Recreational Boating Safety – ATON Discrepancy Reporting

By Bob Currie, Vessel Examiner
U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Station Galveston Flotilla
We talked about Aids to Navigation (ATON) quite a bit recently. This column will be about ATON discrepancies. An ATON discrepancy is any deviation from the prescribed location, construction, or function of the ATON. ATON discrepancies can lead to mishaps the same way a missing stop sign at a busy intersection can. The most important thing you can do if you notice an ATON discrepancy is to report it. I recently reported a discrepancy in an Intracoastal Waterway mile marker that had been knocked over by a barge. I did it as a private citizen rather than in my official capacity as a certified ATON verifier just so I could see how easy the process is.

The Station Galveston Flotilla of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary operates out of the USCG Station Galveston base on Galveston Island. They aid the Coast Guard by providing maritime observation patrols in Galveston Bay; by providing recreational boating vessel safety checks; and by working alongside Coast Guard members in maritime accident investigation, small boat training, watch standing, and procurement.

ATON Discrepancies
ATON discrepancies fall into three separate categories:

  1. Critical Discrepancies- This term is used for those discrepancies where failure to report by the most expeditious means could result in loss of life or severe damage to a vessel. In such a case call the Coast Guard immediately. An example would be a buoy floating freely. Buoys can be quite big, are made of steel, and can cause severe damage if struck.
  2. Urgent Discrepancies- Urgent discrepancies is a term used where failure to report will not result in a loss to life or damage to a vessel but may result in a grounding or stranding. An example would be a missing buoy that marks a shoal.
  3. Routine Discrepancies- This term is used for those discrepancies that present a low likelihood of grounding or stranding, but corrective maintenance is necessary.

Common Discrepancies
As an ATON verifier, I have a list of criteria to use when verifying a particular ATON. Only an ATON verifier can verify the function of an ATON. However, anyone can report an ATON discrepancy. Some common discrepancies that the average boater might see and report are:

  • Vandalized (any visible damage such as graffiti or pieces torn off)
  • Improper characteristics (your chart says it is a green square on a pile but it is a red triangle on a pile; I have seen this discrepancy)
  • Birds nest (birds can foul a dayboard so the number cannot be seen)
  • Excessive Bird Fouling (I have seen many of those discrepancies)
  • Number Unreadable (usually due to fading)
  • Excessive Deterioration (mother nature is rough on ATONs)
  • Damaged by collision (most common discrepancy in the ship channel and ICW)
  • Obscured (Lots of trees hanging over the water in the ICW)
  • Peeling Paint (Color is important when trying to stay within the channel)
  • Rotting Wood Structures (FYI: don’t tie your boat up to an ATON to fish)
  • Leaning More than 15 Degrees (my picture shows about a 40-degree lean)
  • Unauthorized Aid (One I have seen stapled over a dayboard: “Shrimp”, with an arrow pointing to a nearby marina)
  • Light Dim/Damaged/Operating Continuously (lights should only operate at night and should have good visibility from at least a mile away)
  • Buoys Sinking/Adrift/Submerged/Off Station/Stranded/Missing

Take a Picture
The Aids to Navigation Team (ANT) really like it if you take pictures of ATONs with discrepancies. It helps to identify both the ATON and the discrepancy. If you use the online ATON discrepancy reporting form, mention in the comment section that you have a picture or pictures of the ATON. There is no provision in the online reporting form to upload a picture, but you can count on an email from the nearest Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team requesting you to send the picture or pictures.

Make a Note of the ATON’s Position
The easiest way for me to make a note of the position of the ATON in my case was to take a screen shot of my position using the Coast Guard app. When you open the Coast Guard app on your phone, just press the red Emergency Assistance button, and a screen will open giving you your position and buttons to push for on the water assistance (Call USCG) or on land assistance (Call 911). A screen shot is the easiest way to capture the information. If the ATON represents a hazard to navigation, such as a buoy that has come loose from its anchor or a piling such as the one in my picture that is floating freely, then call the Coast Guard with the information. In my case, the ATON was still in its assigned position, but it was leaning at greater than a 15 degree angle.

Using the Online Report
The US Department of Homeland Security Navigation Center (the Coast Guard falls under their purview) has an excellent online “ATON Discrepancy Report Form.” That is what I recently used to report Mile Marker 335 (more about that later). In order to access the form, you can google “online ATON discrepancy form” or save this URL:

The form requires the following information:

  • Your name
  • Your email address
  • Waterway/Area (for my form I put ICW Sabine-Neches Canal)
  • State
  • Type of discrepancy

Additional information the form requests, but which is not required, includes:

  • Your phone number (helpful if they need to talk to you immediately)
  • Your vessel’s name (most people don’t have a registered vessel name)
  • Type of vessel (I put recreational powerboat)
  • DOC#/HIN/VIN/State Registration (put your TX number here, or Documentation Number if registered with the Coast Guard)
  • Aid Name (easy for me: it was Mile Marker 335)
  • Light List Number (here I ran into a problem- Light Lists do not list mile markers. There is a reason for that: they are not maintained by the Coast Guard. Instead, the US Army Corps of Engineers maintains ICW mile markers. I didn’t feel too bad about not knowing this because the ATON team leader didn’t know it either. I suspected as much because I found no mile markers listed in the Light List. You can download the light list from the Navigation Center as well.)

Once you fill out the form with as much information you can, being sure to use the Comment Section to help identify the discrepancy and note that you have a picture, hit the “Send Reporting Form” button and it will be routed to the proper ATON team. I made my report in the late evening, knowing that it wouldn’t be read until the next day. When I got up and checked my emails, I had one from USCG Sector Houston-Galveston ANT and one from Galveston ANT. Both wanted to see my picture. Sector handed off to Galveston ANT once they determined the mile marker was in their area. The ANT Team Leader contacted his contact at the US Army Corps of Engineers, and they said yes, it is ours, and we will send a team out to repair the mile marker as soon as possible.

The Coast Guard needs and wants your help in identifying problems with ATONs. Don’t assume that someone else has already reported it. Make a phone call to the Coast Guard if the ATON presents a possible danger to vessels that could result in loss of life, damage to a vessel, or grounding or stranding of a vessel. For other types of discrepancies, use the online form found at the Navigation Center.

For more information on boating safety, please visit the Official Website of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division at Questions about the US Coast Guard Auxiliary or our free Vessel Safety Check program may be directed to me at [email protected] I am available to perform free Vessel Safety Checks, and I will come to your location to perform them. SAFE BOATING!


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