Located deep within England’s most extensive natural harbour, Town Quay offers good protection. The quay however suffers from wash of passing leisure and tour boats and is entirely exposed to strong east to south-easterly conditions. Safe access is available in almost all reasonable conditions, night or day, at all states of the tide. The outer entrance to Poole Harbour may become very rough or even dangerous on an ebb tide during south-easterly gales.
Keyfacts for Poole Town Quay
SummaryA good location with safe access.
Position and approaches
Haven position50° 42.721' N, 001° 59.250' W
This is the middle of the visiting boat area at Poole Town Quay.
What are the key points of the approach?
Not what you need?
- Poole Quay Boat Haven - 0.1 nautical miles ESE
- Port of Poole Marina - 0.2 nautical miles S
- Poole Yacht Club - 0.5 nautical miles SW
- Cobb's Quay - 0.7 nautical miles NW
- Parkstone Yacht Club - 1.1 nautical miles E
- Brownsea Island - 1.1 nautical miles S
- Lake Yard Marina - 1.3 nautical miles W
- Salterns Marina - 1.5 nautical miles ESE
- Shipstal Point - 1.7 nautical miles SW
- Goathorn Point - 2 nautical miles S
How to get in?
Poole is a large coastal town and seaport that stands on the north shore of Poole Harbour. It has a Continental Freight Ferry Terminal, a Ro-Ro freight and passenger terminal plus many general cargo quays. The harbour is also a major centre for yachting with several marinas and large amounts of moorings that cater to more than 5,000 leisure craft. The town is set three miles within the entrance to Poole Harbour which is located in the western part of Poole Bay.
Poole Harbour comprises a wide expanse of water punctuated by five small wooded islands, Brownsea the largest, Furzey, Green, Round and Long islands. It has creeks and mudflats on its southern and western sides with development on its northern and eastern side. The extensive estuary that covers an area of 38 square kilometres (15 sq miles) resembles an inland lake at high water with branches in every direction reaching into its surrounding heaths. It is nevertheless very shallow with an average depth of slightly less than half a metre and can only be traversed through its well-marked channels.
Town Quay is accessed via the main shipping Middle Ship Channel that has a maintained depth of 7.5 metres, reducing to 6 metres as the quay is approached through its final Little Channel. It is about five miles in total from the commencement of the Swash Channel, the first of the channels that leads through Poole Bay into Poole Harbour, to the Town Quay.
Town Quay fronts the south side of the town, below Poole Bridge, and is used by visiting pleasure craft and smaller tourist sightseeing ferries and Poole Harbour Commissioners. In total it is 400 metres long with depths of 3.6 to 4.5 metres alongside. 70 metres of the quay is offered to visitors on a first come, first served basis as only commercial vessels may book a berth in advance. This section is also used as an overflow from the adjacent Poole Quay Boat Haven and the Port of Poole Marina.
Poole Quay Boat Haven, on the east end of the town quay, manages the quay on behalf of Poole Harbour Commissioners. Berthing fees, as of 2016, are:
- • £2.32 per metre.
- • £2.23 per metre if harbour dues are already paid - usually applicable to local boats with annual harbour berths.
Although no moorings can be booked in advance it is advisable to contact the staff of Poole Quay Boat Haven on VHF Ch. 80, P: +44 1202 649 488, and notify them of berthing intentions before a final approach is made to the quay. This will avoid any subsequent movement required to accommodate a late commercial booking that may not have been cordoned off on the quay. Vessels may come alongside for short periods to set down or pick up crew, or run a quick errand without charge provided they discuss it with the staff of Poole Quay Boat Haven.
Coastal directions are provided in the Start Point to Selsey westbound or eastbound coastal descriptions.
Poole Bay is made readily identifiable by the high cliffs of Anvil Point, in its southwest corner, and the northern sweep that is almost entirely fronted by the many buildings of the resort town of Bournemouth. On closer approaches, the rocks of Old Harry fronting Handfast Point, situated southwest of the centre of the bay, provide a clear seamark. A little over a ½ mile northward of Old Harry the Swash Channel commences leading into the northeast corner of Poole Bay where the entrance to Poole Harbour is located.
