Friday, October 19, 2012

Red Right Returning

Sunken boat up the creek
Based on  the recent volume of groundings in our native creek, I thought I should revisit the concept I mentioned previously in my post "Splitting the Greens."  Part of what I wrote there was that the general rule for reading channel markers begins with "red right returning," a handy mnemonic that departs from standard nautical terminology by saying "right" instead of "starboard." But a good mariner knows what it means. 

Let's break it down for those who might still be confused. First, RED. This refers to any marker that is the color red, not the color green. The red could be a daybeacon, a fancy term for a square painted red (these are reflective for nighttime). It could be a lighted beacon with a square painted red and a flashing red light that flashes at a defined interval when it is dark. It could be a large red ocean buoy or a small buoy with a pointed top known as a "nun." (The small buoys that look like cans are the color green and are called "cans.") With me so far?

Next, RIGHT. This means right as in your right hand. It does not mean correct, although in this usage the right side of the boat is the right (correct) side on which to have the red markers. By inference, this means that the greens should be on your left side, and right would be wrong. Right rightly refers to the starboard side of the boat, but the rule would not be mnemonically alliterative if it was "red starboard returning." In other words, it would be harder to remember, and the gods of nautical knowledge have always tried to keep the rules as easy as possible for mariners.

Lastly, and what seems most confusing of all, is RETURNING. The easy way to remember is "returning from sea" as in coming into port. In fact, the rule is based on entering a channel from a larger body of water heading toward a smaller body of water. For clarity, "returning" has absolutely nothing to do with the mariner returning from whence s/he came. For one thing, the rule needs to be useful when a mariner enters a new port for the first time; being the first time, the mariner, by definition, could not be "returning." More importantly, the channel markers have no idea who you are or where you have been and could not possibly know whether or not you are "returning." On the other hand, the happy mariner should know whether s/he is coming or going.

If any of this still seems confusing, there is a very simple solution: consult your chart. Yes, this means that the happy mariner must know how to read a chart. Having read the chart, the happy mariner must still be able to apply the chart to the actual markers. Recently, a captain entering the channel for our creek complained that the markers were too far east of the channel based on his chartplotter. A chartplotter is a fine tool, but trust me, the channel markers show the real channel; an electronic screen does not.

The rule must be reversed when the boat heads out to sea. There is no mnemonic for that. If the red was on your right side when you approached a destination, it will be on your left (and the greens on your right) when you depart. One of the grounded boats this week was leaving the creek, thus reversing the rule. They should have been keeping the greens on their right (starboard), but took the first green to their left (port). They ran aground, backed off successfully, then hugged the greens until they grounded again. We tried to hail them on the radio, but they seemed not to have it on (which they should while they are under way in case someone has useful information to communicate, like how to stay in the channel). When the hapless couple passed our dock, the lady of the boat shouted to us, "But I thought it was red right returning. I thought it was red right returning." We replied, "Yes, that's the rule, but you are not."

For those of us in the marina, the entertainment continues. Fair winds and deep water.

Another passing storm

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