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Author Topic:   Red-Right-Returning
jimh posted 04-23-2015 02:26 PM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
A 603-foot lake freighter is aground in Lake Huron in Potaganissing Bay, about four miles from DeTour Village, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The MV MISSISSAGI had called on the port of Bruce Mines, in Ontario, where she had loaded a cargo of stones, and was proceeding southward toward the downbound shipping channel in the St. Marys River The vessel was navigating east of Big Trout Island when she went aground.

Based on an aerial photograph published by the Coast Guard of the USA, and assuming the picture was taken with a view to the northeast, it appears the MV MISSISSAGI took the red buoy on the wrong side. See 393x450_q95.jpg

The red buoy is located east of the shoal. To safely transit that area, a boat heading southward would leave the red buoy to its Starboard side. The fundamental rule of navigation, red-right-returning (to sea) [should be "from sea"--jimh], applies here [but with a odd change in orientation of "the sea"; see below for more--jimh]. By taking the red buoy (the No. 4 Trout Island Shoal Buoy) on its Port side, the M/V MISSISSAGI appears to have run right onto the shoal, which is charted with a minimum depth of 4-feet.

The NOAA chart for the area can be seen on-line at

Turn to panel 13 to see the region of interest in this situation.

An alternative explanation for the grounding could be the aid to navigation was off station.

The Great Lakes Coastal Pilot remarks about Potagannissing Bay:

Potagannissing Bay, a deep, wide passageway between the NW side of Drummond Island and St. Joseph Island, connects the W end of North Channel with the St. Marys River immediately N of De Tour Passage. However, the bay is obstructed by numerous islands and by many shoals which make up abruptly from deep water. A channel marked by lights and lighted and unlighted buoys leads through the NW part of the bay CP6-41ed-2011-reduced.pdf

I have navigated through Potagannissing Bay many times, and even with a shallow draft boat, you need to pay attention. There are many shoals.

Powergroove803 posted 04-23-2015 02:28 PM ET (US)     Profile for Powergroove803  Send Email to Powergroove803     
no pilot for that area?
jimh posted 04-23-2015 02:30 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Owners of Great Lakes freighters hire a Master who is qualified to navigate in the area. Only foreign-flagged vessels take on pilots, typically.
jimh posted 04-23-2015 02:34 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
The Coast Guard information website says:

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Buckthorn is scheduled to conduct aids to navigation verification.


MattInSanDiego posted 04-23-2015 03:28 PM ET (US)     Profile for MattInSanDiego  Send Email to MattInSanDiego     
Looks like she is moving again.

BTW, is a very cool site.

jcdawg83 posted 04-23-2015 03:52 PM ET (US)     Profile for jcdawg83    
Jim, I think the red, right, return means red on the right as you return FROM the sea. I've always heard that and the saying "black to port as you go back to port". Maybe the rules are different on the Great Lakes, but I know red on the right as you return from the sea is correct on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

The exception is the ICW. The red markers on the ICW should always be on your right when you are heading South. The saying for the ICW is "red, right, return as you return to Texas".

Areas along the Atlantic coast where the ICW crosses sounds and rivers can get confusing as a turn from the sound into the ICW heading North will put the red markers on your left to stay in the channel and if you continue into a river that is not part of the ICW, you need to keep the red markers on your right.

Jefecinco posted 04-23-2015 06:14 PM ET (US)     Profile for Jefecinco  Send Email to Jefecinco     
Inland Rules, I believe, apply.
jimh posted 04-24-2015 01:24 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Hah! I am as goofed up as the pilot of the grounded freighter. Yes, the correct orientation for the "Red-Right-Returning" rule is FROM SEA. My error.

The curious thing about the orientation of the aids to navigation in the short channel the MV MISSISSAGI was navigating is the lateral marks are arranged as if the direction "returning from seaward" would be toward the southwest, as in coming from "the sea" of Lake Huron's North Channel into this bay. The freighter was returning from the "sea" of the open water of the North Channel of Lake Huron. So Red-Right-Returning (from sea) means she should take the red aid on her Starboard side.

