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Coastal Overview for Land's End to Isles of Scilly

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What is the route?
This is the Coastal Overview for Land's End to the Isles of Scillies. Detailed coastal overviews 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.

Why sail this route?
This is the primary coastal overview for vessels cruising the Isle of Scillies providing coastal overviews and the directions for the outlying dangers between Land's End.

Tidal overview
Today's summary tidal overview for this route as of Thursday, December 5th at 15:42. There is only a 3-hour window of fair west-going tide from Land's End to the Scillies. This then turns to cross tides setting northwest to north. Departing the Scillies there is a window of 6-hours of an eastward stream.

Scillies east-going

(HW Dover +0500 to -0500)

Starts in 07:08:31

(Thu 22:51 to 01:16)

Runnel Stone west-going

(HW Dover -0200 to +0100)

Starts in 00:08:31

(Thu 15:51 to 18:51)

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 Scilly Isles comprise a group of isles and numerous above and below-water dangers that occupy a bank, about 10 miles long northwest/southeast and 5 miles wide, that lies about 21 miles westward of the Land's End. The largest isles are concentrated in the northeast part of the bank and the small isles, rocks, and hidden dangers intersperse, rather sporadically, the southwest part of the bank. The group consists of 48 islands of which only 5 are inhabited (six if Gugh is counted separately from St Agnes), St. Mary, St. Agnes, St. Martin, Trescow, and Bryer, the others are more or less barren. The rocks in their vicinity, above and below water, are too numerous to describe and keen attention to charts is essential.

The islands' position produces a place of great contrast with the sea, greatly influenced by the Gulf Stream, means they rarely have frost or snow, which allows local farmers to grow flowers well ahead of those in mainland Britain. The chief agricultural product is cut flowers, mostly daffodils. Exposure to Atlantic winds also means that spectacular winter gales lash the islands from time to time. This is reflected in the landscape, most clearly seen on Tresco where the lush Abbey Gardens on the sheltered southern end of the island contrast with the low heather and bare rock sculpted by the wind on the exposed northern end.

The primary dangers on the approaches from England’s south coast are Wolf Rock and The Seven Stones.


Wolf Rock is a hazardous a steep-to half-tidal rock, steep-to, lying 8 miles south by southwest of Land’s End. Wolf Rock is awash at high water neaps and there is 60 metres of water within one mile of the Wolf Rock on all sides, and 50 to 66 metres between the rock and the land.

Wolf Rock Lighthouse
Image: Alvaro via CC ASA 4.0

The lighthouse on the Wolf Rock is 41 metres from base to vane, is circular of grey granite, and exhibits a light from an elevation of 34 metres above Mean High Water, Fl 15s which should be seen in clear weather from a distance of 16 miles. The remarkably beautiful tower dates back to 1869 and the lighthouse achieved worldwide publicity in 1972 as the first rock lighthouse to have a helideck constructed on top of the lantern housing.


The Seven Stones are a large cluster of dangerous rocks on a bank that lies 6½ to the northeast of the Isles of Scilly. They are one mile in extent lying northwest/southeast, some dry at low water and all are covered at high water. In rough weather, the breakers upon them may be seen from a considerable distance.

Sevenstones Light Vessel
Image: Maria Fowler

The Seven Stones rocks are marked by ‘The Sevenstones’ Light vessel that is moored about 2 miles northeast of the Sevenstones and about 10 miles northeast of the Isles of Scilly. The unmanned vessel is painted red, with the words ‘Sevenstones’ on her sides, Fl (3) 30s, Fog Signal Horn (3) 60s, the range of light 15M. Lying low and nearly in the fairway between Scillies and the Land's End they are particularly dangerous. When navigating between the Scilly Isles and Land’s End, vessels should not pass between Seven Stones and this lightship and should never attempt to pass close to their position.


The Isles of Scilly may be discerned in clear weather at the distance of 15 miles and by night by its three lighthouses.

