What Do Lateral Markers Indicate?

If you have ever been out sailing in a boat, then you will know that slight fear that is always in the back of your mind about potentially getting lost. After all, open water can often be very dangerous, and it is easy to lose your bearings when you are out at sea.

When you are sailing on the sea, your safety should be the top priority, and that is why precautions are put in place to make sailing as safe as possible.

What Do Lateral Markers Indicate

These precautions include markers. Water markers are placed in the sea to help sailors get their bearings, and to avoid anybody becoming lost at sea. But, there are actually quite a few different types of markers, and telling the difference between them is confusing.

One type of marker that you might frequently encounter is a lateral marker. But, you might not actually know what these markers mean.

In this guide, we’ll be taking a look at what lateral markers indicate, and lots more. So to find out, keep on reading.

What are Lateral Markers?

If you are new to sailing, then you might not be familiar with what lateral markers are, so let’s take a quick look. Lateral markers are a type of buoy that are placed in the water to indicate safe areas of water for sailing.

When you are out at sea, lateral markers are used to separate ‘safe’ areas of the sea from unsafe areas. So anything outside the markers is considered to be unsafe, and shouldn’t be sailed upon.

As well as being used to indicate safe areas in a body of water, lateral markers are used to help sailors get a better idea of where they are sailing. If you have managed to lose your bearings while out of sea, and are struggling to find your way back onto your desired path, then lateral markers are there to help.

When you are out at sea, it is often difficult to tell the difference between different areas of the water, but lateral markers can help you do this. Allowing you to find your way back to the right path, even after you have got lost.

What do Lateral Markers Indicate?

So, lateral markers are large buoys that are placed in bodies of water to help sailors find their way at sea, and, more importantly, to indicate which areas of the water are safe for sailing.

When you picture a buoy, you likely think of the smaller styles which you might see separating areas for swimming from areas for surfing. But, lateral markers are massive buoys, similar to the one that Blake Lively’s character uses to avoid attacks from the shark in The Shallows.

They are large enough to be seen from pretty great distances away, and that is why they are suitable for the job.

As we have said, lateral markers were initially designed to indicate safe areas of water. Typically, lateral markers are used to separate traffic on a body of water. So you should travel between specific markers if you are traveling in a specific direction, and between a different set of markers if you are traveling in the opposite direction.

If you are sailing in the wrong direction between two markers, then this is unsafe, so you should use these markers to navigate your way into a body of water that is safe. Every lateral marker looks different, and will be labeled differently.

This can make understanding the different meanings rather confusing. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the different types of lateral markers that exist.

Different Types of Lateral Markers

When it comes to lateral markers, there are typically 3 different types that you have to be aware of. These are starboard hand markers, port hand markers, and single lateral markers. So, let’s take a look at what you should know about these different types of markers.

Single Lateral Markers

Let’s start with single lateral markers because these types of markers are not used in conjunction with any other markers. Starboard and port hand markers are used alongside one another, but single lateral markers are almost always placed independently in the water.

Despite this, they still operate in the same way as the other two types of lateral markers that you might encounter.

There is one main type of single lateral marker that you might encounter, and that is the bifurcation buoy. These types of markers are used to indicate a separation in a channel of water. So, if a channel splits off into two separate routes, a bifurcation buoy will be used to separate these two routes.

It is important to note that single lateral markers are often confused with starboard and port hand markers when you can not clearly see the other buoy. But, if you pay close attention to the color and markers on the buoy, you will be able to figure out which type of marker it is.

Starboard Hand Markers

As we have said, starboard hand markers work in conjunction with port hand markers. As their name suggests, starboard hand markers are kept on the starboard hand of the water.

On the opposite side of the water, you will find port hand markers, and the space between these two markers is generally accepted as ‘safe’ for sailing.

Sometimes, both markers will not be visible, and this might be because the body of water that is considered to be ‘safe’ is very large.

But, if you can see both markers, you should ensure that you only sail between these two markers. If you move outside the water indicated by these markers, you are doing so at your own risk.

Starboard hand markers are always green in color. They are this color because it makes it easy for sailors to tell the difference between starboard and port hand markers, allowing them to figure out where they are in the water.

Starboard hand markers will sometimes have green lights added to them, and if they are made using a buoy, they will typically be flat on the top.

Port Hand Markers

Port Hand Markers

Finally, port hand markers are very similar to starboard hand markers in terms of their purpose. As we have said, these markers are used in conjunction with starboard hand markers, and they are used for indicating safe bodies of water through which sailors can sail their boats.

In contrast to starboard hand markers, port hand markers are always red in color. Red is a completely different color to green, so it makes it easy for sailors to tell the difference between these two markers. This makes identifying your location a lot easier.

Typically, port hand markers will be created using a type of cone shaped buoy that is called a nun.

These markers will be flat at the top, and just like with starboard hand markers, they will often have a flashing light on them. For port hand markers, the flashing light will be red, just like the rest of the marker.

Different Types of Markers

So, we have taken a look at what the different types of lateral markers indicate, but now let’s take a look at the different types of materials that are used to create these markers.

As we have said, buoys are usually used to create these markers, but these aren’t the only things used for markers. So, let’s take a look at what else might be used to indicate lateral markers.


As we have said, buoys are the most common thing used as lateral markers. These markers are moored in place, and they then float upon the water.

Typically, there are two types of buoys, these are nuns and cans. In lateral markers, nuns are typically used because they are easier to spot upon the water.


But, sometimes beacons will be used as lateral markers. These will typically be used in bodies of water where tethering a floating buoy in place is difficult. The most common type of beacon is a lighthouse, so this gives you an idea of how large these markers might be.

If these are used as lateral markers, then beacons will usually not be red or green, instead they will have a red or green flashing light to indicate which marker it is.

Day marks

The final type of marker that you might encounter is a day mark. These types of markers are often placed upon land, and that is why it is often rare for you to encounter them.

But, in some circumstances, day marks will be suitable. However, these markers are only ever really used in the daytime because they do not have lights. This is part of the reason they are known as day marks.


In short, lateral markers are used to keep sailing upon open water safer for sailors. Starboard and port hand markers are used to indicate areas of water upon which you can sail safely within.

They can also be used to help sailors get their bearings back after they have got lost at sea. We have spoken about what lateral markers indicate and lots more in the guide above.

Lucas Jones