England Ireland Find Havens
England Ireland Find Routes


Coastal Overview for the Needles to Portland Bill

Tides and tools

Be the first
to comment

What is the route?
This is the Coastal Overview for the area between the Needles, on the western extremity of the Isle of White, and Start Point in Devon. 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 presenting all the Havens along the way so that the occasional coastal gem might not be overlooked. The sequence of description is from east to west or coastal clockwise.

Why sail this route?
Cruising encompasses a combination of long passage runs, to move between coastal sailing grounds and more detailed inshore navigation within the sailing areas. Our 'Coastal Overviews' strive to support both these requirements by providing a combination of key coastal characteristics and immediate offshore area dangers to assist in local approaches to a desired haven's initial fix. Presented route waypoints should be considered for guidance only and need not be adhered to if large sections of the coast are being passed over.

Tidal overview
Today's summary tidal overview for this route as of Friday, April 12th at 12:53. The following tidal streams are for St. Catherine's Point the southern extremity of the Isle of Wight about 14 miles southeastward of the approaches to the Needles Channel.


(HW Dover -0015 to +0515)

Starts in 01:13:15

(Fri 14:07 to 19:37)


(HW Dover +0515 to -0015)


(Tidal flow )

Ends in 01:17:15

(Fri 07:16 to 14:11)

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.

Expand to
new tab or fullscreen
Please zoom out (-) if all of the waypoints are not displayed.
The above plots are not precise and are indicative only.


From a cruising perspective proceeding westward from the Isle of Wight towards Start Point, opens one of England’s most spectacular cruising grounds. From The Needles to Anvil Point, it is 15 miles west by southwest. Enclosed within this area is the entrance to the extensive Poole Harbour, set into the northeast corner, and the sweep of the bay is almost entirely fronted by the resort town of Bournemouth’s many buildings. Between Anvil Point and the Bill of Portland, with Weymouth Bay tucked into the northeast corner, it is a distance of 18 miles.

From the Bill of Portland to Start Point, it is 50 miles southwest and the coast curves inward into the broad sweep of Lyme Bay. Finally, Start Point, known as 'The Start' by mariners of old, is a significant English Channel transition point. At about Start Point, the seaway takes on the long deep Oceanic wave of the lower Channel as opposed to the short ‘chop’ of the channel.

The Tides in the English Channel will be a central planning feature for all cruisers. Expect fairly strong tidal currents off all headlands with very strong and even overwhelming tides off Bill of Portland and at The Needles. Between headlands or further offshore, the current is relatively moderate and abating down-Channel. The area between Start Point and Selsey Bill plays host to a Channel tidal peculiarity. To the west of Start Point, the stream turns progressively later as the tide advances up the Strait. But in the vicinity of Start Point, these progressive stream changes cease. After this, the Ocean’s outer stream contends with the weight of a body of water contained between the Oceanic stream and the Strait of Dover. These two bodies run in contrary directions for most of the tidal cycle. They oppose each other in the area between Start Point to Selsey Bill and as far southward as the Gulf of St. Malo.

In all events, the tidal flows should be closely examined carefully to make the best progress. There are a host of useful harbours and bays to wait out a foul stream along this coast or indeed run for cover in the event of the advance of foul weather. Fast passages can be had along here and it is possible to traverse the coastline in as little as two tides. A boat capable of maintaining 6 knots could leave Cowes, exit The Solent and make Weymouth Bay just as the ebb turns foul. Start Point from Weymouth Bay in also possible in one tide.


Yacht approaching The Solent via the North Channel
Image: Ian Stannard via CC BY-SA 2.0
At Hurst Point the coast curves to the east, wrapping around Poole Bay on its way to Poole Point. The land fronting Christchurch Bay is low and especially so in the vicinity of Hurst Point the easternmost point of Christchurch Bay. It is a distinctive spit of land with a castle and lighthouse on the point. It is located at the southeast end of a low-lying narrow neck of land on the north side of the Needles Channel. Hurst Point Light, a directional sector light, is shown from a prominent round tower, 26 metres high, standing on the point. A conspicuous castle is situated in the vicinity of the point the base of which is only just above high water.

Hurst lighthouse - Fl(4)WR.15s23m13/11M and Iso.WRG.4s19m21-17M position: 50°42.476’N 001°33.020’W

Vessels intending to cross Christchurch Bay will find it possible to use the North Channel to round Hurst Point. This pathway passes northwestward between northeast end of The Shingles and Hurst Beach before passing to the north of the North Head bank's shallow area. It is marked by two buoys, the starboard hand North Head Buoy and the 'NE Shingles' east cardinal. The channel is a ¼ of a mile wide and has a least depth of 6.5 metres at low water. The North Channel is preferred in any developed south westerly conditions as it entirely avoids the steep breaking seas that can be encountered off The Needles.

