Thurmond Lake runs southeast to northwest, is about 40 miles long and has a shore line as long as the state of California. The lake's many side channels and varying depths and obstructions make it important to know how to safely navigate.
First, a little basic navigation: There are two types of lateral markers -- that is, markers found on each side of the navigable channel that define the area of safe passage. These markers can be either a buoy or a day beacon, which is either a square or triangle on a post or piling driven in the bottom or on shore. All of our lateral markers are buoys fixed to the lake bottom by a weight and tethered by a line or chain.
First, we have a "nun" marker. It is a cone-shaped buoy, always red and with even numbers. These buoys mark the right side of the channel. You might have heard the statement, "red right returning." What that means is that when you are returning from the sea, the red buoy should be on your right side. Buoy numbers are in sequence, starting with low numbers at the Thurmond Dam and ending with higher numbers at the Russell Dam.
Picture the mouth of our Savannah River. As you enter that mouth, the red buoy will be on your right and that will continue all the way up the river.
The left side of the channel is marked by a "can" buoy that will be green and have odd numbers. So, to be safe, no matter where you are on the Savannah River, if you are cruising upstream keep the red buoys on your right and the green ones on your left.
Naturally, when headed downstream that is reversed, with the green buoy on your right and the red one on your left.
You might have noticed that there are few nun-shaped buoys on our lake. Most are can-shaped. Yet those on your right, "returning from the sea," are red with even numbers and those on your left are green with odd numbers.
When you get out of the main Savannah River, for instance on Little River in Georgia, you will find the same red on the right, green on the left as you proceed upstream. (Little River in South Carolina has no lateral markers as yet. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working on that.)
There are other types of marker buoys (normally white cans) on our lake.
Information buoys have a painted square on them, such as "Food" or "Fuel" printed and with arrow pointing toward that destination.
"Danger" buoys will have a diamond shape printed on them and usually also tell what they mark -- such as rocks, shoals and such stuff. Proceed with caution and give them a wide berth. Not all obstacles are marked, so pay attention.
Exclusion-area buoys, indicating that an area is off limits to all boats (or sometimes only motor boats), have a crossed diamond printed on them and sometimes tell you why they are there -- because of a swim area, for example.
Controlled-area buoys have a printed circle and usually tell you what not to do -- such as "no wake" or "idle speed." Do as they say.
There are more and different buoys on America's waterways, but the above are about all you will see on our lake.
If you want to learn more about navigation and other boating challenges, come see us at the Coast Guard Auxiliary/Army Corps of Engineers boating safety class Saturday at the Thurmond Dam visitor's center. Call or e-mail for details and to enroll.
John L. VanOsdol is commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, CSRA Flotilla. He can be reached at (864) 391-2170, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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