Bishop Rock: The Bishop Rock lighthouse stands on the south-westernmost of all the dangers of the Scilly group. It is conspicuous granite tower, 49 metres high that stands on a rock that is the north of a small detached group of above-water rocks which are mostly awash at high water. It exhibits a light that Fl(2)15s at an elevation of 44 metres above high water, which should be seen in clear weather from a distance of 20 miles in any direction. Bishop Rock is generally the first sighting made when approaching the English Channel from the west.

Bishop Rock Lighthouse
Image: Lucy Rickards

Round Island: Round Island is low and surrounded by rocks that is the northmost isle of the group. Round Island Lighthouse is built atop a 40 metre mass of granite, standing on its north side marking the most northerly outpost of the Isles of Scilly. Round Island Light is shown from a prominent tower, 19 metres high, Fl 10s which should be seen in clear weather from a distance of 18 miles but the light is obscured on some bearings.

Round Island Lighthouse marking the north end of the Isles of Scilly
Image: Colin Park via CC BY-SA 2.0

Peninnis Head: Peninnis Head Light, standing on Peninnis Head, at the southwest side of St. Mary’s, is made up of a 14 metres high circular skeletal metal tower lower half, with a closed tower upper half balcony and lantern. It has a black lower part, white upper part and exhibits a light that is 36 metres above high water springs, Fl 20s and can be seen for 9 nautical miles.

Peninnis Light on Peninnis Head, St Mary's Island
Image: James T M Towill via CC BY-SA 2.0

Peninnis Head Light the lighthouse superseded the old conspicuous lighthouse that stands on its summit of St. Agnes. The lighthouse is disused and no longer contains a light.

The old disused lighthouse standing on its summit of St. Agnes
Image: Colin Park via CC BY-SA 2.0

A conical stone beacon, or daymark, stands on Chapel Down the highest and easternmost point of St. Martin. It stands at an elevation of 56 metres and is a rendered granite circular tower 4.8 metres in diameter and 6.4 metres high, set back to conical termination making it 11 metres high, painted with alternate red and white horizontal bands.

Daymark standing on Chapel Down the easternmost point of St. Martin
Image: Michael Maggs via CC BY-SA 2.0

This beacon, together with several radio masts and a conspicuous television tower stand on the northwest side of St. Mary’s and can be seen from a considerable distance in clear weather. A prominent coast guard station stands close south of the tower.

All are good landmarks that serve well to point out the group particularly from the southwestward and westward, that requires great judgment, by reason of the rocky ledges which project in those directions. The Crim and Bishop, the westernmost rocks of the Scilly Isles, are always above water, and on the latter is a stone lighthouse.

The rocky ledge called Pol Bank, with a least depth of 23 metres constitutes the most southerly danger in the Scilly Isles area. It should be avoided by all vessels, especially in periods of heavy swell, when strong overfalls are formed. The Poll Bank is surrounded by deep water and is in fair weather presents no danger other than to open boats.

The southeastern shores of St. Agnes, St. Mary's and the Western Islands may be approached as near as a ½ mile, as there are no dangers outside that distance. To the south-east and southward of St. Agnes island there is an overfall, between 4 hours flood and 2 hours ebb, occasioned by the confluence of the two streams of the tide at that period.

A Traffic Separation Schemes (TSS), is situated west of the Scilly Isles, south of the Scilly Isles, and between the Scilly Isles and the English coast as may best be seen on a chart.


St. Mary's Island is the largest, the most populous island (with a population of 1,723 out of a total population for the Scilly Island group of 2,203) and the principal isle of the group.

St Mary's Island
Image: Visit Isles of Scilly

With its 40 meters high summit in the north part it is 2 miles long from north to south, and 1¾ miles wide. Situated near the southwestern end of St Mary’s Island, Hugh Town is the administrative centre, capital and the largest settlement on the Isles of Scilly. The town is located on a narrow isthmus which joins the peninsula known as the Garrison, to the west, with the larger body of the island to the east. To the north of the isthmus is a natural bay of St. Mary’s Pool Click to view haven. It is further protected to the west by the quay of Saint Mary's Harbour that also serves as a breakwater for the inner harbour area.