In settled conditions, with good visibility, it is possible to cut between North Head bank and The Shingles by keeping a back-baring of Hurst Castle open of its own width of Fort Victoria, located inside the entrance on Isle of Wight’s Sconce Point. The least depth of three metres of water will be found along this sight line, but a keen eye should be maintained upon the sounder as the Shingles Bank is subject to change.

Mudeford, ‘The Run’ and Christchurch Harbour's fronting sandbar right
Image: Michael Harpur

Fourteen miles to the northwest of The Needles, ¾ of a mile northeast from Hengistbury Head, is the entrance to Christchurch Harbour Click to view haven with an anchorage immediately outside in Christchurch Bay Click to view haven. The harbour's east-facing entrance requires a suitable rise of the tides to pass over a fronting sandbar that has a charted Chart Datum drying height of 0.4 metres. The narrow inner entrance at Mudeford, called ‘The Run’, is also subject to very strong tidal streams with an average rate of 3 to 5 knots.

Christchurch Harbour on the River Stour
Image: Michael Harpur

Formed from the rivers Stour and Avon Christchurch has sand and gravel spits at its mouth and extensive mudflats and salt marshes within. This makes Christchurch Harbour the domain of light draft vessels of 1.1 metres or less, with 1.3 metres being the practical maximum on Springs. The town of Christchurch is situated a little above the junction of the rivers and about 1½ miles northwest of the harbour entrance was historically an important commercial port. But the harbour then silted limiting its use as a trading port and it is today very shallow. Town Quay now only has a depth of 0.6 metres alongside and only accessible to shoal draught vessels.

Hengistbury Head and ‘The Long Groyne’
Image: Michael Harpur

The 35 metres high Hengistbury Head is situated ¾ of a mile southwest from the entrance to Christchurch Harbour and six miles east of Poole Head. It divides Poole Bay from Christchurch Bay. The coast here is composed of dark reddish-looking ironstone, and being of a harder material than the coast to the west, gives way more slowly to coastal erosion. There are several identifying features near Hengistbury Head.

Hengistbury Head as seen from the east
Image: Michael Harpur

A distinctive coastguard station is situated on a hill near the shore about ½ a mile west of Hengistbury Head. Before this, standing at an elevation of 52 metres is a water tower further inshore two miles to the westward from the head. 1½ miles northwest of Hengistbury Head is the highly conspicuous tower of Christchurch Priory. Closer to the head is a long Victorian stone groyne extends southward from its southernmost point. It has a port maker perch at its head and is called The Long Groyne.

The Priory Church at Christchurch
Image: Michael Harpur

The immediate coastal area around Hengistbury Head is foul and a narrow rocky ledge called Christchurch Ledge runs two miles in a south-by-southeast direction from the head. Depths vary so much across the ledge that it is best to pass more than ¾ of a mile off the coast. This keeps a vessel in at least 3 metres of water to ensure a safe crossing. It may, however, be necessary to go further to the southeast to clear any breakers encountered if a big sea is running.

The line of bearing 333°T of the tower of the Priory Church at Christchurch, open southwest of the coastguard lookout station on Warren Hill, a little over a mile southeast, leads along the west side and outer part of the ledge. When passing offshore this clearing mark may be used to position the ledge and pass clear to the southwest of it. The ledge also has large numbers of fishing floats over it that serve to provide a good indication of its outer limit.


West of Hengistbury Head is Poole Bay with Poole Harbour situated in its western corner behind Poole Head. Two miles eastward of Poole Head is the large coastal resort town of Bournemouth, the largest settlement in Dorset.

Bournemouth seafront as seen from the west on a summer's evening
Image: Tanya Hart via CC BY-SA 2.00

The shore of Poole Bay is almost entirely occupied by Bournemouth’s many buildings that stretch along the whole length of Poole Bay. These are fronted by a succession of earthy cliffs intersected by deep ravines. These ravines, known as chines, are worn by the action of small streams. The entire shoreline is subject to erosion and frequent landslides occur along this stretch of shore. Close offshore there are numerous outfalls marked by buoys.

The entrance to Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island
Image: Michael Harpur

In the southern part of Poole Bay, the ground is clear, however in the northwest part of the bay, there are some patches of rocks. The shallowest head has 2.6 metres of water and is called the Inner Poole Patch or Woodbury Rock. It lies ½ a mile off Poole Head. The Middle Poole patch or Lobster Rock has 4.6 metres of water and the Outer Poole Patch, has 4.3 metres on it, nearly a mile from the Bournemouth shore, but presents little issue to leisure craft. Following the shoreline westward there is some foul ground to the west of Bournemouth. Nearly ½ a mile offshore are the Bournemouth Rocks, with 3.7 metres, and within them is Durley Rock with 2.7 metres of water. Between Bournemouth and Christchurch ledge there are no outlying dangers, and the shore may be approached to a ⅓ of a mile. An anchorage can be obtained in Poole Bay but it is exposed and can become uncomfortable in southerly quadrant conditions.

