Cardinal Buoys

These are the four cardinal buoys, each with their own topmark shapes, colour banding and the lights.

Most powerboaters we train have no problems identifying the correct course to steer if they can see the top markers of a cardinal buoy. Take away the option of seeing that top mark, however, and confusion reigns! Can you remember the colour banding or light sequences? Discovering you can´t when you are approaching one of the Solent´s cardinal buoys at 35 knots is not the time to discover your memory has failed you. Read on.

Of course you may only go out on the water in perfect conditions, but you are never sure when circumstances may develop that force you to come back in reduced visibility, or even at night time with no electronic navigation tracks to help you. Even trying to spot the top mark against the sun can sometimes prove difficult.

Make sure that you at least familiarise yourself with the cardinal mark´s colour banding and light sequences. If you find you can´t remember all of the four points, at the very least make sure you learn the local cardinal buoy markers you frequently navigate past in your home waters.

The final failsafe is to always keep an up-to-date pictorial navigation mark identification card within easy reach of the steering station. If in doubt, refer to it.

Points to note about the White light flashing sequences:

  • Q. means quick flashing (60 per min)
  • V.Q. means very quick flashing (100 per min)
  • The number of flashes correspond with the numbers on the face of a clock
Cardinal Mark - Navigational instruction with Salt Water Experience

The pictures below are of the South Cardinal Buoy, marking the shallow drying area off Lepe Spit. Many a small boat may be tempted to shave the corner as they head for Southampton, but the fact that a low tide allows people to almost walk out to the mark should explain why they shouldn´t.

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Season 2023/24

Season 2023/24
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Saltwater Experience
Bailey Bridge Marina,
10 Bailey Drive,
Dorset BH23 2BN

Tel: 01202 836721

Principal: Will Eveleigh
Chief Instructor: Lloyd James