Saint Mary's Harbour comprises a pier that extends northward to connect to Rat Island and a further 150 metres further northeastward where the island ferry, The Scillonian III, has its berth. Close to its root is the Old Pier from which inter-island launches connect to all the other inhabited islands. The harbour provides moorings and the possibility of coming alongside its wall. It is also possible to anchor outside the harbour limits. To the south of the isthmus is the alternative haven of Port Cressa.

Hugh Town on the narrow neck of land between Port Cressa (left) and Saint Mary's

Image: Pekka Nikrus via CC BY SA NC 2.0

The deepwater anchorage St. Mary’s Road, the most spacious anchorage, lies northwest of St. Mary’s.

St Mary's Road as seen from Bant's Carn with the Neolithic tomb seen left
Image: © Andy Sutton

Crow Sound, lying to the northeast of St. Mary’s, provides good anchorage. It is easy to access, but should not be used during strong easterly winds. Crow Bar, a shallow bank, separates Crow Sound from St. Mary’s Road and requires a sufficient rise of the tide to pass.


Tresco Island, is the second-biggest island of the Isles of Scilly, is 2 miles long north and south, and ¾ of a mile wide and contains 297 hectares.

Tresco as seen from the east
Image: Tom Corser via CC ASA 2.0

The main settlements are New Grimsby and Old Grimsby in the central part of the island. Combined, their facilities include a convenience store (with a post office sub-branch), an art gallery, a pub, and two café/restaurants, all of which are owned and run by the Tresco Estate.


St. Martin's Island, the north-easternmost populated island of the Isles of the Group. It has an area of 237 hectares and is about 2 miles long northwest/south-east, and ⅔ of a mile wide. There are three main settlements on the island, Higher Town, Middle Town and Lower Town, in addition to a number of scattered farms and cottages, with a total population (2011 census) of 136. To the north, St Martin's is joined by a tidal causeway to White Island.

St Martin's Island as seen from the southeast
Image: Tom Corser via CC ASA 2.0

There are two quays on the on the island. One at Higher Town called the Higher Town Quay south central to the island, used at high tide. The other is at Lower Town, at the western extremity of the island, at Hotel Quay, that may be used at low tide. In Higher Town, there is a post office.

The most remarkable object is the beacon known as the daymark, which stands on the highest and eastern part of the island, at an elevation of 56 metres. It is a rendered granite circular tower 4.8 metres in diameter and 6.4 metres high, set back to conical termination making it 11 metres high, painted with alternate red and white horizontal bands.


Bryher lies to the west of Tresco and is one of the smaller of the inhabited islands of the group. It is 1½ miles long from north to south, ⅔ of a mile wide, and attains an elevation of 39 metres and contains 134 hectares. Off the southern end of Bryher is the uninhabited island of Samson. It is possible to walk between the three islands at the lowest spring tides.

The centre of Bryher is mainly low-lying with arable fields, pasture and housing and is where most of the population of 84 live. It is marginally the smallest island in area and population when the tidal island of Gugh is included with St Agnes which is the common interpretation. The settlement at the Pool Hell Bay Hotel is the westernmost in England.


St. Agnes Island is the southernmost populated island of the group. The island is 1 mile long, and ¾ of a mile wide it contains 148 hectares, including Gogh Islet, with which the island is connected by a narrow tombolo that covers at three-quarters flood. St. Agnes Island is separated from St. Mary's by St. Mary's Sound.

The two islands of St Agnes and Gugh together have a population of 85 residents (2011 census). Troy Town Farm on the island is the southernmost settlement in the United Kingdom and England. St. Agnes is the only populated island in the group which has no hotel. However, it has an ice cream shop, a campsite, a small post office and general store and a gift shop. It also has a pub (the Turk's Head) and a café that are open during the season.

The island's most notable landmark is its disused lighthouse that stands on the summit of the island. It has been converted into living accommodation and the tower no longer contains a light. A rock formation on the southwest side of St. Agnes that looks like an elephant.