Poole Harbours Brownsea Island as seen from the west
Image: Michael Harpur

Poole Harbour is one of the most extensive natural harbours in England. Punctuated by five small wooded islands its spacious estuary resembles an inland lake at high water. It has creeks and mudflats on its southern and western sides with development on its northern and eastern side.

Poole Harbour and town on the north shore of the harbour
Image: Michael Harpur

The harbour is home to a busy cross-channel ferry service and an annual fleet of 5,000 leisure craft that makes it an extensive centre for yachting. The harbour is entered via the 'Swash Channel' that leads into Poole Harbour from close outside Studland Bay. It then leads northwestward converging on the low shoreline that features a range of hills of drift sand. It is well marked and lit all the way and has a maintained depth of 7.5 metres. Leisure craft, of a shallow or moderate draft, are requested to use a Boat Channel that runs immediately inside the main channel. Entry from Poole Bay and run up through Poole Harbour are covered in the Poole Town Quay Click to view haven entry.

Yachts passing in the Swash Channel
Image: Michael Harpur

The harbour contains several marinas including Poole Quay Yacht Haven Click to view haven situated on the town quay along with its adjacent sister marina Port of Poole Marina Click to view haven on the east side of Port of Poole. About a mile above Poole Town Quay and on the west side of Holes Bay is Cobb's Quay Click to view haven. Marina’s past on the approach to Town Quay, in the east side of the harbour but addressed from the North Channel, are Salterns Marina Click to view haven and Parkstone Yacht Club Click to view haven and beyond the Port of Poole is Lake Yard Marina Click to view haven and Ridge Wharf Yacht Centre Click to view haven on the River Frome.

Salterns Marina the first of Poole Harbours many marinas
Image: Michael Harpur

Anchorages can be found off Brownsea Click to view haven, off Shipstal Point Click to view haven in the western side of the harbour and Goathorn Point Click to view haven addressed via South Deep on the harbour’s south-eastern shore.

Yachts anchored off Pottery Pier Brownsea Island
Image: Michael Harpur

Shallow draft vessels are free to lie alongside the historic town quay of Wareham Click to view haven up the River Frome five miles west of Poole Harbour. Clubs that receive visitors include Poole Yacht Club Click to view haven and Redclyffe Yacht Club Click to view haven.

Wareham's historic town quay
Image: Michael Harpur


Studland Bay Click to view haven is situated in the southwest part of Poole Bay, close west of the approach channel to Poole Harbour. The large shallow east facing bay lies between Handfast Point and the entrance to Poole Harbour, approximately two miles northwards.

Studland Bay
Image: Michael Harpur

Protected from the prevailing south-westerly winds by Ballard Down and Handfast Point, a conspicuous chalky headland that separates Studland from Swanage Bay to the south, the bay provides an excellent anchorage. It has easy and convenient access, that has plenty of room, few hazards and a nice protected beach. The north end of the bay is shallow and its best depths and shelter are to be found in its southern half.

Old Harry and Old Harry's Wife as seen from Studland Bay
Image: Michael Harpur

Off the conspicuous Handfast Point, marking the southern extremity of Studland Bay is the remarkable 18-metre high pinnacle chalk rock called Old Harry with a flat grassy top and another Old Harry's Wife.

Steep chalk cliffs between Handfast and Ballard Points
Image: Michael Harpur

The shore between Handfast and Ballard Points, lying 0.8 miles south by southwest of Handfast Point, is fronted by steep chalk cliffs. This stretch separates Swanage and Studland Bays, and in rounding them it is best not to approach the shore nearer than a ¼ of a mile.

Swanage Bay
Image: Michael Harpur

Swanage Click to view haven offers good protection from westerlies. The bay is entered between Peveril Point and Ballard Point, 1.5 miles northward.

Peveril Point with Handfast Point in the backdrop
Image: Jim Champion via CC BY-SA 2.0

The resort of Swanage occupies the south part of Swanage Bay and is fronted by a pier. The best point to anchor is just over 0.5 a mile north of Peveril Point on the south side of the bay, over good holding ground of mostly sand and clay, but well clear of the pier. The shores of the bay rise with a gradual slope from the sea and at the north point is the east end of the chalk range that extends across the coast from White Nothe to Ballard down, where it terminates in white cliffs, which re-appear again at the Needles.

