Weymouth Harbour offers good protection but swell can run up the outer harbour in strong easterly and north-easterly winds. In such conditions, the separately covered and more protected Weymouth Marina, located immediately upriver, may have visitors' berths that offer complete protection. Safe access is available night or day, at any stage of the tide and in all reasonable conditions.
Keyfacts for Weymouth Harbour
SummaryA good location with safe access.
Position and approaches
Haven position50° 36.464' N, 002° 27.059' W
This is the berthing area for vessels larger than 10 metres alongside the pontoons on the north side of the harbour.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
- Vessels approaching from the west must avoid Portland Race, located close south of Portland Bill.
- Avoid the area to the south of South Pier on any final approach.
- Watch out for Fast Cat ferry movements and abide by the traffic signalling displayed at the entrance.
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Weymouth Harbour is the small commercial port of the seaside town of Weymouth. The town is the third largest settlement in Dorset and it is centred on the harbour, also known as the Old Harbour, at the mouth of the River Wey, where the little river falls into the southwest part of Weymouth Bay. The harbour is entered between two stone piers where it then follows the path of the river through the town giving it a long, narrow, and unusually deep aspect. A cross-channel ferry service operates from a Ro-Ro ferry terminal located on its north side, a ¼ of a mile within, and it is an important centre for leisure craft.
The harbour offers berths with depths of up to 4 metres, which can accommodate vessels in excess of 18 metres. The controlling depth for the harbour is 5.2 metres CD in the approach channel and up to the Ro-Ro Terminal. From there it descends gradually to about 2.2 CD metres within 60 metres of the Town Bridge.
Weymouth Harbour is a council run municipal facility that openly welcomes leisure craft. There is no need to pre-book and a suitable berth can be obtained from the harbour office by contacting them on VHF Ch. 12, call sign [Weymouth Harbour], whilst approaching in open waters.
However special accommodations have to be made for vessels of more than 20 metres and likewise for visiting rallies or large groups. These must make arrangements a day or two in advance to be sure of a suitable berth/s, by calling P: +44 1305 838423 or E: email@example.com. More details are available on the harbour web site.
Mooring fees for 2017, are from 4 to 24 hours, 1st Apr - 30 Sept, £2.70 per metre incl. VAT. Outside of the busy months of July and August, they offer any vessels who have berthing for three consecutive nights an additional fourth night, free of charge. Likewise, rallies and groups can make use of a discount provided they make arrangements in advance. Registered Charities are entitled to a 30% discount on visitor rates.
Vessels approaching from the west will find The Isle of Portland presents a highly familiar landmark. It is three miles long, lies in a northeast alignment and is connected to the adjacent coast by a narrow isthmus of coarse shingle known as Chesil Beach. The Isle of Portland’s distinctive wedge-like appearance makes it one of the most easily recognised land masses for vessels proceeding up and down the English Channel.
On the southeast side of Portland Bill, the southern extreme of the Portland Peninsula, there stands the conspicuous 41 metre high tower of Portland Bill Light.
Portland Bill - Lighthouse Fl(4)20s43m25M & F.R19m13M Dia(1)30s position: 50° 30'.848 N 002° 27'.384 W
Another light is exhibited from the west face of the Isle 250 metres northwest of the lighthouse Oc.(2)Y.10s10M. A stone beacon stands at an elevation of 18 metres on the southern extremity of the shore and is meant to warn small vessels of a rock shelf with several loose boulders which front the point. The prominent structure of a former light, Old Low Light, is situated 0.4 miles north by northeast of Portland Bill Light.
A dangerous tidal race, called Portland Race, exists to the south of Portland Bill. The Race normally extends about 2 miles south of the Bill, a little to the west during the West going ebb, and to the east during the East going flood, as best seen on the charts. The worst part of Portland Race, being well defined by overfalls, is formed one to two miles south of the point but it can extend much further south in bad weather.
In heavy weather, especially when the wind is blowing against the current, a severe and very dangerous sea states occurs with irregular steep standing waves and breakers. In an easterly gale, against the body of the flood stream, the whole space between Portland and the Shambles is one sheet of broken water - see videos below. Even in fine weather, the noise caused by the Race may be heard for a considerable distance. Conversely, during neeps with fair winds, the race can be barely perceptible.
