Red Right Returning

A detailed guide to navigating the marked channels of Bayfield-Nares

by Rob Reed and Art Kilgour

We recently we had a query in the BNIA Facebook group asking if the Red, Right, Returning (RRR) navigation rule applies in Georgian Bay. The answer is YES, although its application can be tricky. 

Here’s the rule: red markers are kept to the right side of your boat when you’re returning from open water into a port or harbour, or heading upstream.

But there’s a catch: what if you’re not heading upstream (nor returning to harbour) as you travel along the marked channels of Georgian Bay, like in Bayfield-Nares? Here’s how that works.

It’s all about heading north

If your overall direction of travel is north in the channels, then you’re traveling “upstream” and RRR applies. That can be confusing because the channels can head east or west for a while.

If you’re unsure of your direction for RRR, consider your location if you travelled in the channel for 15 minutes or more. Would you end up further north or further south?

RRR can also be confusing when you approach a larger harbour, like Pointe au Baril. As you enter the archipelago from Nares and head south towards the Ojibway Club, the red markers should be on your left. But if you bear east to follow the channel to Pointe au Baril Station, you’re now heading into a harbour and the markers switch — the red ones are suddenly on your right! Beware.

What about the marked channels?

Neither of the channels that lead to the marinas in Bayfield or Nares Inlets have navigation markers as you approach their harbours, so RRR is no guide in either case. 

The marked channel in our archipelago bypasses the harbours and only helps boaters who are passing through Bayfield-Nares (north towards Byng Inlet). As such, the red markers are always kept to the right when boating from Nares to Bayfield and beyond (and on your left when you’re travelling south).

Now, here’s a guided tour of four complex sections of our main navigation channel going from south to north, with notes about some unusual markers. 

Warning: these routes are exposed to weather, wind and waves from the open bay. Use caution and check the forecast before you go. Avoid these routes at night, on windy days, or when stormy or foggy weather is forecast.

NOTE: these maps are adapted from the BNIA map, with marker numbers added. The marked navigation channel is the solid red line (with a dotted red line for the Nares bypass).

Map 1 | Pointe au Baril to Nares south entrance

Map 2 | Nares Inlet bypass towards Bayfield

Map 3 | North entrance to Nares

Map 4 | Rounding Hangdog Reef into Bayfield

When you’re boating south

In this guide we described a course from south to north, so we could follow RRR directions, but what if you’re travelling in the other direction (which is likely, the first time you do it)?

Study your charts and the instructions before you go. Generally, you’ll navigate the reverse of RRR going south through Bayfield, around Hangdog Point, into Nares, on the Nares bypass, and into Pointe au Baril. 

If you want to learn more about navigation, there are lots of resources available, including comprehensive courses from the Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons. For a recent (2022) poster of all markers and navigation aids, go to here (horizontal) or here (vertical).