Old Harry Ledges should be treated with respect and it is best not to approach its cliffs any nearer than ¼ of a mile. A race extends east from Handfast Point during the west going stream, which in Poole Bay runs south of Handfast Point. There may be eddies near the point especially so in an easterly or south-easterly.
The Swash Bar Buoys initial fix is set on the position of the Poole Bar No. 2 Port buoy Fl R.2s marking the entrance to the Swash Channel. From here the channel is clearly marked as it leads north-westward for two miles between the banks that front the entrance to Poole Harbour.
Vessels arriving from the east can ignore the initial fix and cut into the Swash Channel a little more than a ⅓ of a mile above by passing south of the unlit South Hook south cardinal buoy. At least 2.5 metres of water can be expected to the south of the mark. However strong easterly gales shift the sands here and depths can change so a watchful eye of the sounder is advisable. Alternatively, in favourable conditions, the East Looe Channel may be made use of as described below.
The Swash Channel is about 130 metres wide and has a maintained depth of 7.5 metres. A training bank will be found along the west side of the channel ¾ of a mile above the Bar Buoys. The Training Bank covers at half-tide but is clearly marked by beacons, the first of which is lit, 2 FR (vert).
Due to the level of commercial traffic a boat channel has been established for pleasure craft and fishing vessels. This is located between the training wall and the port marks on the southwest side of the Swash Channel. The boat channel continues in as far as Shell Bay and has at least 3 metres of water. Leisure craft are requested to utilise the boat channel whenever possible, particularly so when the main fairway is occupied by larger vessels. A 10 knot harbour speed limit comes into effect 1,400 metres from South Haven Point located in the vicinity of No. 8 and No. 7 Swash Channel buoys.
The East Looe initial fix is set in the vicinity of East Looe No. 1 port buoy, Fl R.4s. It is one of a pair of buoys, EL 1 and EL 2, Fl G.5s, that mark the entrance to the East Looe Channel. Positions may not be precise as the sands are liable to shift and the buoys are moved accordingly.
The East Looe Channel has a least charted depth of 1.3 metres. Due to the possibility of easterly gales shifting the sands here, this charted depth should be given a seamanlike measure of caution and newcomers are advised to add a good margin for clearance. That said, in favourable weather when height of the tide allows, the East Looe Channel is well marked and conveniently situated very close to the harbour entrance. It therefore offers an excellent cut from the east by removing the need for a long southern dogleg to the Bar Buoys and can prove very useful when a strong ebb tide is running down the Swash Channel.
EL 1 and EL 2 lead over the bar to a second pair of buoys, EL 3 and EL 4. After passing through the latter pair the water should start to deepen once again. Vessels should then turn to port and run parallel to the beach, about 100 metres off, to pass inside or to the north of the North Hook port buoy, Fl(2)R.5s. Continue along the shore to pass close south of the two substantial Green Beacons, 2F.G vert, on the heads of the groynes fronting the shore. Then enter the Swash Channel well north of the Swash (No. 9) west cardinal buoy, Q(9)15s, at the entrance to that harbour.
The harbours 300 metre wide entrance lies between the low and sandy South Haven Point, on the south side, and the built up Sandbanks peninsula, dominated by an enormous hotel, on the north side.
Sandbanks Chain Ferry runs across the harbour entrance between South Haven Point and Sandbanks. The chain ferry has right of way over all leisure vessels. A black ball hoisted at the forward end will indicate its intention to move off the slipway and it exhibits a white strobe light in the leading direction when the engines are engaged.
It is however usually easy to predict when the chain ferry is ready to depart, especially on the south side, by simply watching the Ro-Ro vehicles loading. Nevertheless this added complication of the chain ferry crossing the narrow exit where streams can attain a Spring rate of 4.5 kn, along with associated eddies, requires the helmsman to be alert. Vessels entering under sail will find it prudent to have the engine running as a precautionary measure.
Once past the chain ferry and within the harbour steer for the Brownsea East Cardinal buoy, Q(3)10s, situated off the southeast end of Brownsea Island. 200 metres south of this, after the No.14 buoy, Fl.R.5s, access to the South Deep channel opens around the lit north cardinal buoy, Q, situated to the north of Stone Island. This leads to the shallow Whiteground Lake and Blood Alley Lake anchorages to the south of Brownsea Island and Goathorn Point on the harbour’s south-eastern shore.