The majority of Weymouth lifeboats calls are to rescue yachts that were unaware of the race’s dangers and were unexpectedly swept into the tumult unable to escape. So, in all circumstances, Portland Race should be avoided by small craft. The options, therefore, are to avoid the Portland Race by ‘passing outside’ of the area, or by taking the 'inside passage' between the Bill and the race.
- • The safest route is always to pass outside of the Portland Race as and the Needles to Portland Bill and Portland Bill to Start Point Coastal Overviews provide waypoints to seaward of the race and its overfalls. Keep at least three to five miles south of the Bill during calm weather or at least seven miles in bad conditions, especially so during wind-over-tide conditions on a spring tide. The east-going flood to the south of the race is favourable for the best part of 7 hours from HW Dover +6.
- • Pass close south of the Bill in an area of relatively smooth water, located anywhere between the rocks off the end of the Bill and the Race to the south. The shorter 'Inside Passage' is a useful channel for leisure craft. It is an area of relatively smooth water where the current are more moderate between ½ and ¾ of a mile wide, with depths of from 5 to 16 metres. It is this preferred option in good conditions, neap tides, settled seas, wind and current in accord and timed for slack water with the tide turning favourable for direction intended. The 'Routes' entry Rounding Portland Bill by the 'Inner Passage' provides tidal timer and indicative set of waypoints for this approach.
Once past the race round up and preferably pass to the west of the dangerous Shambles Bank that lies 2½ miles east of Portland Bill. This irregular shaped bank is marked by west and east cardinal light-buoys on either end. It is also best avoided, as is the gap between it and the Race, as strong tidal streams may cause heavy seas in this entire area. At night the Shambles sandbank is covered by a red sector light from Portland Bill lighthouse.
Once past the Isle of Portland advance towards the initial fix set just outside Weymouth Harbour’s entrance. Vessels are requested to stay at least a ½ mile out when crossing Portland Harbour's breakwaters. Particularly so when crossing the East Ship Channel so that your vessel may be seen by commercial vessels navigating within the channel. Likewise, vessels should keep a watch for any craft unexpectedly exiting from either of Portland Harbour's entrances and high-speed ferries going back and forth to Weymouth.
The wooded hill The Nothe, immediately south of the entrance, will be clearly visible from Portland Harbour. On a final approach, it is best to stand well out from the area close south of the South Pier, as it is foul with the half-tide Mixen Rocks which run off nearly 200 metres eastward from Nothe Point.
A Degaussing Range, used to reduce a warships' magnetic signature, will be passed ¼ of a mile eastward of The Nothe. As best seen on the chart, it is marked by a light-buoy, Fl.Y.2s, and two unlit yellow buoys, and these marks may be considered to have no navigational importance to yachts.
Vessels approaching from the east will clear all dangers by keeping a ½ mile offshore after passing St Alban’s Head. Those choosing to hug the attractive coastline should check whether Lulworth Firing Ranges are active.
As with the western approach, the Isle of Portland makes for the first conspicuous mark, and on closer approaches the low-lying Portland Harbour and its isthmus will soon appear on the horizon. The Nothe, immediately south of the entrance, will then appear, after which the harbours two concrete piers will be seen running out immediately to the north. Shaping a course, with a bearing of less than 280° of the South Pier, leads into the approach channel.
The initial fix is set about 250 metres outside the harbour entrance on the alignment of about 240° T of the harbour’s red transit lights. The lights F.R. are situated a ¼ of a mile within the entrance on Ballast Quay, located about 100 metres east of the Weymouth Sailing Club.
By day, the line of bearing are diamond shapes that only become visible when the entrance is opened, and they are difficult to pick out. But in daylight, the entrance between the two stone piers of South Pier and North Pier is more than obvious and unmistakable.
Both piers are lit at night, South Pier Light Q.10m9M and North Pier 2F.G.(vert) 9m6M, but are difficult to see against shore lights. The slender Jurassic Skyline, a conspicuous 55 metres high white chimney-like structure on the north pier 200 metres west of the entrance, also makes a conspicuous sea mark. This has a people pod which will be seen ascending and descending from time to time. At night it is floodlit and marked by flashing red hazard lights.