Yachts anchored behind Swanage Pier
Image: Michael Harpur

Peveril Point, lying 2.5 miles southwest of Handfast Point and 1.5 miles north of Anvil Point, is foul up to 300 metres from the shore. Outside of this is Peveril Ledge that extends some distance off Peveril Point and over which a tide race runs with considerable strength. A port hand buoy, by night Q.R, is moored on the 10-metre contour on the outer extreme of Peveril Ledge. Vessels rounding the point should not come within a ⅓ of a mile of the point and not turn in until Swanage Church comes well open of the northern shore of Peveril Point.

Durlston Bay as seen from the north
Image: © Alan Butterworth

Between Durlston and Saint Alban’s heads, the coast has a clear bold shore of dark-looking limestone cliffs. At Durlston Head forms the western shore of the deep inlet between Saint Alban’s Head and Saint Catherine's Point on the southern end of the Isle of Wight. Between Peveril Point and Durlston Head is Durlston Bay and at Durlston Head the coast bends abruptly to the west.

The distinctive castellated roof of the Victorian Durlston Castle
Image: Huligan0 via CC ASA 3.0

Less than ½ a mile northeast of Anvil Point light is Durlston Head. A conspicuous castellated building is situated on Durlston Head, 0.3 of a mile inland. This is the restored Victorian Durlston Castle that houses a Visitor Centre to Durlston Country Park and is at the centre of a National Nature Reserve. The shore off Durlston Head, unlike Peveril Point, is steep-to.

Anvil Point Lighthouse
Image: Ian Andrews CC BY-SA 2.0

Anvil Point, located a ⅓ of a mile southwest of Durlston Head and 3.5 miles east by northeast of Saint Alban’s Head, is low and cliffy with higher land close within. Anvil Point lighthouse, standing on the point, comprises a conspicuous dwelling and tower 12 metres high. It provides a clear line from Portland Bill, from the west, and guides vessels approaching from the east away from the Christchurch Ledge.

Anvil Point Lighthouse Fl.10s45m19M position: 50° 35.514' N 001° 57.600' W

Saint Alban’s Head with its ancient church and coastguard building as seen from the northwest
Image: Ian Andrews CC BY-SA 2.0

Saint Alban’s Head, also known as Saint Aldhelm’s Head, is a bold headland 107 metres high, on the summit of which is an ancient chapel and coastguard station. Saint Aldhelm's Head Coastguard maintain a light on the headland. From Saint Alban’s Head, the Bill of Portland bears west by north 15 miles, and Saint Catherine's Point, on the southernmost point of The Isle of Wight, east by south 28 miles.

St Alban’s Head Coastguard - Iso.R.2s(occas)position: 50°34.750’N, 002°03.403’W

Yachts rounding Saint Alban’s Head close inshore to avoid the overfalls
Image: Jim Champion via CC BY-SA 2.0
Care should be taken when rounding this point as Saint Alban’s Ledge, with depths of 8.5 to 16 metres, extends up to 2.5 miles southwest of the headland. It has generally a race running off it, particularly in blustery weather caused by the unevenness of the ground. The overfalls here are dangerous to leisure craft. They extend about one mile offshore and are sometimes found more westerly and sometimes more easterly depending on whether the wind and tide are with or against each other. The current runs continuously southeast along the west side of the headland and, during the flood tide, a race forms to the southwest. Lit buoys associated with this range are moored in the vicinity of the ledge.
Please note

Expect crab pots to be moored up to a ½ mile of the shore in the vicinity of Saint Alban’s Head during the sailing season.


From Saint Alban’s Head to Worbarrow Tout the coast consists of a succession of dark-looking cliffs. The two coves along this stretch of coast named Chapman’s Pool and Kimmeridge Bay that provide only fairweather anchorages.

Chapman's Pool
Image: Michael Harpur

Chapman's Pool Click to view haven is located a mile north by northwest of Saint Alban’s Head and fifteen miles east of Weymouth. It is an isolated rough-cut horseshoe-shaped cove within the magnificent dark cliffs that line the coast from Worbarrow Tout to Saint Alban’s Head. The small bay provides only a fair weather or offshore anchorage to two or three vessels in depths of about 2 metres.

Kimmeridge Bay
Image: CC0

Nearly three miles northwestward of Chapman's Pool is Kimmeridge Bay that may be readily identified by its Tuscan style Clavell Tower, also known as the Kimmeridge Tower, situated on its eastern side. Unlike Chapman's Pool, Kimmeridge Bay is to the largest part occupied by reefs and the coastline is dangerous here being fringed by the Kimmeridge Ledges. These are long flat ledges, some of which extend ½ a mile offshore. For this reason, the entire area should be avoided and a line of bearing provided by keeping Arish Mell Gap, open west of Worbarrow Tout, on 302° T, clears all dangers.
Please note

A firing range area resides between Saint Alban’s Head and Lulworth Cove extending 12 miles seaward. When the range is in use, red flags and red lights are displayed from a hill close northeast of the cove and from above the coast guard station on the headland.

