Solent and Isle of Wight Cruising Guide

Books    Charts    Navigation and Pilotage    Tides and Weather    Tourist Information

The NeedlesLymington QuayPortchester Castle

The Solent separates the Isle of Wight from the mainland of England and is a major shipping destination for passenger, commercial and naval vessels.  It is also a lively recreational area for watersports, particularly yachting, and many races and regattas take place here each year. 

The Solent waters are sheltered by the Isle of Wight and the area boasts two major ports - Southampton, an important commercial port, and Portsmouth, a major naval port.  Spithead, just off Portsmouth, is where the Royal Navy is traditionally reviewed by the monarch of the day.  Along the coastline there are nature reserves and country parks and in the towns and cities you will find plenty of history and cultural attractions as well as a variety of shops, pubs and restaurants.  This is an excellent area for spares and repairs with many good boatyards and a wealth of marine expertise wherever you go.

In addition to an interesting range of ports and harbours, depending on the wind strength and direction, there are many good anchorages too:  Alum Bay, Totland Bay, the east side of Hurst, near Yarmouth Harbour entrance, Gurnard Bay, Osborne Bay, Stokes Bay and Priory Bay.  There are also places where shoal draft boats can explore at the top of the tide, such as Ashlett Creek, Eling and the upper reaches of the River Medina.

Solent Navigation and Pilotage Notes

The Needles are distinctive white rocks at the western end of the Isle of Wight, with a backdrop of the chalk cliffs of High Down which are quite visible from far away.  The light house, however, may not be quite so visible by day until quite close.

Coming from the west, the Needles Channel is well marked and lit, and in good weather presents no significant problems.  On the northwest side of the Needles Channel is the Shingles bank, parts of which dry and the sea can break quite violently on the bank in any swell.  South to west gales against the ebb tide raise very dangerous breaking seas in the Needles Channel and approaches, and it is also worth noting that the sea state can be at its worst shortly after low water.  This is when the flood has just begun and a significant swell can be raised by the recently turned tidal stream.  In such conditions it is better to use the east route to the Solent, south of the Isle of Wight via Nab Tower, or find shelter at Poole or Studland Bay.

In strong winds using the North Channel, north of the Shingles, is preferable to the Needles Channel.  The two meet south of Hurst Point where tide rips and overfalls may be found.  Also beware of The Trap, a very shallow gravel shoal spit 150 metres south east of Hurst Castle.

The eastern approach to the Solent via Spithead provides few problems for pleasure craft and is far safer than the Needles Channel in south west to westerly gales.  The Nab Tower, a conspicuous steel and concrete structure 4.5 miles east of Foreland, marks Nab Shoal for larger vessels but this is not a hazard to small craft.  The main shipping channel is well buoyed and easy to follow.  Ryde Sand Beacons mark the shallows to the south west where Ryde Sand dries extensively.  Also be aware of Hamilton Bank on the west side of the approach channel to Portsmouth.  Keep well clear of shipping manoeuvring in the Pilot Boarding Areas and using the Nab Deep Water Channel.  Monitor VHF Channel 11 at all times when in the vicinity of Portsmouth for details of shipping movements.

Within the Solent, Bramble Bank, a drying bank between Cowes and Calshot should be noted.  The main shipping channel passes south and west of the Bramble Bank but pleasure craft can use the North Channel to the north east of this bank at any state of tide.  Tidal streams can be strong at springs but generally follow the direction of the main channel. 

Precautionary Area
A Precautionary Area between Cowes and Calshot provides priority and safety for large commercial shipping making tight turns into and out of the narrow Thorn Channel leading to Southampton Water.  It extends from Prince Consort buoy just north west of Cowes to Hook buoy north of Calshot Castle.  Clear Channel Vessels are over 220 metres LOA and require a clear and unimpeded passage ahead when transiting the Precautionary Area.  Vessels may enter the Precautionary Area maintaining a safe distance astern of the Clear Channel Vessel.  Vessels displaying a black cylinder by day or 3 all round vertical red lights by night are severely restricted in their ability to manoeuvre and must be given a very wide berth.

There are many yacht racing buoys in the Solent and Southampton Water and most, but not all, are fitted with a yellow light flashing every 4 seconds.

Southampton Water is a very busy commercial waterway with large vessels manoeuvring at all times.  Avoid sailing in the commercial ship channels.  Pleasure craft should monitor VHF Channel 12 when in the area for details of shipping movements and give them a wide berth.


Solent Charts

There are a number of useful charts covering the whole of this popular cruising area.  Both the Admiralty and Imray also produce chart packs or folios covering the Solent and the Isle of Wight, offering significant savings on the purchase of individual charts.

SC5600        Solent and Approaches (Small Craft Chart Folio)
2036            The Solent and Southampton Water

C3               Isle of Wight
C15             The Solent: Bembridge to Hurst Point and Southampton
2200            Solent Chart Pack


Quick Links

Cruising Guides

UK Cruising Guide

Solent and Isle of Wight Cruising Guides

Beaulieu River

Chichester Harbour


Hamble River

Langstone Harbour


Portsmouth Harbour

River Medina



Solent Books

Solent Tides and Weather

Weather reports from Bramble Bank

Tidal predictions for Southampton for the next 7 days

Met Office
Inshore waters forecast for Selsey Bill to Lyme Regis

Solent Coastguard
Broadcast weather messages after an announcement on VHF Channel 16

Solent Tourist Information

Isle of Wight
Official website for Isle of Wight tourism

Visit Hampshire
Official tourism website for Hampshire