Cardinal Markers

cardinal marker

Cardinal Markers

A brief reminder on cardinal markers and what they mean.

cardinal markers

Cardinal markers are used to indicate safe passage when lateral markers are not considered appropriate. In the smallest of nutshells, the job of the cardinal marker is to indicate the direction of safe water. That is to say, if you see a SOUTH cardinal marker, the safest water in that area is SOUTH of the marker. Even if you’re a local to the area you are boating in, cardinal markers are one of the many good reasons to have a compass on board. After all, what is the point in knowing that you have to go south if you don’t know which way south is?

Unlike the easy to remember RED and GREEN system used in lateral markers, different cardinal markers are not identified by unique colours. Instead, they are identified in three different ways, accounting for day and night visibility.

cardinal marker


Both cones point upwards. Marker is black at the top of the pillar. Lights flash in a long continuous pattern.


One cone points up, the other points down. Think, the shape of an egg. E for egg. E for East. Marker is black at the top and black at the bottom. Light flashes in sets of 3 flashes.


Both cones point down. Marker is marked black on the bottom. Lights flash in sets of 6 flashes plus 1 LONG flash. This extra flash is stop any confusion with trying to remember your count/


Both cones face inwards. Think of an abstract wine glass. W for win. W for west. Marker is marked black in the middle. Lights flash in sets of 9 flashes.


It all may seem a bit daunting, trying to remember everything. The arrows…the black marks…the flashes. Don’t fret. It really is quite simply. Think of your compass rose. Up is north. Down is south. That’s the arrows for north and south markers easily remembered. Egg shape for East. Wine glass for West. The black marks are hinted at by the direction of the arrows. Study the above diagram and you’ll see the pattern. As for the lights…if you can remember the face of a clock then you’re all set. East is 3 o’clock. Three flashes. West is 9 o’clock. Nine flashes. You can fill in the rest!