As Related to Kayakers
Boat channels are intended for use by deeper draft vessels. Kayakers should not interfere with commercial shipping or commercial fishing and paddle in channels only for crossing them. Cross channels at ninety degrees as quickly as possible.
Paddlers should be aware that they may not be visible to larger vessels, and should remain continually vigilant as to the path of larger vessels. The right of way should always be given to all other boats when paddling either inside or outside of channels. Remember boats are not required to stay in a channel, but usually will. A channel only assures boaters of a given depth. Many local boaters know when the tide is deep enough to go outside channels.
Try to get eye contact with oncoming boats. Raise paddles high and wave them, so that you are visible to oncoming boats. Light color paddles help with visibility. Face bow toward oncoming boat (when far off) watch how it changes course to determine whether it will pass in front of, behind you, or if it is on a collision course.
Above map shows the "Returning" direction relating to buoys. Buoy numbers will increase in the arrow direction. Remember "Red Right Return" to keep the red buoys on your right when returning.
How To Cross a Channel
When in a group cross as one unit. Don't let the group spread out. The lead and sweep boat should be within a couple of boat lengths of the rest of the group. If the group is large, assign end boats so the group does not spread out too wide on either side. If waiting to cross a channel all paddles should be put down, so other boats know you have yielded the right of way.
Cross at right angle to the channel. Move as swiftly as possible, but stay as a single unit. Try to cross from channel marker to channel marker, so you know when you enter and exit the channel.
Allow any oncoming vessels to pass, and then cross astern of them. Large vessels move deceivingly fast. A vessel one mile away, traveling at fifteen knots, will arrive in four minutes. If the channel you are crossing (paddling at a fast three knots) is one half mile wide, the oncoming vessel must be a minimum of two and one half miles away for it to be safe to cross the channel. Beware of turbulence and any debris kicked up by the vessel.
Notice the navigational aids and the location of the shipping lane boundaries are. Use the buoys as reference when crossing. If you cross going from buoy to buoy you will know when you have entered and exited the channel. Be aware of tides and currents. How will they affect you when crossing? Will you be ferry gliding to your destination? Look at the buoys. What do they tell us about the current? Are they leaning?
Top row shows what markers will physically look like. Bottom show what marks will look like on nautical charts. Day markers can be on wood poles or metal towers.
Remember - Red Right Return
In the channel Red Nun buoys are always on the right, Can (green) buoys are always on the left when heading into a lesser body of water (returning from the ocean, figure 8) or into an anchorage.
Paddling Near Commercial Vessels
The speed of a ship or tug can be deceptive. A towboat generally takes 3/4 to 1 1/2 miles to stop. Large vessels must maintain speed to steer, and they must stay in the channel. Because of the height of the vessels' bow the vessel can't see anything within a few hundred feet of its bow. Kayaks are too small to see beyond a few hundred feet. Commercial vessels use VHF radio channels 16 and 13. If you are unsure of your situation, or their intentions, feel free to contact them. Remember you are sharing the waterways with vessels operated by trained professionals. If using a VHF to contact another vessel keep the message short and act professionally.
Note: "Wheel Wash" is a strong underwater current caused by towboat or ship engines that can result in severe turbulence hundreds of yards behind a large vessel.
Ferries operate on schedules. Try to learn their arrival and departure times and stay out of their way!
Don't cross close to a ferry in a slip. Ferries will give one blast when they leave the bulkhead. If you are behind them when they blow their horn it is too late to get out of the way. Ferries can also throw out a large amount of water even when tied up to a slip.
Get familiar with the routes of the different ferries, tour boats, and other ships before paddling in their operating areas, i.e. the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Hudson River crossings from N.J. to and from Manhattan.
The term whistle is used to mean a horn. For different situations boats will use different combinations of short and long whistle blows. A long blow is usually between four and six seconds.
All vessels must show required running lights between sunset and sunrise, and during times of reduced visibility. Different size vessels have different requirements. The one requirement which is always the same is that power and sailing boats have a red light on the front port side , and a green light on the front starboard side. You can only see one of these lights unless the vessel is coming toward you. These light show from 90º to the side to the bow, so you can't see them when behind the vessel. A white light is usually at the stern (could be on the mast of a sail boat). Self propelled vessels only need a white light, which must be shown in sufficient time to prevent a collision.