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Coastal Overview for The Solent and the Isle of Wight

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What is the route?
This is the primary coastal description for The Solent, Southampton Waters, rivers Test and Itchen and the shores of the Isle of Wight. It also provides approaches, a route up through these waters to the river mouths, both west and east around the Isle, and a tide times for the Needles Channel.

Detailed coastal descriptions are intended to be read alongside local area charts so that the key considerations may be noted and pencilled in well in advance. The intention is not only to make passages safer, by highlighting coastal dangers, but also to make them more enjoyable by unavailing all the Havens along the way so that the occasional coastal gem might not be overlooked.

The waypoints are sequenced from west to east and commence at the western approach to The Solent. From there they proceed clockwise to Southampton Docks returning to exit to the east of the Isle of Wight as follows:

  • • Approaches to the Needles Channel from the ‘Whis Fairway’ buoy, presenting the channel's flood and ebb tides

  • • Eastward along the north or mainland shore of the western Solent

  • • North-westward along the western shoreline of Southampton Water to Dock Head

At Southampton Dock Head, marking the junction of the River Test and the River Itchen, the waypoints turn back to illustrate an eastern approach, passing:

  • • South-eastward along the eastern shore of Southampton Water

  • • Entering the northeast side of the North Channel and onward to Spithead

  • • Close southwest of No Mans Land Fort via the leisure craft passage

  • • Around Foreland close outside east of the 'Bembridge Ledge' east cardinal mark

  • • Close inside the 'W Princessa' west cardinal mark

Although the waypoints detail pathways up through The Solent the text of the coastal descriptions also detail The Isle of Wight which is broken into sections and described, for the most part, in an anticlockwise fashion.

Why sail this route?
The Solent’s waters have many delights for visiting boatmen. The stretch of water provides access to the ports of Southampton, Portsmouth, Cowes and a host of other pretty fishing ports, rivers and estuaries that provide a host of berthing opportunities. There is a wealth of boating related activities in its many destinations and is home to many key sailing events, such as Cowes Week, in August, and the Southampton International Boat Show in September.

Tidal overview
Today's summary tidal overview for this route as of Tuesday, July 23rd at 14:56. Calculating the correct time to enter The Solent from the west is essential. At the narrowest point of the entrance, between Hurst Point and Fort Albert, tidal streams attain a mid-channel flow of up to 3.9kn on the flood and 4.4 kn on the ebb. Fortunatly, The Solent flood lasts for about nine hours and the ebb between three and a half to four hours. So short, sharp ebbs and longer periods of favourable tides on approaches can be expected.

Needles Channel Ebb

(HW Portsmouth -0100 to +0430)


(Tidal flow )

Ends in 03:22:03

(Tue 12:49 to 18:19)

Needles Channel Flood

(HW Portsmouth +0500 to -0130)

Starts in 03:52:03

(Tue 18:49 to 00:44)

What are the navigational notes?
Please use our integrated Navionics chart to appraise the route. Navionics charts feature in premier plotters from B&G, Raymarine, Magellan and are also available on tablets. Clicking the 'Expand to Fullscreen' icon opens a larger viewing area in a new tab.

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The above plots are not precise and are indicative only.


The Isle of Wight is a large island situated off the Port of Southampton and Portsmouth, on the south coast of England. It extends eastward from a group of rocks called The Needles for twenty miles and is twelve miles from north to south. It is the largest and second-most populous island in England. The island has been holiday destinations since Victorian times and is known for its mild climate, coastal scenery, and verdant landscape of fields, downland and chines.

The Isle of Wight and The Solent
Image: Alan

The island is separated from the mainland by the sheltered waters of The Solent. This stretch of water is about 20 miles long and varies in width from between 2½ to 5 miles with its narrowest point located between Hurst Castle and Colwell Bay. Here the shingle Hurst Spit, projecting 1½ miles from the mainland, narrows the Strait to less than ¾ of a mile. Southampton Water, an inlet serving the port of Southampton, extends five miles north-westward from The Solent and has a deep-water channel about a ⅓ of a mile wide. It has Southampton Docks at its head that marks the junction of the River Test and the River Itchen.

The protected inshore waters have played a vital role in British history since the Roman times and is steeped in history. Portsmouth lies on its shores with Spithead, in the Eastern Solent, being the place where the monarch of the day reviews the Royal Navy. The Solent is an area of natural beauty bordered by and forms a part of the character of a number of nationally important protected landscapes including the New Forest National Park, and the Isle of Wight ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. All of this makes it the busiest centre for recreational boating in the UK and a favourite for locals and visitors alike.


The Solent is entered from the west, via Needles Channel or the North Channel, and from the east via several channels lying in the vicinity of the Nab Tower. In each case, the run up through The Solent and Southampton Waters to Dock Head, and the rivers Test and Itchen is more than 20 miles.

The Needles as seen from the Needles Channel at dusk
Image: Guy Quayle via CC BY 2.0

The waters of The Solent and Southampton Water are deep and exceptionally well-marked. A helmsman that keeps to the correct side of the marks and in reasonable soundings should expect to encounter few hazards. The presented route to Dock Head is alongside the main shipping channels that are deep and intended for the use of heavily laden commercial vessels. Leisure vessels need not strictly adhere to these marks but should at all times avoid impeding deep-draft commercial vessels that may be constrained by their draft and turning circles.

The waters of The Solent are well marked
Image: Ronald Saunders via CC BY-SA 2.0

A useful set of additional marks that leisure craft may make use of are the Solent's primary yellow race marker buoys. These charted marks are set in place from predominantly March through to November and typically lit with a Fl.Y4s signature. With the exceptions of the race marks off Hill Head and on the East Knoll, there is ample water for a vessel carrying a draft of up to 2 metres LAT up to these racing buoys. However, that is not to say all marks are charted, lit or in deep water. Racing marks situated close in on the shoreline and pot markers cannot be relied on to be illuminated or to indicate deep water. Those intending upon coming well off the main channels at times of low visibility should bear this in mind.

In our detailed overview, we highlight key shoreline features inside of the primary lateral marks and the race buoys. Although all of these dangers are buoyed and easily avoided, they become important when a vessel is struggling against an adverse tide. During these times many vessels are forced to come inshore to get out of the main run and make the best of it. To support this purpose, we make a note of key dangers so they may be found more easily on a chart or plotter.


The Solent’s underwater dangers present much less of a concern to the helmsman than it’s quickly shifting topography of above water dangers. Hosting several of England’s largest commercial ports, The Solent and Southampton Water has a successive stream of very large ships moving in, out and around what is effectively a small stretch of water. These include deeply-laden tankers, large container vessels and passenger cruise vessels that are spatially challenged in these waters and particularly so when coming alongside. In addition to the large ships, there are a host of fast moving ferries that quickly ply their way back and forth between mainland ports and those on the Isle of Wight. Add to this the amount of pleasure craft, especially during race weeks or on a summer’s weekend, and the key feature of navigation will, as often as not, be to keep clear of other vessels.

Yacht passing a ferry in the approaches to Lymington in the western Solent
Image: Michael Harpur

Take it as a given that larger ships have the right of way in this body of water. Draft constrains the largest of these to the primary channels, and they often have to operate at speeds of more than ten knots to maintain steerage around the Bramble Bank or Calshot Spit. Add to this the lack of forward-vision and their restricted steerage, and you have to conclude that they are probably unable to take action to avoid a collision with leisure craft, even if they desired to do so. As such, a vessel entering The Solent should have a radar reflector with an active radar responder or radar as a helpful addition. VHF channel 12, the Solent’s working channel, should be monitored when on the move and a watchful eye should be maintained for boat movements at all times. Try to make a habit of turning through 360° at regular intervals in The Solent as ships can stealthily creep up on a vessel from downwind or behind a big genoa. Likewise, don’t assume that small open boats are moving, some often drop an anchor on the margins of the channel and cast out a fishing line.

Wightlink ferry in the eastern solent
Image: Tez Goodyer via CC BY-SA 2.0

Give the large ships as wide berth by keeping outside the main channels as much as possible. If it becomes necessary to cross the channels, do so at right angles and at a time that avoids crossing in front of a ship. In a specifically restricted area located in the Central Solent, called the ‘Area of Concern’, there is a requirement that all leisure craft must standoff commercial shipping by specified distances – detailed below. Fast ferries services also warrant a wide berth where possible. They approach rapidly, both ahead and astern, and are keen to keep to their allotted time schedules. It would not be prudent to assume the right-of-sail carries over power with these ferries as it could go very wrong, very quickly.


The flood over the bridge at The Needles
Image: Ian Stannard via CC BY-SA 2.0
Tidal currents are moderate in Southampton Water but can be very strong in The Solent that features one of the world’s most unusual tidal patterns. The tidal variations here are largely a function of an English Channel oscillation added to by The Solent’s dual entrances. The Solent’s tide rises for about six hours and then ‘Stands’, or has a ‘Double High Water’ for a further three hours. The ‘Stand’ is caused by the English Channel’s ‘closed funnel effect’ that causes a large volume of water to continue to flow into The Solent’s eastern entrance giving the normal rise a second wind.

As a result, The Solent flood lasts for about nine hours and the ebb between three and a half to four hours. So expect short, sharp ebbs and longer periods of favourable tides on approaches. There is another local ‘young flood stand' phenomenon that is very pronounced during Springs in Southampton Water. It occurs about two hours after Low Water and manifests itself in a slackening of the tidal stream for about a two hour period before a final surge to the three hours ‘stand’.

There are also variances in tidal ranges across the Isle of Wight. The maximum eastern range is around 4.5 metres, whereas the western range is about 2.8 metres. The difference in the speed of the rise causes tidal streams to run either east or west at the first half or latter part of the tidal range. The strength and lack of uniformity make the use if tidal atlas, especially during Spring tides, an essential consultation for even the shortest Solent hop. Several days of strong northeasterly winds and a high barometric pressure can lower tidal heights in the Solent by 0.6 metres.


The list of waypoints provided commence at the Needles Channel entrance points and then pass up to Southampton’s Dock Head, the rivers Test and Itchen before continuing southward to exit at Nab Tower. The supporting description is set out in following six broad sections.

  • 1. Entering the Western Solent

    • Including:

    • • The Needles Channel

    • • Southwest Isle of Wight

    • • The north channel

  • 2. The Western Solent

    • Including:

    • • The western Solent's north shore

    • • The western Solent south shore and the northwest Isle of Wight

    • • Cowes and the River Medina

  • 3. The Southern Side of the Isle of Wight

  • 4. Entering the Eastern Solent

    • Including:

    • • The east side of the Isle Of Wight

    • • Spithead

    • • Entering The Solent from Langstone or Chichester harbours

    • • The eastern Solent

    • • The northeast coast of the Isle of Wight

  • 5. The Central Solent

  • 6. Southampton Water

    • Including:

    • • The River Itchen

    • • The River Test


The seaward end of Needles Channel is visible for many miles to seaward. Situated between the western end of the Isle of Wight and the mainland on the north, it forms the western approach to The Solent. The western extremity of the Isle of Wight is Needles Point, but it the distinctive chalk cliffs overlooking Scratchell's Bay, immediately southeast, that will most likely be the first visible point from seaward.

