Navigating the Golden Gate - Bonfires, buoys, and foghorns

Navigating the Golden Gate - Bonfires, buoys, and foghorns (HMWSR)

Location: San Francisco, CA 94121 San Francisco County
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Country: United States of America
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N 37° 47.006', W 122° 30.666'

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Deep channels make San Francisco's remarkable harbor accessible to immense ships. On the other hand, a narrow entrance, swift currents, high winds, rocks, and fog make navigating the Golden Gate treacherous. Early mariners looked for on-shore bonfires, painted rocks, and natural landmarks to find their way. Today, navigators rely on buoys, beacons, foghorns, charts, sonar, and satellite-based global positioning systems.
Distinctive characteristics make some individual navigation aids immediately identifiable. Each lighthouse, for example, flashes a signature pattern, and each foghorn has a unique sound. By simply "reading" lighthouse or foghorn signals, sailors and ship pilots can determine their location and navigate in poor visibility conditions. Nonetheless, numerous ships have failed to make it through the Golden Gate and now belong to shipwreck lore.

Photo captions:
Troopship entering Golden Gate, 1951
Traffic in, out, and around the bay is coordinated by the U.S. Coast Guard's Vessel Traffic Service. The Coast Guard also maintains the bays buoys, lights, and foghorns. San Francisco Maritime Museum

Alcatraz lighthouse, c. 1945
The oldest beacon on the West Coast is still in operation on Alcatraz. First lit in 1854, when Gold Rush fortune seekers were flooding through the Golden Gate, the light was moved into a taller lighthouse in 1909 and automated in 1963. United States Coast Guard

Nautical charts provide information you'll never see on a road map, including water depths, the locations of potential hazards, and the identifying frequencies - or signatures - of foghorns. This simplified chart has been overlaid with symbols representing the various navigation aids in operation around the entrance to San Francisco harbor. San Francisco Maritime Museum

This whitewashed patch of cliff once served as a navigation aid to ships entering the Golden Gate strait. Pilots knew they were safely within the shipping lane if "Painted Rock" at Lands End was aligned with Mile Rock lighthouse. This marker is still visible along the trail a short walk east of here.
John Martini

Mile Rock lighthouse, constructed in 1906, was converted to a helicopter landing pad with an automated light in 1966. James Watson, San Francisco Maritime Museum
Placed ByGolden Gate National Recreation Area, National Park Service
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Saturday, September 13th, 2014 at 2:56pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)10S E 543050 N 4181899
Decimal Degrees37.78343333, -122.51110000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 37° 47.006', W 122° 30.666'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds37° 47' 0.36" N, 122° 30' 39.96" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)415, 858
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 1-19 Coastal Trail, San Francisco CA 94121, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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