Types of Buoys


To safely operate a boat, it is important to understand the different buoys that are used by authorities, such as the Coast Guard. While some may think all buoys are the same, there are specific types of buoys that communicate very specific information to boaters so they can avoid dangers, be aware of special circumstances on the water, or get reminders about practices that are prohibited.

Cans and Nuns

  • Can buoys are green and shaped like a can on the top. Can buoys mark the right side of a channel leaving a harbor. Nun buoys are red and the top is shaped similar to a nun's hat. Nun buoys are set out to mark the left side of the channel leaving a harbor. Boats can be safely navigated out of a harbor without running aground or into rocks by following the channel marked by can and nun buoys.


  • Shallow areas can come up in waterways without a boater being able to see them in time. For this purpose, daymarkers are placed to denote shallow areas that could be a problem to a boat. Daymarkers come in both red and green. Green daymarkers indicate the shallow area is to the right of the buoy while red daymarkers indicate the shallow area is to the left.

Lighted Buoys

  • Lighted buoys look like larger can buoys with a large blinking light mounted on top. Lighted buoys are placed in deep water and can be either red or green. The lighted buoys are placed to help ships navigate both day and night.

Safe Water Markers

  • Safe water markers feature red and white vertical stripes. These buoys are placed in mid-channels or fairways leaving a harbor. A safe water marker is a signal that the water on both sides of the buoy is safe to pass through since there are no obstructions present.

Special Purpose

  • Special purpose buoys communicate a wide variety of messages. A special purpose buoy can be easily identified since it is yellow and has a yellow light. Usually a sign on the buoy will let boaters know the specific message the buoy has been left to communicate, such as that a certain area is restricted for military exercises or has been specified for fish trapping.

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