But as soon as she passed through that short channel, and joined the main shipping channel, the orientation of the buoys would flip, and the "from sea" direction would be from the southeast. Once in the main channel, the red lateral buoys would be left on her Port (or left) side.

I can see how the helmsman became confused.

jimh posted 04-24-2015 01:28 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Matt---Look again at the position shown on MARINETRAFFIC. The date is three days ago, on 4-21-2015.

What happened on MARINETRAFFIC is the vessel sailed out of the range of the "free access" position data. That data is gathered by volunteer stations. Once she got past DeTour Village, she was probably out of range of the free stations coverage.

boatdryver posted 04-24-2015 10:28 AM ET (US)     Profile for boatdryver  Send Email to boatdryver     
I liked the comment by jcdawg83:

"Areas along the Atlantic coast where the ICW crosses sounds and rivers can get confusing as a turn from the sound into the ICW heading North will put the red markers on your left to stay in the channel and if you continue into a river that is not part of the ICW, you need to keep the red markers on your right."

There are a great many places involving multiple channels and islands where the rule we have all memorized "red right returning" fails us.

In such places, unless one is looking at a chart while piloting, it is easy to get confused. Fortunately for us pleasure boat guys, a draft of 4-6 feet forgives many such errors.


EJO posted 04-24-2015 01:00 PM ET (US)     Profile for EJO  Send Email to EJO     
JimL you might be right with our Whalers at a depth like that (4'-6'), but believe you me as a pleasure sail-boater I would run a ground with my 5'5" draft and the North Channel area requires good charts and a good depth finder.
jimh posted 04-24-2015 02:28 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
When lateral buoys mark the sides of a channel in pairs of red and green buoys, it is not hard to deduce where the channel lies, but when you encounter an isolated red or green buoy in what seems like mostly open water, figuring out where the hazard is located in relation to the buoy can be more difficult.

It is sometimes seen in Canadian water, that instead of lateral marks, cardinal marks are used. A cardinal mark indicates which direction from the mark the hazard is located. Cardinal marks are usually Yellow with Black bands. I am not accustomed to using them, as I see them very infrequently in the Great Lakes. In the North Channel of Lake Huron, just about all the aids to navigation I see are lateral marks, not cardinal marks.

jimh posted 04-24-2015 02:31 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I have only touched the bottom unintentionally with the hull of my Boston Whaler boat once in the last many years, and that occurred in a little harbor where there was a big sand bar and we were moving at a very low speed, just 4-MPH. It was no problem to free the boat from the grounding; we just put the engine in reverse and backed off.

A 603-foot freighter with a cargo capacity of more than 10,000-tons that has just been loaded and has taken the ground in the bow may be a bigger problem. Another concern in the Great Lakes: there are no tides, and the water level is unlikey to rise enough to just let the grounded vessel float off.

jimh posted 04-24-2015 02:37 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
According to a report published by a local radio station on its website, the MV MISSISSAGI is still, at this moment, aground. The report quotes a Coast Guard officer as saying:

The Coast Guard Cutter Buckthorn [was deployed] to conduct an aids-to-navigation verification, to confirm that all the buoys and aids in the area of the grounding were in position--and they were in position.

That tends to rule out the alternative theory of how to explain the error in navigation. It wasn't the fault of a buoy being off station.

Eddie M posted 04-24-2015 07:44 PM ET (US)     Profile for Eddie M  Send Email to Eddie M     
I is unacceptable for any professional captain to make a mistake anywhere with the electronics available on their bridge never mind one piloting a 603-foot vessel. It's obvious someone was not doing their job. Shameful.
jimh posted 04-24-2015 08:45 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Many years ago I was talking with Bernie Cooper, the Master of the ARTHUR M ANDERSON, the freighter that was right behind the EDMUND FITZGERALD when the Fitz sank. He was giving a lecture on the sinking at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. One theory of the cause of the loss of the Fitz was they had grounded on a shoal and torn out the bottom a few hours earlier. I asked Cooper how could the Fitz have grounded on a shoal, and wouldn't they have noticed the shallow water on their depth sounder. I was very surprised by his answer.

