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History of Buoyage System

History of Buoyage System -

In the Dover Strait in 1971 the Brandenburg struck the wreckage of the Texaco Caribbean and sank though the wreckage was appropriately marked A few weeks later the wreckage, despite being marked by a wreck -marking vessel and many buoys, was struck by the Niki, which also sank. A total of 51 lives was lost. It was this disaster which gave rise to the development and implementation of the IALA Maritime Buoyage System.

The beginnings of a uniform system of buoyage emerged in 1889, when certain countries agreed to mark the port hand side of channels with black can buoys and the starboard hand with red conical buoys. Unfortunately, when lights for buoys were introduced, some European countries placed red lights on the black port hand buoys to conform with the red lights marking the port hand side of harbour entrances, whilst throughout North America red lights were placed on the red starboard hand buoys.


Thereafter various conferences sought a single buoyage system, but without success until 1936, when a system was drawn up underthe League of Nations at Geneva. It established a Cardinal system, and a Lateral system, with the principle that red buoys should be used on the port hand and blackbuoys on the starboard hand. However, several countries were not signatories to this Convention and continued to develop their original, and opposite systems.

After World War I (1939-45) buoyage systems were re-established in North-west Europe based on the system devised by the 1936 Geneva Convention, but wide differences in interpretation of that system resulted in nine different systems coming into use in those waters.

In 1973, observing the need for urgency, a further attempt to find asingle world-wide system of buoyage was made by the Technical Committee of the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA). IALA is a non-governmental body which brings together representatives from the aids to navigation services in order to exchange information and recommend improvements to navigational aids based on the latest technology. IALA decided that agreement could not be achieved immediately, but concluded that the use of only two alternative systems was practicable by dividing the world into two Regions. It proposed a system allowing the use of both Cardinal and Lateral systems in each Region but whereas in Region A the colour red of the Lateral system is used to mark the port hand side of channels and the colour green the starboard hand side when proceeding in the conventional direction of buoyage, in Region B the colours are reversed.

In 1980, at a conference convened with the assistance of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO), now the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and the International Hydrographic Organization (HO), the lighthouse authorities from fifty countries and the representatives of nine international organizations concerned with aids to navigation agreed to adopt the rules of the new combined system, and reached decisions on the buoyage Regions.

The IALA System has now been implemented throughout much of the world. In some parts, however, conversion to the new system is stil incomplete. An implementation diagram showing the latest position is included in the Supplement to The Mariner's Handbook.

In certain areas, such as North America and the inland waterways of Western Europe, the IALA System is used with modifications which are described in Admiraly Sailing Directions.

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