Buoyage system

The buoyage system used in Victorian ports and around the coast is known as the 'IALA System A' which is a combined Lateral and Cardinal system.

Although called a buoyage system, marks may be buoys, piles or beacons.

Direction of buoyage

Image showing direction of buoyageIt is necessary to know the direction of buoyage. On the Victorian coast, this runs from east to west and into ports from seaward.

When leaving port the port-hand mark (red) should be passed on the vessel's starboard (right) side.

Upon entering port the port-hand mark (red) should be passed on the vessels port (left) side.

The operator of any vessel is prohibited from attaching a line to a navigational mark at any time.

Buoyage types

There are five major types of marks under the IALA System A: lateral, cardinal, isolated danger, special and safe water.

Lateral marks

These are used to indicate the port (left) and the starboard (right) sides of the channels when travelling in the direction of buoyage, east to west or into port.

Port-hand marks

  • Coloured redimage of port-hand marks
  • Basic shape is cylindrical (can) for buoy (and topmark when fitted)
  • If lit, the light will be red and may have a rhythm
  • Such a mark would be on the port side of a vessel when travelling in the direction of buoyage.

Starboard-hand marks

  • Coloured green (occasionally, black may be used)Image of starboard hand marks
  • Basic shape is conical (and topmark when fitted)
  • If lit, the light will be green on any rhythm
  • This mark would be on the starboard side of a vessel when travelling in the direction of buoyage.

Cardinal marks

These are used to indicate the location of the best navigable water, to show the safe side on which to pass Image of cardinal marksdanger (rocks, wrecks, etc.) and to draw attention to a feature in a channel.

The most important daylight feature of the cardinal mark is the black double cone topmark. It has four different arrangements that indicate the direction of safe water from the mark.

  • Black and yellow horizontal bands are used to colour the cardinal marks
  • If lit, the mark will exhibit a white light of quick flash (= about one per second) or very quick flash (= about two per second) characteristic
  • The rhythm of the light will indicate the particular quadrant of the mark.

Isolated danger marks

  • These are on or moored above an isolated danger of limited extent that has navigable water all Image of isolated danger marksaround it
  • Colours are red and black horizontal stripes
  • Mark is fitted, when practicable, with a double sphere, vertically disposed, with a black topmark
  • If lit, the light will be white showing a group of two flashes.

Special marks

These are used to indicate a special area or feature, the nature of which may be found by consulting a chart or Image of special markssailing directions.

  • The special mark is always yellow, and the top mark is a single yellow X
  • If a light is fitted it will be yellow and may have any rhythm not used for white lights, for example, FlY, Fl (4) Y.

Safe water marks

  • These are used to indicate that there is navigable water all around the markImage of safe water mark
  • The shape of the buoy is spherical, pillar or spar
  • It is coloured with red and white vertical stripes
  • The topmark, which is fitted when practicable to pillar and spar buoys, is spherical and red
  • If lit, an isophase occulting or single long flashing white light is exhibited.

New danger marks

These are used to indicate a new hazard that is not marked on a chart or other nautical document. 'New Image of new danger marksdangers' can include natural occurrences such as sandbanks and rock formations or man made hazards including wrecks.

  • The new danger mark displays blue and yellow vertical stripes in equal number dimensions around the mark.
  • Can be a pillar or a spar and may display a vertical yellow cross as the top mark
  • If a light is fitted it will be yellow and blue alternating with one second of blue light and one second of yellow light with half a second of darkness between.

Boating zone buoyage

Red mini buoys bearing the words 'STOP - NO BOATS

Red mini buoys

'Stop – no boats' or 'Swimming – no boats': used to mark prohibited water and swimming areas.

Image of a yellow buoy bearing a speed restriction

Yellow mini buoys

Speed restrictions: an area is set aside as a speed restriction zone because excessive speed is a risk to the operator, to other vessels or persons, or to the environment. The yellow buoys may be placed because of local or general requirements for slower speeds.

Image of a yellow buoy bearing the words 'Access Lane

Green mini buoys

Access lane: the waters between these buoys are unrestricted to allow the picking up or dropping off of a water skier.

Image of a red and yellow buoy 

Red and yellow mini buoys

Special purpose: these unmarked buoys are used to signify regatta areas, hazards, channels, etc.

Boating zone marks and signage

Sometimes signs on the shore are used instead of, or in addition to, marks in the water. For example, no boating zones, special purpose zones or prohibited zones.

Colour coded berthing zones

Throughout Victoria many berthing zones are painted or signed to indicate berthing conditions or limits

white or unpained rectangle - restricted boating area image

White or unpainted = Restricted boating area

  • Maximum time limit is 48 hours as per Port Services (Local Ports) Regulations 2004 (Vic) 
  • Vessels can be un-manned

yellow rectangle

Yellow = Loading zone

  • Loading zone for the pick up and drop off of passengers and cargo only
  • Vessels must be manned at all times

blue rectangle

Blue = Short term zone

  • Time limit as indicated
  • Vessels can be un-manned

red rectangle

Red = Permit only zone

  • Berthing prohibited without a permit
  • Vessels can be un-manned

On shore beacons

Image showing typical position of on shore beacons 

No boating zone

Image of a red triangular flag to signify 'no boating 

Access lanes

Access lane flag - yellow triangular cross hatched flag 

Special purpose areas

Image of triangular flag with black and white quarters

The information on this page is available as a waterproof sticker. Contact us if you would like us to post you a free copy, or download it as a printable PDF, 173.4 KB.