Navigational Bell Buoy

Unlike car drivers on land, navigators at sea have no road signs to indicate speed limits, dangers, or routes. Navigational buoys are floating objects anchored to the bottom that serve as aids to navigation. Their distinctive shapes, colors, and other markings provide information indicating their purpose and how to navigate around them.
The placement and maintenance of navigational buoys are essential to shipping, since they often provide the only guidance for channel locations, shoals, reefs, and other hazards. If damaged by collisions, extinguished, or broken loose from their moorings, the Coast Guard will repair, replace, refuel, or relocate the failed buoy.
Designated an 8X20 LBR, this particular type of buoy was used by the U.S. Coast Guard Lighthouse Service on the East Coast from around 1930 until the early 1950s. It measures 8 feet in width and 20 feet high, and the letters mean Lighted, Bell, and Radar Reflector. It originally weighed ca. 15,600 pounds, including the 225-lb bell. The bottom of this example was removed to fit into the gallery.
It was designed to be deployed in shallow, protected coastal waters and could be seen about two miles away in daylight. The light on the top was powered by batteries stored under the round hatches in the large bottom compartment. The bell was rung by the rocking of the buoy in the waves.
Object Name
buoy, bell
Physical Description
ferrous metal (overall material)
black (overall color)
copper alloy (overall material)
overall: 12 ft x 8 ft; 3.6576 m x 2.4384 m
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
related event
The Emergence of Modern America
The Great Depression and World War II
Postwar United States
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
Measuring & Mapping
Engineering, Building, and Architecture
On the Water
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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