Reality Check

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Local Notice to Mariners will keep your charts honest
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The weekly Local Notice to Mariners tells you which buoys are not where they’re supposed to be.

The weekly Local Notice to Mariners tells you which buoys are not where they’re supposed to be.

\Did you know there are a few dozen navigation buoys missing between Eastport, Maine, and Shrewsbury, New Jersey? They just aren’t there. You may see them on the charts, but not in real life. There are also about 100 buoys in that same part of the country that are there, but not exactly where they should be. Red buoy 2 may be on the right when you return, but you won’t necessarily be in the channel.

Things get even worse south of Little River, South Carolina. Between there and the U.S. Virgin Islands, more than 500 U.S. Coast Guard navigation aids are missing, off station or destroyed.

If you are surprised by these numbers, then you probably haven’t spent a lot of time reading your weekly Local Notice to Mariners. It’s the U.S. Coast Guard’s published document listing everything that is wrong with, or missing from, your charts, and that might get you in trouble.

Things happen to navigation aids out there. Storms damage them, vessels bump into them, lights burn out, and things just generally break. When they do, boaters of all stripes report the problems (like all good mariners do) to the Coast Guard. And while the agency works hard to fix each problem as quickly as possible, keeping up with the carnage is a constant battle.

Each of the nine Coast Guard districts publishes a Local Notice to Mariners weekly, providing a list of everything to watch out for within the district. These notices are must-read resources. Download the notice for your boating area at www.navcen.uscg.gov before you head out and update your charts and local knowledge accordingly.

Of course, most of us use electronic charts. As long as you keep up with weekly updates (distribution.charts.noaa.gov/weekly_updates), you will have correct locations and conditions of navigation aids, hydrographic surveys and shoreline data. However, updated charts—electronic or paper—will not include all of the safety information listed in a Local Notice to Mariners, including special and advanced notices, so you should still review the latest notice before heading out.

Each notice starts with some general housekeeping and contact information. Then, sections dig into the heavier stuff.

Section 1 contains special notices. If you are boating in Hawaii, that means letting you know about hazards associated with the Kamokuna lava delta, such as “explosions of large chunks of hot rock and debris, hot lava arching out, the release of toxic gases, and collapse of the lava delta.” Yikes. Other things listed in Section 1 include naval exercise areas to avoid, dredging operations and any other things not normally expected in your waters.

Section II lists all reported and corrected discrepancies related to aids to navigation within the district’s boundaries. These are changes in status that differ from what is published or charted. Each discrepancy includes the associated chart number. Simply search for your chart number, and then make corrections to your chart. If you boat in South Carolina, you’ll want to note on Chart 11532 that the Winyah Bay Range C Rear Light is listed as “struct dest” (structure destroyed). The severe shoaling in Winyah Bay, listed in Section I, may keep you out of there anyway.

Sections III and IV generally work together. Section III lists temporary changes, or intentional changes, to aids to navigation. And when charted aids are temporarily relocated for dredging, testing, evaluation or marking an obstruction, a temporary correction will be listed in Section IV (chart corrections) along with the new position. Again, all changes in both sections are referenced by chart number, so you can find the changes and make corrections to your charts.

Section V is for advanced notices of approved projects, changes to aids to navigation, or upcoming temporary changes, such as dredging.

Sections VI, VII and VIII list proposed changes to the waterway, plus general information and corrections. But if you have already done your homework on sections I through IV, then you have made great gains in giving your charts—as well as your local knowledge—the necessary updates to be accurate and useful.

And don’t worry too much about those missing buoys. The U.S. Coast Guard is on it. They just want you to know what is on their list of things to fix. 

This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue.

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