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Chesapeake Smart Buoys Tell All

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Just think how much easier it would be to plan your next cruise if you knew how hard the wind was blowing and how high the waves anywhere on the Chesapeake Bay. The answer to a boater’s prayer are some recently installed “smart” buoys. There are ten of them from the top to the bottom of the Bay and they know everything. NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) new high tech buoys give real time data on weather conditions.  They also follow the historic Captain John Smith’s water trail as he explored the Bay in the 1600s in search of resources for the new colony in Jamestown.

The idea for the buoys grew out of a meeting held in 2005 by a group of Chesapeake Bay organizations in Annapolis, who met to brainstorm how to best commemorate the 400th anniversary of Smith’s remarkable explorations of the Bay. This timing also happened to coincide with the 200th anniversary of NOAA.

“Marking a trail on the water is a bigger challenge than marking one on land,” says Kim Couranz of NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office and the go-to person for the buoys. “There are no trees to place plaques on.”

The answer turned out to be buoys. “But we thought, why not make them more than just sign posts?”says Couranz. “Why not make them useful?”

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Thus was born the idea of the Chesapeake’s “smart” buoys, which record real time data using wireless technology. The data includes wind speed and direction, wave height, air temperature and pressure, eight factors of water quality, temperature, turbidity and oxygen levels. This information makes the buoys one-stop-shops of valuable information for such users as Bay pilots, marine scientists, racers and cruisers, watermen and educators.

There are several ways the public can access the ten buoys strategically located from the Susquehanna down to Norfolk. The website buoybay.noaa.gov provides all the data for each buoy on the Bay at a click of a mouse. To actually hear the buoys, mariners can call a toll free number (877-286-9229) and select the desired buoy, or download a free app from Android Marketplace or ITunes by searching “smart buoys” to have the information in the palms of their hands.

The first buoy was launched at the Jamestown location in 2007, with three new ones commissioned each year after that. A final one was launched in 2010, making a total of 10.


The buoys are located:
• At the mouth of the Susquehanna River, near Havre de Grace, Md.
• At the mouth of the Patapsco River, near Baltimore
• At the mouth of the Severn River, near Annapolis
• In the upper Potomac River, south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, near Alexandria, Va.
• Off the mouth of the Little Choptank River
• At the mouth of the Potomac River, near Point Lookout, Md.
• At the mouth of the Rappahannock River, near Stingray Point and Deltaville, Va.
• In the James River, near Charles City, Va.
• In the Elizabeth River, near Norfolk, Va.
• At the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay near Cape Henry, Va.


For History Buffs
In addition to providing scientific data, the buoys transmit historical and geographic information about what Captain Smith might have seen as he passed near that location 400 years ago. Those interested in following in the wake of the Capt. John Smith National Historic Trail (smithtrail.net) can listen to descriptions of geography and history. The “voice” of the buoys is that of Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Senior Naturalist, John Page Williams, who has worked for the Foundation for 40+ years and is on his own personal mission to save the Bay.

Williams has played an integral role in many Chesapeake endeavors and says he will continue to work tirelessly “until my granddaughter can see a clean bay.”

It’s that kind of determination among Chesapeake organizations and the public that makes the restoration of the Bay a real possibility, maybe even in time for Williams’ granddaughter.

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Vicki Lathom
Vicki Lathom
Vicki lives in Annapolis, MD, where she and partner, Barry Miller, cruise the Chesapeake and the Intercoastal Waterway to the Bahamas or Florida. They cruise in a 36-foot Albine Express trawler named, Balboita.

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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