The distinctive chalk cliffs overlooking Scratchell's Bay
Image: Chris-Gunns via CC BY-SA 2.0

Needles Point, a narrow chalky peninsula that rises perpendicularly from the sea from jagged rocks to form 120 metre cliffs, mark the western extreme of the Isle of Wight. The Needle Rocks are three very distinctive rocks jutting out from the southwestern point of the Isle of White. They are composed of white chalk and are a remarkable sight from seaward when contrasted with the dark-coloured ground behind them. The landfall is set off by a striking red and white striped lighthouse positioned on the outermost rock.

The Needles – lighthouse Oc.(2)RWG.20s24m17-13M position: 50° 39.734'N, 001° 35.500'W

The Needles Channel passes a ½ mile to the northwest of these Isle of Wight features. It is the primary western channel into The Solent and is readily apparent from all directions. The Needles Channel is bounded on the western side by the shoals named the Shingles and on the eastern by the west end of the Isle of Wight. Further in, the mainland side there extends from the mainland side a pebbly bank, nearly 1½ miles in length, on the end of which stands Hurst Castle, dating from the 16th century, batteries plus a lighthouse on Hurst Point on the north side. The Needles Channel has at least 10.5 metres of water and is well marked and lit by standard buoyage with the outermost buoy being the ‘Whis Fairway’, LFl.10s

Tidal rips off the Needled in settled conditions
Image: Ian Stannard via CC BY-SA 2.0
Although well marked and lit, it cannot be assumed that the Needles Channel has no dangers for leisure craft, far from it. A southwesterly Force 4 against the ebb will raise breaking seas near 'Bridge' and 'SW Shingles' buoys and the channel is very dangerous in heavy onshore winds, southerly to westerly conditions, particularly against the ebb tide. The worst of conditions can be experienced when the tide turns and the flood has just begun. The transition can raise a substantial swell that is particularly bad in developed conditions. Many yachts that have weathered a channel storm have found themselves overwhelmed at the entrance trying to ‘thread the needle’ to access The Solent’s sheltered waters.

The primary area of danger is at the seaward end of the entrance channel, close west to the 'Bridge' west cardinal where the channel’s width is reduced here to 300 metres. At this point, the channel is pinched between its two major dangers of The Bridge and the southwest tail of the Shingles.

A reef called the Bridge Reef extends up to ¾ of a mile, west-by-south, from the Needles Rocks and it has the least depth of 5.5 metres. It narrows the Needles Channel between its western extreme and the southwest prong of The Shingles to a ⅓ of a mile. On the ebb tide, the position of the reef is made distinct by large overfalls. In moderate weather by the ripple and during southerly gales by a well-defined line of broken water. With much groundswell, that always accompanies southerly winds and even rises with an impending breeze from that quarter; the sea breaks with great violence for a considerable distance from the lighthouse.

Bridge west cardinal marker
Image: Terry Robinson via CC BY SA 2.0

The ‘Bridge’ west cardinal buoy marks the western extremity of The Bridge. When seen from the buoy the three Needles rocks set a line along the backbone of this dangerous reef, which is very narrow towards the western end and steep-to on both sides.

The Shingles bank commences to the west of The Needles. From there it extends east by northeast for 3 miles to its northeast extremity that terminates about half a mile out from Hurst Beach. Its south-eastern face forms the northwest side of the Needles Channel.

With the least swell the sea breaks violently on The Shingles’ shallower parts, some of which dry. On the ebb, the current sets down on Shingles Bank where it is particularly dangerous. On the flood, the current comes off the bank with numerous overfalls. The Shingles is, however, very well marked by several lit port buoys on its southeast side; the Needles Channel side.

Because of the flanking dangers and the narrow tolerances they create, it is best to avoid The Needles Channel in any heavy onshore conditions. During these times it is safer to pass south around the Isle of Wight and approach The Solent from the east in the lee of the island – as described below. If the winds are somewhat reasonable, the North Channel may provide a better alternative in a southwesterly. If, however, you have time on your hands it might be better to anchor in Studland Bay Click to view haven or take shelter in Poole Harbour Click to view haven to await better conditions at the entrance.

In every event, it is preferable to approach the Needles Channel on a favourable tide as calculated above. The inflowing flood streaming east-by-northeast runs from HW Portsmouth +0500 until HW -0130 with Spring rates attaining 3.1kn at The Bridge. The ebb stream, setting in a west-by-south-westerly direction, runs from HW Portsmouth –0100 until HW +0430. Spring rates are 3.4kn west-by-southwest across the dangerous Shingles and at The Bridge. Tides rise about 2.7 metres at MHWS, about 2.3 metres at MHWN and stand at the high level for two or three hours.

The NEEDLES CHANNEL: The first Needles Channel waypoint is the position of the safe water ‘Whis Fairway’ light-buoy L Fl. 10s. From here the port hand ‘SW Shingles’, port light buoy fl. R. 2.5s, marking the southwest end of Shingles, is less than a mile and a half to the northeast and should be visible. 'The Bridge' west cardinal that marks the west extremity of The Bridge should also be becoming visible a few degrees east from this position.

The Needles to Alum Bay
Image: Michael Harpur

By night, advancing less than ½ a mile in a north-eastward direction from the Fairway Light-buoy, and the directional light, bearing 041° T, of Hurst Point Light is then picked up to lead up through the seaward end of the channel.

Hurst Castle and the prominent Hurst Point Light
Image: Michael Harpur

The channel's path at the seaward end is north-eastward on a bearing 041° T of Hurst Point Light, by night showing Iso. white. This directional light leads up to the two light buoys, passing the SW Shingles Light-buoy, close to port, and the ‘Bridge’ west cardinal VQ(9)10s, close to starboard. At the ‘Bridge’ west cardinal, the channel is at its narrowest point at about 300 metres wide.
Please note

The tide can run very fast in the channel and it is important to be mindful of the proximity of the Shingles at all times.

Goosewing sailing in the Needles Channel
Image: Michael Harpur

On passing the Bridge the track adjusts to the northeast, to 045°T where by night the Needles Light changes from white to red, passing along the lit port hand buoys on the southeast side of the Shingles.

From here it is simply a matter of closing on the entrance, between Hurst Castle and Fort Albert, making allowances for the currents converging from the North Channel and to stand off 300 metres southward from Hurst Castle to avoid The Trap as described below.

Fort Albert opposite Hurst Castle on the Isle of Wight
Image: Michael Harpur

With Hurst Castle abeam it is simply a matter of following the marks up The Solent and into Southampton Water. Those intending on Cowes can set a course for the 'Gurnard' north cardinal mark, 66° T for 10 miles and situated about 400 metres north of Egypt Point. Then to the initial fix for the Folly Inn Click to view haven at the entrance to Cowes and the river Medina. The initial fix is situated about 100 metres north of the No.1 Starboard Channel marker buoy Q.G. The Folly Inn Click to view haven entry that details the approaches to Cowes Harbour and the 2¼ mile run up the River Medina from the entrance to the harbour, to where the river dries.

'Gurnard' north cardinal mark, Q, position: 050°46.214 N, 001°18.845 W

Hurst Castle
Image: Michael Harpur


Small vessels working in against the tide and anxious to avoid the full strength of the ebb tide may come inshore and steer for Alum Bay. However, the shoreline requires a measure of care, and it is not safe to freely come close inshore without being prepared for careful pilotage and excellent large scale charts.

The bays outside The Solent and along the northwestern side of Isle of Wight offer anchorages
Image: Ed Webster via CC BY-SA 2.0

It is possible at this point to anchor outside The Solent in Totland Bay and Alum Bay, off the Needles Channel. They make for very pleasant anchorages in favourable conditions but the foul Colwell Bay, although used by local vessels, is best avoided by newcomers who do not have the benefit of local knowledge aboard.

Vessels taking an inshore Needles Channel approach should not hug the Needle's Lighthouse too close. It should be given a berth of at least 200 metres to avoid Goose Rock that dries at low water springs. Goose Rock is situated about 50 metres west by northwest of the lighthouse. The wreck of the Varvassi is located about 150 metres west by southwest from the lighthouse. However, do not rely on there being a gap between them these days as parts of the ship’s structure have been driven up by a half centuries’ tide and wave action.

Alum Bay
Image: Andrew via CC BY 2.0

Alum Bay Click to view haven is a very popular anchorage that has isolated rocks that require a large-scale chart and careful pilotage. The rocks have dangerous heads that appear to be the continuation of a ledge running out of Alum Bay parallel with and close outside its southern shoreline. The inner head dries at low water springs, but the middle head and outer heads, with 0.4 and 1.6 metres of water over them, remain covered. In the northeast section of the bay, there is a small rocky patch named Five Fingers Rock. It has a metre of water over it and lays 180 metres offshore to the southwest of Hatherwood Point.

Fort Albert at Cliff End and Warren Point as seen from Hatherwood Point
Image: Alistair Young via CC BY 2.00

Totland Bay Click to view haven has a large field of rocks, named Tinker Shoal, in its outer mid-section. The least water on it is 2 metres, near the western limit of the shoal, about a ½ mile off the shoreline.

Totland Bay
Image: Michael Harpur

The dangerous rocky reef Warden Ledge divides Totland and Colwell bays. It extends north by northwest for just under ½ a mile from Warden Point. It is dry for about half its length, at spring tides, and the outer edge has 1.6 metres. Beyond this, it drops into deep water about 800 metres east by northeast of the Bell Warden starboard hand buoy.

Colwell Bay, between Warden Ledge and Cliff End Point, should be given a wide berth as it is nearly all foul with the How Reef, Ledge, and Bank that extends out a considerable distance from the shore.

Stand well of Fort Albert at Cliff End Point
Image: Michael Harpur

The conspicuous Fort Albert at Cliff End Point is set into the side of the Isle about 2.1 miles northeast of Hatherwood Point and 0.7 miles southeast of Hurst Point. Detached heads lie up to 190 metres outside of the fort, and it, along with Cliff End Point, should be given a good berth.

Maintain this wide berth past Sconce Point, located 0.6 miles northeast of Fort Albert, where there are no off-lying dangers.

Sconce north cardinal mark with Fort Victoria in the backdrop
Image: Michael Harpur


An alternative approach to the Needles Channel is the North Channel. The North Channel lays to the north of the Shingles bank and comes north of the North Head bank's shallow area and passes southeastward between northeast end of The Shingles and Hurst Beach. Marked by two buoys, it is a ¼ of a mile wide and has a least depth of 6.5 metres at low water.

