Good protection can be had in moderate winds from south by southwest round through west to north by northeast, but it is completely exposed outside of this quadrant. The bay tends to reinforce the prevailing winds, causing it to be brusque, and it can be subject to an odd swell. Safe access is available in all reasonable conditions, night or day, and at any stage of the tide.
Keyfacts for Swanage
SummaryA tolerable location with safe access.
Position and approaches
Haven position50° 36.561' N, 001° 56.951' W
This is Swanage Pier head that exhibits a light 2FR (vert) 6m 3M
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
- Enter the bay freely keeping outside the Peveril Ledge buoy if approaching from the south.
Not what you need?
- Studland Bay - 1.4 miles NNE
- Goathorn Point - 2.7 miles NNW
- Chapman's Pool - 2.8 miles WSW
- Brownsea Island - 3.3 miles NNW
- Salterns Marina - 3.5 miles N
- Shipstal Point - 3.6 miles NNW
- Parkstone Yacht Club - 3.7 miles N
- Port of Poole Marina - 3.8 miles NNW
- Poole Yacht Club - 3.8 miles NNW
- Poole Quay Boat Haven - 3.9 miles NNW
How to get in?
Swanage Bay is situated at the eastern end of the Isle of Purbeck just over a mile northward of Anvil Point. The east facing bay is entered between Peveril Point and Ballard Point, 1½ miles north by northeast. The resort town of Swanage, with its fronting pier, occupies the south end of the bay and the town extends southward along the cliff top into adjacent Durlston Bay. Swanage Bay gradually rises northward to present coloured cliffs of clay and sand. These join the high steep chalk cliffs of Ballard Down to form its northern shore before it terminates in dramatic perpendicular chalk cliffs.
The bay’s primary danger is the rocky Peveril Ledge that has a race extending eastward from its southern Peveril Point. This is marked by a lit Peveril Ledge buoy. Like its northern neighbour, Studland Bay, the bay is open and easily accessed but it is much deeper throughout. Swanage Bay’s 2 metres CD contour lies approximately 200 metres from the shore whereas in Studland’s contour lies approximately 700 metres out.
The primary danger for vessels approaching from the west, or a southerly direction, is the Peveril Ledge. Anvil Point to Durlston Head is steep too, all dangers in Durlston Bay can be cleared by keeping 250 metres offshore.
Peveril Ledge extends from Peveril Point, a low cliffy point, about 1600 metres north by northeast of Durlston Head. The ledge comprises two rocky fingers that extend approximately 200 metres eastward of the point. From their extremity, depths then gradually increase to the lit Peveril Ledge red port buoy (Q.R) that is set in 14 metres of water a ⅓ of a mile out from Peveril Point.
Newcomers should pass outside the Peveril Ledge red buoy as the tide sets at up to 3 knots across the ledge creating a severe race. The worst of the race occurs between the shore and the buoy but rough waters will be encountered out as far as a ½ mile eastward of the buoy, and particularly so to the southeast during the west-going stream. The race is at its worst when a spring ebb tide encounters strong south easterly winds when it is advisable to pass well outside the mark.
The foreshore between Peveril Point and Swanage Pier is comprised of rocky outcrops, a cobbled beach, the lifeboat slip for the town’s all-weather lifeboat, and a number of short groyne structures. The ruins of the old pier lie south of the fully restored Swanage Pier. This shore is generally foul and should not be approached within 100 metres without local knowledge.
Vessels approaching from eastward will find the steep chalk cliffs between Ballard and Handfast Points conspicuous for many miles from seaward. In rounding them from the north it is best not to approach the shore nearer than ¼ of a mile.
The initial fix is set a ¼ of a mile north of the Peveril Ledge buoy on the 15 metre contour. From here steer 260°T for the Swanage Pier head, 2FR (vert) 6m 3M, about a ½ mile distant. At night the pier head light can be difficult to see in front of the town's lights.
Sound in and anchor according to draft and conditions, clear of the moorings area and the pier. The usual visitor anchoring position is about 200 metres northwest of the Pier head in about 2 metres. Holding is not great as the bay only has a thin layer of sand over rock and it is also subject to weed.