The primary anchorage in St. Mary's Road is between the islands of St. Mary's, St. Martin’s and that of Samson. Saint Mary’s Harbour has a pier with depths of 2m alongside. There are facilities for small coasters, ferries, and pleasure craft. St. Mary’s Road, fronting Hugh Town, can be entered via several channels.

There are five distinct entrances to it, as best seen on a chart:

  • • St. Mary's Sound

  • • Crow Sound and over Crow Bar

  • • Broad Sound

  • • The North West Passage

  • • Smith Sound


St. Mary's Sound provides the best entrance into St. Mary Road. The entrance Sound is broad and not too difficult to identify as it is marked by buoys, beacons and a lighthouse that makes it the easiest to navigate. It should be used by vessels approaching from east or south and the one that all newcomers should choose if possible. The other approaches are valid but the challenge and risks are significant in any difficult sea.

St. Mary’s Sound, detailed in the St. Mary’s Pool Click to view haven entry, has a least depth of 9.9 metres on the range line and is entered between Peninnis Head with a lighthouse and Spanish Ledges, with a lit Cardinal marker.

Approaching St. Mary's Sound, bring the northeast end of the 16-metre high Mincarlo Islet in line with the western extremity of the 7 meters high Great Minalto Rock, (although names Great Minalto it is the smaller of the two) as best seen on a chart 307.1° T.

This will lead up the fairway between:

  • • Peninnis Head that is steep too but has Gilstone Rock laying almost a mile east from the head, drying to 1.8 metres and covers at three-quarters flood. Pollard Rock, lying about 100 feet off the northwest point of Peninnis Head, that dries more than 2 metres feet at low-water springs.
  • • Spanish Ledges, 400 metres in extent, awash at low-water springs marked on their eastern sides, by the lit ‘Spanish Ledge’ East Cardinal Mark, Q(3)10s.

  • • Woolpack Rock that projects nearly 300 metres southwestward from Woolpack Point on St Mary’s to the northeast. It dries a little before low water and is marked by a starboard beacon, FL.G.5s, that stands on the rock.

  • • Bartholomew Ledges that are 400 metres in extent and includes several rocky heads which dry at low-water springs. A lit port beacon, Q.R., stands on the ledge and the ‘N Bartholomew’ port buoy, Fl. R.5s, marks an isolated drying section called North Bartholomew.

Continue with the above alignment until the day mark on St. Martin's comes in line with Greeb Rock, 040.5° T, then steer direct for the anchorage in St. Mary's Road.

This 307.1°T entrance transit is based on two islands that are 2 and 3 miles respectively away from the entrance to the sound and may be challenging to distinguish. However, with Peninnis Lighthouse situated on Peninnis Head and the channel marks the approaches there is little scope for confusion.


Crow Sound lying to the northeast of St. Mary’s, provides another approach with a good anchorage but it requires clearing Crow Bar to enter St. Mary’s Road which might require a tide wait.

Crow Sound is easy to access and is the second-best approach after St. Mary’s Sound, but should not be used during any strong easterly or southeasterly winds. In all cases Crow Bar, a shallow sandbank that which dries 0.7 metres and separates Crow Sound from St. Mary’s Road, will need a rise of the tide to be cleared to pass.

In fact, anchoring off close into the northwest corn of Saint Mary's in Watermill Cove affords excellent protection from large swells during southwest and west gales, where it is preferable to Saint Mary's Road.

The sound has a wide entrance that is not difficult to identify. From a position east of Saint Mary's find the alignment of the northeast extremity of Innisidgen with the summit of Samson Hill, near the southern extremity of Bryher, 285 T.

This range marker leads clear of the dangers and through the middle of Crow Sound which are as follows:

  • • Southwest of Trinity Rock, with 4.6 metres and the Ridge 9.7 metres, south of the Eastern Isles that have breaking seas in bad weather.
  • • Northeast of Vinegar Ledge the north-eastmost danger off Toll's Island off the corner of St Mary’s.

