Saturday, June 30, 2012

Wrangell Narrows

Range Markers Matter

Wrangell Narrows, 20 miles of narrow tidal waterway, separates Mitkof Island from its close neighbor Kupreanof Island. In some areas Wrangell Narrows is barely wide enough to accommodate the Alaska State ferries and does not allow for the passage of larger cruise ships. The "Narrows" is famous for it many navigational markers. With tides that can range from a high of 19 feet to a low of -4 feet in one day, the water often rushes through the Wrangell Narrows adding to the navigational challenges. 
The Narrows forms one leg of our route from Ketchikan to Petersburg. Numbered and colored buoys and fixed channel markers litter this waterway, helping to guide vessels through the many twists and turns of the navigable channel.  These many navigational aids are well charted and show up on radar as well, but a moment or two away from the wheel can find even experienced captains aground in the mud, waiting for a rising tide.

Range markers are colorful, striped markers that captains use to  line up with the center of a channel and avoid shoals, reefs, and other not-friendly bottom features. They come in pairs, one higher than the other, should not be ignored. The suggested use is to aim at the lower marker, line up the higher marker behind it, and cruise cautiously keeping the markers aligned.
Range Markers are found in pairs with one higher than the other. Range markers indicate the center line of a channel by having them lined up as you pass through the channel. They will have vertical colored panels to assist in lining them up.
Care to know more about range markers? Click here for a link to a brief video demonstrating their use.

Range markers are useful tools, but they are not something I think about much. They're just, well... there. We have used range markers in B.C. to transit Chatham Channel where you have one set of markers off the bow and a second set off the stern. The stern markers are for travel in the opposite direction, but I like having both sets aligned and spend some effort swiveling my gaze fore and aft.  Range markers are useful  to cross the bar entering Comox Harbor as well, but now the often visited, eagle-topped markers in Wrangell Narrows have my vote as most useful and certainly "best decorated". Anything with an eagle on top is well-decorated, right?

Photo: lining up with range markers on the far shore
Photo: turning off the range, ready for the next channel marker
Photo: bedraggled bald eagle sits atop a Wrangell Narrows range marker


  1. Nice sequence of photos on Wrangell Narrows!

  2. Heh Heh, Wrangling with Wrangell...yup range markers matter much, wonderful photos/text, you are a marvel. Thanks for these beautiful sights, where we can sense the air, the sounds...lovely. L, G. and Inky (EOTU)


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