Shoal draft vessels may progress further in for better shelter if a gap can be found in the local moorings. However a ‘trip’ must be deployed here as the mooring area is foul with old gear. All of the moorings in the harbour area are privately owned and Swanage has no harbour authority. It may be possible to locate an appropriate unattended mooring by making enquiries to the Stone Quay pleasure boat operators or at the lifeboat house.
Land at the drying Stone Pier, or Monkey Beach located alongside, 200 metres westward of Swanage Pier. Alternatively at the Parish Slipway that is situated 100 metres to the northwest of Stone Pier and in front of The Square.
The Council-owned Central Beach has twelve buoys laid offshore that mark a 5 knot speed limit. These are situated about 400 metres out from the beach with the northernmost buoy being set in six metres and the southernmost in three metres.
All motorised boats are prohibited from passing inside of these marks or for landing on the beach. No dogs are allowed on the Central Beach during the summer season.
The less developed north end of Swanage Bay also offers a good anchoring alternative. Here the land rises up to Ballard Down, and the high downland ridge provides good shelter from northwest to north by northeast winds. The holding ground on sand or shingle is better here than in the southern part of the bay. The nearby North Beach permits landing by inflatables with outboards, and also dogs.
Why visit here?The meaning of the name Swanage is uncertain. It could be derived from the word for swan with its ‘age’ being derived from the old English ‘wic’ meaning farm. This would indicate its original meaning was ‘a place where swans were raised’. Alternatively, and more likely, its first name could have been derived from the old English word swán, now ‘swain’ meaning a young lover or suitor, that historically meant a country youth, servant or herdsman and was the origins of ‘boatswain’. If it was derived from swán it would have meant the area was ‘the herdsman’s farm’. Whichever the case it has been listed variously as Swanawic in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under 877, Swanwic in Doomsday 1086, Swanewiz in 1183 and only in more recent history as Swanage.
The majority of Purbeck’s archaeological remains consist of barrows from the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, a period between 3,300 and 900 BCE. The burial places of the wealthy and powerful were also used by the living for carrying out the many rituals that cemented the relationships of their communities. Chief amongst these is the Nine Barrow Down overlooking Swanage, its nine barrows giving the area its name, and the once grand stone circle with the remains of stone avenues at Rempstone near Corfe Castle. Ballard Down, overlooking Swanage Bay from the north, has two bowl barrows and a pond barrow. A cist, at Langton Matravers, provides evidence that Purbeck Marble was quarried here as early as the Bronze Age, and there are also the remains of Iron Age field systems in the area.
The town is first mentioned in historical texts in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 877. It is stated as being the scene of a great naval victory by King Alfred's longships, the forerunners of the navy. After attacking Wareham the Viking ships ran for Exeter, in Devon, where Alfred blockaded them. It was the invading armies’ supply vessels that were destroyed here, greatly assisted by the English Channel weather as was noted in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle… This year came the Danish army into Exeter from Wareham; whilst the navy sailed west about, until they met with a great mist at sea, and there perished one hundred and twenty ships at Swanawic.’ It is believed that the Danish ships had survived the battle with Alfred but foundered on Peveril Ledge taking up to five thousand Danish marauders down with them. The loss forced the Exeter Danes to submit to Alfred and they then withdrew to Mercia.
In the 12th century demand for Purbeck Marble grew alongside the construction of many large churches and cathedrals at this time. Purbeck marble does not weather well but it is very strong and suitable for decorative use. As such the stone was used extensively for internal columns, slab panels and flooring. It can be seen today in virtually all the cathedrals of southern England, most notably in Exeter, Ely, Norwich, Chichester, Salisbury, Lincoln, Llandaff, Southwark and Canterbury and also in Westminster Abbey. The arrival of more modern quarrying techniques in the 17th century resulted in an increase in production. When Corfe Castle was destroyed in the English Civil War, Swanage became the focus of the local Purbeck Stone industry, and the town grew up as an industrial port.
The 1666 Great Fire of London led to a period of large-scale reconstruction in the city, and Purbeck stone was extensively used for paving. It was at that time that stone first started being loaded upon ships directly from the Swanage seafront, whilst before that time quarried stone had been first transported to Poole for shipping. This activity reached its peak in the nineteenth century. Each year, thousands of tons of stone from local mines would be shipped out on a fleet of 70 sailing ships. The original Swanage Pier was constructed in 1860 to facilitate the shipment of stone. Horses were used to pull carts along the narrow-gauge tramway which ran along the seafront and out the pier.
