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Solent (Pilotage Information and Charts)

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Courtesy Flag

Flag, Red Ensign




Tidal Streams: NP337 Navigation: Admiralty, 2045 , 2036, 2035

Rules & Regulations

Bramble Bank Moving Exclusion Zone, Nab other restricted areas, see text


Shipping, Eastern Solent, Portsmouth, Bramble Bank. Bembridge Ledges, Needles Channel in Strong Onshore Winds

Tidal Data Times & Range

Portsmouth, Standard Port HW +0029 Dover, MHWS 4.7m, MHWN 3.8m, MLWN 1.9m, MLWS 0.8m

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General Description

Weather Patterns

In the approaches to Southhampton and the Isle of Wight, winds often blow along The Solent and Spithead.

Local variations are usually subordinate to the main stream which may sweep over much of the Isle of Wight. The island has not been observed to provide its own sea breeze. The main breeze reaches force 3 or 4 on the coast and more over the water, then spreads out over the land. The land breeze blows on clear nights throughout the year and may be more marked in winter than in summer.

Those who sail here will know that the afternoon sea breeze tends to funnel from W to E along the Solent during the summer.

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General Solent Information

The Isle of Wight (50°40'N., 1°18'W.) is situated off the Port of Southampton and Portsmouth, on the S coast of England. It is separated from the mainland by a stretch of water known as The Solent. The Solent can be entered from W via Needles Channel, the North Channel,  and from E via several channels lying in the vicinity of the Nab Tower.


Dredges may frequently be encountered within the approach channels leading to The Solent. High speed craft and large ro-ro ferries may be encountered within the The Solent and its approaches and during the summer, numerous pleasure craft and yachts may be encountered. Buoys of various shapes and colors, mostly yellow, are used for racing marks on a seasonal basis. Most are unlit, posing a danger to small craft navigating in the dark, out of the main channels.

Large and deeply laden tankers may be encountered turning into Thorn Channel from the E. Numerous oyster dredgers may be encountered at certain times of the year working in the vicinity of Stanswood Bay, W of the Western Approach Channel and the S part of Thorn Channel.

Several submarine pipeline and cable areas are situated within The Solent and may best be seen on the chart.

The direction of buoyage changes in The Solent in the vicinity of Western Approach Channel and is indicated on the chart.

Bramble Bank moving exclusion zone, Central Solent (see Cowes coverage).


Approaches from the West:

Needles Channel

Needles Rocks (50°40'N., 1°35'W.), three in number, extend up to 0.2 mile W of Needles Point. Needles Rocks Light is standing at the seaward side of the outermost rock.

The Bridge (50°38'N., 1°39'W.), a dangerous reef, extends up to about 1.2 miles W of Needles Point. A lighted buoy, equipped with a racon, is moored in the vicinity of the seaward extremity of this reef. The Bridge is marked by ripples in calm weather and by
distinctive overfalls in rough weather. During S gales it is marked by a well-defined line of broken water.

Alum Bay lies between Needles Point and Hatherwood Point, 0.9 mile NE. This bay has high white cliffs on its S side and cliffs of varying colors on its E side. The junction of these two different types of cliffs forms a conspicuous feature. Fort Albert, which is also conspicuous, is built into the side of the isle about 2.1 miles NE of Hatherwood Point and 0.7 mile SE of Hurst Point.

Full small craft approach and entry directions are provided in the following coverage:

Totland Bay and Colwell Bay, West Wight


Needles Channel (50°38'N., 1°39'W.), lying between the W extremity of the Isle of Wight and the mainland to the N, forms the W approach to The Solent. It has a least depth of 10.5m and may be used at any time. Vessels with drafts over 9.5m should not attempt to use this channel, especially at LW with any scend.

Tides-Currents.-At Hurst Point (50°42'N., 1°33'W.), tides rise about 2.7m at MHWS and about 2.3m at MHWN. The tidal currents run mainly in the direction of the channel and attain their greatest rates between Hurst Point and Fort Albert, where in mid-channel they flow at up to 4.5 knots. On the ebb, the current sets down on Shingles Bank. On the flood, the current comes off the bank with numerous overfalls. Needles Channel is subject to strong tidal currents and its width is liable to change. The section in the vicinity of The Bridge is subject to   dangerous overfalls during heavy weather at all stages of the tide.    The tidal currents in the vicinity of Solent Bank set generally E and W across the shoals and reach a maximum rate of 2.8 knots at springs.

The Solent Outer Fairway Lighted Buoy (50°38'N., 1°39'W.) is moored in the approach about 3 miles SW of Needles Point. The fairway is marked by lighted buoys and indicated by directional light sectors which may best be seen on the chart.