The North Channel is the better approach in any developed south westerly conditions as it entirely avoids the steep breaking seas that can occur off The Needles. In these conditions, the dangerous Shingles provide a measure of south-westerly protection. Likewise, it can be a be a more convenient passage for vessels approaching The Solent from Christchurch Bay or a good tactic to minimise the effects of an adverse tide.

NE Shingles as seen from Hurst Castle
Image: Michael Harpur

However, in a developed south-westerly, skippers should note that this course passes along a lee shore. The steep-to section of Hurst Beach that leads out to Hurst Castle, in these circumstances, is going to be uncomfortably close. However, with an offing of up to ½ a mile available throughout, and the seaway protection afforded by the Shingles, the passage more than manageable.

NE Shingles with Hurst Castle in the backdrop
Image: Ian Paterson via CC BY-SA 2.0
The Needles Channel features can be used to position the southern end of the Shingles bank and to proceed to the alternative North Channel. The North Channel has two buoys, the starboard ‘North Head’ buoy, Fl(3)G.10s, and the ‘NE Shingles’ east cardinal, Q(3)10s. Positioned about a ½ mile from the shore the ‘North Head’ buoy marks the northwest extremity of North Head bank and the northwest entrance into the North Channel. North Head bank has a least charted depth of 3.2 metres over it and presents no issue to leisure craft in most circumstances that.

The North Channel then lies about a ½ mile from Hurst Beach as it leads out to Hurst Castle, tending south-eastward towards the Northeast Shingles East Cardinal at its southern end. This area, between the cardinal and close south of Hurst Point, also marks the convergence between the North Channel and Needles Channels. Be watchful for tidal streams at the convergence point as an eddy forms off Hurst Point during the northeast going stream and an in-draught into the North Channel during the southwest going stream.

Vessel approaching via the North Channel
Image: Ian Stannard via CC BY SA 3.0
In settled conditions with good visibility, it is possible to cut between North Head bank and the Shingles by keeping Hurst Castle open of its own width of Fort Victoria, located inside the entrance on Isle of Wight’s Sconce Point. A danger bearing, as illustrated in experience Experience, of 71°T or reciprocal 251°T, of Hurst Castle, provides safe water in the range of ½ a mile to 2½ miles out, north of the Shingles bank. In settled conditions it a bearing of no less than 71°T, for most leisure craft, keeps a vessel clear of the Shingles. A least depth of 3 metres of water is available along these sightlines, but a keen eye should be maintained upon the sounder as the Shingles bank is subject to change.

Those taking either of these approaches and passing close to Hurst Point should note the position of a ledge called The Trap and avoid it. The Trap is a small spit of sand and gravel that varies considerably in height and extent. It causes rougher water immediately south of Hurst Castle. Vessels have grounded on the ledge, or struck it with such force, in the run of the current, that they have been irreparably damaged and subsequently sunk. On the ebb, it causes a very strong back-eddy that can attain such velocity that it is strong enough to throw a small vessel up onto Hurst Point.

Although near the beach, deep and steep-to, The Trap is very much in the path of vessels taking the North Channel or cutting between North Head and the Shingles Banks. Especially those making use of the back eddy on the west side of Hurst Beach, then hugging the point to avoid a foul tide.

The Trap just visible southeast of the Hurst Castle's original circular tower
Image: Ian Stannard via CC BY-SA 2.0

The Trap’s lies southeast of the Hurst Castle's original circular tower, the locally known Round Fort, that can be seen to rise slightly above the level of its wing batteries. It is advisable to resolutely steer out to pass at least 300 metres southward from Hurst Castle in deep water, before the central circular part of Hurst Castle is abeam when entering the Solent. Once past The Trap, it is simply a matter of converging with the Needles Channel and proceeding into the Solent.


The disused Fort Victoria overlooks The Solent from Sconce Point which forms the northwest extremity of the Isle of Wight. 'Sconce' north cardinal mark, Q, is situated 250 metres off the shoreline. From here the Western Solent opens up in earnest with the mainland’s low coast being broken by the estuaries of the Beaulieu and Lymington rivers; the coast of Wight, which rises more steeply, being cut by the Medina, Newton, and Yar estuaries.

With few serious hazards, unspoilt shorelines and considerably less commercial traffic the western Solent offers the cruising boatman a particularly attractive cruising ground. There is a choice of beautiful and tranquil, creeks rivers and harbours to explore but there are several inshore spits, banks, rocks and ledges that warrant some attention. It is also possible to tuck in behind the historic Hurst Castle and pick up a mooring Keyhaven Click to view haven or anchor outside in Hurst Road Click to view haven.


Within the Western Solent, the north shore is fronted by marshes and mudflats between Hurst Point and the entrance of Stansore Point, 9 miles east-by-northeast and marked by a Lepe Spit south cardinal beacon. These are intersected by several shallow and narrow creeks, leading into Lymington and Beaulieu rivers.

Between Hurst Point and the entrance to Lymington, the Pennington Marsh shallows extend out ¾ of a mile offshore. They attain a distance of a mile offshore at the Lymington entrance where they begin to recede inshore until Beaulieu Spit. Here they step out again inshore of the Lepe Middle Bank. The Lepe Middle Bank is a shallow area close west of the entrance to the Beaulieu River and very much in the way of anyone following the shoreline and making for the river entrance.

Lymington located on the west bank of the Lymington River
Image: Ian Stannard via CC BY-SA 2.0

The prime havens along the northern mainland coast are the many varied berths available in Lymington and the Beaulieu River. Located on the west bank of the Lymington River which flows into the north side of The Solent through a saltmarsh, the small historic market and harbour town of Lymington Click to view haven is a major centre for sailing. The west side of the river is home to two of The Solent’s largest marinas, Lymington Yacht Haven Click to view haven and Berthon Lymington Marina Click to view haven. Lymington Town Quay Click to view haven, where directions for approach may be found, has several pontoons and moorings and there are two large sailing clubs on the river.

Buckler's Hard four miles up the Beaulieu River
Image: Mike Nicholls, Beaulieu River Harbour Master

The beautiful Beaulieu River contains Bucklar's Hard Click to view haven, Gins Farm Click to view haven and the very convenient Gull Island Click to view haven a mile within the entrance.


To the south, the shore of the Isle of Wight, there are several rocky ledges which extend up to about 0.4 miles offshore. 9 miles east-by-northeast of Sconce Point is Egypt Point that is marked by a prominent 7 metres high beacon column.

In settled conditions, several otherwise exposed anchorages are available along the northwest coast of the Isle of Wight. In all cases, vessels anchored off are going to be tide-rode and swung by the tide when at anchor. When the tides compete with a stiff breeze, contending to be wind-rode, it makes for a less than comfortable area in which to berth. In settled conditions, where vessels can comfortably sit to the tidal streams, the anchorages are perfectly serviceable.

The small and pretty harbour of Yarmouth
Image: Ian Stannard via CC BY-SA 2.0

The prime haven along the Isle of Wight’s northwest shoreline is the small and pretty harbour of Yarmouth Click to view haven, situated 0.8 miles east of Sconce Point. In settled conditions, where its possible to sit to the tide, an anchorage is also available to the north of the moorings in Yarmouth Roads. The primary danger in this area is Black Rock that is situated ⅓ of a mile north-westward of Yarmouth Harbour.

Black Rock buoy in a tidal rip with Yarmouth in the backdrop
Image: Michael Harpur

3.5 miles east by northeast of Yarmouth there is the nature reserve of the Newton River Click to view haven. The primary danger in this area is Hamstead Ledge that is situated a ½ mile west of the entrance to Newtown Creek and 3 miles east of Yarmouth. It extends 380 metres in a northwest direction from Hampstead Point and has the starboard Hamstead Ledge can buoy, situated in 10 metres about a ¼ of a mile from the shore, on its northeast end.

Newtown River
Image: Michael Harpur

Making use of the reduced currents deflected by Hamstead Ledge is the Newtown River Entrance Click to view haven anchorage, located outside the entrance to Newtown Creek.
Please note

Anchoring is prohibited west between Hamstead Ledge to about a quarter of a mile west of Durns Point, on the opposite mainland shore, as best seen on the chart.

Newtown River Entrance
Image: Michael Harpur

Salt Mead ledge is situated midway between Hampstead and Gurnard ledges, and nearly half-a-mile from the shore of Thorness Bay Click to view haven. Thorness Bay also offers a midway anchorage between the Newtown River and Cowes, but it sits out in the full run of the currents. It has a patch of foul ground that dries halfway out on extreme low water springs tides and then has as little as 1.9 to 2.5 metres of water. The Salt Mead green starboard can buoy, situated ½ out from the shoreline, marks these dangers.

Salt Mead buoy
Image: Michael Harpur

About a miles to the west of Egypt Point is Gurnard Head that has a series of rocky ledges. Quarry Ledge extends 300 metres from the head, and Gurnard Bay is foul with many rocks. The most dangerous is Gurnard Ledge situated ¾ of a mile east from the head. It runs nearly parallel to the shore with parts of it drying at low water springs.

Passing the racing mark at Gurnard Bay
Image: Michael Harpur

The is Gurnard Ledge starboard can buoy, moored about 370 metres offshore in 18 metres, marks the western extreme of this. The bay also has two race buoys that show the 10-metre contour.

Egypt Point's prominent 7 metres high beacon column
Image: Steve Fareham via CC BY-SA 2.0

Egypt Point, made conspicuous by is beacon ashore, a race mark and the Gurnard north cardinal mark, should be given a wide berth as it is foul out to 150 metres on its western approaches.

Gurnard north cardinal marker
Image: Ian Paterson via CC BY-SA 2.0

All the dangers of northwest Wight are clearly marked and easily avoided by staying close to the marks. The above dangers only become important for pilotage when a vessel is hugging the shoreline to make the best of a foul tide.


In the centre of The Solent, 0.8 miles east of Egypt Point, is Cowes Harbour. Located at the mouth of River Medina, Cowes is Britain's premier yacht racing centre. The town stands on both sides of the river entrance that divides it into two parts, Cowes and East Cowes.

The entrance to the River Medina with the prominent Fawley Power station seen on
the mainland opposite

Image: Michael Harpur

River and town combine to offer visiting boaters a wide range of berthing options and every facility imaginable. The approach to Cowes Harbour and the 2¼ mile run up the River Medina from the entrance to the harbour, to where the river dries, is covered in the Folly Inn Click to view haven entry. At high water, the River Medina is navigable for 4 miles and all the way to Newport, its central ancient capital. Folly Reach, situated about midway along the four-mile run between Cowes and Newport, is freely accessible by the vast majority of vessels at all states of the tide.