What the town’s visitors noticed most was its beautiful scenery, beaches, its clean air and fine weather. But cut off on the extremity of the isle of Purbeck peninsula and in a valley location it was difficult to reach in the days of unpaved roads. This all changed with the introduction of a steamer service between Swanage, Poole and Bournemouth in 1874. The old pier then started to be used for day-trippers as well as stone cargo. The railway then came in 1885 running direct services from London that made the town much more accessible to visitors. Victorians then flooded in and it soon became clear that the old pier was unable to cope with the weight of foot passengers. A second 'new' pier was then built primarily for use of the pleasure steamers in 1895, and it was this that brought about the greatest increase in visitors. All combined to transform Swanage, quite suddenly, into a booming Victorian seaside resort, a description that it enjoyed for several decades afterwards.
Today Swanage is a small residential and tourist town, with a range of shopping and leisure facilities. Since the 1970s the local economy has suffered with the decline of the traditional seaside holiday. Swanage is today rediscovering its earlier history through a major enhancement scheme that maintains the special and unique historical character of its seafront. The town retains congenital connection by being home to Purbeck’s fleet of 30 fishing vessels. Remains of a Roman British settlement have also been discovered near the present-day site of Swanage Caravan Park. An 1882 monument situated at the southern end of the seafront promenade, topped by Crimean cannonballs, celebrates Alfred’s victory over the Danes. Its Victorian resort days can be seen in its many buildings dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Swanage pier, the longer second steamer pier that dates back to 1885, has been recently completely restored and is in wonderful condition. Through its historic charm, beaches and local friendliness the town is still able to treble its population with tourists and visitors during the summer season.
From a boating perspective neighbouring Studland Bay has marginally better shelter and holding, and is less subject to swell. But the north end of Swanage Bay offers northerly protection that Studland does not have. In moderate prevailing conditions the anchorage is excellent, and should the weather take a turn for the worst it is only a trek of three miles northward to spend the night in Studland, so at the very least it should not be overlooked as a day anchorage on this coast.
Those who venture here will find a small, attractive and friendly traditional seaside town of unexpected charm. Its beaches offer safe bathing and are protected from the prevailing winds. There is plenty to see immediately ashore. In addition to many arcades, bars, restaurants and cafés, that one would expect of a seaside town, there are many parks, gardens, museums and shops, along its attractive winding streets. Swanage Railway operates a heritage steam and diesel timetable train service on six miles of track between Swanage and Norden, which is a good way to explore some of the lovely surrounding countryside including the magnificent Corfe Castle.
What facilities are available?The town has all the cafés, restaurants, post office, supermarkets, and chemists you would expect. Fuel may be had, by jerry can, a mile and a half from the shore. Dive bottles can also be refilled here.
There are local bus services to Wareham and Bournemouth. National Express Coaches operate a single morning coach service from Swanage to London.
The nearest mainline railway station to Swanage is Wareham, with South West Trains services westward to Dorchester South and Weymouth and eastwards towards Poole, Bournemouth, Southampton Central and London Waterloo.
Limited ferry services also run between Poole Quay and Swanage Pier. These are used by Swanage residents for shopping trips to Poole's large shopping centre, and also by tourists from Poole for day trips into Swanage.
Bournemouth International Airport is on the periphery of Bournemouth. Ferry services from Poole Harbour to Cherbourg are provided by Brittany Ferries who operate one round trip per day.
With thanks to:Michael Harpur & John Binder CMM Poole Quay Boat Haven & Port of Poole Marina manager. Photography with thanks to Jim Champion and Michael Harpur.
Swanage Aerial Overview
Add your review or comment:
Please log in to leave a review of this haven.
Please note eOceanic makes no guarantee of the validity of this information, we have not visited this haven and do not have first-hand experience to qualify the data. Although the contributors are vetted by peer review as practised authorities, they are in no way, whatsoever, responsible for the accuracy of their contributions. It is essential that you thoroughly check the accuracy and suitability for your vessel of any waypoints offered in any context plus the precision of your GPS. Any data provided on this page is entirely used at your own risk and you must read our legal page if you view data on this site. Free to use sea charts courtesy of Navionics.