  • • South of Hats shallows drying to 0.6 metres and an uncovering boiler structure from a wreck in the sound. This is marked by the ‘Hats’ south cardinal marker, VQ(6)+LF1.10s, moored 400 metres southward. Break off the transit to pass close south of the mark.

  • • Keep clear of the northeast extremity of Innisidgen, near the ‘Hats’ cardinal mark as isolated rocks extend out 100 metres east-northeast from it.

Crow Bar lies off the north end of St. Mary, near Bant’s Carn Point. It is a sandbank that dries to 0.7 metres and stretches north/south across most of the sound to the north of St Mary's Island.
Please note

If a tide wait is required to cross Crow Bar anchor off Watermill Cove about 300 metres out from the shore in about 4 metres to avoid its numerous outlying rocks.

Crow Rock as see from Bant's Carn
Image: Sheraca CC BY-SA-NC 2.0

The channel over Crow Bar is only usable with sufficient rise of tide. The alignment 254° of Crow Rock isolated danger mark with South Hill, as best seen on a chart, leads over Crow Bar towards Crow Rock, passing between the south end of the long narrow sandbar that starts to dry to 0.7 metres 60 metres northward of the transit.

Crow Rock, steep, close to the northwest of St Mary's, is marked by isolated danger mark Fl(2)10s. It has three distinct heads, called Great Crow, Little Crow, and Crow Foot.

The depth of water over Crow Bar may be estimated by the appearance of Crow Rock as follows:
  • • The Great Crow is nearly awash at 5 hours' flood.

  • • The Little Crow is awash at about 4 hours' flood, or after two hours' ebb.

  • • Crow Foot is nearly awash at one-quarter flood, or three-quarters ebb.

Crow Rock isolated danger marker awash
Image: Peter Trimming via CC BY-SA 2.0

The following provides an indication of the depths that can be expected over Crow Bar:
  • • At high water springs, there is 6.4 metres on Crow Bar.

  • • At three-quarters flood, or one-quarter ebb, 5.2 metres.

  • • At half flood or half ebb, 3.3 metres.

  • • At one-quarter flood or three-quarters ebb, 1.5 metres.

  • • At low water 0.6 metres

More cover will be experienced with westerly gales and less with those from the eastward.

Crow Rock may be passed on either side but the preferred route is to pass to the north of the rock. Once clear of the Crow Rock and an astern baring of 050° of the isolated danger beacon leads into Saint Mary's Road passing between The Pots that dries to 1.8 metres and the 3.7 metres high Creeb.


Broad Sound is chiefly used by vessels approaching from the south-westward, is marked by buoys and offers a shortcut in good conditions with good visibility. But it is dangerous to those not well acquainted with the leading' marks because they are distant and not easily identified. Also, the set of the tides at a little to the south-westward of the Crim and Bishop runs strong to the north-westward, north, and north-eastward 8 hours out of 12. This added unusual tide set means that it should never be attempted by a stranger.

Broad Sound has a least depth of 15 metres at the centre of the fairway and is entered between Bishop Rock and possible breakers on the relatively deep Flemings’s Ledge, ¾ of a mile northward. Crim Rocks flank the northern side of the approach. It consists of a cluster of dangers 1,200 metres long, and of these the most conspicuous is the Peaked Rock, 2 metres high, which lies 1½ miles north-eastward from the Bishop Lighthouse.

The passage is up to one mile across, fringed with dangers on either side and is narrowed to less than ½ a mile between Le Jeffery and Old Wreck shoals.

Run in close north of Bishop Lighthouse and pick up the leading mark is the Summit of Great Ganilly just open north of Bant’s Carn Point on 059° T. Proceed in passing the following cardinal marks on their correct sides:

  • • The unlit ‘Round Rock’ north Cardinal

  • • The unlit ‘Gunner’ south cardinal

  • • The lit ‘Old Wreck’ north cardinal, VQ, north of Annet Island

  • • The lit ‘Spencers Ledge’ south cardinal, Q(6)+LFl. 15s

After passing these marks, it leads directly to St. Mary's Road, where anchorage may be taken up as before.

