The Rules of the Road: Navigating Near Channels

Main channels are defined by a series of green and red markers.

Main channels are defined by a series of green and red markers.

All paddlers should be aware of the most basic rules of the road when it comes to navigating our waterways, especially during the busy season when more boats are on the water. A common problem for paddlers is that we move slowly, which can make it tough to stay out of other vessels’ paths. We also have a low profile on the water, which can make us less visible to others, even when we are in open water. Understanding how other boats navigate can help paddlers choose a course that minimizes our time spent in the path of larger, faster boats.

You will find colored buoys on almost any waterway that sees regular motorized boat traffic. The red and green buoys are there to define the main channel, and are the safest path for powerboats to take. To remember where the channel is, use the rule of three "R"s: red, right, returning, which simply means if you're paddling upstream on a river, or returning from open water, you'll want to keep the red markers on your right side and the green markers on your left to stay in the channel. The markers are intended for larger vessels, so if you stay between the buoys and the shore, you will be out of the way and less likely to encounter wake and turbulence.

We recommend avoiding the main channel if at all possible. Although you can expect most boat traffic to flow through this channel, smaller powerboats can travel through shallow water and are a lot less predictable, so they tend to present the most notable threat to paddlers. Stay close to shore and cross channels as quickly as possible to be safe.

Ocean Tribe Outfitters is a branch of Sanibel Sea School that helps the SWFL paddling community better explore, enjoy, and understand the ocean. Visit oceantribeoutfitters.org or follow us on Facebook to learn more.