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Red Right Returning, history question


Modeler12
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When ships come from sea and enter a harbor (or channel) the buoys are red to the right (starboard). That is true in the Americas, Japan and Korea. But the rest of the world has the opposite system. Why???

 

I was told ones that it was to fool the British during the War of Independence when their ships tried to enter the coastal waters of the revolutionaries. I rather doubt that interesting story because I don't think colored buoys were used back then.

 

Does anyone know the history???

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International Politics. With the creation of IALA (International Association of Lighthouse Authorities), in 1957, an attempt was made to largely standardize the global aids to navigation system. Many countries felt they were giving up some of their coastal autonomy and as a compromise the two systems where set up.

 

Andy

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On actual equipment it is the opposite, green is starboard and red is port. I can always tell if someone is going or coming. Except auto, if they work red is stop.

You are right when aboard a boat or ship, but I was referring to are the buoy colors, not what ships have to use themselves.

Sorry, but I don't want to confuse the question.

 

 

This is what I was referring to:

'For historical reasons, there are two regions of lateral marks in use:

The two regions differ principally in the colours used to denote the two sides of a channel. When approaching a harbour from seaward, Region A places conical green marks to starboard and cylindrical red ones to port. In Region B these are replaced with conical red marks to starboard and cylindrical green ones to port.'

 

So what is so special about the Americas being different???

 

I remember entering a port in Austalia and proudly pointed out the markers to my wife and mentioned that 'Red Right Returning'. We should have run aground because our ship did just the opposite.  :(

Edited by Modeler12
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So what is so special about the Americas being different???

 

Because, when it gets down to it, the Americans (that's USA) will go along anything as long as it's not "British". And being Canadian, and sharing a fair amount of coastal area and the entire great lakes waterway system, we have no choice but to follow along. Historically, you have to look at what was happening in the Philippines back in the 50s... it was still an American protectorate (or recently independant, you'd have to look that up) Korea was a heavily militarizedf country with primarily US forces and Japan was also fairly recently occupied by the US after the end of WW2, so it's safe to say, the US had alot of influence in these places.

 

There's no consipracy theory.. no relation to the war of 1812.. or anything like that.. just what I mentionned earlier... international politics..

 

Andy

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Because, when it gets down to it, the Americans (that's USA) will go along anything as long as it's not "British". And being Canadian, and sharing a fair amount of coastal area and the entire great lakes waterway system, we have no choice but to follow along. Historically, you have to look at what was happening in the Philippines back in the 50s... it was still an American protectorate (or recently independant, you'd have to look that up) Korea was a heavily militarizedf country with primarily US forces and Japan was also fairly recently occupied by the US after the end of WW2, so it's safe to say, the US had alot of influence in these places.

 

There's no consipracy theory.. no relation to the war of 1812.. or anything like that.. just what I mentionned earlier... international politics..

 

Andy

What about all of the South American countries, Andy? Plus all of this must have happened before the US became a world leader. I am sure politics had a role in making that decision, but I still find it strange that we have this weird division.

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From World War One to very recently, the US was the worlds largest, most influential, economy (and still holds massive sway over the rest of the world). Period. Direct influence or not, when it is your closest neighbour.. you tend to go along to get along. The US wanted the buoys one way, the Europeans the other.. the rest of the world just followed suit to whomever had the most influence over them. Same reason why people drive on the left in Britain and on the right in France. You can make up all kinds of fancy stories as to why.. but in the end it comes down to politics and autonomy. "We're going to do it this way, beacuse it's different than you and that makes us special"

 

Andy

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Is this a bit like inches and millimeters, Andy?
 

The US, and a few neighbors, still use that 'antiquated' system that was invented by the British. Again politics is one reason, but what is more important are all the machines and nuts and bolts that would cost a fortune to change. In my opinion, whether or not it was British to start with had very little to do with it. Period.

 

I have a feeling the same applied to buoys at the time these two systems were decided upon. But I am still interested in the history and not the politics.

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The US Coast Guard has an interesting summary of the evolution of channel buoy in the US.  Some excerpts here (full story is at http://www.uscg.mil/history/weblighthouses/h_buoys.asp ).

 

Early buoyage descriptions are far from complete. The Collectors of Customs contracted with local pilots and other concerns for the establishment and maintenance of minor aids on an annual basis. Spar buoys, made of long cedar or juniper poles, and cask buoys were the predominant buoys in U.S. coastal waters until the 1840s.

The United States did not have a standard system of buoyage until 1848. Colors, shapes and sizes varied from port to port. This lack of regulation gave individual contractors free reign to decide the types of buoys necessary for a given area or harbor.

 

By 1846, Secretary of the Treasury Robert L. Walker knew the time for change had come. He admitted that buoys placed by local authorities under loose regulations, coupled with the lack of standardized colors and numbers, were practically useless.  Congress, sensitive to complaints about the ATON (Aids To Navigation) system, began taking steps to correct the problems in 1848. It adopted the Lateral System for implementation nationwide. It is from the Lateral System that the familiar "right, red, return" has its origin.

 

Armed with its mandate to correct and improve aids, the newly-established Lighthouse Board stumbled into action. The board made every effort to learn from the advances of lighthouse construction and buoyage in Europe, which was far ahead of the United States. The governments of Great Britain and France placed considerable emphasis on the maintenance of safe sea roads.

Under the stricter eye of the Lighthouse Board, buoyage in the United States steadily improved. Spars and cask buoys gave way to can- and nun-shaped riveted iron buoys.  These buoys were set according to the Lateral System: red nuns to the starboard of channels as observed by ships returning to port, and black can buoys to the port. The board also standardized sizes to maximize visibility.