Worbarrow Tout Point to Saint Alban's Point as seen from the high ground above
Mupe Bay

Image: Michael Harpur

Six miles northwest of Saint Alban’s Head is the open bight of Worbarrow Bay Click to view haven. It is entered between a group of rocks on the west side and Worbarrow Tout Point situated on the east side of the bay and surmounted by a conical hill.

Worbarrow Tout Point
Image: Michael Harpur

Worbarrow Bay is about a mile wide, and ½ a mile deep, encompassed by high cliffs being cleft in the centre by Arish Mell Gap. Worbarrow Bay affords anchorage in fine sand within its eastern part known as Mupe Bay during all but south winds.

Mupes Bay
Image: Michael Harpur

Best easterly quadrant protection will be found by tucking in as far as possible around the hook of the Worbarrow Tout headland.

Yacht tucked into the hook of the Worbarrow Tout headland for the night
Image: CC0

The bay is lined by cliffs divided in the centre by Arish Mell Gap. This gap is fronted by a white sandy beach that makes it conspicuous from seaward.
Please note

An outfall pipeline extends about two miles south by southeast from Arish Mell Gap, marked at its seaward end by a lit buoy.

Lulworth Cove
Image: Phil Dolby

Between Worbarrow Tout, the eastern head of Worbarrow Bay, and White Nothe Point situated 5 miles westward, the shore is generally bold but there are a few outlying rocks. These can be avoided by keeping a ½ mile offshore. A mile and west of Worbarrow Bay, and three miles eastward of White Nothe Point is the beautiful Lulworth Cove Click to view haven. This is a small circular basin encompassed by high cliffs of chalk that forms an anchorage over sand for leisure vessels.

Lulworth Cove as seen from the beach
Image: Michael Harpur

The entrance, that can be difficult to identify, is about 100 metres wide, between ledges of low-water rocks running off from each point. The longest ledge being on the western side with a shallow patch close off the end with 1.4 metres of water. In entering keep one third over from the eastern cliff. Within the cove, there is 2.4 to 3.1 metres at low water springs. A prominent radar scanner is reported to stand close northeast of the cove.

Durdle Door
Image: Kyle Taylor

From Lulworth Cove to about halfway to the White Nothe, the shoreline is foul and it is advisable to keep a ½ mile offshore. Durdle Door Click to view haven is located about midway along this section 1¼ miles westward of Lulworth Cove and 6½ miles eastward of Weymouth. It is a small coastal bay that is somewhat protected by a ledge, made up of a line of small rocky islets, that extends ¾ of a mile westward from the iconic sea arch. Inside the ledge, there is a deep water pool that is ½ a mile long and about 120 to 180 metres wide. Depths in excess of 6 metres can be found between the ledge and the steeply shelving beach with 5 metres in the approach.

The view westward from Durdle Door towards Portland Bill
Image: Kyle Taylor

This by no means makes for a good anchorage but is more than serviceable for moderately sized vessels in fair or offshore conditions. The attraction is to fetch up beneath Durdle Door, one of Dorset’s, if not Englands's, most photographed and iconic landmarks.

Sheer chalky cliffs leading to the Nothe from west of Durdle Door
Image: Kyle Taylor

Chalky cliffs extend to the prominent White Nothe Point, 3 miles west of Lulworth Cove, which itself is chalk over green sand, where the cliffs are 168 metres high. White Nothe can be positively identified by two beacons, in line bearing 048° T, standing on the high ground about 0.6 miles to the east. The line of cliffs gradually decrease in height from White Nothe Point.

Ringstead Bay
Image: Michael Harpur

The shoreline is foul again from White Nothe Point to Bran Point where it is advisable to keeping a ½ mile off the shore. The exception being Ringstead Bay Click to view haven located ½ a mile westward of Ringstead Bay and 4½ miles north-eastward of Weymouth. It is a small coastal bay in a rural area. The bay and its approaches are deep with the 5 metre CD contour lying about 60 metres out from its pebbly beach.

Osmington White Horse
Image: DFs Pics via CC BY-SA 2.00
Low flat ledges off Bran Point that extend ⅓ of a mile from the shore with only 2.1 metres of water over their outer end. West of Bran Point the land rises from the cliffs to the downs, and on Osmington Down, a mile from Redcliff Point is the ‘Osmington White Horse’. This is the large figure of a man on horseback cut out of the chalk, showing white on the green slope of the hill, and visible for many miles seaward. Redcliff Point, also has a conspicuous hotel with a white tower, standing near the shore of the bay, ½ a mile northwest of the point.

