Buoyage and Lights


If a navigation mark is lit, it will have a magenta teardrop shape extending from the base of the chart symbol. The direction of it has no significance; it is printed where it will not obscure other detail.

Chart symbol for a light.

The details of a light will be written alongside the buoy:

F means a fixed light (not normally found on a buoy).

Fl means flashing.

R means a red light.

G means a green light.

Y means a yellow light.

No letter for colour indicates that the light is white.

Red and green lights are reserved for lateral marks and yellow for special marks. White lights are used for other types of marks. It is possible that some shore lights that are not part of the IALA scheme may have similar characteristics to to those used in the buoyage system. Special care should be taken when they are sighted to ensure they are correctly identified.

The position of a major light, on an object which is not afloat (beacons and lighthouses), is indicated by a symbol like this:

A major light.

An example is the lighthouse at Start Point (Chart 2, 50° 13.33'N 04° 338.5'W). The light is at the centre of the small white circle. The information given is: Start Point Fl(3)10s62m25M & F.R.12M.Horn(1)60s.

This means that the main light is white (there is no colour) and flashes 3 times in 10 seconds. With a nominal range of 25M (this is the range when meteorological visibility is 10M) and it is 62 metres above MHWS. The secondary light is a fixed (F) red light with a range of 12M. There is also a foghorn that sounds once in 60 seconds.

A Light house.
A major lighthouse.

The position of a minor light that is not afloat; is indicated by the symbol below. This may be used for the light on the end of a pier. There is an example on Chart 2, at Brixham (50°24.30'N 04°30.73'W), this is an Occulting red light, see below for an explanation.

A minor light.

The ends of jetties or piers are normally marked by 2 fixed lights mounted vertically on a pole. This would be marked by a symbol for a minor light and the legend:

2FR(vert) or 2FG(vert)

Light ranges

Major lights will have the range of the light indicated on a chart.

The range of lights on buoys are never indicated (except on LANBYs), but on a clear night, the maximum range that you can expect to see a lit buoy will be 3 miles, frequently the visible range will be considerably less.

At night, there is always a danger of hitting a buoy, because the distance off is very hard to determine. This is a particular danger when the tide and wind are carrying the vessel on to the buoy. There are 2 visual clues to how far you are from a buoy: At about ½ mile, the light will rise up from the horizon. At about 200m, the light will reflect in the surface.





Buoy at less than 3 miles.
Buoy at less than 1/2 mile.
Buoy at less than 200m.

Once you can see the light's reflection, you must ensure that the buoy is moving relative to the background to avoid a collision.

Light sequences

There are many possible light sequences; this means that each buoy can have a distinctive pattern to ensure it is easily differentiated from any other. The time period given is always for the whole period of light and dark.

A prudent navigator will get one of the crew to independently check any light sequences. It is easy to convince yourself that you have correctly identified a light, especially when in difficult conditions or when tired.

F Fixed; The light is on all the time.

A fixed light.

Fl Flashing; The light is off and then flashes on for a set number of flashes.

Light flashing 3 times in 10s.

LFl Long flash; The light is off, and gives a long flash.

A Long flashing light.

Q Quick; A light that flashes about once per second.

A quick flashing light.

VQ Very Quick; A light that flashes about twice per second.

A very quick flashing light.

Iso Isophase; The light is on for the same period as it is off (in this case 5 seconds each).

An Isophase 10s light.

Oc Occulting; The light is on and then flashes off for a set number of flashes.

Oculting 10s.

Mo Morse; The light flashes a letter in the Morse code. 'A', dot dash is common or occasionally 'U', dot dot dash.

Morse A light.

Sound signals

Many buoys have bells or whistles; these are operated by the motion of the buoy in the sea, and can be a great comfort on a foggy day. In Britain, many of the major fog signals which were positioned on lighthouses are being phased out as a cost cutting measure, there are still some in use and their details are printed on the chart.


Some navigation marks are fitted with a Racon; this is a Radar transponder beacon. When it receives a radar pulse from a ship, it transmits a return signal, which appears on the ship's radar screen as a letter in the Morse code, emanating from the radar echo of the buoy. The signal letter is often written beside the buoy on the chart.

A Racon symbol.

The 3 & 10 cm refers to the wavelengths of the radar set that the racon responds to. An example of a racon is on Chart 1 at 49°56.5'N 05°37.2'W.

Radar image of racon (T).

Link to Trinity House website

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