Before advancing on the entrance it is essential to make certain that there are no shipping movements in the outer harbour. Fast Cat ferries frequently run from here to the Channel Islands and there is limited space in the entrance. Approaches on the entrance are regulated by traffic signals displayed in a vertical line, from a mast situated on a Red-White pole near the root of South Pier.
When a passage in or out of the harbour is restricted the signals will be operational and the lights must be observed. If in doubt, or advance warning of any vessel movements is required, contact [Weymouth Harbour] on VHF Ch12 or the berthing office on +44 1305 838423.
When no signals are showing it is clear to proceed through the open harbour entrance. There are no fairway buoys or a buoyed channel, as it is simply a matter of passing between the two piers that open to the northeast. The entrance’s two stone piers are 137 metres apart with best water to be found in the middle to the north side. Steer a central course to stand well off the South Pier as it is shallow out to 60 metres from its foot. Once past Nothe Fort the channel fairway then narrows to 76 metres as it leads into the long, narrow, and well-protected outer harbour. Again steer a central course as it is shallow along the soutern side where small craft moorings are located.
The speed restriction is 'Dead Slow,' the speed whereby your specific vessel’s ’wash does not cause annoyance to other harbour users’. Keep a watchful eye for a small rowing ferry that plies its trade between the Weymouth Sailing Club and the Customs House Quay. These small row boats have right of way and should be given a wide berth at slow speed.
Berth as advised by the berthing master alongside the pontoons south and north of the river. All berths are clearly identifiable by their designated letter and numbers on prominently displayed orange cards.
Vessels over 10 metres berth on the north side of the river, to starboard, after the commercial dock, either opposite the Lifeboat Station or outside the Harbour Office. These north wall berths will have depths of from at least 4 metres CD on the outer end, shoaling to 3 metres CD upriver.
Vessels of up to 10 metres berth on the south side of the harbour, in what is called The Cove, adhering to the mooring signage. These berths should have at least 2 metres CD, but in practice depths of 3 metres will be found here.
In all cases, vessels may be required to raft up, sometimes several deep. Vessels arriving in the early hours should proceed to a suitable berth or raft out on a vessel of a similar length and type.
Anchoring in the harbour is forbidden, but in fine weather it is possible to anchor outside in Weymouth Bay free of charge. This is about 800 metres off the perfect crescent shaped beach backed by its sweep of Georgian houses. Anchor outside the buoyed bathing area about 600 metres or so north of the head of South Pier. Depths of 2 to 3 metres will be found here with good holding in fine sand. It can be subject to a scend that rolls around Portland and fetches up off Weymouth beach.
Above Town Bridge, situated a ½ a mile within the entrance, is the separately covered Weymouth Marina that provides a warm welcome to visiting vessels.
Why visit here?Weymouth means ‘mouth of the River Wey’, with the word Wey being its river and an ancient word for ‘river’. It originated as a settlement on the constricted site to the south and west of Weymouth Harbour and developed opposite what was a separate settlement of Melcombe Regis on the opposite north side of the river.
Virtually nothing is known of these settlements before they were granted charters in the thirteenth century. It is surprising that the forms of early medieval settlements are not known, nor how they developed up to the time of the charters. Bronze and Roman weapons have been found in their surroundings, but there is no evidence that either Weymouth or Melcombe Regis were places of early settlements. Although a highly convenient harbour, the ancient weapons were most likely connected to Radipole further up the River, where the Romans beached their galleys. After AD43, when they had captured the extensive Maiden Castle southwest of Dorchester, they used Radipole to unload cargo for the important town of Durnovaria, now Dorchester, that they developed there.
It is estimated that sometime before the Saxon period Weymouth had started to develop as a fishing town and seaport as did Melcombe Regis opposite. The first mention of that place called Weyroouth occurs in a charter of King Æthelred I (866-871), while it is again spoken of in a charter of King Æthelstan, or Athelstan, (895-940) where it was recorded as Waimouthe in 934. Edward the Confessor gave the budding ports to the Convent and Prior of St. Swithin of Winchester in 1042. It remained with the prior and convent until the 13th Century, when it passed by exchange to Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, though the vassals of the prior and convent remained exempt from dues and tronage (the weighing of wool) in the port. Coming by marriage into the hands of the Earls of March and Plantagenets, the manor was finally vested in the crown.
