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Upstream vs. Downstream When Boating: Meaning and Buoys

September 28, 2022

It’s important to know whether you’re heading upstream or downstream at all times while on a waterway so that you can correctly interpret boating buoys and avoid collisions.

Upstream and downstream meaning

Going upstream means moving towards the source of the water. A vessel travelling upstream is heading inland from the sea.

Going downstream means moving away from the source of the water. A vessel travelling downstream is heading towards the sea.

How to determine whether you’re going upstream or downstream

There are a few signs that can help you determine whether you’re heading upstream or downstream:

  • When heading upstream, you’re going against the current. If your boat seems to be fighting the natural flow of the water, you’re likely going upstream.
  • If you are entering a waterway from the sea, you’re going upstream.
  • Water often flows north to south. If you’re heading north, you’re likely travelling upstream.

The most reliable way to ascertain whether you’re going upstream or downstream is to consult a marine chart, which will provide information about the current. Always make sure to have up-to-date marine charts with you when boating!

Interpreting lateral buoys

Lateral buoys mark which side of a waterway boaters should use when heading upstream.

Port-hand buoys are green in colour and should be kept on your port (left) side when heading upstream.

Starboard-hand buoys are red in colour and should be kept on your starboard (right) side when heading upstream.

Once you can distinguish between upstream and downstream, you’ll be able to follow the buoys and remain on the right side of the channel!

Learn the basics of boating with Drive a Boat Canada!

It’s important to master the basics of boating in order to keep yourself and others safe on the water. That’s why the Canadian government requires recreational vessel operators to obtain a boating license. Simply take an online boating course and pass the exam to get your license, which is good for life. Register for Drive a Boat Canada’s course today to learn everything you need to know about boating!