About the Trail

About the Trail > Buoys

Marking the water-based Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail called for a new kind of trail marker that you won’t find along a land-based trail. The Chesapeake Bay Office of NOAA devised a system of buoys to mark several points along the Smith trail. These buoys are very “smart.” They can transmit observational data for trail users, collect water-quality and other scientific measurements for monitoring the health of the Bay, and communicate current and historical information for the public and educators.
As part of the NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS), these buoys:

  • 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 educational uses, such as water-quality indicators; and
  • provide trail users with navigational information plus descriptions of that place on the Bay 400 years ago.

Information from CBIBS buoys is accessible to anyone at any time via the internet (http://buoybay.noaa.gov) and by toll-free phone (877-BUOY BAY).

What’s Special about These Buoys?

While the buoys look much like 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 These 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 Historical Trail. Here are some of the uses for these smart buoys:

Travelers on the John Smith 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 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.
As the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail develops, land-based interpretive kiosks and exhibits will tie into CBIBS to complement the geographic and historical information the buoys provide. Interpretive kiosks are already in place at Nauticus museum in Norfolk, Virginia, within sight of the Elizabeth River buoy, and in the visitor center at Historic Jamestowne, near the James River buoy.

Boaters and Fishermen:

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 Chesapeake Bay Program and to various partners in monitoring and raising awareness for Bay health.

Where Are These Buoys?

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

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