NOAA Buoys

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Water trail users call 1-877-BUOYBAY to hear a description of what the Chesapeake was like at that buoy location when John Smith traveled the Bay in 1608.

Marking the nation's first historic national water trail called for a new kind of trail marker that you won't find along any land-based trail. The Chesapeake Bay Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) devised a system of buoys to mark several points along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. These one-of-a-kind buoys are very "smart."

As a apart of the NOAA's Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS), these buoys are designed to:

  • Deliver near-real-time information on weather and water conditions, such as wind, waves and currents;
  • Collect and transmit many other kinds of data for scientific and edcuational uses, such as water-quality indicators; and
  • Provide trail users with navigational information plus descriptions of that specific location on the Bay 400 years ago.
Information from the buoys is accessible to anyone at any time via the internet at and phone toll-free at (877-BUOY BAY)
The first CBIBS buoy was deployed at Historic Jamestowne in May 2007 to coincide with the official launch of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

What's Special About These Buoys?

While the buoys look much navigational buoys, the CBIBS "Smart Buoys" are loaded with sensors to collect a range of meteorological, physical, water quality, water level, chemical, biological, optical, and acoustic measurements. The information is relayed in near-real time from the buoys to the internet using wireless technology.

The immediacy and accessibility of information from these smart buoys helps people navigate the Bay, improve marine safety, and learn about the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. However, the long-term value of these buoys will be found in applying the data to science-based bay restoration efforts and in educating people to be better stewards of the Chesapeake Bay.


Who Uses The Buoys?

The popularity of CBIBS has grown rapidly since the first buoys were deployed in 2007 to help launch the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. Here are how the buoys are used by some:

Visitors to the Trail
The buoys help modern trail explorers learn more about the environment of the Bay while discovering what Captain Smith might have seen as he passed near a buoy location 400 years ago. In addition to the marking locations and transmitting observations, the buoys offer descriptions of geography and history. Because the buoys are accessible to anyone with a phone or internet connection, both water and land-based travelers are using them. You can take a "virtual trip" to any buoy location from your computer or mobile device to learn about the bay in Smith's time and to plan your own visit to the trail.
Also along the trail are land-based interpretive kiosks and exhibits that tie into the CBIBS to complement the geographic and historical information the buoys provide. Some of the kiosks are located within site of the Elizabeth River buoy at the Nauticus Museum in Norfolk, VA and the visitor center at Historic Jamestowne, near the James River buoy.

Boaters and Fisherman
Recreational and commercial boaters rely on the buoys for real-time data on wind, weather, wave height, and currents. Data from the buoys help boaters make safe choices before venturing into the open waters of the Bay.

Educators and Students
CBIBS is a valuable tool for teachers and students in many subject areas, such as science, biology, mathematics, and history. CBIBS is especially important in teaching estuarine concepts for better understanding the Chesapeake Bay - North America's largest estuary. The historical adventures of Captain John Smith interest students in learning how the Bay has changed since the time of Smith's explorations. This provides educators with exciting new ways to prepare the next generation of Bay stewards.

The NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office has developed educational content based on real-time observational data from CBIBS. "Chesapeake Explorations" offers online activities for middle and high school students that bring the science of the Chesapeake Bay to life.

Scientific Research and Bay Restoration
CBIBS buoys collect data on meteorological (wind speed and direction, air temperature, barometric pressure, relative humidity); GPS (horizontal position); near-surface water quality (water temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, Chlorophyll A, turbidity); wave height (significant and maximum), direction and period. The real-time and stored data from these measures help scientists analyze changes in the Bay over time. This information is critically important to Bay restoration efforts coordinated through the Bay over time. This information is critically important to Bay restoration efforts coordinated through the Chesapeake Bay Program and to various partners in monitoring and raising awareness for Bay health.

Where are the Buoys?
To date, 10 CBIBS buoys are stationed in the Chesapeake Bay along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail:

  • Susquehanna River near Havre de Grace, MD
  • Mouth of the Patapsco River near Baltimore, MD
  • Mouth of the Severn River near Annapolis, MD
  • Upper Potomac River just south of Washington, DC
  • Gooses Reef near mouth of Eastern Shore's Little Choptank River
  • Mouth of the Potomac River
  • Rappahannock River near Stingray Point, VA
  • James River near Jamestown, VA
  • Elizabeth River near Norfolk, VA
  • Mouth of the Chesapeake Bay near Virginia's First Landing State Park
Want to learn more about the buoys?

Last updated: April 16, 2018

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