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On a well-defined channel, red and black buoys are established in pairs called gates; the channel lies between the buoys. The buoy which marks the left side of the channel viewed looking upstream or toward the head of navigation is black; the buoy which marks the right side of the channel is red.
In an irregularly-defined channel, buoys may be staggered on alternate sides of the channel, but they are spaced at sufficiently close intervals to mark clearly the channel lying between them.
When there is no well-defined channel or when a body of water is obstructed by objects whose nature or location is such that the obstruction can be approached by a vessel from more than one direction, aids to navigation having cardinal significance may be used. The aids conforming to the cardinal system consist of three distinctly colored buoys.
The shape of buoys has no significance under the USWMS.
Regulatory buoys are colored white with orange horizontal bands completely around them. One band is at the top of the buoy and a second band just above the waterline of the buoy so that both orange bands are clearly visible.
Geometric shapes colored orange are placed on the white portion of the buoy body. The authorized geometric shapes and meanings associated with them are as nofollows:
Regulatory markers consist of square and rectangular shaped signs displayed from fixed structures. Each sign is white with an orange border. Geometric shapes with the same meanings as those displayed on buoys are centered on the sign boards. The geometric shape displayed on a regulatory marker tells the mariner if he should stay well clear of the marker or if he may approach the marker in order to read directions.