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East Head

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East Head is a small headland within Chichester Harbour which is situated on the south coast of England. It is a remote beach and one of the most beautiful anchorages in the harbour.

East Head is a small headland within Chichester Harbour which is situated on the south coast of England. It is a remote beach and one of the most beautiful anchorages in the harbour.

Set within the estuaries’ channels it offers good protection in most conditions. However, it is exposed to a large body of water to the north and with strong winds from northwest round to northeast it becomes uncomfortable. Chichester Harbour's channels are well marked making access straightforward in most conditions, day or night and at most stages of the tide.

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Keyfacts for East Head

Last modified
July 17th 2018


A good location with straightforward access.

Marked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationPleasant family beach in the area

No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationRemote or quiet secluded locationAnchoring locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderQuick and easy access from open waterNavigation lights to support a night approachScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinity

Dangerous to enter when it is Beaufort force 5 or more from ESE, SE, SSE, S, SSW, SW and WSW.Note: strong tides or currents in the area that require consideration

HM  +44 1243 512301      Ch.14 [Chichester Harbour Patrol]
Position and approaches
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Haven position

50° 47.444' N, 000° 54.745' W

This is in the anchoring area close south of a line between East Head Spit and the Snowhill starboard buoys.

What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details are available in the westbound Route location or eastbound Route location sequenced 'Selsey Bill to Start Point' coastal description. Use the Itchenor Click to view haven entry for the approaches to Chichester Harbour and directions for Chichester Channel.

Not what you need?
Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Below are the ten nearest havens to East Head for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Pilsey Island - 0.4 miles NNE
  2. Sparkes Marina - 0.7 miles WSW
  3. Chalkdock Point - 1.1 miles NE
  4. Itchenor - 1.3 miles ENE
  5. Hayling Yacht Company - 1.4 miles WNW
  6. Thornham Marina - 1.7 miles N
  7. Bosham - 1.8 miles NE
  8. Birdham Pool Marina - 2 miles ENE
  9. Emsworth Yacht Harbour - 2 miles NNW
  10. Northney Marina - 2 miles NW
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Pilsey Island - 0.4 miles NNE
  2. Sparkes Marina - 0.7 miles WSW
  3. Chalkdock Point - 1.1 miles NE
  4. Itchenor - 1.3 miles ENE
  5. Hayling Yacht Company - 1.4 miles WNW
  6. Thornham Marina - 1.7 miles N
  7. Bosham - 1.8 miles NE
  8. Birdham Pool Marina - 2 miles ENE
  9. Emsworth Yacht Harbour - 2 miles NNW
  10. Northney Marina - 2 miles NW
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How to get in?

East Head sits on the south side of Chichester Harbour. Located a mile up the Chichester Channel, that stretches north-westward up through the harbour, it is conveniently close to the entrance and easily accessed. It is, however, East Head's natural beauty that makes it the most popular of Chichester Harbour’s three recognised anchorages.

The other anchorages of Pilsey Island Click to view haven, accessible by branching off in the Thorney Channel, and Chalkdock Point Click to view haven, on the approaches to Itchenor, are also accessed from Chichester Channel that is detailed, along with approaches to the harbour, in the Itchenor Click to view haven entry.

Chichester Harbour's sheltered and drying channels are almost entirely occupied by private moorings. Vessels should not anchor in or near established mooring grounds for fear of fouling existing ground tackle. Vessels anchored in Chichester Harbour should not be left unattended for long periods and must display a black ball along with an anchor light at night. Swimming off the boat is dangerous here because of the strong tides within the channel.

Convergance Point Drop off the Chichester Channel between East Head Spit buoy and the Snowhill buoy and anchor anywhere close south of a line between the buoys. Depths of 6.4 to 3.2 metres will be found in this area with excellent sand holding.
Please note

Vessels anchored in Chichester Harbour must display a black ball during the day and an anchor light at night.

Haven location The anchorage, although quiet during the weekdays, can be very busy during summer weekends. During busy times it is important not to anchor in such a fashion as to encroach upon the main channel.

Likewise, it is important not come too far south and anchor at high water. A shallow plateau extends east by northeast from the head following the line of the channel.

The channel facing edge of the flat is very steep. It steps down from chart datum to depths of 2 to 3 metres in a distance of as little as a couple of metres.