From Redcliff Point the coastline to Weymouth passes westward then abruptly curves round to the southwest. The north shore of Weymouth Bay is low and flat to Jordan Hill, in the northern part of the road, rises with an even slope to 49 metres, and east of the hill commences a series of low cliffs intersected with steep ravines. Redcliff Point, the westernmost of these cliffs, is 30.5 metres high.

Weymouth Bay as seen from over the entrance to the harbour
Image: Michael Harpur

Situated between the Nothe and Redcliff Point, Weymouth Bay is free from foul ground and open only to winds between south and east. A fort stands on the east end of The Nothe and the resort of Weymouth is situated along the west side of the bay. It is frequently visited in the summer and fine weather offering an anchorage over sand and gravel. Vessels should not anchor within ¾ of a mile of the northern shore of the road as the ground there is foul.

Yachts alongside on the north side of the river in Weymouth Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur

Weymouth Click to view haven is situated in the southwest part of Weymouth Bay at the mouth of the little River Wey. It is a major seaside town with a small commercial port. The little river divides the towns of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis and falls in the Weymouth Bay on the northern side of The Nothe Point, from which two concrete piers run out. The harbour, long and narrow, is entered between the two stone piers both of which are lit at night Q.9M and 2F.G. The entrance is 137 metres wide and provides a channel fairway, 76 metres wide to the long, narrow and well-protected harbour. The controlling depth for the harbour is 4.8 metres between the head piers and 2.2 metres within 60 metres of the Town Bridge.

Yacht alongside in Weymouth's Cove
Image: Michael Harpur

Vessels of 10 metres and above berth on the north wall that has 4 metres CD on the outer end, shoaling to 3 metres CD upriver. Vessels of less than 10 metres can berth on the south side of the harbour, in what is called The Cove, adhering to the mooring signage. These berths should have at least 2 metres CD, but in practice depths of 3 metres will be found here.

Weymouth Marina
Image: Michael Harpur

Weymouth Marina Click to view haven is situated above Town Bridge in the Inner Harbour of the seaside town. It is an extensive modern marina and the double bascule Town Bridge lifts to provide access. Depths vary from 2.5 to 1.75 metres CD and with prior arrangement it can accommodate yachts of up to 16 metres (53 feet) in length.

Portland Harbour's breakwaters as seen from the entrance to Weymouth Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur

Situated less than a mile south of the entrance to Weymouth Harbour and at the north end of the Portland Peninsula is Portland Harbour. The harbour is protected by four vast breakwaters broken by three entrances of which only two may be used for access, the southernmost entrance being obstructed. Portlands inner harbour is well protected from the south and southwesterly winds by the Isle of Portland and Chesil Beach and is circled by four extensive breakwaters protecting it from adverse easterly weather conditions.

Portland Marina
Image: Michael Harpur

The Royal Navy dominated the harbour for 150 years until it was dispersed of as part of the reduction of the Royal Navy in the 1990s. The former naval Portland Port, fronting the north side of Portland Peninsula and in the southern part of the inner harbour, is now a busy commercial harbour. The modern extensive purpose-built Portland Marina Click to view haven has been set in place close west of the commercial harbour. The port's close proximity to the English Channel shipping lanes makes it an ideal drop-in location for all vessels, from small yachts to large cruise ships.

The modern and extensive Portland Marina
Image: Michael Harpur

Portland Harbour's breakwaters are 4 metres above high water and apart from Fort Head, situated at the head of the Outer Breakwater, the remaining breakwater heads are designated with letters that are well charted. The breakwaters have three entrances between them of which only two are usable. These are (i) the Ship Channel, between Fort Head and A Head, used by commercial traffic (ii) and the North Ship Channel, between B Head and C Head, that leisure craft should use to avoid commercial traffic. As previously mentioned, the South Ship Channel, between D Head and the Inner Breakwater, is closed by a sunken vessel and overhead cables.

Portland Harbour North Ship Channel between 'B' and 'C' Head
Image: Leimenide

Within the breakwaters, the harbour is clear of dangers and deep, but shelving towards its western boundaries. The inner harbour breakwaters of Portland Port are situated within the south part of the harbour and fronting the north side of the Isle of Portland. Portland Marina is situated close west by northwest of Portland Harbour with fairway buoys leading in from the Northern entrance to the marina.

The gradual shelving Small Mouth anchorage at low water
Image: Michael Harpur

The marina can always accommodate visiting vessels likewise it is possible to pick up moorings from the many clubs within the harbour. As much of the harbour has been allocated to the local yacht clubs and individuals on a permanent basis anchoring possibilities are reduced. Visiting yachts will most likely be directed to an area to the north of the Marina entrance and off the New Channel east from Small Mouth Click to view haven, where a bridge connects the Isle to the mainland. Vessels anchoring here need to stand well out as it shelves gradually to the shore with the 2-metre contour lying ½ a mile out. Likewise, it is important to be vigilant as the harbour is large enough body of water to allow a fetch to develop unless anchored off the weather shore.

