Chart Navigation Tips – Five Chart Symbol Shapes You Need to Know!

Do you know what the diamond shape on a buoy symbol means on your nautical chart? Could you tell the navigational significance of a black dot or a small open circle? If you want to learn to sail like a pro, you will need to know these five super important chart navigation chart symbol secrets.

1. Buoy Body Shapes Made Simple

Scan the chart for diamond or “pie-pan” shapes, which show floating aids to navigation (buoys). Those that mark the sides of channel edges, isolated dangers, or specific areas show a small diamond. A shape that looks like the profile of a pie pan indicates a mooring buoy, used by vessels to tie up to. For safety, keep clear of mooring buoys unless you’ve paid to use it!

2. Segmented Buoys Mean Multicolored

Some buoy body symbols are cut into two parts–either with a horizontal or vertical line. This shows that the buoy carries more than one color. On buoys with horizontal segments, look for the abbreviations RG or GR (red-green, or green-red), or BR (black-red) nearby. On buoys with vertical stripes, look for the abbreviation RW (red-white) nearby.

3. Lights Stand Out as Exclamation Marks

Highlight those all important light structures and light houses. Cartographers draw a teardrop shape with a black dot on the end, much like an exclamation mark. The teardrop has a magenta (purple) color. The black dot represents the exact position of the light. Use the latitude and longitude of light symbols as waypoints in your nautical gps. This gives you a highly reliable navigation source that you can trust.

4. Square and Triangular Daybeacon Secrets

Daybeacons are simple pilings of wood or steel, driven into the seabed with dayboards bolted to the top on two or three sides. On your navigational chart, they are shown as small squares or triangles. Look for the color of the daybeacon near the symbol. R means red (triangles) and G means green (square). Beware of the deadly white beacon. Circle in bold any solid white square beacon because these are used to mark super dangerous rocks or wrecks.

5. Prominent Landmarks for Accurate Navigation

Don’t forget those all important land objects, like a tank, tower, spire, cupola (a dome shaped roof), and so many more. Look for those that have a small black dot enclosed by a circle. That means you can rely on the position for navigation. On the other hand, a landmark that shows a smaller circle without a central dot means “navigator beware!” These are approximate positions–good for basic reference but it’s best not to rely on them for waypoints.

Use these five super important chart navigation symbol shapes to boost your sailing navigation skills to new heights. You will be well on your way to reading a nautical chart like a pro–no matter where in the world you choose to cruise!

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