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Lighthouses on the Chesapeake Bay
Life of a Lighthouse Keeper
Lighthouse Signals
Navigational Aids
Types of Lighthouse Construction
Suggested Reading

Chesapeake Bay -
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Navigational Aids

Shipmasters and pilots sailed the coastal waters using coastlines, landmarks, and seamarks to find their way. As commerce increased and more captains sailed from the Old World to the New World, many of America's waters were unknown to the European sailor. Navigational aids like buoys, lighthouses, and signals helped the unfamiliar sailor reach his destination safety.

Some of the first buoys were used in the Delaware River in 1767 and in Boston Harbor around 1780. These early markers were either cask or spar buoys. By 1789, the First Congress passed an act for the establishment of lighthouses, beacons and other aids under the direction of the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Barrel Buoy
Barrel Buoy
In 1848, the United States standardized buoy colors, shape, and size. Up until that point each locality had its own system which gave ship captains considerable difficulty. In addition, most buoys were small barrels that were hard to see during the day by a large sailing vessel.
Can Buoy
Can Buoy
In 1852, the Lighthouse Board was founded and it adopted a new system of buoys and markers. The new buoys were made of riveted iron and were even can-or nun-shaped. The buoys were laid in the same fashion at all bays and coastal areas. The red painted nun buoys were placed on the starboard side of the channel so ships returning to port would pass them on their starboard side. Giving way to the saying,"red, right, returning." The can buoys were painted black and placed on the port side of the channel. Given the problem with looking for a black marker, the U.S. Coast Guard studied paint colors in the 1970s and replaced the black paint with a bright green.

US Government lighthouse tender approaching Pintsch Mantle Buoy Buoy for Rivers and Harbors Gauging gas pressure in Pintsch Mantle Buoy
US Government lighthouse tender approaching Pintsch Mantle Buoy Buoy for Rivers and Harbors Gauging gas pressure in Pintsch Mantle Buoy

The Lighthouse Board continued to experiment with buoys, such as lighted and ones with noisemakers. The most popular buoy in the nineteenth century was the Pintsch gas buoy developed by Richard and Julius Pintsch. These compressed-gas buoys took years to perfect but would hold twelve months worth of fuel at a time. The main problem was the danger in re- fueling the buoys while at sea. Many buoy tenders were accidentally blown-up by the gas reaching the spark too soon.

When the U.S. Coast Guard took over the Lighthouse Board they continued experimenting with buoys. In 1961, an atomic-powered buoy was tested in Baltimore Harbor. Problems with the nuclear generator caused the Coast Guard to remove it in 1966.

Today's buoys and markers are either made of steel and plastic, or in the case of shallow waters, a sign on a post. These navigational aids still use the standard colors of red and green with a few yellow and black buoys used in specified areas. There is even a nun buoy in Baltimore Harbor painted like the United States flag commemorating the location where Francis Scott Key wrote the words to the Star Spangled Banner. The U.S. Coast Guard is the agency in charge of the maintaining the buoys and other navigational markers.



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