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Most boaters who have done some piloting would be familiar with the red-right-returning mnemonic, or at least North American boaters would be. It relates to the primary navigational aids, lateral buoys, which are red and green. The mnemonic reminds boaters that when returning to port, they should keep the red buoys on their right side. Of course, the opposite would then be true when leaving a port.

We have been working our way through a lot of these red and green markers the last few days.

But what about when in a canal or a river, such as where we are now? In this case, the red buoys would be on your right when traveling downstream. Currently, we are heading upstream in the Oswego River, which we have read is one of the few rivers that actually flow north.

Interestingly, later today, we will meet a junction called Three Rivers. Were we to continue south as opposed to turning left into the Erie Canal, the buoys would switch sides. Fortunately this is marked in a nice bold font in our NY State Canal Guide Book.

By the way, being the enthusiastic newbies that we are, prior to heading down here we purchased the official NOAA chart book for the canal system. To be honest, we have yet to really even look at it. The mono-colour charts in it are OK but the full-colour info and charts contained in the NY State Canal Guide which we also purchased are, for us, much better. And the book is cheaper, and it came with some other maps and stuff, and… you get the idea. Buy the NY guide!

Back to the buoys, I understand this changing of sides might occur someplace(s) on the Intra-Coastal Waterway too. I’m sure we’ll read about it before we get there. We are currently only reading ahead in our charts one day in advance, and the ICW is a long way away.

So, once you have that red-right-returning thing memorized, recognize that it is different on the other side of the pond. Of course it is!

After an early morning TRX workout on the edge of the canal, and after picking a basket of apples from the nearby trees, we left Fulton, NY, yesterday and made our way to Phoenix, which is known in this area for the Bridge House Brats. The town is small and friendly, and the dock offers free electricity, water and Wi-fi. Although we have yet to partake in any of the errand-running services that the Brats are known for, we did have several of them descend on us to take our lines when we approached the dock. Very cool.

A great start to the day, with great scenery.

MMMmmmm… tasty and FREE!

Rebecca is a pro at picking up the lines now.

You can see the red and green marks on both sides of the bridge as we move away from it. We assumed this meant we could have gone under either side, which I don’t think is often the case.

Heading off to explore Phoenix. Note our improvised flag pole so that we could fly our US courtesy flag.


  1. I think you people boat in a sexiest way and see jobs as pink and blue….It is time for Mike to become a pro at picking up the lines……Great pictures and the captions to each photo…..See you in a few weeks

  2. Wow, love those pictures once again. I doubt if I will ever get the chance to travel through the intercoastals like you guys are doing but this is almost like being there. The blog brightens up my morning before heading to work, thanks again to both of you for your efforts!

  3. Hi guys. Just found your blog, and am catching up on your adventures. If you’re doing the Erie Canal, you’ll end up near Albany before too long. The better half and I are right near Saratoga Springs, about 30 miles north of there. If you guys wanted to stop, get off the boat for a while, see some races at the track, or just get some dinner or something, drop me a line.

    Good luck. Have fun out there. 🙂


    • Hi Alexei

      Thanks for the comment and the invite. We will most certainly be near Albany in the not-too-distant future. We’ll send you an email.

  4. You are SO lucky to have nearly-empty locks! Katy and I spent the long weekend on the Rideau, and the Jones Falls lockstation up there is a flight of four…. meaning that it takes an hour and a half to cycle, so there will be eight or ten boats waiting to come down by the time the locks are ready. Thus, the three smallest boats have to raft up to others in the middle of the lock, which makes moving between locks in the flight quite a bit of fun 😉

    In tight, unfamiliar channels, we’ll often split the navigation and helm tasks- I’ll pick off landmarks and call out the nearby hazards and the rough direction to the next buoy, while Katy will keep us on course out of the way of the big motoryachts and the crazy fishermen (or vice-versa). These are very tight, winding channels, and now and then, we’ll get forced out of the channel by something bigger, so it’s good to have someone watching the chart to see if we really can go outside of that next buoy.

    • Crowded locks sound much more stressful!

      We also typically split the helm and nav tasks. We were told we NEED to stay inside the channel tomorrow when crossing Oneida lake!

  5. I’m enjoying your blog, so thanks!

  6. Great pictures of the “purposeful de-masting”.

    Hunting and gathering apples – nice.

  7. Pete & Suzanne Evans

    Being from the South this canal thing is a bit strange. Do you finally end up on the ICW? Photos are wonderful. I’m like the others – your blog is a bright spot in my day!!!

    • Thanks for the kind words!

      The Erie Canal will take us to the Hudson River, which takes us to NYC, which takes us to… I’m sure you can figure it out from there. 🙂

  8. On mnemonics – do you know the reciprocal for red, right, returning?

    “Even the nuns left town”

    Red markers have EVEN numbers, the triangle shape is a “NUN” (shaped like a habit), and they are kept on the LEFT when leaving port.

    The key on the ICW is understanding that you are “returning to Miami, FL”, so the reds are on the right when southbound. When the ICW joins a waterway where the returning port is different than Miami the colors switch. These markers (as I am sure you already know) are then also marked with reflective yellow stickers that represent the ICW markers. Triangles will be on your right and squares will be on your left. Confused yet? Pretty easy after the first few markers you encounter.

    Fair Winds,

  9. Helen A. Spalding

    Oh, I LOVE seeing your pictures and videos! I hope to be following you before long, now that I have sold one house. Unfortunetely, the person who was living in it damaged it so much that the $90,000 appraisal just before he moved in has translated to a $37,000 sale price. I had originally hoped that I would make a significant dent in the buying kitty with the proceeds of the sale. Not so, but at least now I no longer have to worry about the house. NMP!!! Not My Problem! So, carry on, and someday we will meet on the water instead of on line. Meanwhile, keep posting, especially the pictures. I feel as though I am following you now!

    • We definitely look forward to meeting you on the water, Helen!!! Congrats on the house sale, even if it didn’t turn out as profitable as it should have.

    • Where on EARTH does any house in any shape sell for $37,000 these days? You can’t get the lot for that around here.

  10. Having cut my teeth on buoyage systems on salt water, I’m pretty sure I’d have to watch myself VERY carefully to not get mixed up in the river systems…


  11. Helen A. Spalding

    Everyone has problems in the ICW! It’s hard to remember which set is “returning” to where!

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