A navigational aid
(also known as aid to navigation, ATON,
) is any sort of marker which aids the traveler in navigation; the term is most commonly used to refer to nautical or aviation travel. Common types of such aids include lighthouses
, fog signals
, and day beacons
According to the glossary of terms in the United States Coast Guard Light list, an Aid to Navigation is any device external to a vessel or aircraft specifically intended to assist navigators in determining their position or safe course, or to warn them of dangers or obstructions to navigation.
Red ATONs always have even numbers, and green ATONs have odd numbers. Under the IALA B
standard used in North and South America, when you are going to sea, the red ATON is on your left, and the green on your right. Under the IALA A
standard used in Europe, Africa and most of Asia, the colors are reversed.
In the IALA B system, the red ATONs are on your right when you return from sea (Red Right Returning) and the green on your left. Red daybeacons are triangles and green daybeacons are squares. All of these ATONs are Lateral Markers that mark traffic channels and where it is safe to travel.
There are also Non-Lateral Markers that give information other than the edges of safe waters. Most are white with orange markings and black lettering. They are used to give direction and information, warn of hazards and destructions, mark controlled areas, and mark off-limits areas. These ATONs do not mark traffic channels.
On Non-Lateral Markers, there are some shapes that show certain things:
- Squares - show information, including places to find food, supplies, and repairs. They sometimes show directions.
- Diamonds - warn about dangers like rocks, construction, dams, or stumps.
- Circles - mark a controlled area such as no wake, idles speed, speed limit, or ski zone.
- Crossed diamonds - show areas off limits to all boats, like swimming areas and dams.
There are some special colored ATONs. When there are red and green horizontal stripes, you are at the junction of two channels. The ATONs indicate the primary channel. If the green is on the top, the preferred channel is to the right. If the red is on top, the preferred channel is to the left. The light matches the top stripe color. These ATONs are sometimes called "junction buoys."