How do you know which way to go on boats?

“When I was young, I asked my gramps, how do you know which way to go on boats too.”

And I’ve been asked many times by my friends, how do you know which way to go on boat - so I would like to return the favour to you.

That’s because being able to identify buoys allows boat operators to safely navigate and be aware of specific situations and dangers that affect boat operation.

You must be able to identify and describe the functions of various buoys and what to do in response to the specific situations or dangers identified by the Canadian Aids to Navigation System.

Upstream Direction (Red, Right, Returning)

If you came to a red or green buoy on the water, would you say to yourself, "which way do I go?"

When I was young, I asked my gramps, how do you know which way to go on boats too.

Here are a few tips on how to remember which way to go on boats.

Have you ever heard of the 3 R's before?


More specifically, the 3 R's means:

Keep the RED starboard hand buoy on the RIGHT side of your boat when RETURNING to harbour or going upstream, to the source of the river/stream, going upstream or entering a channel from sea.

But first, you have to determine which way is upstream and which way downstream is.

Upstream and downstream refers to the flow of the current.

Here are 5 examples of UPSTREAM:

1. If you are entering a channel from the sea, keep RED on the right.

2. If you are heading up river, keep RED on the right.

3. If you are entering a marina, keep RED on the right.

4. If you are traveling on a sea channel that runs parallel to the coast, you should consider our coast's as clockwise. For example, going north up the west coast of Canada would be upstream. And going south on the east coast would be upstream.

5. Some landlocked lakes and other bodies of water can be hard to determine which way the water is flowing. If that is the case, you should refer to your marine chart to find which way the direction of travel is and also where hazards are.

If you take anything out of the new boating exam cheat sheet, just remember this; when traveling upstream keep the red starboard hand buoy on your right side of your boat.

Keep the RED on the RIGHT when RETURNING to harbour or going upstream.

Now you know what the 3 R's mean...


- Steve Lyons

Captain of™


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