North Channel

Hurst Point (50°42'N., 1°33'W.) is the E entrance point of Christchurch Bay. It is located at the SE end of a low-lying narrow neck of land on the N side of Needles Channel. Hurst Point Light, a directional sector light, is shown from a prominent round tower, 26m high, standing on the point. A conspicuous castle is situated in the vicinity of the point.

The Shingles (50°41'N., 1°35'W.) is a bank of sand, gravel, and shingles which extends about 4 miles SW of Hurst Point. This shallow bank is marked by lighted buoys; its steep-to SE side forms the NW side of Needles Channel. Due to the wash of the sea and the scour of the currents, this bank is subject to constant changes. With the least swell the sea breaks violently on
the shallower parts.

The North Channel leads in a NW direction between Hurst Point and the NE end of Shingles. This narrow channel has a least depth of 4.8m and local knowledge is required. Although buoyed, it is unlit. It offers small craft a somewhat safer daytime entry and exit from the W. Solent.

See our coverage of these nearby harbours:


Lymington Harbour

Yarmouth Harbour

The Solent-Eastern Approach

Nab Tower (50°40'N., 0°57'W.) is situated 4.6 miles ESE of Foreland, the E extremity of the Isle of Wight, and marks the E approach to The Solent. It is constructed of steel and concrete, 28m high, and is equipped with a racon. Nab Tower Light is shown from the tower.

The E approach lies between Foreland and Selsey Bill, 11 miles ENE. The shore extending NW of Selsey Bill is mostly
low-lying. The main dangers on the SW side of the outer part of the approach are Princessa Shoal and New Grounds which extend up to about 2 miles SE and 3 miles E, respectively of Foreland. The main dangers on the E side of the outer approach are Bullock Patch and Pullar Bank, which lie about 5 miles WSW and 3 miles SSW, respectively, of Selsey BIll.

Nab Channel

(50°42'N., 0°57'W.), 396m wide, is entered about 1 mile NNE of Nab Tower. It leads 2 miles NNW and NW into The Solent. The channel, which is marked by buoys,is dredged to a depth of 13.3m and can be used by tankers, with drafts up to 14.9m at HW. Nab Channel is intended for use by inbound deep-draft vessels. Such vessels include deeply-laden tankers, large container vessels, and vessels constrained by draft. A Deep-Draft Vessel Approach Area, the limits of which may best be seen on the chart, extends up to 3.2 miles SSE and up to 1.2 miles N of Nab Tower. Deep-draft vessels maneuver within this area to enter Nab Channel.  Other vessels should keep clear of Nab Channel and not impede the safety of deep-draft vessels navigating in the Deep-Draft Vessel Approach Area. The fairway, which is marked by buoys, extends for about 5 miles to Spithead (50°45'N., 1°06'W.), an area lying S of Portsmouth.

Tides-Currents At Nab Tower, tides rise about 4.5m at MHWS and 3.7m at MHWN.

There is a stand at HW which lasts for 2 or 3 hours twice during every 24-hour period. This allows large vessels to proceed directly from the sea to the area of Southampton. In the vicinity of Nab Tower, the currents rotate counterclockwise from the E on the flood, through N to W on the ebb, and then through S to the flood again. The maximum rate of the current to be expected is about 2 to 3 knots at springs and 1 knot at neaps.

General advice for small craft...There is enough depth of water to keep well outside of the routes used by ships, but entry to the Solent will still have to be made between the two forts described below. (Or the narrow and well marked boat channel between Horse Sand Fort and the Southsea shore.)

The Nab Tower, and the landmarks described below are prominent from seaward.

No Man’s Land Fort (50°44.4'N., 1°05.7'W.), a round stone structure marked by a light, stands on the S side of The Solent, 1.2 miles NNE of Nettlestone Point. A submerged barrier extends about 0.4 mile SW from this fort.

Horse Sand Fort (50°45.0'N., 1°04.3'W.), a round stone structure marked by a light, stands on the N side of The Solent,
about 1 mile NE of No Man’s Land Fort. A submerged barrier extends 1.7 miles N from this fort to the mainland shore.

Caution.-In the S approaches, about 7 miles SSE of Nab Tower, there are depths of less than 20m. Heavy overfalls have
been observed in this area.

A spoil ground area lies about 4 miles S of Nab Tower and may best be seen on the chart. Dredges may be frequently encountered within an area, the limits of which are shown on the chart, lying centered about 2.5 miles SSE of Nab Tower.

Several wrecks, with depths less than 10m, lie close adjacent to the fairway channel leading through the E part of The Solent and may best be seen on the chart. Numerous pleasure craft and high-speed ferries may be encountered in the approaches to The Solent. Regular cross-channel ferries frequently use an inshore route which leads in a NW direction and passes about 1.5 miles off Foreland, the E extremity of the Isle of Wight.