West Cowes
Image: Ronald Saunders via CC BY-SA 2.0

Cowes Harbour's swinging moorings, laid outside the harbour, Trinity Landing, Town Quay, Shepards Wharf and Whitegates River Pontoons, located on the eastern side of the fairway immediately south of the Chain Ferry, are all managed by Cowes Harbour Click to view haven Commision.

Immediately upriver of the Jubilee Pontoon on the western shore is Cowes Yacht Haven Click to view haven marina. Cowes Yacht Haven is the first of the Cowes’ marinas and, as it fronts the town, it is extremely popular. Immediately upriver from Cowes Yacht Haven, only separated by a fuel jetty, is the second and smaller of the town's marinas Shepards Wharf Click to view haven that is likewise only a couple of minutes from the town centre. Both marinas make the vast majority of their berths available for visitors. ¼ of a mile above the chain ferry and on the eastern bank is the next large marina East Cowes Marina Click to view haven.

The Folly Inn on the River Median
Image: Michael Harpur

A little over a mile southward and on the east side of the river is the Folly Inn. Just above the Folly Inn, the river widens out into Folly Lake that dries less than ½ mile to the south. Island Harbour Marine Click to view haven is only accessible on a favourable tide. Vessels with a 2 metres draught can carry on upriver and reach the Island capital of Newport Click to view haven 1½ hours before HW Portsmouth and 2½ after HW Portsmouth.


Saint Catherine' lighthouse is situated 12 miles southeast of the Needles lighthouse. The land gradually ascends to the point and beyond it as far as Dunnose. Dunnose is the southeast most point of the island, above which Saint Boniface down rises 234 metres. It then declines towards Culver Cliff, the eastern end of which is a striking chalk cliff.

Chalky cliffs continue from The Needles to Freshwater Bay
Image: Michael Harpur

The range of high and precipitous chalky cliffs continue from The Needles to the middle of Freshwater Bay where they lower. About a mile beyond they merge into a shore of clay and sand.

Freshwater Bay Click to view haven lies between the Needles and Hanover Point, about 3 miles east of Needles Point. On its shore, at the head of a small cove is a noticeable hotel, Tennyson’s Cross, a prominent monument, stands near the top of the cliffs, 1.2 miles west of Freshwater Bay.

The prominent Tennyson’s Cross monument
Image: Mike Russell

Continuing southeast Hanover Point can be found 4.7 miles east by southeast of Needles Point. Precipitous white chalk cliffs extend east from the Needles Point to within a mile of Hanover Point, where they merge into a shore of clay and sand.

After Freshwater Bay the white cliffs begin to merge into a shore of clay and

Image: Peter Trimming via CC BY-SA 2.0

These cliffs, up to about 120 metres high, are conspicuous in contrast to the dark ground behind them. Steep clay cliffs of moderate and nearly equal height extend from Brook to beyond Atherfield Point, and there are several beautiful chines and villages, at the back of which are high and extensive downs. About a mile from Saint Catherine’s Point the land begins to rise; and one mile west of the point is Blackgang Chine, between which and Atherfield Point is Chale Bay.

Clay cliffs approaching Atherfield
Image: Just Another Caulkhead via CC BY 2.00

The dangerous Brook and Atherfield Ledges front the coastal area between Hanover and Atherfield points. These reefs should be given a wide berth and especially so thick weather during the flood as that stream sets directly towards them. Leisure craft should keep at least half a mile off this part of the island. A safe mark, for small vessels working up inshore, is to keep the Priory Church at Christchurch open of the Needles lighthouse.

St. Catherine's Point Lighthouse
Image: Andy Roberts via CC BY-SA 2.0

Saint Catherine’s Point, the southern extremity of the Isle of Wight, is a low rounded point at the foot of Saint Catherine’s Hill. Saint Catherine’s Point Light is a prominent castellated tower and dwelling 26 metres high and standing on the point.

Saint Catherine’s Point Lighthouse on the southern extremity of the Isle of

Image: Jaapkievit via CC BY-SA 2.0

This light structure stands out boldly when viewed from east or west. The hill, which is the highest part of the island, rises to the height of 236 metres about a mile north of the point. On its summit are the remains of an old lighthouse now disused. Hoy’s Monument, also conspicuous from seaward, is distinct a mile to the north of the hill. Conspicuous television towers stand on the heights at Chillerton Downs, about 4.8 miles north by northwest of the point, and at Rowridge, about 6.8 miles north by northwest of the point.

St. Catherine’s Point - Lighthouse Fl.5s41m25M & F.R.35m13M position: 50° 34'.539 N 001° 17'.873 W

A low cliff extends along the shore between Saint Catherine’s Point and Dunnose situated about 5 miles east by northeast. At its back are large masses of rock, named The Undercliff. The Undercliff is backed by a wall of precipitous rock nearly 152 metres above the sea, with downs rising still higher behind. The resort town of Ventnor Click to view haven, with a small boat harbour, stands three and a half miles northeast of Dunnose. Its lights are conspicuous at night. Several conspicuous radio masts and radar scanners are situated on the downs in the vicinity of the town and are noticeable objects when sailing along this part of the coast.

Ventnor's small and enclosed rock armoured harbour
Image: Mike Russell via CC BY-SA 2.0

It is safe to come into a ½ mile of the shore on this stretch of coast as the rocks bordering it does not extend above half that distance. The overfalls off Saint Catherine's Point and Dunnose are partly caused by the various sudden transitions from deep to shoal water in that area. They are not dangerous except in bad weather when no open boats should attempt to pass through either. The race off Saint Catherine’s Point varies in proportion as the wind is with or against the tide. In gales from the westward, and during spring-tides, the sea breaks to the southeast of the point as violently as in the race of Portland.

Sandown Bay from Culver Down
Image: Paul Coueslant via CC BY-SA 2.0

Culver Cliff, located about 10 miles northeast of Saint Catherine’s Point, is conspicuous. It is identifiable by the marked contrast between the white chalk bluff and the land in the vicinity. From the pitch of Culver Cliff, the land gradually rises to the crest of Bembridge Down where there is an old derelict fort.

Between Dunnose and Culver Cliff, five miles to the northeast, is Sandown Bay Click to view haven in which are the villages of Shanklin and Sandown. The steep cliffs continue from Dunnose towards Sandown, where they decrease in height, and the shore is low and sandy. They then gradually rise to Culver Cliff, close to the west of which is a cliff of red clay, which contrasts strongly with the chalk of Culver Cliff. The Culver Down Monument or Yarborough monument, a conspicuous object from seaward, stands on Culver Down, at an elevation of 100 metres.

Culver Cliff as seen from Sandown Beach
Image: Michael Harpur

Culver Spit, carrying 7.5 metres of water over a rocky bottom, extends nearly a mile southeast from Culver Cliff, and within it, close to the east of the cliff, is Whitecliff Bay Click to view haven. The bay almost entirely dries and has a limited amount of clear ground. However, it can afford tolerable shelter that is out of the tidal stream with offshore winds.

Whitecliff Bay
Image: Michael Harpur

Stay well away from the Culver Cliff end as a small Whitecliff Ledge reef, the outer part of which dries at low tide, extends nearly 250 metres from the base of Culver Cliff. A large rock, named Shag Rock, which covers only at high water springs, lies at the point of the cliff. White Cliff Bay terminates on its northern side at Black Rock Ledge. From Culver Cliff, 65 metres high, the land gradually decreases in height, until it terminates in at the low Foreland.

Foreland, the low eastern extremity of the Isle of Wight, has numerous prominent buildings standing at the point. Here, the coast is fringed by one unbroken rocky shelf. It uncovers at low water to extend out nearly a ⅓ of a mile from the shore. These rocks are high and steep-to at their outer edge, and over many parts, there are not more than 1 to 1.5 metres at high-water springs. Outside their edge, the depth increases to 3.5 metres very quickly.


Nab Tower
Image: 27col via CC BY-SA 4.0
Commercial shipping use the Nab Channel to approach Spithead and the eastern Solent. The Nab Channel provides the safest approach for large craft entering and leaving Southampton Water because it is protected from all winds, except those from the southeast. The channel commences about two miles south of the Nab Tower lighthouse that guides the way into its entrance. The Nab Tower is situated 4.6 miles east by southeast of Foreland, stands 28 metres high and is made of steel and concrete.

Nab Tower – Lighthouse Fl.10s27m16M position: 50° 40.075' N, 000° 57'.155' W

The Nab Channel, which is marked by closely spaced yellow buoys at its entrance, is dredged to a depth of 13.3 metres and is intended for use by inbound deep-draft commercial vessels. There is no necessity for leisure craft to use the channel or, should this approach be selected, to pass along the margins of the commercial channel. It is best avoided as, being the Solent’s primary shipping route, one can expect to encounter more heavy shipping on this eastern approach than that of the western.

Leisure vessels are free to shorten the distance by rounding Foreland and passing up to the entrance to Spithead along the east side of the Isle of Wight. The simplest approach is to pass close outside ‘Bembridge Ledge’ east cardinal, Q(3)10s, and then steer a course of 330°T for the forts about 4 miles away. The island has no dangers for those who give it a berth of ¾ of a mile.


The Isle of Wight is high on its eastern side with ledges extending more than ½ a mile offshore in places. From a leisure craft perspective, the principal dangers off the island are the Bembridge Shoal, No Man's Land and Ryde Sands. All of these are well marked.

The dangerous Bembridge Ledge extends for ¾ of a mile off Foreland headland and only 1.2 metres of water over its northern parts and 4 to 5 metres on its outer edge. A considerable part of this ledge dries at half-tide and terminates in a high sharp point named Sharpus Rocks situated about a ⅓ of a mile offshore. These rocks are high and steep-to at their outer edge, and over many parts, there are not more than 1 to 1.5 metres at high-water springs. Outside their edge, the depth increases to about 3 metres very quickly. The outer rim of the shore reef is made plain by the Bembridge Auxiliary Lifeboat Station’s slipway which extends into the sea to the east of the village.

Bembridge Auxiliary Lifeboat Station at low water
Image: Alex Liivet via CC BY 2.0

But this is not the only danger as the northern part of Bembridge Ledge has three unexpected outlying patches that leisure vessels should approach with great caution. These are called the Dickey Dawe Rocks, the very dangerous Cole Rock and a shallow area to the northwest of this. These are situated about 350 metres out from the ledge lifeboat station and lie parallel to the shore in a northwest to southeast line a little over a ½ mile in length. The south-eastern Dickey Dawe Rocks is an uneven area of rock that has 1.8 metres over its shallowest part. The much more dangerous Cole Rock, situated 400 metres due east from the Bembridge Auxiliary Lifeboat Station, shows itself at spring tides when it dries to several heads over more than 200 metres. About 400 metres northwest of Cole Rock there is a further shallow patch with 0.9 metres of water.

