any good for recreational boaters?
For the answer, zoom in and pick a
buoy link close to home. Depending on
which government agency or research lab
placed it, the link will show who owns it
and a combination of weather and water-quality data, all either live or in near-real
time. In most cases, a buoy’s sensors are
at the surface or just beneath it. Some
buoys are special-purpose, stand-alone
units, but most belong to larger systems
grouped around an estuary, a river mouth,
or even all of the Great Lakes.
For me, living in Annapolis, Maryland,
the choice is NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay
Interpretive Buoy System (buoybay.
noaa.gov), installed beginning in 2007.
Currently the system includes 10 buoys
anchored at sites along the Bay’s main
stem, from the mouth of the Susquehanna
River, in Maryland, to the Bay’s opening
to the Atlantic, between the Virginia
capes, as well as one just outside Annapolis
Harbor, two in the James River, and one
off the mouth of the York River.
The site’s landing page always includes
a Featured User, who may be a scientist
from the University of Maryland, the
Virginia Institute of Marine Science, or
Old Dominion University. More often,
though, the user is a racing sailor, a
charter captain, a Bay pilot, or a towboat
captain. Consider what the buoys can tell
each of them.
Observations for the racing sailor
include wind direction, speed (including
gusts), and wave-height numbers that are
no more than 10 minutes old. Sometimes
even more valuable are the measurements
of current (direction and speed). If the race
is a long one and the course runs down
the Bay, the boat’s tactician may look at
observations over time at other buoys
in the system, calling them up either
by telephone (1-877-BUOYBAY) or on
NOAA’s free Smart Buoys smartphone
app. The app even includes a graphing
capability that shows trends in conditions.
Cruising boaters, while probably not in as
much of a hurry as the racer, derive obvious benefits from the same data.
Fishermen, both recreational and
commercial, have learned to check the
closest buoys for weather information
and currents, which play major roles in
the behavior of the Chesapeake’s fish.
The water-quality data can also be use-
ful, especially water clarity, water tem-
perature, and salinity – which varies from
near zero (fresh) at the Susquehanna
buoy to seawater levels at First Landing
(the Bay’s mouth).
One buoy, at Gooses Reef, in the
Chesapeake’s main stem off the mouth of
Maryland’s Choptank River, has an array
of sensors at the bottom (about 38 feet
down) that send signals from a modem
to the surface. This information can be
especially valuable if the Chesapeake is
stratified, with fresh river water flowing
seaward over denser, saltier water. In
summer, that deeper layer is often low
in dissolved oxygen, a clear signal for
anglers to look for fish in shallower water.
Bay pilots and their launch captains
don’t worry much about water clarity, but
they care a lot about water temperature,
wind direction and speed, wave heights,
and currents at the First Landing buoy,
especially when meeting a ship in that
open water at oh-dark-thirty on an early
morning in February. The Virginia and
Maryland pilots associations are actually
the heaviest users of the Chesapeake
Bay Interpretive Buoy System, though
TowBoatU.S. captains keep it busy, too.
Other Chesapeake Bay smart buoys are
owned and operated by the two states’
research labs and natural resource agencies,
coordinated under the Chesapeake Bay
Observing System ( cbos.org).
On the Great Lakes, boaters benefit from the Great Lakes Observing
System ( greatlakesbuoys.org), based in
Ann Arbor, Michigan. Coordinated by
LimnoTech, Inc. and Michigan Tech
University, the system brings together buoys and shore stations owned by
several dozen partners, including federal agencies, local municipalities, power
companies, university laboratories, and
32 | BoatU.S. Magazine OCTOBER | NOVEMBER 2016
SAFE, SMART, & CLEAN
Left: A buoy tender adjusts a data buoy
in the Chesapeake Bay. Below: Middle
Bay Light House in Mobile Bay collects
water-quality data at six depths (from
the bottom to the surface), including
water level, water temperature, salinity,
and dissolved oxygen.
the TowBoat way
Many of the buoys in the GLOS system
rely on grants and donations for maintenance, including from TowBoatU.S.
owner, Richard Lendarson, of Holland,
Michigan, whose familiar red towboats
install and remove the buoys each
spring and fall at no charge. For example, Lendarson’s captains installed the
Port Sheldon buoy in late May, getting
it on the water in time for the Memorial
Day surge in boat traffic. The buoy is
one of the most popular with boaters
in the entire system, recording nearly
1 million clicks per year.
— MICHAEL VATALARO