As the Brownsea East Cardinal buoy draws near the Middle Ship Channel also opens to the north and it should be joined. Commencing close east of Brownsea, the Middle Ship Channel is the main fairway leading from the entrance up to Port of Poole and Town Quay. It has a width of 105 metres and a maintained depth 7.5 metres.
The second of the harbours principal channels is the North Channel which is entered off Middle Ship Channel. The North Channel runs to the east and then north of the Middle Ground and Parkstone shoals and the mudflats opposite that extend from the east and north side of the harbour. It was once the harbour's main channel and was dredged to 4.0 metres in 1997. It is no longer maintained and is subject to silting but it is very well-marked with lighted buoys and has at least 2 metres or more throughout. The North Channel leads to Salterns Marina and Parkstone Yacht Club . It branches off from the Middle Ship Channel opposite Brownsea Castle with the Bell Buoy (No.15) south cardinal, Q(6)+LFl.15s, marking the dividing point. After about 2 miles the channel converges again with Middle Ship Channel to the west of Parkstone Shoal, close west of the Diver (No. 25) west cardinal, Q(9)15s.
The third of Poole Harbour's principal channels is the Wych Channel that branches westward off Middle Ship Channel to the northeast corner of Brownsea Island and immediately north of the large No.18 Port buoy, Fl.R.4s. It then passes to the north and then west of Brownsea Island. Its deeper water is made evident by the lines of yacht moorings and its edges by stakes with red and green topmarks. The Wych Channel carries at least 2.2 metres as far as Pottery Pier situated on the west extremity of Brownsea where it is possible to anchor. The channel then continues as the shallower Upper Wych Channel where it is marked by stakes to the popular anchorage at Shipstal Point . Here Upper Wych then finally turns southward around Long Island to dry west of Round Island.
From the Middle Ship Channels commencement east of Brownsea Island it's fairway generally leads northward for a little under a mile. It then turns west by northwest around the Aunt Betty east cardinal and continues for 1¼ miles up to Little Channel that leads into Poole Town Quays. The Middle Ship Channel is the main channel for commercial vessels and is subject to considerable commercial traffic, including Cross-Channel high speed ferries and cargo vessels proceeding to and from the busy commercial port, and harbour tour boats from Town Quay along with some MOD activity.
To help keep the main fairway clear a small boat channel has been set in place for recreational and fishing vessels with draughts of up to 1.5 metres. The small boat channel commences inside the large No.18 Port buoy off the northeast corner of Brownsea Island. It then runs northward parallel to the Middle Ship Channel before turning north-westward between a black/yellow/black east topmark beacon on the inside, and the main fairways' Aunt Betty east cardinal buoy, Q(3)10s on the outside. Apart from these two marks the small boat channel runs between a series of unlit port hand beacons on the inside or southwest side, and the port hand buoys of Middle Ship Channel on the outside.
Recreational craft and fishing vessels are obliged to use the Small Boat Channel whenever possible to keep well clear of shipping using the main channel. Expect about 2.0 metres to be found in the small boat channel, but it can be as little as 1.5 metres near the beacons on its south-western side.
The small boat channel terminates opposite the entrance to the Little Channel that branches north from the inner end of Middle Ship Channel at the Stakes No. 29 south cardinal buoy. From here the Little Channel leads the last ¼ of a mile up to the Town Quay. It passes the entrance to the Port of Poole Marina , the quays of the Port of Poole on the west side and the head of the enclosing breakwater of the entrance to Poole Quay Yacht Haven on the east.
On entering the Little Channel contact should be made with Poole Quay Boat Haven. The harbour speed limit of 10 knots reduces to 6 knots in the Little Channel and beyond up to Holes Bay where, about a mile above Town Quay, the large scale MDL Cobb's Quay marina will be found.
The visitor berthing area lies 70 metres eastward of the large sculpture on the quay and is well-marked by signs. No berthing boards will be displayed on any part of the quay that is being reserved for a commercial vessel. Come alongside as advised by Poole Quay Boat Haven as the case may be.
The quay is fronted by wooden pilings with ample ladders. The harbour office provides fender boards that can be found chained in place on the quay above. Once the vessel is secured visit the Poole Quay Boat Haven to make arrangements.