Bembridge Ledge east cardinal mark
Image: Michael Harpur

A wide variety of boats commonly run aground here, especially in the often stormy weather conditions which affect the area during winter months. These dangers are all marked by the 'Bembridge Ledge' east cardinal mark Q(3)10s, located a ⅓ of a mile eastward. Once rounded, look out for the yellow seasonal buoys offshore of Bembridge.

St. Helen's Fort as seen from the shore
Image: Michael Harpur

North of Foreland the coast of the Isle of Wight turns to the northwest. At the eastern extremity of the bank extending off the shore to the north of Foreland is the conspicuous round stone structure of Saint Helen’s Fort. The fort stands 0.6 of a mile offshore 1.2 miles northwest of Foreland. At night it exhibits a light. Immediately adjacent is Saint Helens Duver Click to view haven anchorage off the east end of the Isle of Wight. Saint Helens Duver is sheltered from all but southeast winds, with excellent holding ground of mud and stiff blue clay. Vessels may anchor in suitable depths avoiding the area marked as foul on the chart.

Saint Helen’s Fort – fortress Fl(3)10s16m8M position: 50°42.300'N, 001°05.046'W

Bembridge Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur

Within Saint Helen’s Fort is Bembridge Harbour Click to view haven. The harbour lies close northward of the easternmost point of the Isle of Wight, immediately west of Bembridge Point, and is approached through a channel. It is tidal and bordered by the twin villages of Bembridge and St. Helens that lie opposite each other across the harbour.

Priory Bay on a busy summer weekend
Image: Michael Harpur

North of Saint Helen’s Fort is Priory Bay Click to view haven that is shallow near to the shore and out to ¾ of a mile offshore. Yellow buoys, set in approximately 4 metres of water from March to October, mark the outer edge of the shallow patch. This shallow area continues to Nettlestone Point beyond which it increases to a mile offshore at its widest point.

Sea View Yacht Club and slipway at Nettlestone Point
Image: Michael Harpur

Nettlestone Point, located 2.5 miles northwest of Foreland, is the Isle of Wight’s north-eastern extremity. The seaside resort of Seaview Click to view haven stands on Nettlestone Point. The shore here is shoal and the welcoming Sea View Yacht Club provide visitor moorings well offshore. Outside of these, it is also possible to anchor in very settled conditions.

The primary hazard for all vessels approaching the north-eastern part of the island is the great expanse of Ryde Sand that extends out to No Man’s Land Fort. Ryde Sands must be approached with great caution as it has left many a leisure craft standing.


Spithead is an area within the eastern part of The Solent. It sits on the western side of the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour, between the north-eastern shore of the Isle of Wight and the mainland off Gilkicker Point.

Spithead as seen over the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour
Image: Martin Robson

Spithead is bound on the north side by Spit Sand, forming the western side of the channel that leads into Portsmouth harbour, on the northeast side by Horse Sand Fort, and Ryde Sand and No Man’s Land Fort on the south side. It is an extensive, deep and sheltered channel that leads into The Solent.

Container ship passing between No Man's Land and Horse Sand Forts
Image: Rob Farrow via CC BY-SA 2.0

Spithead and the Eastern Solent are entered by passing between the round stone structure of ‘No Man’s Land Fort’ and the corresponding ‘Horse Sand Fort’ on the opposite north-eastern side of the channel. The forts stand approximately 1½ miles offshore and at the outer edges of the shoals providing excellent marks for the channel and the extremities of the banks.

Nettlestone Point to Ryde at low water
Image: Phillip Capper via CC BY-SA 2.0
The main shipping fairway runs between the forts and leisure vessels may use this if it is clear to do so. However, close inside ‘No Man's Land Fort’, between it and the edge of the banks extending from the Isle of Wight’s shore, is a leisure craft passage. The passage is almost a ⅓ of a mile wide and has 2 metres of water at chart datum. The pass is marked by the fort to the northeast and a lit post, FL R 12s, on the Island or southeast side. The pass enables leisure craft to pass into Spithead clear of the commercial channel that is used by large vessels.

Once past the forts, it is essential to keep clear of the Ryde Sands while passing into Spithead. From Nettlestone Point the sands uncover for nearly a mile and dry to 2 metres at low water springs. This drying area extends nearly a mile northward, towards Spithead, and then turns away west by north towards the head of Ryde Pier.

Ryde Pier as seen from the west
Image: Michael Harpur

The northern edge of this arch is very steep-to and the most dangerous part of Ryde Sands. The northeast point is marked by the ‘Ryde Sands’ port beacon, by night Fl.R.10s, and the westward end of it by the prominent Ryde Pier that extends 0.4 of a mile north from the shore with the town of Ryde. At night the head of the pier is lighted. Keep at least 200 metres outside the Red Pile marks at all times.

The small drying Ryde Harbour to the east of Ryde Pier
Image: Michael Harpur

On the east side of Ryde Pier is a hovercraft terminal and 400 metre's eastward is the small drying Ryde Harbour Click to view haven that is used by pleasure boats. Vessels should stand well off the head of the pier so as not to hamper the high-speed ferry service and keep a sharp eye out for fast moving hovercraft crossing back and forth to Portsmouth from the pier's east side.

N Sturbridge north cardinal marker
Image: Ian Paterson via CC BY-SA 2.0

Steering a course for the ‘N Sturbridge’ north cardinal buoy, VQ, keeps a vessel well clear of Ryde Sands.

Southsea Castle with its lighthouse as seen from the east
Image: geni via CC ASA 4.0

On the opposite shore, entered between Spit Sand Fort to the south and Southsea Castle with its lighthouse, is Portsmouth Harbour that has extensive berthing opportunities and yachting facilities.

Southsea Castle lighthouse Iso.2s16m11M Dir.WRG.11m13-5M position: 50°46.697’N 001°05.340’W

Portsmouth a modern city built upon its historic ties to the sea
Image: Ian Stannard via CC BY-SA 2.0

Approaches to the large and natural formed Portsmouth Harbour are covered in Gunwharf Quays Marina Click to view haven entry. This describes the approaches to the historic Naval city of Portsmouth situated on the east on Portsea Island. Gosport, to the west on the mainland side, has three large scale marinas Haslar Marina Click to view haven, Gosport Marina Click to view haven, and Royal Clarence Marina Click to view haven. Above this there is the Hardway Sailing Club Click to view haven that also takes visitors. In the northwest corner of Portsmouth Harbour there are berthing opportunities in Portsmouth Marine Engineering Click to view haven, Fareham Marina Click to view haven and WicorMarine Yacht Haven Click to view haven. In the northeast corner of Portsmouth Harbour, about 4 miles above its entrance and ½ mile northeast of the historic Portchester Castle, is the large scale Port Solent Marina Click to view haven.

Gilkicker Fort as seen from within The Solent
Image: Michael Harpur

Gilkicker Point situated on the mainland shore opposite is marked by a lighthouse.

Gilkicker Point - lighthouse Oc. G.10s7M position: 50°46.432’N 001°08.462’W


Vessels cutting into The Solent from Langstone and or Chichester harbours need to come south of the Horse and Dean Sand shoal or cut across it. This extensive shoal is composed of coarse sand mixed with gravel with minutely broken shells that provide valuable protection to the harbour area. It is very flat and has from 2 to 4.5 metres as an average depth over its shallowest parts. The shoal commences from Southsea Castle, marking the eastern side of the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour, and continues southwest for nearly two miles. Situated near the edge of the bank the ‘Horse Sand Fort’ offers excellent sea bearings for the outer end of the shoal and the fairway between it and 'No Man's Land Fort' immediately outside.

Horse Sand Fort marking the western end of the shoal
Image: Michael Harpur

Vessels cutting across the bank have to pass through a submerged barrier along the western side of the Horse and Dean Sand shoal. It is made up of concrete pedestals that vary in height and partially uncover at LW.

North end of the Horse Sand Fort to Southsea submerged barrier with both
passages visible

Image: Michael Harpur

The defensive barrier, set in place in 1905, joins the Horse Sand Fort with the site of the former Lumps Fort that existed on the shore above the beach. The barrier is marked by yellow beacons with yellow top marks along its length.

There are two passages through the submerged barrier. With sufficient rise, cutting through one of the passes offers a convenient shortcut into Spithead.

Dolphin and starboard pile marking main passage cutting through the Horse Sand
Fort to Southsea submerged barrier

Image: Michael Harpur

In the middle, about a mile south from the shore and north from the fort is the well-used Main Passage. The cut is 55 metres wide, marked by a lit dolphin, Q.R., on its southern side and a lit green top-marked pile, Q.G.2M, on the north side.

Main Passage – Dolphin Q.R. 6m2M position: 50°46.005’N 001°04.105’W

The dolphin is readily identifiable in daylight from a great distance. The pass between the pile and the dolphin has a depth of 1.2 metres chart datum. Unless a vessel is enjoying a favourable tack, the pass can be considered the preferred route. It can save some sailing time with the appropriate rise of tide and obviates the need to steer for the ‘No Man’s Land Fort’.

Smaller boat passage east of the head of South Parade Pier
Image: Ian Stannard via CC BY-SA 2.0

A smaller boat passage lies 200 metres from the shoreline at the north end of the barrier. Located a ¼ of a mile east of the head of South Parade Pier, the passage is 12 metres wide and has a depth of 0.6 metres chart datum. The north side of the passage is marked by a starboard beacon and the south side by a port beacon. On the top half of the tide, this is also a valid option for most leisure craft making for a nice cruise along the beach and off the head of South Pier.


The fastest route to Southampton Waters from the Spithead is via the North Channel. The North Channel passes to the northeast of Bramble Bank into Southampton Water where it converges with Thorn Channel and Calshot Reach opposite Calshot Spit.

Browndown starboard buoy with Horse Sand Fort in the backdrop
Image: Michael Harpur

Those intending on taking this approach should steer for ‘Browndown’ starboard buoy, Fl(2) G.10s, situated almost ¾ of a mile off Browndown Point. Browndown Point marks the northeast extremity of Stokes Bay Click to view haven, a slight indentation in the mainland coast often resorted to by vessels in strong northerly winds. It is situated between Fort Gilkicker and Browndown Point 1.7 miles west by northwest.

Stokes Bay
Image: Michael Harpur

The ‘Browndown’ starboard buoy leads onto the ‘East Bramble’ east cardinal, VQ(3)5s, marking the southern entrance to the 2½ mile long North Channel. The channel has the least depths of 4.0 metres and passes parallel to the shoreline more than a mile offshore of the resort towns of Lee-On-The-Solent from which a shallow coastal bank extends out to flank the channel's northeastern side.

