Chesapeake Bay Navigation

Chesapeake Bay Navigation

Navigating the Bay

Online nautical charts and topographic maps can be accessed at the NOAA website. Chart 12280 covers the Chesapeake Bay

How to Read a Nautical Chart

How to Read a Nautical Chart: A Complete Guide to the Symbols, Abbreviations, and Data Displayed on Nautical Charts.  By Nigel Calder.  In 2000, the U.S. government ceased publication of Chart No. 1 , the invaluable little book that generations of mariners have consulted to make sense of the complex system of signs, symbols, and graphic elements used in nautical charts.

Now Chart No. 1 is not just reborn but expanded and improved in How to Read a Nautical Chart.  Arranged and edited by Nigel Calder, one of today’s most respected boating authors, and containing four-color illustrations throughout, How to Read a Nautical Chart presents a number of original features that help readers make optimum use of the data found in Chart No. 1 , including a more intuitive format, crucial background information, international chart symbol equivalents, electronic chart symbology, and thorough explanations of the practical aspects of nautical chart reading.  Click here for more information.

Chesapeake Bay Chartbooks

The Upper and Lower Chesapeake Bay Chartbooks from MAPTECH provide spiral-bound full-color navigation charts for the Chesapeake Bay and tributaries. Pages are waterproof and tear-resistant. GPS waypoints and pre-plotted routes are included.


There are several websites available that list Chesapeake Bay Loran and GPS waypoints for fishing and boating use.  We’ve gathered links to these sites and have provided them below.

Daybreak Local Fishing Information:  Collection of GPS and Loran waypoints for Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore and Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Wrecks:  Loran and GPS coordinates for Chesapeake Bay wrecks.

Virginia’s Artificial Reef Program:  Description and coordinates for artificial reefs. 

Aids to Navigation

Chesapeake Bay channel marker with Osprey nest

Aids to navigation include structures such as lights, radio beacon, buoys, and channel markers that provide mariners with navigational information. The United States Coast Guard publishes a “light list” which includes information on all aids to navigation.  The light list includes for each aid to navigation: the light list number, name, bearing, geographic position, light or morse code characteristics, height, range, structural characteristics, and general comments.  The light list index and database are available online here.

“Red Right Returning”  Red and green channel markers provide boaters with directions to get in and out of harbors.  Green markers should be kept to your right as you leave the harbor, red markers should be on your right as you return to harbor.

For more detailed information on channel markers and aids to navigation, visit’s chapter on aids to navigation.