Skip to main content

Chasing channel markers

May contain: water, outdoors, person, human, fishing, boat, transportation, and vehicle
District Commission Vice Chair Michael Rowland (foreground) and Executive Director capture Buoy 3, which had broken from its mooring 

Channel markers.

They’re the road signs along the liquid highway better known as the Sebastian Inlet Channel.

Those red triangle and green square markers seen in the inlet identify the 3,120-foot channel that connects the Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean.

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) calls these unlighted markers “daybeacons.” They guide boaters through the Sebastian Inlet Channel, which is maintained to be 150 feet wide and a minimum of 9feet deep.

While downed channel markers along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in the Indian River Lagoon are maintained by the Florida Inland Navigation District, the Sebastian Inlet District is responsible for maintaining the channel and markers along the Sebastian Inlet Channel. 

Channel markers take a beating. They’re exposed to a ceaseless onslaught of pounding waves, corrosive saltwater, searing UV rays and acidic bird guano. Most of the markers are fixed on posts in the water; a few are numbered floating buoys secured by Dor-Mor anchors.

When the District receives reports of downed or missing markers, the agency is quick to respond.

“As a navigation district, our charter identifies safe navigation as one of our critical functions,” says Sebastian Inlet District Executive Director James Gray. “Our agreement with the Coast Guard authorizing us to maintain the markers also means we are responsible for replacing them when they become damaged or go missing.”

Channel markers help prevent boaters from veering from the deeper water and into the nearby shallows that can damage propellers, but they also help protect the Sebastian Inlet shoals on the west side of the bridge. Seagrass beds on the shoals harbor shrimp, blue crabs and juvenile fish. Seagrasses are vitally important to the health of these species and to predators relying on them for food.

“Markers are instrumental in keeping boaters out of the seagrass beds around the inlet,” Gray says. “Propellors can scar seagrass beds. Those scars can take years to heal, if at all.”

District staff and commissioners are so passionate about the agency’s role in ensuring safe passage through the inlet that they’ll personally conduct recon and retrieval missions in response to reports of missing or damaged markers.  Such was the case recently, when Gray and District Vice Chairman Michael Rowland (an avid sport fisherman, scuba diver and captain) set out to retrieve a green buoy, number 3, that had drifted north from its fixed position after its deteriorated rigging broke free from its anchor.

May contain: person, human, water, and outdoors
District Executive Director James Gray attaches a tow rope to a wayward channel marker.

Under slate-gray skies, Rowland piloted the District’s work boat as Gray documented the condition of markers and buoys, noting that red buoy number 2A was missing and red buoy number 4 was out of place and missing its decals. They saw number 3 drifting near a flood shoal far from its normal position near the Sebastian Inlet State Park campground.

The pair tried to pull the buoy onto the boat, but the foam cylinder was heavy, its rigging encrusted with razor-sharp barnacles, scuttling crabs and even a small lobster. Instead, they towed the buoy to a boat ramp at Sebastian Inlet State Park for safekeeping until the new rigging arrives in the mail.

“(Sebastian Inlet State Park) Manager Jennifer Roberts met us at the boat ramp to offer any assistance we may need until the new buoy parts arrive,” Gray says. “We’re fortunate to have a fantastic working relationship with the State Park and this is a great example of our collaborative effort to quickly resolve a problem that arises.”

May contain: water, person, human, outdoors, fishing, shoe, clothing, footwear, apparel, and shorts
District Executive Director James Gray secures Buoy 3 to a boat ramp at Sebastian Inlet State Park for safekeeping until new riggings arrive.

The District is in the process of ordering new buoys and rigging and anticipates the marking to be reinstalled soon.  If you notice a missing or downed channel navigation marker in the Sebastian Inlet Channel, please report it directly to the Sebastian Inlet District by calling (321) 724-5175.

The District offers free downloadable Sebastian Inlet Navigation Guides to help chart your course.  Waterproof copies are available at the Sebastian Inlet District offices and at both State Park Ranger Entry Stations.


Fast Fact: How do you read navigation markers? Basically, red markers should be on your right (starboard) as you return from open water (use the old seafarers’ phrase red, right, returning). Conversely, green channel markers should be on your starboard side as you head out into open water. Red buoys are always even numbered, and green buoys are odd numbered.