East Bramble cardinal mark leads the way into the North Channel
Image: Simon P Springett via CC BY-SA 2.0

About 1½ miles northwest of Lee-On-The-Solent there is a small boat, drying Hill Head Harbour Click to view haven. The harbour lies at the mouth of the river and is marked by a beacon on its west side. ‘Bell Calshot’ north cardinal, VQ, marks the convergence point of the North Channel with those of the Thorn Channel and Calshot Reach.

Hill Head Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur


After Ryde Pier, the shore trends in a north-westerly direction for 3 miles to Old Castle Point, and is fronted by sands and shallow banks.

Ryde Pier and Ryde Roads
Image: Michael Harpur

Lying between East Cowes and Stokes Bay is the Ryde Middle bank that presents little concern to leisure craft. It is a long narrow bank of mud, gravel, sand, and shells that extends for about two miles in a south-eastward direction. The bank has a least depth of 3.3 metres about a mile from its western end, has more than 10 metres close on either side and is marked by several buoys.

The primary commercial channels lead either side of Ryde Middle and vessels intending to proceed westward towards Cowes can use the following traditional sightlines:

  • • Those intending to go north of Ryde Middle, can steer about northwest into Stokes Bay until Spit Fort is open of its own breadth south of Gilkicker Fort, back bearing 096°. With this mark on, proceed between the Ryde Middle and Bramble shoal until abreast Old Castle Point. When Cowes is abreast, and West Knoll can be picked out, it is safe to round the Bramble Bank.

  • • Those intending to round the south side of the Bramble Bank and Ryde Middle should steer to passing close south of ‘SE Ryde Middle’ south cardinal buoy VQ(6)+LFl.10s. Then westward until Egypt Point is just open of Old Castle Point bearing 272° T. Then pass the 'Norris' port buoy, Fl(3)R.10s, on its correct side.

Laying to anchor Ryde Roads
Image: Michael Harpur

Vessels proceeding to Cowes usually go south of Ryde Middle, between it and the Mother Bank. It is possible to come inshore to anchor off in Ryde Roads Click to view haven. However, a measure of caution is required here as Ryde West Sands dry about ¼ of a mile from the shore, and the 2-metre contour is about ½ a mile out as far as Wootton Creek. Boaters planning to hug the shore should steer a course from the head of Ryde pier to Wootton Beacon that clears all dangers.

Wootton Creek
Image: Michael Harpur

The tidal estuary of Wootton Creek Click to view haven makes itself readily apparent by the comings and goings of the Wightlink ferries to and from Portsmouth. On the creek’s east bank, commencing at the ferry terminal, is the village of Fishbourne and further within on its west bank is the village of Wootton.

Northwest of Wootton Creek the primary hazards are two wrecks that lie inshore of Peel Bank and within the buoyed Wootton Creek water-skiing area. The water-skiing area is centred on unlit Peel Wreck Buoy that is about ¾ of a mile northwest of the approach to Wootton Creek. Steering a course parallel to the shore but outside the water-skiing area, if it is marked, and keeping the Peel Wreck port hand marker buoy to port clears both wrecks.

Osborne Bay
Image: Michael Harpur

A mile north-westward, and 1½ miles east of the entrance to the River Medina, is Osborne Bay Click to view haven. The bay’s shoreline is about ¾ of a mile long, gently curving and beautifully forested. Its southwest extremity is at Barton Point, and northwest extremity commences at a wooded headland located ¾ of a mile southwest of Old Castle Point. The ‘Rolly Tasker’ yellow spherical race buoy (Mar-Dec), by night Fl.Y.4s, serves as a good mark to locate the bay and the tower and flagstaff on Osborne House are readily identifiable from there.

Norris Castle overlooking the eastern approaches Cowes and the River Medina
Image: Michael Harpur

Vessels approaching Cowes and the River Medina should stand at least 300 metres off the shores leading up to and beyond Old Castle Point. The yellow race mark, moored in about 4 metres of water, north of the point, provides a good mark for the offing. Approaching to Cowes and the River Medina are covered in the Folly Inn Click to view haven entry.


The Solent's central portion lies between a line extending from Stansore Point to Egypt Point and a line extending from Ryde to Fort Gilkicker. Within this part of the Solent is an ‘Area of Concern’ that has special set rules to assist the movements of shipping in the road up at the entrance to Southampton Water.

The Central Solent
Image: Henry Burrows via CC BY-SA 2.0

The ‘Area of Concern’ covers the main channel from the Cowes Gurnard and Prince Consort north cardinal buoys, to the Horn starboard buoy within the entrance to Southampton Water, as best be seen on a chart.

In this body of water, large vessels, of over 150 metres length overall, when entering the ‘Area of Concern’, have a ‘Moving Prohibited Zone’ of 1,000 metres ahead and 100 metres to either side. A craft under 20 metres (66ft) ‘Length Overall’ is prohibited from entering this ‘Moving Prohibited Zone’. Vessels of over 150 metres are, typically, escorted by a patrol launch showing a blue flashing light. The absence of the launch does not invalidate the ‘Moving Prohibited Zone’.

It is essential to obey ‘Area of Concern’ distancing rules. Craft in breach or these rules will not only be subject to hefty fines but are also putting the safety of the vessel and all aboard in jeopardy. If there is any doubt or concern the Harbour Patrol Launch, call sign [Southampton Patrol], maintains a listening watch on VHF Channel 12. The crew are more than happy to offer advice and information on the harbour and approaches.

Upon rounding Stansore Point, marked by the ‘Lepe Spit’ south cardinal buoy Q(6) +LF.15s that stands well offshore, the path to Southampton Water now turns to the northeast in the form of the Thorn Channel. The Thorn Channel passes northwest of the ½ mile long Thorn Knoll bank that occupies a mid-channel position between Calshot Spit and the northwest side of the Thorn Knoll bank and Bramble Bank.

Bramble Bank Cricket match
Image: Hugh Chevallier via CC BY-SA 2.0
With the least depth of 3.5 metres of water over it, Thorn Knoll bank provides ample water for leisure craft to pass over it. Passing over the bank, on the southeast side of the Thorn Channel keeps the principal channel open for shipping. The two starboard buoys, ‘East Knoll’ and ‘West Knoll’, support this rout by showing the northwestern side of the Bramble and East Knoll banks.

The Bramble Bank situated to the south-east of Thorne Knoll is a danger to leisure craft and one of the few open water hazards in The Solent. The Bramble Bank is a vast accumulation of sand and gravel that lies roughly halfway between Cowes and Southampton Water. The Island Sailing Club of Cowes and the Royal Southern Yacht Club of Hamble hold an annual cricket match on the bank at the end of August. The bank uncovers for barely an hour which presents a cricketing challenge. To overcome the limited number of overs that can be played each club takes it in turn to win and then host the post-match meal.

Calshot Spit catamaran buoy
Image: Ian Paterson via CC BY-SA 2.0
It is only a small part of the bank, near the west end that has been heaped up into a knoll, that dries to 1.1 metres at low tide. This triangular drying patch appears like a southwest pointing arrowhead. 4 metres of water close around the Bramble Bank’s outer edge, with depths varying less than that across it. The port ‘Hill Head’ buoy and the starboard ‘East Knoll’ buoy mark the north end of the bank. ‘East Bramble’ east cardinal mark, the North Channel mark the northeast. The ‘West Knoll’ conical buoy and the Brambles post, with a tide gauge, mark the west and south.

Although well marked it is easy to misjudge the bank’s position, or indeed simply forget it, which has left many a yacht high and dry. The banks West Knoll Buoy is lit, Fl Y 2.5s, with the intention of guiding leisure craft to transit between this mark and the main fairway ‘W Brambell’ west cardinal buoy, VQ(9) 10s, that marks the edge of the ‘Area of Concern’.

Calshot Spit is an obvious trap for the unwary
Image: W.F.Millar via CC BY-SA 2.0

Calshot Spit is an obvious trap for those heading from The Western Solent for Southampton Waters. This particular danger is the one newcomers should make particular note of when entering The Solent. The spit is an extensive shoal running off Calshot Castle and Radar Control Tower, which stands on the extreme of the low, long, and shingly point, at the western side of the entrance to Southampton Water. As a mark of its importance, several light vessels have been used to mark the navigational hazard of the Spit and aid safe passage of vessels entering Southampton Water. It is marked by a steel catamaran buoy with a steel lattice superstructure Fl.5s10M. The catamaran always lies with the tide, enabling pilots bringing large ships into Southampton to see the tidal stream direction.

Calshot Castle at the mouth of Southampton Water. Another spit bearing a Tudor

Image: Geni via CC ASA 3.0

Most leisure craft can cut across Calshot Spit by at high water. However, at low water, a vessel carrying any draft must take a course very close to the east, the Calshot side, of the port channel navigation buoys to keep clear of the main fairway and its ‘Area of Concern’. The ‘Area of Concern’ finishes at the Hook Buoy, off Calshot Castle, when Southampton Water has been entered.


The Solent's western and eastern approaches converge at Calshot Castle where Southampton Water commences. From here Southampton Water extends north-westward to the south end of Southampton Docks that marks the junction of the River Test and the River Itchen. The River Itchen flows in a north direction, and the River Test leads north-westward as a continuation of Southampton Water. Southampton City is seen from the entire length of Southampton Water.

Southampton Water
Image: Mike Nicholls, Beaulieu River Harbour Master

The deep-water space embraces a channel, 5 miles long and half a mile wide, set between banks of soft mud that cover at high water. There are no dangers for leisure craft in Southampton Water except for its long mud flats. Being almost landlocked, with a highly protected approach, no sea of any consequence can rise in this section of water. The well-marked fairway is maintained for commercial shipping and is dredged to 12.6 metres through the Thorn Channel and Calshot Reach, up to the River Test as far as Southampton’s main container terminal. The approach area leading through the River Itchen is dredged to a depth of 9.1 metres. It then shoals to a minimum of 2 metres (LAT) up to Saxon Wharf Marina, about 3 miles northward at the head of the navigable waters of the Itchen. To the north-westward on the River Test it dries out entirely in less than 4 miles.

Dock Head, standing at the head of Southampton Water and the confluence of the
rivers Itchen and Test

Image: Rodhullandemu via CC BY-SA 2.0

Port of Southampton controls the approaches and leisure craft should obey all directions provided by the Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) VHF Ch 12. Although the ‘Area of Concern’ ends at Southampton Water’s Hook buoy there is still no right of sail over large commercial ships in Southampton Water. Whenever practicable it is preferable that leisure craft should use the largely navigable waters outside the buoyed commercial shipping channels. There is ample water inside most the marks so keeping just outside the buoyed fairway is easy. Likewise finding a clear time to cut across the channel, at right angles, is easy to come by here. The key buoy that must be passed on the correct side is ‘Swinging Ground’ starboard buoy at the mouth of the River Itchen just opposite the Dock Head.