Boats requiring a short stay berth, to wait for a bridge lift, may come alongside the visitor area at no charge provided Poole Quay Boat Haven is advised. Under no circumstances should any vessel come alongside the Poole Harbour Commissioners jetty above the sculpture, and immediately below the bridge.
By not turning off at the Little Channel and continuing to the south of the Port of Poole, vessels will come to Hamworthy's Poole Yacht Club that receives visitors from recognised clubs, when they have vacent beths, and Lake Yard Marina that also offers visitor moorings.
Further above, on the River Frome, shallow draft vessels can berth at Ridge Wharf Yacht Centre or at Redclyffe Yacht Club that will accomodate visitors where they can. It is also possible to lie alongside the historic town quay of Wareham about five miles west of Poole Harbour.
Why visit here?Poole Town Quay derives its name from the Old English ‘pol" meaning ‘pool’. The historic town receives its name from the large inland lake-like Poole Harbour which it overlooks from a northern peninsula.
This extensive harbour, credited with being the second largest natural harbour in the world, was quick to attract people to its shores. The area has been inhabited since before the Iron Age and contains a network of settlements such as those located on Furzey and Green islands, which were exploiting mineral resources both within Poole Harbour and the Isle of Purbeck. The landmark discovery of an Iron Age log boat off Brownsea, exhibited today in Poole Museum, indicates that early Iron Age travellers combed the waters and mud banks of the harbour.
In the 3rd century BC, a Celtic tribe called the Durotriges settled in the heathland around the River Frome and the western perimeter of Poole Harbour. The Roman 2nd Augusta Legion, that conquered Wessex in AD 43, made their base in an Iron Age settlement that existed at Hamworthy, just west of Poole Town Quay. From here they set up a supply line that they linked to the legionary fortifications at Lake near Wimborne with traces of their road surviving to this day.
During Anglo-Saxon times Poole was included in the Kingdom of Wessex. The Saxons used the area as a place to fish and anchor ships on their way to Wareham. Wareham, for the Saxons, was one of the most important towns in the county. It housed two mints for the issue of Royal money and was a royal burial place, notably that of King Beorhtric in 802 AD. The importance of Wareham was noted by Guthrum, King of the Danish Vikings, who entered Poole Harbour with a Viking invasion fleet in 876. He captured and occupied Wareham and only left after Alfred the Great returned with an army and made a payment of ‘Danegeld’ - a land tax levied by Anglo-Saxons to raise funds for protection against Danish invaders. Guthrum returned in 998 to continue his ultimately unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Alfred. Not long afterward King Canute came into Poole to execute his very successful conquest of England in 1015. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle noted ‘[Cnut] came into Sandwich, and straightway sailed around Kent to Wessex, until he came to the mouth of the Frome, and harried in Dorset and Wiltshire and Somerset".
Yet despite all this pivotal activity in the harbour, Poole, or La Pole as it was known then, received no mention by the early chroniclers or in the Domesday Book. For the Iron Age peoples, the Romans, the Saxons and the Danes all preferred Poole Harbour’s Wareham or Hamworthy over La Pole. The unpromising alluvial peninsula, flanked on the northwest by Holes Bay and on the south by Poole Harbour, remained largely untouched until after the Norman Conquest. The seeds of what would be the town of Poole started to develop around a small fishing and trading town. The first mention of La Pole came in a 1224 writ. This was addressed to the ‘bailiffs and good men of La Pole’ ordering them to retain all ships within their port. The foundation stone for the town that would develop was to come soon after from the famous English knight and crusader Sir William Longspée.
The Poole peninsula at the time formed the southern boundary of the ‘Manor of Canford’ of which The Lord of the Manor was Sir William Longspée, Earl of Salisbury. A committed crusader, in 1248 Longspée sold a charter of liberties to the burgesses of Poole for 70 marks to fund his participation in the Seventh Crusade. This charter granted ‘La Pole’, or Pola, freedom from manorial burdens, an annual fair and assured to its townspeople all liberties and free customs within his borough. Entries in the ‘Patent Rolls’ show that Poole had considerable trade before Longspée granted the burgesses a charter in 1248. But this charter was set to be a faithful event for Longspée and the town. In the event Longspée died as a martyr in the Seventh Crusade. He also became part of the English psyche on account of his death being caused by the purported mistakes of the French at the ‘Battle of Mansurah’ in Egypt. Likewise the autonomy and small measure of freedom from feudal rule that the charter provided to Poole was to provide the solid foundation upon which the town would arise from this marshy area of land.