The first charter was granted by the prior and convent in 1252. It made Weymouth a chartered borough and port for all merchants, and had the same standing as those of Portsmouth and Southampton. As early as 1293 trade was carried on with Bayonne, in Aquitaine in southwest France, from where wine was imported. Six years later it was made a Staple Port, a medieval system of the designation of ports of trade and taxation, for wool and woolfells. The supply of 15 ships and 263 mariners, for the siege of Calais in 1347, shows Weymouth’s importance in the 14th century. But there is no mention of a mayor until 1467 and it is thought that the town suffered considerably at the hands of the French at the beginning of the 15th century. In 1404 the men of Weymouth were victorious over a party which landed in the Isle of Portland but French raiders found the port so accessible that it lost its status as Port of Staple to Poole in 1433.
It was thought to have been brought ashore by fleas that had predated on the rats that infested the continental trading ships of the time. But it was proven in 2014 to have been an airborne pneumatic plague that made its way into the lungs. Once the disease reached the lungs of the malnourished of Melcombe Regis, it quickly spread to the wider population through sneezes and coughs. The local population fled inland before its horrors, only to spread the plague across the county of Dorset. By September it had reached London from which it spread into East Anglia and it was all along the coast during the early parts of the New Year. By spring 1349, it was ravaging Wales and the Midlands, and by late summer it had made the leap across the Irish Sea, and had penetrated the north. Within two years it had killed 1.5 million people, out of an estimated total population of 4 million people, and it would strike England another six times by the end of the century.
Fortunately, the 15th Century brought prosperity partly as a result of a substantial trade in pilgrims sailing to Spain. Throughout this time Weymouth and Melcombe Regis were rivals for trade and industry. The continual disputes between the two boroughs led to the passing of an act of union in 1571, to form a new double borough. Both towns then become known as Weymouth, despite Melcombe Regis being the main centre. The unification of the two towns helped the development of international trade and with it increased military activity around the port. In 1588 it supplied ships for the fight against the Spanish Armada. The Spanish ship ‘San Salvador’ was captured off Portland and brought into the harbour.
The town suffered severely during the Civil War in the middle of the 17th Century. Garrisoned by the parliamentary troops in 1642, it was taken by the Earl of Carnarvon in 1643 and surrendered in the following year at the cost of about 250 lives. But the days of colonial expansion was soon to bolster its fortunes again with many emigrants sailing to the New World from Weymouth.
It would be only in the 18th century that the two halves of the town would be finally linked by successive bridges over the narrowest part of the harbour. The town is described as ‘but little’ in 1733, but it soon gained a royal reputation a few years afterwards when King George III's brother, the Duke of Gloucester, built a house here. Like many 18th century coastal towns, it was touted as a health retreat and soon George III and the royal family made Weymouth their summer holiday residence to popularise it as one of the first seaside resorts in England.
Weymouth went on to suffer heavy damage during World War II but played an active part in the war effort. The Bouncing bomb was tested in the Fleet lagoon to the west of town. The Nothe Fort, a Palmerston's Folly that overlooks Weymouth Bay from the harbour’s entrance, was used as a base by the British and American navies. Built in 1872 by the Royal Engineers, with the help of inmates of Portland Prison, it is shaped like the letter D and made up of three levels of Portland stone, brick and granite. The fort's guns covered the approaches to both Portland and Weymouth harbours and it had an anti-aircraft gun stationed inside it during World War II. Its main role was storing anti-aircraft ammunition for the southwest and to provide a secure base for the joint navies to plan operations. When the time came to invade Normandy, 517,816 troops and 144,093 vehicles then embarked at Weymouth to bring the war to a conclusion.
