Sturgeon Bay's Waterfront History: Buoys and Beacons

© Photographed May 28, 2015
Sturgeon Bay, Door County, Wisconsin
44°49'43.6"N 87°22'53.4"W
44.828785, -87.381507
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Sturgeon Bay's Waterfront History
Bouys and Beacons
An essential element to safe maritime travel has long been visual navigational aids such as buoys and lighthouses. Collectively, this system of markers and beacons is known as Aids [sic] to Navigation [sic] , or AtoN [sic] for short. The five Great Lakes alone contain more than 2,500 such aids, which are responsible for safely guiding all mariners, ranging from very small recreational boats to enormous commercial vessels exceeding 1,000 feet in length. 
Tracing their heritage back to ancient times, lighthouses are the original AtoN. Lighthouses are strategically places throughout the waterways marking a safe harbor or warning mariners of nearby rocks, shoals and shallows. Over the years, the term "Aids to Navigation" has evolved to include a wide array of markers such as buoys, day beacons, fog signals, and range boards. The use of floating navigational markers, more commonly known as "buoys", followed very closely behind lighthouses in maritime history. 
The shape, color and position of buoys delineate a safe navigational channel, essentially marking a "road" through the water for ships and boats. The markings follow a strict set of guidelines originated and ratified by the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA). On the Great Lakes, as is the case with the rest of the Americas, this system dictates that the red channel markers (buoys) distinguish the right edge of a channel when entering a port. Mariners often use the old adage, "red right returning" to keep the rules of the system clear in their minds -- red buoys are kept on the vessel's right and green buoys on the vessel's left. 
The Great Lakes are unique in that many of the channels and rivers connect two distinct waterways, as is the case with the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. The red buoys in the channel mark the return to port from Lake Michigan through the length of Sturgeon bay and out into Green Bay. Someone not familiar with the waterway might stand on the historic steel bridge and look toward Green Bay and believe the buoys are backwards! They forget that "red right returning" is guided by a return from lake Michigan, not Green Bay.
The marker is one of several located at Sawyer Park on the west side of the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal, accessible from eastbound East Maple Street at its convergence with Oregon Street, at its intersection with South Neenah Avenue, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin 54235.

See also, Buoy and Sinker, also at this location.

Click here to view all markers at Sawyer Park.

Buoys come in different shapes and sizes. Red unlit buoys are conical shaped on top, and are often referred to as "nuns," while green unlit buoys are cylindrically shaped, and are often referred to as "cans." The red nun pictured here is also specially designed to be radar reflective. The cut-out, flat surfaces on the buoy's superstructure allow it to be easily seen by a ship's radar from several miles away.
When the U.S. Lighthouse Service became a part of the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939, the Coast Guard assumed primary responsibility of properly maintaining and positioning all federal aids to navigation. This photo shows the Mobile Bay making an approach to a buoy to conduct maintenance.
The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Hollyhock sets a buoy circa 1938. All buoys are regularly pulled out of the water and inspected for the quality of their hulls, for chain wear, and for the accuracy of their set positions based on their designated latitude and longitude coordinates. Once the inspection is complete the buoy is promptly returned to sea to safely guide mariners on their travels.
A floating aid is anchored to the sea bed with a chain and a sinker. The size of the chain varies depending on the size of the buoy and the harshness of the weather and sea state at its assigned position. Throughout history, the sinkers have been made of various materials from actual anchors similar to those used by ships to cast iron weights. Modern sinkers are made of concrete and range in weight from 2,000 lb [sic] to 20,000 lb. [sic] 
The nearby Sherwood Point Lighthouse, located approximately 4.5 miles northeast of this location, has been assisting the mariner since 18883. It holds the honor of being the last manned lighthouse of the Great Lakes. Its Coast Guard keepers lived in the lighthouse and tended the beacon until it was fully automated in 1983. It continues to serve as a military recreational cottage to this day.

The pathway to the marker location.

View from the parking lot of the pavilion
and the markers at Sawyer Park.

The marker is located at Sawyer Park Boat Launch.

The marker is located at Sawyer Park.

The marker is located at the Historic Downtown Waterfront
in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

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