For the following three centuries Poole gradually developed into a prosperous town. By the 13th Century Poole was where the king’s wines were landed, and also where Purbeck stone was loaded which contributed largely to the construction of Corfe Castle. During this time the gradual silting of the harbour’s western reaches reduced access to Wareham Harbour. This along with Poole’s double tide and storage facilities lead to Wareham’s trade gradually transferring to Poole Harbour. Development came hand-in-hand with this increase in trade but it was not all smooth and easy progress. During this period Poole had its setbacks, such as the 1349 Black Death pandemic and the Hundred Years War that had laid the town low by 1370. But it weathered its setbacks and as its trading fortunes rose the more the town continued to develop.
By 1433 Poole had become one of the largest towns on the south coast. In that year Henry VI gave the burgesses a Royal Charter that made Poole ‘Dorset’s Port of Staple’ - head port for Dorset. This enabled the port to begin exporting wool and granted it a licence to fortify the town, allowing the borough to “wall, embattle and fortify the town”. However the town never built any fortifications. It relied on a large tidal ditch that turned the then narrow peninsula into an island that had a restricted ‘Towngate’ entry. This was called on to defend the peninsula from land, and the ‘Great Quay’ was fortified with cannons. Although no walls were built for this charter, which was renewed in 1462, it transformed Poole’s economic prospective.
The charter grated Poole similar rights to only six other 15th century towns. It had the customs control and trading rights that were an equal to those of Southampton. Poole men began to cross the Atlantic to fish for cod off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, where they reported cod shoals that were 'so thick by the shore that we hardly have been able to row a boat through them.' New families and merchants rose to prominence to dominate the power and political structure. They began to serve as town mayors who provided effective and efficient governance that secured and provided facilities for the community.
The stability of the following Tudor period during the 16th century brought further prosperity. Despite the relatively small size of Poole, having a population then of less than 1,400, Elizabeth incorporated Poole as ‘County of the Town of Poole’ in 1569. This charter separated the town from the County of Dorset and made it a separate county entirely of its own. This enabled the Mayor and Bailiffs to ‘purchase and possess all manner of goods, lands, tenements, liberties and hereditaments whatsoever’. When this autonomy was set alongside the wealth created from the newly created North Atlantic fish and associated products trade, the town was set to rise to the peak of its success during the 17th and 18th centuries.
By the early 18th century Poole had more ships trading with North America than any other English port, and vast wealth was brought to Poole's merchants. The primary economic engine for this heyday was the town’s highly successful commercial links it had established with the North American colonies during the 15th and 16th centuries. The single most important element of this was Newfoundland fisheries which the harbour exploited. This created a three-cornered triangle of wealth for Poole Harbour. Ships sailed to Newfoundland with salt and provisions, then carried dried and salted fish to Europe before returning to Poole with wine, olive oil, and salt. In 1750 Dr. Pocock observed “There are several quays at the end of the town and on each side of the merchants yard go to the water and some have quays to them. They have some Newfoundland trade and a considerable business in building ships and bringing the materials; they are also employed in fishing, having beside the common seafish plenty of soles and John Dory and very large oysters…”.
The end of the Napoleonic Wars and the conclusion of the War of 1812 ended Britain's monopoly over the Newfoundland fisheries. Other nations took over services provided by Poole's merchants at a lower cost. Poole's Newfoundland trade went into a rapid decline and within a decade most merchants had ceased trading. By then the industrial revolution was well under way providing the next impetus to Poole’s development. The harbour, at the heart of the town, was nevertheless in decline. At the turn of the 19th century, nine out of ten workers were engaged in harbour activities, but as the century progressed ships became too large for the shallow harbour and the port lost business to the deep water ports at Liverpool, Southampton and Plymouth. The coming of the rail in 1847, effectively ended the port's busy coastal shipping trade.