The flat has tended to catch out many an unwary visitor each year. In all cases the vessels crews only have to endure the long ‘wait of shame’ but it is more than embarrassing as fuel can spill through breather pipes when aground and there is always the risk of an adverse turn of events. To avoid this the harbour master has marked the Chart Datum contour of this flat with two small unlighted starboard buoys. These are located to the south of the main channel’s East Head Spit and Snowhill marks on the northern side of the shallow area. Only vessels that can take to the hard and are intending to dry out should anchor to the south of these Chart Datum marks.

Land on the beach by tender.

There is a small deep water pool very close to the head that is much sought after by local boats. Within this deep pool, a moderate draft vessel may stay afloat at most stages of the tide. Yet it is so close to the shore that a few short strokes of the oars would be all that is required to alight.

Why visit here?
East Head derives its name from its position on the eastern side of Chichester Harbour’s entrance. The sand and shingle spit is entirely uncluttered by coastal defences and is one of Sussex’s last surviving pieces of natural coastline.

The head was formed by a process known as longshore drift. In this process, sands are washed, or up-drift, along the coastline gradually accumulating in shoreline shallows. Then, at low tides, the top sands are dried and blown inland. These inland deposits progressively amass ashore to form dunes. Over time these are stabilised by plants that grow within the sands. This is how East Head was formed and although East Head has changed very little in the past half century it is both a dynamic and fragile environment.

Eighteenth-century charts present a very different spit than the one encountered today. Back then East Head was a finger of land pointing towards Hayling Island on the opposite side of the entrance. At that time Jill Dickin claims in her book ‘Chichester Harbour – the thirteen villages’, that a man on horseback could cross from Hayling Island to the Witterings at low tide. They would alight on the East Winner bank that was then known as Cockbush Common whose rabbits were a valuable food source for local people. Since that time East Head's position has gradually moved to point northward into the harbour and the East Winner bank has become a trap for the unwary yachtsmen.

Although it has now largely stabilised in its current form it is a very fragile environment and increasingly so. The head was breached immediately north of its narrowest section, that links the spit to the mainland, called the Hinge by a severe storm in 1963. It was overtopped in 1987 after which the drowning of its stabilising plant life caused rapid thinning. The sea broke through again in 2004 almost entirely washing away the area around the Hinge.

The increased erosion is believed to be caused by a lowering of the Winner sand and gravel banks located to the south of Langstone Harbour. This erosion has been occurring for almost a century now and it has washed away as much as three metres from the Winner banks. The reverberation eastward has been a reduction of East Head’s intertidal foreshore that increases its wave exposure.

To combat this East Head has had extensive use of artificial structures to stimulate dune growth. In 2005 a 'rock berm' was put on the inside of the Hinge area to secure the spit’s connection to the mainland and avoid the formation of a new channel. To support this, huge quantities of sand were also transported from the northern tip to this area, and again in 2009. The manually created dunes have been extensively planted with Marram Grass. Despite this assistance, the neck of the spit remains vulnerable. A combination of a spring tide with a severe storm could wash it all away.

Today East Head is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, SSSI, and a designated Ramsar wetland site of international importance. It is now managed by the National Trust who strive to find the right balance between managing its internationally recognised environmental designations and promoting the quiet enjoyment of this very delicate and important public property.

All they ask of sailors is to stay out of the roped-off areas that are protected wildlife sites. Barbeques should only be lit on the beach and shingle to avoid the risk of starting a fire in the dune’s protective marram grasses. Likewise, carry off everything brought ashore and do not throw litter overboard. It is a fragile environment to be respected and treasured by all.

Coming ashore is a must here as there is plenty to explore. The sand dune spit is about a kilometre long and, at the widest point is half a kilometre deep. It covers about 10 hectares in total area and yet has very distinct habitats. The beach on the western side is made up mostly of fine sand with shingle at its northern end. Behind this are its sand dunes covered in marram grass, interspersed with pretty tough-leaved sea holly and sea bindweed. Both these flowering plants are at their vibrant, colourful best in summer.

East of the dunes and north of the fragile Hinge is the 30-hectare salt-marsh that is one of rarest habitats in the south. Here the hummocky Spartina cordgrass becomes the particularly distinctive feature of the seascape. These distinct environments provide a haven for all kinds of wildlife. Many different types of gulls and terns will be seen here with the occasional Kestrel or Skylark hovering overhead. Offshore a grey seal will occasionally pop its head up and be mistaken for a marker buoy.