Virginia Watercraft Owner's Guide

Aids to Navigation

Buoys are the most familiar aids to navigation-they're the signposts of the water. Here's how they work: entering a channel or river from open water, buoys on the right (starboard) are painted red and are even numbered starting from the mouth. Buoys on the left (port) side of the channel are green buoys with odd numbers. Stay between the red and green buoys and keep to the right of the channel.

Buoys marking mid-channel have red and white vertical stripes; those marking junctions are striped horizontally red or green with the top band marking the best channel. Red top: keep buoy on your right. Green top: keep buoy on your left. Remember: RRR for "Red Right Returning." Returning means going upstream, or coming from the ocean.

Floating Channel Markers

Special Buoy (Yellow): A caution area meaning to steer clear. Indicates an isolated danger.

Can Buoy (Green): Keep buoy to left going upstream.

Nun Buoy (Red): Keep buoy to right going upstream.
Lighted, whistle, bell, horn, or gong buoy —may be red, green, or yellow.

Boaters may only tie up to designated mooring buoys. Do not tie up to any other type of navigation buoy or other aids to navigation.

Additional Markers Stationary Channel Markers


Lighted (White Light):
Mid-channel buoy —pass close either side or unlighted red and white, vertically striped, spherical buoy.
Channel Junction Buoy (Red Top) —Keep buoy to right going upstream. (Keep Green Top buoy to left.)

Uniform State Waterway Marking System

It is unlawful to place unauthorized regulatory markers on or near the public waters.

Opposite green and red buoys mark channel

Diamond with wording

Diamond with cross

Explanation in circle

Square or rectangle for information

Blue banded white buoy

Skin or scuba diver

Vessel attending divers

Scuba divers or snorkelers must display "Diver Down" flag that marks their area and boats must maintain distance of 25 yards or more from any displayed diver down flag.