Buoys and Beacons

Knowing what the marker in front means may make the difference between continuing on your way in safety, or making a Mayday call, sitting embarrassingly high on a fat drying rock as the tide ebbs.

These are the road signs on the water. The meaning of each navigational buoy, or beacon, is found in its shape, symbol on the top (topmark) and its colours.
Take time to study the buoys to familiarise yourself with their meanings.


Channel Markers
These show well-established channels and indicate port (left) and starboard (right) sides of the channels. One of the following maybe used;

Lateral Marks (Red or Green)

Port Mark

A red can shape. At night, a red flashing light may be shown.


Starboard Mark

A green conical shape. At night, a green flashing light may be shown.


Coming In Rule

  • upon entering harbour the red port mark should be kept on the boat’s port (left) side and the green mark on the boat’s starboard (right) side.

Going Out Rule

  • when leaving harbour the red port mark should be kept on the boat’s starboard (right) side and the green mark on the boat’s port (left) side.

Cardinal Marks

Yellow and Black

Each indicates where there is deep water close to a danger and they show this relative to the compass.


Isolated Danger – Red and Black

Indicates an isolated danger, such as a submerged rock and so tells you not to pass too close. Coloured black with one or more horizontal red bands. If lit at night, it shows a group of two white flashes. The top mark has two black spheres.


Special Marks – Yellow

Indicates a special area and you should beware. Coloured yellow. If lit at night, it shows a flashing yellow light. The top mark is a single yellow cross. Check your chart to identify what is special in that area.


Underwater Cable Marks

These are indicated by a white triangle on the foreshore. When in pairs, they indicate the direction of the cable. Do not anchor near these cables.


For further information, refer to the Maritime Safety Authority book, System of Buoyage and Beaconage for New Zealand.