During the 19th century the beaches and landscape of southern Dorset and southwest Hampshire began to attract tourists. The villages to the east of Poole began to grow and merge to create the seaside resort of Bournemouth. By the latter half of the century the Victorian seaside boom had commenced. Although Poole did not become a resort like many of its neighbours, it continued to prosper as the rapid expansion of Bournemouth created a large demand for goods manufactured in Poole.
Being an industrial town Poole was targeted by the Luftwaffe during World War II and suffered bomb damage. Holding fast it played a major role in Churchill’s mid-war plan to transform the south coast from a bastion of defence to a springboard of attack. The ‘HMS Turtle’ base, as it was known, was established by the Royal Air Force at Hamworthy in 1942. It was used for training personnel for the D-Day landings and, with over 300 operational craft leaving the harbour on June 5th, it went on to serve as the third largest embarkation point for invasion. The harbour went on to play a vital role after the landings, serving as a base for supplies to the allied forces in Europe. In 1944, control of the site was handed over to the Royal Navy for use as a naval establishment. It serves to this day as the Royal Marines aquatic training facility.
Today Poole retains its historical pedigree as a busy commercial port with its cross-Channel freight and passenger ferry services. ‘Sunseekers’ luxury motorboat production has also ensured that its historical links to boat building have continued to the present day and provides a stable nucleus for local employment. Outside of this Poole can be primarily considered a tourist resort that attracts visitors to its large natural harbour, its history, its arts centre and wonderful Blue Flag beaches. Stepping onto its historical quay, Poole’s heritage as the south coasts most important medieval port will immediately reveal itself through its remaining medieval quayside buildings.
From a sailing point of view Poole Town Quay is anything but a quiet historical berth. It is an incredible hive of activity during the sailing season. Every Tuesday up to 2,000 bike enthusiasts roar into the town to showcase their bikes and meet with fellow bikers and spectators on Poole Quayside. On Fridays Poole Quay is consumed by themed cars as enthusiasts bring their pride and joy to the quay. This is accompanied by live music, quayside restaurants, vibrant pubs and bars, that keep the party going all evening. All of which is finished off by a considerably large fireworks finale. This is certainly the destination for party boats or the lively at heart.
What facilities are available?Town Quay has no water or electricity. After checking in with Poole Quay Boat Haven, visitors may use their key-code for toilets on the pontoon, or shower and toilets located ashore across the road. Poole Quay Boat Haven has a token operated system, available from staff in reception, for a washing machine and tumble dryer. With Poole Harbour catering to an annual fleet of 5,000 leisure craft and having a world class boat builder adjacent, it can be taken that it offers almost any conceivable marine service or facility a vessel could require.
Poole’s town centre stretches from the water’s edge at Poole Town Quay up to the Dolphin Shopping Centre. Within a few strides The Quay and Old Town provide a range of small, independent shops, including a well-stocked and capable chandlery, a host of pubs, take away outlets, a mini supermarket and good restaurants. Dorset's largest indoor shopping centre, ‘The Dolphin Shopping Centre’ that has 110 stores covering all items is a 15 minute walk along the high street.
Poole railway station is located in the town and is served by London Waterloo to Weymouth express and semi-fast services. From east to west these call at Branksome near the border with Bournemouth, Parkstone, Poole railway station in the town centre and Hamworthy. Most local bus services are run by ‘More Bus’ who are based at the town's bus station. It operates networks across Poole, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Salisbury, in addition to operations on the Isle of Purbeck and the New Forest. Poole is also a calling point for National Express Coaches, which have frequent departures to London Victoria Coach Station. Direct services to the Midlands, the North of England and to Heathrow and Gatwick airports can also be found in the town.
Bournemouth International Airport is on the periphery of Bournemouth only 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) from Poole Town Quay. Ferry services from Poole Harbour to Cherbourg are provided by Brittany Ferries who operate one round trip per day.
Any security concerns?Poole Town Quay is an open public quay where all normal security arrangements should be adhered to.
With thanks to:John Binder CMM Poole Quay Boat Haven & Port of Poole Marina manager and Kirsty Caño, Marina Assistant. Photography with thanks to Michael Harpur.
An aerial flight from Salterns Marina to Poole Quay
An aerial flight over the northeast end of the bay to Brownsea Island Castle
An aerial flight over the Sandbanks Peninsula and the entrance to Poole Harbour
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