Church Ope Cove
Image: Michael Harpur

Anchoring outside Portland Harbour is restricted by a submarine cable area and military testing areas which may best be seen on the chart. There is a fair weather anchorage at Church Ope Cove Click to view haven which is situated about midway between Portland Bill and Portland Harbour and on the sheltered eastern side of the Isle of Portland. The is a small secluded south-east facing cove only offers a temporary anchorage but in a pretty setting. It may be identified by the remains of Rufus Castle, also locally known as ‘Bow and Arrow Castle’, that towers over the cove from its escarpment as well as picturesque huts that stand at the back of its shale beach.

Portland Bill Light
Image: Diego Torres

Bill of Portland, bearing east 48 miles from Start Point, is the southern extreme of the Portland Peninsula. The Isle of Portland presents a remarkable wedge-like appearance and is a highly familiar landmark for vessels sailing up or down the channel. It is three miles long and lies in a northeast alignment. The peninsula is connected with the adjacent coast by a narrow isthmus of coarse shingle, the eastern end of a remarkable raised beach known as Chesil beach. The isthmus is 12 to 14 metres above low water and 200 metres across from West Bay to Portland Road. A 158-metre high hill called The Vern lies near the north end of the peninsula from which the land slopes gradually to the southwest, terminating in the Bill. On the southeast side of the Bill stands the conspicuous 41-metre high tower Portland Bill Light. It marks the Shambles sandbank a red sector light at night.

Portland Bill – Lighthouse Fl(4)20s43m25M & F.R19m13M Dia(1)30s position: 50° 30'.848 N 002° 27'.384 W

Another light is exhibited from the west face of the island 250 metres northwest of the lighthouse Oc.(2)Y.10s10M.

Stone Beacon
Image: Portland Jim L
There are a number of identifying features on the Isle of Portland. There is an 18 metre high stone beacon on the southern shore, meant to warn small vessels of a rock shelf with several loose boulders that fronts the point. From the east, there is the prominent structure of a former light Old Low Light situated 0.4 of a mile north by northeast of Portland Bill Light. 2.5 miles northeast of Portland Bill Light there is the conspicuous Grove coast guard station close to Grove Point on the eastern side of the peninsula. Another old lighthouse, Old Higher Light, is situated ½ a mile north of Portland Bill lighthouse on the westward side of the peninsula. On The Vern, near the north end of the peninsula, there is a conspicuous radar dome, lit red by night.

Old Higher Lighthouse
Image: Jim Linwood via CC BY-SA 2.0

A dangerous tidal race, called Portland Race, exists to the south of Portland Bill. The Race normally extends about 2 miles south of the Bill, a little to the west during the West going ebb, and to the east during the East going flood, as best seen on the charts. The worst part of Portland Race, being well defined by overfalls, is formed one to two miles south of the point but it can extend much further south in bad weather.

In heavy weather, especially when the wind is blowing against the current, a severe and very dangerous sea states occurs with irregular steep standing waves and breakers. In an easterly gale, against the body of the flood stream, the whole space between Portland and the Shambles is one sheet of broken water - see videos below. Even in fine weather, the noise caused by the Race may be heard for a considerable distance. Conversely, during neeps with fair winds, the race can be barely perceptible.

The majority of Weymouth lifeboats calls are to rescue yachts that were unaware of the race’s dangers and were unexpectedly swept into the tumult unable to escape. So, in all circumstances, Portland Race should be avoided by small craft. The options, therefore, are to avoid the Portland Race by ‘passing outside’ of the area, or by taking the 'inside passage' between the Bill and the race.

  • • The safest route is always to pass outside of the Portland Race as and the waypoints here illustrate and those of Portland Bill to Start Point Route location are both to seaward of the race and its overfalls. Keep at least three to five miles south of the Bill during calm weather or at least seven miles in bad conditions, especially so during wind-over-tide conditions on a spring tide. The east-going flood to the south of the race is favourable for the best part of 7 hours from HW Dover +6.

  • • Pass close south of the Bill in an area of relatively smooth water, located anywhere between the rocks off the end of the Bill and the Race to the south. The shorter 'Inside Passage' is a useful channel for leisure craft. It is an area of relatively smooth water where the current are more moderate between ½ and ¾ of a mile wide, with depths of from 5 to 16 metres. It is this preferred option in good conditions, neap tides, settled seas, wind and current in accord and timed for slack water with the tide turning favourable for direction intended. The 'Routes' entry Rounding Portland Bill by the 'Inner Passage' Route location provides tidal timer and indicative set of waypoints for this approach.

