The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail


Left Bank and Right Bank

RBD = Right Bank Descending

LBD = Left Bank Descending


The Rivergator will use the standard left bank descending (LBD) and right bank descending (LBD) to indicate which side of the river the various landings, islands, back channels, and other features are located.  Because of the twisty nature of the meandering river “east bank” and “west bank” have little meaning because the river is rarely flowing north to south!  Ditto for state names.  This section concerns and Arkansas, Mississippi, and some of Tennessee.  But because of the dynamic power of the river there are pieces of each state on both sides of the river!  We’ll also use “left bank” and “right bank” or “left shore” and “right shore” to denote the same.


Towboats and Buoys


Red “Nun” Buoys = LBD navigation channel

Green “Can” Buoys = RBD navigation channel



Upstreamers = towboats going up the river

Downstreamers = towboats going down the river


Towboats and buoys provide endless fascination for Lower Mississippi River paddlers, but also present two of your gravest dangers.  Red “nun” buoys mark the left side of the navigation channel (descending) while green “can” buoys the right side.  To broadside a buoy would end in certain capsize.  Be ever vigilant of their position, and keep a safe 100 foot distance away.  Buoys endlessly twist and yank on their cables in the current and seem to come towards you at times. Watch for “diving ducks” the buoys that become submerged by powerful waters and unexpectedly bounce back up.  When towboats are present your safest route is outside of the navigation channel.  Towboat pilots might notice you on their radars, but they can’t tell the difference between a flotilla of canoes & kayaks and a pile of driftwood.  Their packets are so sometimes so long that the pilot might lose sight of you within a quarter mile away as you dip below their line of sight over the nose of the barges they are pushing.  Wherever possible the Rivergator will describe common lines of travel for towboats.  “downstreamers” refers to towboats steaming down stream with the flow of the river, and “upstreamers” refer to those plowing up the channel against the flow of the river.  Upstreamers normally create the biggest and most hazardous sets of wave trains, but there are exceptions.  Wave trains sometimes trail the passage of a tow for one mile or more.  The safest practice around any tows is to keep watching them for any changes in progress and give them wide berth.  Never cross the nose of a towboat/barge packet.  Make your crossings after they have passed and their waves have subsided.  The safest place around a towboat is far behind a towboat.