A Guide to Safely Navigating Lake Norman

Lake Norman is notoriously difficult to maneuver if you are unfamiliar with this man-made lake. Thankfully, there are plenty of Aids to Navigation (ATONs) clearly marked out on the water, that can help you stay away from shallow or dangerous areas that could really put a damper on your day out on the water! We’ve created a comprehensive guide to safely navigating this special 32,510-acre lake.

Important Markers & Hazards to Note

There are many markers all across Lake Norman that are very important to properly observe. Here is a quick guide to ensure you and your boat are following the rules and staying safe out on the water.

Main Channel Markers

  • Lighted red daymarkers with even numbers mark the right side of the main channel as you move north on the lake. Always keep these markers to your right, and do NOT pass between the marker and the shore. 
  • Lighted green daymarkers with odd numbers mark the left side of the main channel as you move north on the lake. Always keep these markers to your left and do NOT pass between the marker and the shore.
  • No Wake Zone buoys indicate that your boat must be traveling at idling speed so that it doesn’t create a disturbing wake in its path.
  • Danger buoys indicate that there is some sort of isolated danger such as a rock located on or near the floating marker and should be carefully avoided.
  • Diver Flag means that there is someone diving below the area and all boats must stay at least 75 feet away from the area when passing by.

Creek Channel Markers

Many creeks off of the main channel have their own set of red and green daymarkers with a letter before the number. The numbers get higher as you travel further from the main channel. Always keep the red markers on your right and green markers on your left.

Channel Markers Adjacent to Shoal Markers

A shoal is a shallow place in a body of water. Lake Norman has too many to properly identify with markers and buoys at all times, so always beware!

Never pass between two markers – these markers indicate that this is NOT the channel and identify the area between as a hazard area. 

Shoals are located at markers 1A, 2A, 6, 10, and 15A

Shoals are also in proximity to creek channel markers R4, R5, D3, D4, D8, T1, T2, T4, and M1

Island & Rock Hazards

Lake Norman’s beautiful islands are often continuations of adjacent points of land, so the water between the point and the island is often very shallow. To avoid stumps, rocks, and gravel just below the surface of the water, always maneuver around the outside of the island. Unfortunately, few island passes afford adequate warning information. 

Rocks are also something to be concerned about within Lake Norman. Rocks and rock piles are scattered all over this man-made lake, and most are not properly identified with signs or markers, so be extra cautious when boating. This is especially important after the winter draws down Lake Norman’s water levels and exposes new hazards such as rocks, stumps, humps, new sandbars, etc. 

Bridge Clearances

It’s very important to understand bridge clearance levels to safely navigate under all of the bridges that cross over Lake Norman. One factor you will need to add in is wave height, depending on how full the lake is on any given day. Here are a few important vertical bridge clearance references to start — but as always, be sure to verify this information before you head out for the day to keep everyone safe onboard. 

  • I-40 Bridge – Catawba River – over 10′ 0″
  • Highway 70 Bridge – Catawba River – over 10′ 0″
  • Railroad Bridge – Catawba River – over 10′ 0″
  • Railroad Bridge – Buffalo Creek – 3′ 0″
  • Buffalo Shoals Rd. Bridge – Catawba River – over 10′ 0″
  • State Rd. 1832 – Balls Creek – 5′ 6″
  • Windermere Island Bridge – Catawba River – over 10′ 0″
  • Mollys Backbone Rd. Bridge – Terrapin Creek – 2′ 0″
  • State Park Rd. Bridge – Hicks Creek – 3′ 0″
  • Perth Rd. Bridge – Rocky Creek – 3′ 0″
  • Perth Rd. Bridge – Cornelius Creek – 5 ‘3″
  • Cornelius Rd. Bridge -Cornelius Creek – 4 ‘0″
  • Highway 150 Bridge – Catawba River – 8′ 5″ & 11′ 1″
  • Highway 150 Bridge – Mountain Creek – 5′ 9″
  • Highway 150 Bridge – Reed Creek (LKN Marina) – 5′ 9″
  • Mount Pleasant Rd. Bridge – Mountain Creek – 5′ 5″
  • Railroad Bridge – Mountain Creek – 6′ 3″
  • Slanting Bridge Rd. – Mountain Creek – over 10′ 0″
  • Governors Island Rd. Bridge – East of Burton Creek – 7′ 10″
  • Williamson Rd. Bridge – Reeds Creek – 6′ 0″
  • I – 77 Bridge – Reeds Creek – 10′ 3″

Helpful Applications for Safe Navigation

Thank goodness for modern technology! Today, we have access to a variety of helpful smartphone applications and resources that make boating that much safer. Here are two you might want to consider utilizing before heading out on the water:

  •  Depth Finder App: often used by avid fishers who are looking to target a specific type of fish, a water depth finder app will help you to plan your route carefully and avoid any potential danger zones well in advance.
  • What Three Words App: this is a quick and simple way to share your exact location with local authorities in case of emergency. This system converts GPS coordinates into three word addresses to help identify where you are at any given time.

Choosing Morningstar’s Crown Harbor Marina Location

As the premier marina on Lake Norman, Morningstar’s Crown Harbor Marina is the closest marina to I-77, making it super accessible by car all year round. Plus, the Morningstar team makes it as easy as possible for you to get out and on the water: we’ve got all the necessities you need right here in the marina! 

Morningstar’s team is always here to help and we want to make sure you’re comfortable operating the boat and navigating the lake so you can have the best experience possible. 

At Morningstar Marinas, we pride ourselves on the community of boaters we’ve created across the Southeast’s top boating destinations. Our facilities and services paired with our friendly and knowledgeable team members will help you quickly and efficiently get out there on the water, so you can start having fun. Morningstar Marinas is more than just a place to store your boat — we’re here to offer you an unforgettable boating experience, every time.