The Lower Lighthouse
Image: Jim Linwood via CC BY-SA 2.0

Situated about 2½ miles east by south of the Bill and made up of coarse sand, gravel, and broken shells The Shambles is a dangerous bank. The depths on this bank are irregular, as there are several shoal heads with the shallowest having only from 5.7 metres on it. The least water is near the middle of the shoal, and it would be inadvisable to attempt to cross it. The bank is marked by west and east cardinals on either end. The position of the Shambles is clearly shown, except at slack water, by a ripple or overfalls either on the north or on the south side depending upon it being on the flood or ebb. The sea breaks furiously over it when the wind is blowing hard and it could easily overwhelm a small leisure vessel. The full tide sets over the shoal from 3 to 4 knots in an east by north, and west by south direction, making to the eastward at 3.15 hours, and to the west at 10.45 hours.

Passing close south of Portland Bill
Image: Mike George

The offshore passage leads from south of the Bill of Portland east by northeast for 45 miles to the south of St. Catherine’s Point, the southern extremity of the Isle of Wight. Vessels proceeding to Portland or Weymouth may pass between the Bill and The Shambles. This channel is navigable but should only be availed of in good settled conditions. Anvil Point seen just clear of Saint Alban’s Head, east by south, will lead a ¼ of a mile to the north of The Shambles.


The complete course is 42.92 miles from the waypoint 'Needles, Isle Of Wight' to 'Portland Bill' tending in a west south westerly direction (reciprocal east north easterly).

Needles, Isle Of Wight, 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: 10.24 miles, course 274.35°T (reciprocal 94.35°T)

Poole Harbour's Swash Channel, 50° 39.070' N, 001° 54.920' W
Circa ¼ of a mile southeast of the entrance to Poole Harbour's Swash Channel.

       Next waypoint: 0.51 miles, course 182.12°T (reciprocal 2.12°T)

Old Harry, 50° 38.557' N, 001° 54.950' W
On the 10 metre contour a ¼ of a mile east of Old Harry on Handfast Point. This is close west and inside the area where a race occurs on the ebb stream.

       Next waypoint: 0.80 miles, course 200.00°T (reciprocal 20.00°T)

Ballard, 50° 37.804' N, 001° 55.382' W
In close outside the 10 metre contour approaching a ½ mile east of Ballard Point. This is close west and inside the area where a race occurs on the ebb stream.

       Next waypoint: 1.37 miles, course 176.82°T (reciprocal 356.82°T)

Peveril , 50° 36.432' N, 001° 55.262' W
This is on the 20 metre contour ¾ of a mile east of Peveril Point. This is close east and outside the area where a race occurs on the ebb stream.

       Next waypoint: 1.39 miles, course 207.68°T (reciprocal 27.68°T)

Durlston, 50° 35.200' N, 001° 56.280' W
This is on the 30 metre contour approaching ¾ of a mile southeast of Durlston Head. This is close southeast and outside the area where a race occurs on the ebb stream.

       Next waypoint: 7.70 miles, course 235.35°T (reciprocal 55.35°T)

Saint Alban's, 50° 30.820' N, 002° 6.230' W
Circa 4 miles southwestward of Saint Alban's and clear of the overfalls upon Saint Alban's Ledge.

       Next waypoint: 10.69 miles, course 295.08°T (reciprocal 115.08°T)

Weymouth, 50° 35.330' N, 002° 21.466' W
3½ miles from the entrance to Weymouth Harbour. A useful waypoint for those intending to visit Weymouth or Portland Harbours.

       Next waypoint: 10.22 miles, course 204.05°T (reciprocal 24.05°T)

Portland Bill, 50° 26.000' N, 002° 28.000' W
5 miles southward of the Bill of Portland, clear of The Shambles and Portland Ledge. This is well south of the dangerous Portland Race that extends to the south of Portland Bill. The worst part of the race, being well defined by overfalls, is formed one to two miles south of the point but it can extend much further south in bad weather.

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.

With thanks to:

Expand to
new tab or fullscreen

A photograph is worth a thousand words. We are always looking for bright sunny photographs that show this route and its identifiable features at its best. If you have some images that we could use please upload them here. All we need to know is how you would like to be credited for your work and a brief description of the image if it is not readily apparent. If you would like us to add a hyperlink from the image that goes back to your site please include the desired link and we will be delighted to that for you.

Add your review or comment:

Please log in to leave a review of this route.

Please note eOceanic makes no guarantee of the validity of this information, we have not sailed this route and do not have first-hand experience to qualify the data. Although the contributors are vetted by peer review as practised authorities, they are in no way, whatsoever, responsible for the accuracy of their contributions. It is essential that you thoroughly check the accuracy and suitability for your vessel of any waypoints offered in any context plus the precision of your GPS. Any data provided on this page is entirely used at your own risk and you must read our legal page if you view data on this site.