Cooper said they did not have depth sounders on the freighters back then. The owners were too cheap to put them on the ships. Their thinking was the owners were paying the Master to know how deep it was, why did they need a depth sounder.

I was on the bridge of a modern freighter a few years ago, and there was a very modern and very large ECDIS (electronic chart display and information center) showing the ship's position from GNSS plotted on a very detailed digital chart. But I don't remember a depth sounder.

jimh posted 04-24-2015 08:47 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
In 1997 the BUFFALO ran right into the Detroit River Light in Lake Erie in the middle of the day on a clear and sunny afternoon. It caused about $1-million in damage. The BUFFALO had a reputation as an unhappy ship, that is, the crew and the master did not get along very well. Needless to say, the Master was off the boat after that.
jimh posted 04-25-2015 09:26 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Black to Port as you go back to port.

That is a good one. I never heard that before. It must be an old saying because the lateral aids to navigation have not been black for a long time.

The use of black to mark the left side of a channel when returning to port was the convention of the Uniform State Waterways Marking System (USWMS). In 1998 the Coast Guard of the USA began a five-year program to modify the USWMS system of marking buoys into the United States Aids to Navigation System (USATONS). The principal change was the black buoys became green buoys.


Hoosier posted 04-25-2015 10:36 AM ET (US)     Profile for Hoosier  Send Email to Hoosier     
I just looked at the area under discussion using the Navionics Webapp

and the person at the helm screwed up, big time. It's not that he took the red buoy on the wrong side, he didn't go between the red and green buoys that are clearly shown on the chart marking the passage between Big Trout Island and Bacon Shoal.

jimh posted 04-25-2015 11:46 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
David--I was wondering about what side they took the Bacon Shoal Buoy "3" green can lighted aid on Bacon Shoal. Maybe they left that to Starboard and squeezed past the shoal and Bacon Island without any harm. That is a possibility as long as they did not pass close abeam to the buoy.

They might have then changed course to take the "4" red buoy to Port, and that would have run the bow right onto the shoal.

If they took the "3" buoy to Port, as they should have, then it would have been a real goof to take the "4" buoy on the same side. You'd think if they had just left a green to Port they'd know to leave the red to Starboard. I am sure there is going to be some explanation. Sometimes there are unfortunately-timed failures of the steering gear that seem to crop up at the worst possible moment.

By the way, I like the steamship company that runs the MV MISSISSAGI. It is Lower Lakes Towing Ltd. Their fleet has a distinctive color scheme and a really nice stack emblem featuring an Indian head. They have a small fleet of smaller vessels that visit smaller harbors.

Also, correction on the capacity of the MISSISSAGI; it carries 17,500 DWT.

Hoosier posted 04-25-2015 01:13 PM ET (US)     Profile for Hoosier  Send Email to Hoosier     
The next time I have a boat in the water UP North I'll go check out that spot. Anyway, from the Coast Guard photo it looks like he took # 4 to Port and looking at the Navionics chart that sure as s... would have put him hard aground. If he had taken # 3 to Starboard he'd have also ended up hard aground on Bacon Shoal. Recalling my "Hart on Charts" article last year, it was startling to toggle between Navionics' Charts and SONAR Charts in the WEBAPP. The shoal he ran aground on does not show up in the SONAR Charts. There is a little icon in the lower left, that looks like a Wi-Fi symbol, that toggles between the two. The SONAR Chart shows unobstructed 34' of water west of #4 buoy. OBTW: I have both the SONAR Charts and Charts for that area on a card file, the SONAR Chart file is labelled "Fish'N Chip", which is Navionics old name for their contour bathymetric chart product.
jimh posted 04-25-2015 04:27 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
The area where the grounding occurred is in the USA. The official NOAA charts for the area are quite good and show the aids and the hazards. The electronic raster charts (BSB format) (which duplicate the paper charts) and the electronic vector charts (ENC format) show the soundings, the shoals, and the aids to navigation. There is not much room to wiggle in a claim that something wasn't shown on the charts. If you are a commercial vessel, you are required to have onboard the official charts.
Hoosier posted 04-26-2015 08:52 AM ET (US)     Profile for Hoosier  Send Email to Hoosier     
They refloated her yesterday by transferring 2000 tons of stone to another ship. This is a good photo of the operation 386047111407210/983528994992349/?type=1&theater