Today Weymouth is a bustling seaside town of around 52,000 people and its Georgian terraces have been converted into apartments, shops, hotels and guest houses. It attracts thousands of holiday-makers in summer, earning it the rather dubious nickname of 'England's Bay of Naples’, or more recently 'Weybiza'. King George III's formative visits are commemorated by a chalk carving of the king mounted on a horse carved into the chalk hills of Osmington, and a statue on the Esplanade that marked the 50th anniversary of his succession. A Queen Victoria statue, in front of St John's church, faces George III’s statue from the opposite end of the Esplanade and a multi-coloured Jubilee Clock, erected in 1887, marks the 50th year of Queen Victoria's reign. Two war memorials also stand along the Esplanade. Nothe Fort remained in active service until 1956, before being taken over by Weymouth and Portland Borough Council and it is now open to the public as a museum of coastal defence. The Nothe Gardens, surrounding the fort, are now a public park that offers spectacular views of Weymouth Bay and the Harbour on one side, and views of Portland and Portland Harbour on the other.
From a sailing perspective, Weymouth is a superb location. It offers easy access at all stages of the tide and has well-sheltered berths with all facilities at reasonable prices in a beautiful historic outer harbour. Almost everything is a 5 minute walk from the quays, including its beautiful golden family safe beaches. All yachting requirements can be catered for in the immediate area and it has excellent transport connections for crew changes etc. Most of all, it is an ideal gateway to cruising the West Country. With fair winds, it can be reached on a single tide from the West Solent and it also offers an excellent stepping stone port for the return journey. All of this makes it a truly unique experience and an important leisure port in sailing terms.
What facilities are available?Water is available at the fuel pontoon, on quays and at all visitor berths. All have gangway access ashore and most berths have metered electricity, for which a plug-in fee is payable. Extension leads should they be needed are available to borrow from the harbour office.
Toilets and showers are located on the ground floor of the harbour office and at North Quay. 24-hour access is available using the door code provided by the berthing master on arrival. Toilets are also available at the back of the Royal Dorset Yacht Club bar on the North Quay and on the South quay. WiFi is available for some visitor berths opposite the Harbour Office, please take advice from the harbour office. A harbour plan marks the location of facilities.
Token operated laundry facilities are located on the ground floor of the harbour office from where the tokens can be purchased. Household waste can be bagged and disposed of in wheeled bins adjacent to the harbour office. Recycle facilities are available opposite the harbour office. Batteries and oil can be collected and disposed of by arrangement with the Harbour Office.
Diesel fuel is available from the jetty on the south side of the harbour and from mobile mini road tankers. No petrol is available in the harbour but it can be obtained from the petrol station on King Street. There is a public slipway in Weymouth Inner Harbour off Commercial Road above the Town Bridge. Also at Bowleaze Cove and Overcombe Corner.
Weymouth has all the services that you would expect from a town of this size. There is a choice of chemists, a post office, several banks and a host of bars and restaurants plus a selection of delis. It is an excellent place to provision, with a Marks and Spencer, Co-Op and a Tesco plus an Asda superstore all within about 10 minutes’ walk. The town also has a large range of independent shops and retailers. Bike hire and car hire are available in the town. All yachting facilities are available in Weymouth including a choice of chandleries.
Weymouth station, a five-minute walk, runs half-hourly trains to London which take three hours to reach Waterloo station. It is also connected by train to other Dorset towns such as Dorchester, Wareham, Poole, Bournemouth and Southampton and Bristol. The Jurassic Coast bus (CoastLinX53) runs along the south coast, calling at Poole, Wareham, Wool, Weymouth, Abbotsbury, West Bay, Bridport, Chideock, Charmouth, Lyme Regis, Seaton, Beer and Exeter. Other parts of Dorset are also relatively easy to reach by bus. The Condor Fast ferry operates to Jersey, Guernsey and St-Malo.
With thanks to:Michael Harpur S/Y Whistler. Photography Ian Capper, Kyle Taylor, Mike George, Michael Harpur and Jim Champion.
An Aerial Journey Across Weymouth and Portland
The Nothe Fort to Lodmoor Country Park in Weymouth.
Weymouth RNLI rescues a yacht trapped in the Portland Race
Portland Race during a storm
Sailing through the 'inner passage'
Tom Cunliffe discusses the 'inner passage'
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