The closest danger to the transit is the sunken Old Wreck rock with 1 metre on it, lying about north-northwest, ¼ of a mile from Annet Head and marked by the ‘Old Wreck’ north cardinal mark moored in 18 metres, 200 meters north of the rock. In the same vicinity and on the opposite side of the range mark is Jeffery Rock with 0.9 metres over it. So this is the key area to be on-transit.


The North West Channel is as dangerous as Broad Sound to strangers. The best mark is the disused lighthouse on St. Agnes, in line with the stone obelisk, white with black stripe ½ a mile in front on Tins Walbert islet, on a bearing of 127° T, as best seen on a chart.

This alignment leads through the centre of North West Passage, passing southwest of the lit ‘Steeple Rock’ west cardinal marker buoy, Q(9)15s, and westward of the ‘Spencers Ledge’ south cardinal marker buoy, Q(6)+ LFl.15s, until the leading mark through Broad Sound comes on the Summit of Great Ganilly just open north of Bant’s Carn Point on 059° T - as above.


Smith Sound is deep but very narrow. It is not marked and requires local knowledge. There is no advantage for a newcomer to take Smith Sound when St. Mary Sound that provides the best entrance lies adjacent.

Through St. Mary's sound the tide sets from the southward from half ebb to half flood, and from the northward from half flood to half ebb. The flood sets regularly through St. Mary's Road from Broad Sound, and over Crow Bar, through Crow Sound, to the eastward. The ebb sets in a contrary direction, but it is not strong.


The complete course is 25.12 miles from the waypoint 'Gwennap Head, the southwest extremity of the Cornwall Peninsula' to 'Saint Mary's Sound, Isles of Scillies ' tending in a west south westerly direction (reciprocal east north easterly).

Gwennap Head, the southwest extremity of the Cornwall Peninsula, 50° 0.686' N, 005° 40.270' W
This is ½ south of the lit 'Runnel Stone' south cardinal, Q(6)+ LFl.15s. The marker buoy marks the drying Runnel Stone that lies ¾ of a mile south from Gwennap Head. The buoy is moored 350 metres to the south of the danger.

       Next waypoint: 25.12 miles, course 253.27°T (reciprocal 73.27°T)

Saint Mary's Sound, Isles of Scillies , 49° 53.357' N, 006° 17.590' W
This is southeast of the entrance to Saint Mary's Sound the safest and easiest approach to the island group. It is on the 307° T alignment of the western extremity of Great Minalto with North Cam of Mincarlo that leads through Saint Mary's Sound and 1 mile out from the lit ‘Spanish Ledge’ East Cardinal Mark, Q(3)10s.

What is the best sailing time?
May to September is the traditional UK Sailing season with June-July offering the best weather. The British Isles weather is highly variable, and the amount of bad weather varies quite widely from year to year. This is because they are islands positioned between the Atlantic Ocean and the large landmass of 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

Depending on the movements of the jet stream, any and all of these air masses can come in over the isles, creating weather fronts where they meet and bringing with them all types of weather.

The prevailing winds for the British Isles as a whole are from the western quarter which generally blows for two-thirds of the year predominantly from the southwest. Gales from the westward are felt in all seasons, but from November to March, inclusive, they are most frequent and generally last three or four days. Of these, a southwest gale is considered to be the most powerful system. The winter period is largely characterised by wind and rain.

The fine summer weather of the sailing season is typically punctuated by the passage of Atlantic depression that bringing periods of strong wind and rain, and sometimes poor visibility. These gales 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.

Fogs are frequent in all parts of the Channel and are formed both on the English and French coasts. In summer they only obscure the land in the morning and are readily dispersed by heat or a light breeze. But the moist haze, driven in by westerly winds from the sea, tends to linger and is only dispersed by strong winds. In the eastern part of the Channel, it is rare for the land to be completely free from mists. The only exception is when the wind is from the northeast which makes the mist free coastline highly distinctive from a great distance.

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