jimh posted 04-26-2015 10:32 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
David--Thanks for the link to the photograph of the lightering--the process of transferring cargo between ships--of the MV MISSISSAGI. The operation must have been tricky. The boat receiving the offload of cargo must have been very light in the bow, so that she would not ground on the same shoal.
Hoosier posted 04-26-2015 10:51 AM ET (US)     Profile for Hoosier  Send Email to Hoosier     
Looking closely at the photo it's interesting to see how they did it. The second ship, the Lewis J. Kuber, appears to be empty and they loaded her toward her stern using the Mississagi's self unloading gear. Had Mississagi not been a self unloader the operation would have been a lot more complicated.
Jefecinco posted 04-26-2015 10:52 AM ET (US)     Profile for Jefecinco  Send Email to Jefecinco     
I have no idea of how Great Lakes freighters are constructed but many/most ocean going ships have numerous ballast/trim tanks for adjusting trim for best operation and conditions with various cargo configurations.

I've seen ships with the bulbous bow entirely above water while undergoing repairs when afloat.


jimh posted 04-26-2015 10:55 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
The Coast Guard has updated their press release on the grounding with lots of new information. See

I was wondering how some Facebook user got aerial photography over the grounded vessels. The images are really from the Coast Guard. The Facebook image appears to have been taken from the Coast Guard website. 338x450_q95.jpg

jimh posted 04-26-2015 11:21 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
The barge-tug integrated vessel receiving the cargo is also part of the Lower Lakes Towing Ltd. operation, and is run by a subsidiary company, Grand River Navigation. See

Having another ship available in their own fleet saved Lower Lakes Towing Ltd. from having to charter another vessel from someone else.

Also, it looks like a tug has been hired to stand by, and based on the color scheme it looks like a tug from The Great Lakes Towing Company. See

jimh posted 04-27-2015 10:44 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Butch--freighters on the Great Lakes--they're called Lakers--have many ballast compartments. Because of their long length, the loading of cargo must be done very carefully. The cargo loading is distributed in careful sequences to fore and aft holds to evenly distribute the weight onto the hull. Water ballast tanks are used when the ship is not carrying cargo.

The shipment of cargo on the Great Lakes for lake boats tends to be in one direction only. The ships usually return to their loading ports empty, and in ballast.

jimh posted 04-27-2015 03:51 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Wikipedia has a good article about freighters designed for the Great Lakes. See

White Bear posted 04-28-2015 01:56 PM ET (US)     Profile for White Bear  Send Email to White Bear     
Apropos of "red right returning:"
The Village of Greenport on the East End of Long Island has a rich maritime history. Its waterfront is protected by a long stone jetty marked at its southerly end by a flashing red light. When approaching the Village and an immensely popular watering hole, the cigarette boaters from Connecticut have no troubles as they are "returning from the sea" and leave the red light and supporting jetty on the right. However, the afternoons lengthen into night and the consumption of EtOH generally reaches a fever pitch before these hearty mariners decide to return home. Since they are "returning" and the rule tells you to leave the red light on the right, it takes little imagination to predict outcomes. Good for several boats a year, the jetty remains intact. It is not a mistake made more than once.
swist posted 05-05-2015 08:07 AM ET (US)     Profile for swist    
I believe there is an additional so called-rule to the "red right returning" one. On lateral waterways (ones perpendicular to paths in and out of ports), red buoys are on the right in a clockwise direction around the US. This explains the ICW buoyage.

But as someone noted, in complex waterways with many intersecting passages and islands (the coast of Maine, Puget sound, etc), you can always find places where it is not obvious whether the waterways are lateral, or what ports are being returned to.

I suppose these are useful rules if your charts fall overboard and your electronics power goes out.

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