Fawley Power Station
Image: Michael Harpur
On the western side, a mile north of Calshot Castle is the conspicuous Calshot Radar Tower. The conspicuous chimney of the Fawley Power Station stands 3 miles to the northwest and most sailors see it as the primary landmark for the entrance to Southampton Water. Keep well clear of very large tankers operating from Fawley. The mud bank on the western side, between Calshot and Hythe, is steep-to, breaking down abruptly from a high bank to 12 to 14 metres water.

The small settlement of Ashlett Creek Click to view haven lies to the north of Fawley Power Station. It is a natural creek that has a small and very pretty harbour at its head associated with its former and well-preserved tide mill. The harbour and its ½ mile long channel dry and are only accessible at the top half of the tide.

Ashlett on the western shore of Southampton Water
Image: Michael Harpur

Opposite the conspicuous Fawley Power Marine Terminal, situated 1.5 miles north of the power station, is the entrance to the River Hamble. Hamble Spit runs out for nearly a mile from the river’s northern entrance point with the ‘Hamble Point’ south cardinal, Q(6)+LFl.15s, marking its southern extremity.

Hamble Point south cardinal marker and the river entrance
Image: Ben Hollier via CC BY-SA 2.0

From here the meandering Hamble River, continues northward for about 3 miles up to Bursledon Bridge that, with an air draught of 4 metres height (MHWS), marks the effective head of navigation for most sailing craft.

Hamble Point Marina and Warsash immediately within the entrance to the River

Image: Michael Harpur

On the east bank of the river, immediately within the entrance, is the small village of Warsash that is made conspicuous by the Hamble Harbour Master's Office tower, circled by white with black bands. Hamble Harbour Master holds jurisdiction of the river, within limits best seen on a chart, on behalf of Hampshire County Council. The village of Hamble, officially Hamble-le-Rice, is about half a mile above this point.

Port Hamble Marina is the river’s second marina and the closest to the village
Image: Michael Harpur

The river is a centre for south coast yachting and it plays host to numerous yacht services. It is home to six marinas along with sailing several clubs, boatyards and a river authority. Its marinas are, in river order, Hamble Point Marina Click to view haven, Port Hamble Marina Click to view haven, Mercury Yacht Harbour Click to view haven, Universal Marina Click to view haven, Swanwick Marina Click to view haven. The Hamble River Harbour Master Click to view haven, based at Warsash, provides visitor moorings and the Elephant Boatyard Click to view haven also takes visitors on an ad hoc basis if it has is space on its hammerhead.

Deacons Marina and Boatyard and Bursledon Bridge
Image: Michael Harpur

The run up the river is detailed in the river's sixth marina Deacons Marina and Boatyard Click to view haven situated on the upper end of the meandering river, on the west bank of the river immediately before the Bursledon Bridge.

Netley Great Dome
Image: Michael Harpur

One mile above the village is the site of the old Royal Victoria Military Hospital within the grounds of Royal Victoria Country Park. Netley Great Dome, once the hospital’s magnificent church, stands proudly today overlooking Southampton Water. There is an anchorage off Netley Click to view haven located close south of Netley Sailing Club's clubhouse and clear of its racing activities.

Hythe Pier
Image: Michael Harpur

A mile and a half above Netley and north of a line joining Hythe Pier and Weston Shelf, there is a maximum speed limit of 6 kn. At night the helmsman should keep watch for several large unlit mooring buoys off Hythe and the opposite side of the fairway. Hi-speed, Ro-Ro ferries and large ships operate in this part of Southampton Waters.

Hythe Marina Village's entrance with Dock Head in the backdrop
Image: Michael Harpur

The prominent Hythe Marina Village Click to view haven is on the western shores of Southampton Water, a ¼ of a mile above Hythe Pier and about a ⅓ of a mile southward of Dock Head. The marina is approached via a short well-marked channel that leads into its lock.

Dock Head as seen from Southampton Water
Image: Michael Harpur

The southern face of the port Dock Head, standing at the confluence of the rivers Test and Itchen, is made readily apparent by its conspicuous Signal Station and tall grain silos.

The Signal Station at Dock Head Southampton
Image: Gillian Thomas via CC BY-SA 2.0

Approaching Dock Head the water outside the main channel starts to shallow. At the ‘Weston Shelf’ starboard buoy, Fl 3 G 15s, opposite Hythe Marina and backed by tall apartment flats onshore, there is only 100 metres of deep water inside of the buoy.

Conspicuous tall apartment flats on the eastern shore backing Weston Shelf buoy
Image: Michael Harpur

It is, therefore, best to step out into the main fairway before this mark and to pass all marks on their correct side northwards of it. Particularly so ‘Swinging Ground’ starboard buoy opposite Dock Head, Oc G 4s, that must be passed to starboard when entering the mouth of the River Itchen.

Swinging Ground buoy with the Itchen Bridge in the backdrop
Image: Michael Harpur


The area leading into the River Itchen is marked on the eastern side by closely spaced large green pile markers set on the edge of the river bank. The western side is flanked by the steep-to Eastern Docks and Empress Docks. Above the Empress Dock the head of Weston Jetty, set between the green pile marks and extending into the River from the opposite eastern side, also marks the edge of the shallows. Upon entering the mouth of the River Itchen it is important to maintain a watchful eye for large vessels manoeuvring alongside the commercial quays on the port side.

Ocean Village Marina and the Itchen Bridge
Image: Michael Harpur

Immediately above the commercial docks, opposite No. 4 pile marker, Fl G 4s, and a quarter of a mile to the south of the Itchen Bridge, is Southampton’s Ocean Village Marina Click to view haven. Built into a basin, that was formerly used by commercial ships, the marina is readily identifiable by red-roofed 'developer houses' on the east side of the river and a large sign just above the pilings.

Above the marina, the best water is to be found on the east or starboard side on the approaches to the Itchen Bridge. The Itchen Bridge spans the river with an air draft of 23 metres under the middle arch. Upriver of the bridge, the channel turns to port passing alongside the western shoreline. From this point, numerous wharves, jetties and pontoons will be seen on each side of the river. At night a sharp watch should be maintained for unlit moorings in the centre of the river.

Saint Mary's Football Stadium situated close to the river above The Itchen

Image: Peter Trimming via CC BY-SA 2.0

300 metres northwest of the bridge and a chain of permanently moored mid-river barges, pontoons and boats mark the eastern side of the channel. Behind these, the eastern shore is shoal drying to more than halfway between the shorelines. The channel now passes along the western shore close alongside Itchen Marina run by the transport and logistics company with several tugs seen alongside here. Beyond this, the western side of the river is fronted by a sequence of docks and wharves where the water is fairly steep-to at their faces until Shamrock Quay Marina.

Shamrock Quay Marina
Image: Michael Harpur

Shamrock Quay Marina Click to view haven is situated just over a ½ mile upriver from the bridge, on the west bank, close southwest of Millstone Point and opposite No. 5 pile marker, Fl G 3s. At night lights are exhibited from its southwest and northeast most pontoons and the complex is broadly floodlighted.

Shamrock Quay and the run up the river as seen from the north side of Millstone

Image: Michael Harpur

Above Shamrock Quay the river wraps around Millstone Point which is fronted by Millstone Jetty on the east side. The point is made conspicuous by its large crane that exhibits F.R. lights at night.

Millstone Point and Kemps Quay's midstream lower trot pontoon
Image: Michael Harpur

The opposite side of the river is marked by Kemps Quay's midstream ‘Lower Trot’ pontoon off the eastern shore. This is situated between starboard Beacons No. 7, Fl(2)G.5s, and No. 9, Fl(4)G.10s. These beacons, along with the mid-river pontoon, mark the outer extremity of the eastern shore’s largely drying Chessel Bay.

Continuing northward between the unlit red pile mark No. 8 and lit green beacon No. 9, and the River Itchen bends westward. Saxon Wharf Marina Click to view haven will be found about 150 metres to port on the southern shore, close northwest of Millstone Point, and the pontoons of Kemps Quay lie opposite on the north bank.

Saxon Wharf Marina
Image: Michael Harpur

At about ½ mile above Shamrock Quay, and its MDL sister, Saxon Wharf Marina primarily focuses on large scale yachts but welcomes all visitors.

Kemps Quay with Northam Bridge visible upriver
Image: Michael Harpur

Immediately beyond Saxon Wharf is the small family-run marina of Kemps Quay Click to view haven that also receives visitors.

A ¼ of a mile above these marinas Northam Bridge spans the river, with a 4 - 7 metre's of clearance. The River Itchen then dries about ¼ of a mile above the bridge.


The River Test is dredged to 13.2 metres for about 3½ miles, as far Marchwood, and 12.6 metres as far as the swinging ground at the top end of the container berths about a mile further. Above this, the river shoals rapidly and dries up to the Eling Channel and the well-sheltered Eling Basin.

Southampton Docks and the River Test
Image: M. J. Richardson via CC BY-SA 2.0

Cruise liner docks are situated on the starboard side of the river for two miles above Dock Head and close to the city centre. Immediately outside Ocean Dock, a ⅓ of a mile above Dock Head, is the lower swinging ground of Ocean Terminal. This waterway is shared with the Fast Cat and the Hythe ferry services, that frequently shuttle back and forth to the Isle of Wight and Hythe, so maintain a careful watch for ferry and ship movements at this point.

Town Quay
Image: Michael Harpur

Less than a ¼ of a mile above Ocean Dock is the Town Quay Click to view haven that has a marina set in the historic heart of the Southampton City’s waterfront. It is an active commercial quay that is home to the terminal for the ferry service to the Isle of Wight and across the water to Hythe.

Beyond Town Quay, the river is dominated by large container docks on its northeast shore and industrial docks to the southwest. Maintain a careful watch for ships manoeuvring off the Western Docks or intending on using a turning circle located close northwest of Town Quay. There is ample water close outside the ‘Cracknore’ port hand buoy Oc. R. 8s and series of ‘Swinging Ground’ port marks if a ship happens to be manoeuvring.

At high water there is also the option to step out of the deep water channel and into The Marchwood Channel, opening to the south ‘Cracknore’, to evade ships and take advantage of a slight cut. Marchwood Channel’s depths range from 2.3 metres to 3.2 after Marchwood Basin. Its western end has as little as 0.4 metres LAT and is full of Marchwood Yacht Club moorings that a transiting vessel has to worm its way through.

Marchwood Yacht Club pontoon
Image: Michael Harpur

The large silver dome of the Marchwood incinerator, visible throughout the north end of Southampton Water, provides an excellent marker for the location of Marchwood Yacht Club Click to view haven. The club’s ‘H’ shaped pontoon lies 300 metres northwest of the dome, and there is another turning circle close north of the club pontoon.

