.

  • Make sure the anchor isn’t dragging.  Check reference points on land and keep track of your bearings.

Don’t Forget

Remember these concepts to help with setting your anchor.

  • Keep enough distance between your boat and others. You should usually be at least two scope lengths apart.

  • Let out enough rode.  A common mistake boaters make is to let out too little.

  • Make sure you prepare your ground tackle in advance for a smooth anchoring.



How-to Bring a Catamaran to a Mooring Ball Using the Engine

Mooring BallLearning The Ropes

Tying up to a mooring ball shouldn’t be too complicated – pull­ up to the ball, pick up a rope, and tie it on your boat. Simple, right?   Well, maybe on a small power or sailboat, but it all changes on a large charter yacht.

Below are the basic steps to successfully securing a cruising catamaran to a mooring ball using the engine. This sequence is generally the same for monohulls, power, or sail. Know and discuss these steps with your crew before you head into the mooring area.

  1. When approaching mooring field, start engines, then drop sails. Bring boathook to bow.
  2. Drive through mooring field once slowly to identify your potential mooring ball, as well as wind and current effect.
  3. Boat mooring lines should already be rigged and secured to cleats, with one line leading from each hull’s forward-most cleat. Make sure lines are not lead inside any stanchions, etc.
  4. Station one person forward with the boathook. Station another crew amidships to give steering hand signals to helm person. Helm person typically cannot see mooring ball once boat is close.
  5. Steer boat slowly toward ball from down wind or down current, whichever has more impact on boat control. Helm person should center the ball between the hulls.
  6. As mooring ball pennant loop (has small buoy on it) comes into boathook reach, stop the boat. Use boathook to pick up pennant loop. Do not pick up mooring ball anchor rode that runs underneath ball.
  7. As soon as pennant is retrieved, run one boat mooring line through pennant loop, then back to boat cleat, and secure to original cleat.
  8. Once one side is secure, run second mooring line through same pennant loop and return to its original cleat.
  9. When boat and crew are settled, pay out line evenly between both mooring lines until pennant loop touches water or boat rides comfortably.
  10. Double check cleat hitches for correct “locking loop.” Hitch should look like a “figure 8,” with one line running perpendicular over the other two.

Safety First

The key to a safe and easy mooring is to establish with your crew how the boat will approach the mooring ball before you get there. Confirm what hand signals to use for “turn left,” “turn right,” “stop,” “slow down,” and “reverse.” Have this discussion after you drop/furl the sails. Don’t wait until you are on “final approach” to the selected mooring ball.

For early arrivers at the mooring field, watching boaters attempt to tie up to a mooring ball has provided many afternoons of entertainment.  If you understand and follow these basic steps, you won’t be the entertainment.