This system continues in use even today, except that can buoys are now painted green. Tests in the 1970s showed that green is more highly visible from a greater distance.  The board began purchasing buoys through inspectors and superintendents in individual districts.

 

It would be interesting to see what the practice was in the mid 19th century in Europe, particularly Britain and France where the Lighthouse Board looked for "best practices".

Edited by trippwj
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Nice going Wayne.  My pet peeve was the switch to green.  Back in my sailing days I remember the following descriptions:

 

Red Buoy -   A fuzzy black object seen on the horizon

 

Black Buoy- A fuzzy black object seen on the horizon

 

Green Buoy - An invisible object usually not seen on the horizon.

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Interesting take on the buoys being set to fool the British during the War of Independence, although not truw.  Interestingly, the town I live in - St. Michaels, Maryland -  calls itself The Town That Fooled The British.  During the War of 1812 St. Michaels was a ship building town and so a target for the British.  Word was received that the British were planning a night time gun boat raid on the town, so the townspeople hung lights in the trees about a half mile from the town and blacked out the town completely.  The British came and bombarded the heck out of the lighted trees, but missed the actual town except for one house that received a wayward cannon ball through the roof.  It rolled down the stairs harmlessly, much to the surprise of the occupants.  The house still stands and today is called The Cannon Ball House.  The cannon ball remains in the house and is transferred with the deed of the house whenever it is sold.

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This story sounds a little dubious as well, bombardment of civilian towns is a modern method of warfare not practiced then.  The burning of Washington DC by the British was a direct reponse to the American burning of the York in Canada which was a considered to be against all commonly accepted methods of war at the time.  The Royal Navy would be able to tell the difference between a shipyard and a town, and especially whether it was being hit or not by connon fire.

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For an interesting analysis of the international background (note that the major impetus was between the world wars and then subsequent to WW2), see the attached document from the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities.  A plethora of information is also available on the Tideland Signal website at http://www.tidelandsignal.com/web/html/IALA-CD.htm

 

MBS1.pdf

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Here is another example how mixing the British and metric system can lead to problems. I used to work for one of the US national laboratories and as engineers we would turn our sketches over to a drafts person. Most us would have the dimensions in inches, but the drafts persons were under strict orders from DOE that drawings should be in metrics. So these drawings (after approval) would go to our shops where the machines, of course, are set to work in inches. The machinist would take the drawings and convert the mm into inches. . . etc.

The problem of course was that the inspector would have to go back and forth, but I for one, was more concerned about the tolerances for those parts and with the constant conversions they sometimes ended up being different than what I had asked for.

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St, Michalels had six shipbuilders producing fast schooners, later known as Baltimore clippers for use by the American military.  There was an artillery battery set up by the militia to protect the ship yards.  It was a legitimate military target and the British did in fact destroy the battery.

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This story sounds a little dubious as well, bombardment of civilian towns is a modern method of warfare not practiced then.  The burning of Washington DC by the British was a direct response to the American burning of the York in Canada which was a considered to be against all commonly accepted methods of war at the time.

 

Perhaps such actions were not officially sanctioned, but apparently actions against civilian towns did occur when British officers "exceeded their instructions."

 

From Chapelle's History of American Sailing Ships, pp. 33-36:

 

  "It seems that certain of the New England coast towns had made themselves conspicuous by active opposition to the Crown, and thhe British naval commander at Boston felt that their insolence should be punished. This officer, Vice-Admiral Graves, directed the fitting out of a small squadron, composed of the  Hallifax , the armed ship Canceaux, and the armed sloop Spitfire, all carrying 6 guns. These he placed under the command of Lieutenant Henry Mowatt, with orders "to operate against certain enumerated towns." Before sailing on his  mission, Mowatt was also given the armed transport Symmetry of 18 light guns.

  One of the towns against which he had orders to act was Falmouth [now Portland, Maine]. Arriving on October 17th, 1776, he sent an officer ashore with the demand that the townsmen remove themselves, their families and goods out of the village within two hours as he intended to carry out his orders to burn the place. To appreciate the situation fully, it must be remembered that the season of the year was so advanced that if these intentions were carried out it would be too late for the inhabitants to obtain new homes without great privation. It may be doubted whether Mowatt really had the orders he claimed to have, not only because of his actions, but also, according to British historians, because "his instructions were tempered with moderation." At any rate the townsmen sent off a deputation to beg that the reputed order should not be carried out. Mowatt refused to promise but proposed that if the settlement would surrender all its firearms, including four small pieces of artillery, and all ammunition, as well as turn over four hostages, he would refer the matter to his superior at Boston. After some deliberation, the townsmen rejected the proposal as too uncertain in results compared to the loss of their firearms in a wilderness. Mowatt therefore burned the village the morning of the next day. Great suffering resulted, but of more importance, the whole coast was aroused against the British."

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Regrettably, there were far more instances of reprisals against the civilian population in many conflicts of the 16th through early 19th centuries.  There are innumerable documented instances of requirements for tribute or allegiance at the risk of loosing all to bombardment or wanton destruction.  That was the nature of warfare and, in some cases, governance in those days.  Much more civilized now, however (tongue firmly in cheek, mind you).

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Please hold it guys. This thread was not intended to get involved with the history of wars. I simply asked about the history of 'Red Right Returning'.
By the same token, I beg your pardon for mentioning the differences in the measurement systems used here in the US and abroad; it was by way of a comparison. Although, that in itself could be another thread or topic ;)

 

Again, I want to thank Wayne for clarifying some of my interests in the particular subject I asked about.

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