The Eling Basin
Image: Michael Harpur

Continuing north-westward past Marchwood Yacht Club pontoon for just under a mile leads to the ‘Eling’ east cardinal buoy. The approaches to the ‘Eling’ east cardinal buoy have a minimum maintained depth of 12.6 metres of water, but it shallows immediately afterwards. The Eling Channel, which leads to the Eling Basin Click to view haven, dries 250 metres southeast of its entrance.


The complete course is 42.69 miles from the waypoint 'Whis Fairway Marker Buoy ' to 'W Princessa' tending in a easterly direction (reciprocal westerly).

Whis Fairway Marker Buoy , 50° 38.312' N, 001° 38.834' W
This is close northeast of the safe water 'Whis Fairway' light-buoy L Fl.10s situated off the southwest end of the entrance to the Needles Channel. The port 'SW Shingles' light buoy and 'Bridge' west cardinal will be conspicuous to the northeast. Likewise, a directional light, bearing 041° T, of Hurst Point Light will be picked up to lead up through the seaward end of the channel.

       Next waypoint: 1.30 miles, course 41.98°T (reciprocal 221.98°T)

SW Shingles port light buoy, 50° 39.281' N, 001° 37.459' W
The ‘SW Shingles’ port light buoy fl. R. 2.5s, marks the southwest end of Shingles. The Shingles bank commences to the west of The Needles. From there it extends east by northeast for 3 miles to its northeast extremity that terminates about half a mile out from Hurst Beach. Its south-eastern face forms the northwest side of the Needles Channel.

       Next waypoint: 1.03 miles, course 50.12°T (reciprocal 230.12°T)

Bridge west cardinal, 50° 39.940' N, 001° 36.214' W
The ‘Bridge’, west cardinal VQ(9)10s, marks the western extremity of The Bridge. The Bridge reef extends up to ¾ of a mile, west-by-south, from the Needles Rocks and it has the least depth of 5.5 metres. This is the most dangerous point of the Needles channel where it is pinched between its two major dangers of The Bridge and the southwest tail of the Shingles.

       Next waypoint: 0.45 miles, course 56.05°T (reciprocal 236.05°T)

Shingles Elbow, 50° 40.194' N, 001° 35.619' W
At 'Shingles Elbow' port buoy Fl(2)R 5s, the Needles Channel opens up.

       Next waypoint: 2.61 miles, course 38.54°T (reciprocal 218.54°T)

Close South of The Trap, 50° 42.231' N, 001° 33.056' W
The Trap is a small spit of sand and gravel that varies considerably in height and extent. It causes rougher water immediately south of Hurst Castle. Expect some tidal streams from the convergence between the North Channel and Needles Channels on the approach to this waypoint.

       Next waypoint: 2.61 miles, course 45.31°T (reciprocal 225.31°T)

Lymington, 50° 44.066' N, 001° 30.124' W
This is on the 319½° T leading line, fixed red by night, that leads into the Lymington River which flows into the north side of The Solent through a saltmarsh. The small historic market and harbour town of Lymington is located on its east bank and is a major centre for sailing.

       Next waypoint: 6.11 miles, course 66.60°T (reciprocal 246.60°T)

Beaulieu River, 50° 46.484' N, 001° 21.265' W
This is set on the 324° T transit that sets up the ideal approach to the Beaulieu Dolphin and thence to the entrance of the Beaulieu River.

       Next waypoint: 1.32 miles, course 61.20°T (reciprocal 241.20°T)

NE Gurnard, 50° 47.121' N, 001° 19.432' W
This is close inside the 'NE Gurnard' port buoy Fl(3)R.10s, keeping just outside the marked channel of the 'Area of Concern'.

       Next waypoint: 1.00 miles, course 41.54°T (reciprocal 221.54°T)

Bourne Gap, 50° 47.868' N, 001° 18.385' W
This is close inside the 'Bourne Gap' port buoy FlR.3s, keeping just outside the marked channel of the 'Area of Concern'.

       Next waypoint: 0.69 miles, course 46.51°T (reciprocal 226.51°T)

Calshot Spit, 50° 48.345' N, 001° 17.589' W
This is on the correct side of a steel catamaran buoy with a steel lattice superstructure Fl.5s10M, keeping just inside the marked channel of the 'Area of Concern'. The catamaran always lies with the tide, enabling pilots bringing large ships into Southampton to see the tidal stream direction.

       Next waypoint: 0.39 miles, course 345.54°T (reciprocal 165.54°T)

Castle Point, 50° 48.720' N, 001° 17.742' W
This is close inside the 'Castle Point' port buoy QR.10s, keeping just outside the marked channel of the 'Area of Concern'.

       Next waypoint: 0.46 miles, course 334.34°T (reciprocal 154.34°T)

Black Jack, 50° 49.133' N, 001° 18.056' W
This is on the correct side of the 'Black Jack' port buoy QR.10s, keeping just inside the marked channel of the 'Area of Concern'.

       Next waypoint: 2.12 miles, course 320.35°T (reciprocal 140.35°T)

NE End of Fawley Marine Terminal, 50° 50.761' N, 001° 20.193' W
This is situated 300 metres northward of the northern end of the Fawley Power Marine Terminal. Be watchful for ship movements when passing.

       Next waypoint: 2.98 miles, course 310.20°T (reciprocal 130.20°T)

Hythe Marina Village, 50° 52.682' N, 001° 23.797' W
This is the approach to a well-marked short channel into Hythe Marina Village. The marina lies on the western shores and near the head of Southampton Water and is entered through a lock.

       Next waypoint: 0.13 miles, course 346.77°T (reciprocal 166.77°T)

Hythe Knock and the River Test, 50° 52.808' N, 001° 23.844' W
This is close inside the 'Hythe Knock' port buoy FlR.3s, keeping just outside the marked channel, leading into the River Test.

       Next waypoint: 0.28 miles, course 57.48°T (reciprocal 237.48°T)

Swinging Ground and the River Itchen, 50° 52.959' N, 001° 23.469' W
This is on the correct side of 'Swinging Ground' starboard buoy FlR.3s, leading into the River Itchen.

       Next waypoint: 0.27 miles, course 156.60°T (reciprocal 336.60°T)

Weston Shelf Buoy, 50° 52.711' N, 001° 23.299' W
This is on the correct side of 'Weston Shelf' starboard buoy Fl(3)G.15s.

       Next waypoint: 3.00 miles, course 128.76°T (reciprocal 308.76°T)

SW BP Hamble Terminal, 50° 50.834' N, 001° 19.598' W
This is situated 150 metres southward of the southern end of the BP Hamble Terminal. Be watchful for ship movements when passing.

       Next waypoint: 0.98 miles, course 142.77°T (reciprocal 322.77°T)

Hamble River Entrance, 50° 50.055' N, 001° 18.661' W
This is on the correct side of 'Hamble Point' south cardinal mark Q(6) + LFl. 15s, leading into the River Hamble.

       Next waypoint: 1.79 miles, course 144.26°T (reciprocal 324.26°T)

North Channel (Northwest Entrance), 50° 48.602' N, 001° 17.006' W
This is about 350 metres north of 'Bell Calshot' north cardinal mark VQ, on the opposite side of the northwest entrance to the North Channel.

       Next waypoint: 2.58 miles, course 129.11°T (reciprocal 309.11°T)

North Channel (Southeast Entrance), 50° 46.973' N, 001° 13.838' W
Circa 350 metres north of 'East Bramble' east cardinal mark VQ(3)5s, on the opposite side of the southeast entrance to the North Channel.

       Next waypoint: 3.91 miles, course 113.87°T (reciprocal 293.87°T)

N Sturbridge, 50° 45.391' N, 001° 8.195' W
Close north of 'N Sturbridge' north cardinal mark, VQ.

       Next waypoint: 1.83 miles, course 126.43°T (reciprocal 306.43°T)

No Man's Land Fort leisure craft passage, 50° 44.307' N, 001° 5.875' W
At about the midpoint of the passage that is almost a ⅓ of a mile wide and has 2 metres of water at chart datum. The pass is marked by the fort to the northeast and a lit post, FL R 12s, on the Island or southeast side. The pass enables leisure craft to pass into Spithead clear of the commercial channel that is used by large vessels.

       Next waypoint: 3.82 miles, course 149.99°T (reciprocal 329.99°T)

Bembridge Ledge, 50° 41.001' N, 001° 2.862' W
Close outside the 'Bembridge Ledge' east cardinal mark Q(3)10s, that is located a ⅓ of a mile eastward of the dangerous Bembridge Ledge.

       Next waypoint: 1.03 miles, course 214.88°T (reciprocal 34.88°T)

W Princessa, 50° 40.157' N, 001° 3.790' W
Close inside the 'W Princessa' west cardinal mark Q(9)15s, that is located nearly a mile south-eastward of Foreland with the dangerous Bembridge Ledge stretching out nearly half of that distance. It is essential not to mistake 'W Princessa' for the 'Bembridge Ledge' cardinal as this easily made mistake has run many vessels up onto Bembridge Ledge.

What is the best sailing time?
May to September is the traditional UK Sailing season with June-July offering the best weather. The amount of bad weather varies quite widely from year to year. The British Isles weather is highly variable because they are islands positioned between the Atlantic Ocean and a large land mass, continental Europe. As a result, the entire area lays under an area where five main air masses meet and alternate:

  • • Tropical Maritime Air Mass - from the Atlantic

  • • Polar Maritime Air Mass - from Greenland

  • • Arctic Maritime Air Mass

  • • Polar Continental Air Mass - from central Europe

  • • Tropical Continental Air Mass - from North Africa

The air masses can come in from any direction bringing with them all types of weather and where they meet they create weather fronts. Fine summer weather is typically punctuated by the passage of Atlantic depressions bringing periods of strong wind and rain, and sometimes poor visibility.

Gales, however, rarely cause surprises as they are usually forecasted well in advance. Good weather windows of 48 hours are easy to predict but any longer than that there's an increasing chance of change. Winters see a predominance of wind and rain, but the protected waters of The Solent are enjoyed by many weekenders who like the offseason reduction of boating activity and berthing fees.

Across the British Isles, the prevailing winds are from the southwest. The Solent, however, is subject to a high degree of local heating. In the western Solent, the sea breeze effect can be strong enough to reverse a northeast Beauford Force 3 morning wind and turn it into a south-westerly Force 4 by early afternoon. The results of the heating of the Isle of Wight is much less than that of the mainland, but it leads to more variable and lighter winds than on its northern side.

Are there any security concerns?
Never an issue has been known to occur to a vessel cruising waters of The Solent or the shores Isle of Wight.

With thanks to:
eOceanic Research

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