Full small craft approach and entry directions are provided in the following coverage:

Ryde Leisure Harbour

The Solent-Central Portion

The central portion of The Solent is considered to lie between a line extending from Stansore Point (50°47'N., 1°21'W.) to Egypt Point (50°46'N., 1°19'W.) and a line extending from Ryde (50°44'N., 1°09'W.) to Fort Gilkicker (50°46'N., 1°08'W.).

Egypt Point (50°46'N., 1°19'W.) is located 9 miles ENE of Sconce Point. The coast between forms the S side of the W part of The Solent. This stretch of coast is fronted by several rocky ledges and banks which extend up to about 0.4 mile offshore. A prominent beacon column, 7m high, stands on Egypt Point.

Stokes Bay, a slight indentation in the mainland coast, lies between Fort Gilkicker and Browndown Point, 1.7 miles WNW, which is marked by a beacon. Lee-on-Solent, a prominent resort, fronts the coast 1 mile NW of Browndown Point. Hillhead, a resort town, stands in the vicinity of the mouth of the River Meon, 3 miles NW of Lee-on-Solent. A small boat harbour, which dries, lies at the mouth of the river and is marked by a beacon on its W side.

Ryde Middle (50°46'N., 1°14'W.) divides the E branch of  The Solent into two channels, both equally used and easily navigated. This shoal bank is formed of mud, shells, gravel, and sand. It has a least depth of 3.4m and is marked by lighted buoys. The tidal currents in the vicinity of this shoal bank generally follow the direction of the channel, attaining maximum rates of about 2 knots.

For more information about Bramble Bank, and the Moving Exclusion Zone see Cowes Coverage.

Full small craft approach and entry directions are provided in the following coverage:

Wootton Creek

Portsmouth Harbour, (inc. Port Solent and Fareham)

Cowes Harbour

Medina, River (Cowes to Newport)

Southampton Water, including approach to Hamble River and Hythe Marina Village

Hamble, River

Southampton Central inc. River Itchen

Beaulieu River and Bucklers Hard

Newtown River

The Solent to Selsey Bill

The mainland shore between The E part of Portsmouth and Selsey Bill, 10 miles ESE, is low-lying. It is backed by a range of chalk hills about 10 miles inland. The coast, which is fronted by an area of shallow sands, consists of an extensive inlet occupied by Portsea Island, Hayling Island, and Thorney Island. These islands are intersected by Langstone Harbour and Chichester Harbour.

Langstone Harbour (50°47'N., 1°02'W.) is entered between two drying flats known as East Winner, formed of sand, and West Winner, formed of gravel. The bar at the entrance has a least depth of 1.8m and local knowledge is required. This inlet is used only by pleasure craft, yachts, and small coasters.

Full small craft approach and entry directions are provided in the following coverage:

Langstone Harbour

Chichester Harbour (50°47'N., 0°56'W.) is low, marshy, and encumbered with shoals. The bar at the entrance lies between West Pole and Middle Pole, two drying sandbanks. It is normally dredged to a depth of 1.5m. However, shoaling often occurs after strong winds and depths over the bar may vary by up to 0.8m. Local knowledge is essential.

See our coverage of:

Chichester, Approach, Entry, General Overview, Sparkes Yacht Harbour


Chichester Harbour Western Sector (1)


Chichester Harbour Central Section (2)


Chichester Harbour, Eastern Sector (3)

Selsey Bill (50°43'N., 0°47'W.), fronted by dangerous shoals, appears from E and W as a low, sharp point. The tower of the coast guard station, situated 0.7 mile NW of the point, is conspicuous from seaward. Several buildings stand on the point and are reported to be radar prominent, but difficult to identify. The spire of chichester Cathedral, standing about 7 miles N of the point, is reported to be conspicuous from seaward.

The Owers (50°42'N., 0°44'W.) is the collective name for the areas of foul ground and rocky shoal patches fronting Selsey Bill. These dangers, which may best be seen on the chart, extend up to about 3 miles S, 6 miles SE, and 4 miles E of the point. The Looe, a channel with depths of 6 to 7m, leads between the dangers fronting Selsey Bill. It is used only by small vessels. Passage should be only attempted during daylight and in clear weather. Local knowledge is advised. Buoys indicating the channel cannot be relied on and the leading marks are difficult to identify.

Owers Lighted Buoy (50°39'N., 0°41'W.), moored about 6 miles SE of Selsey Bill, marks the SE extremity of these dangers. It is equipped with a racon. Vessels are recommended to pass clear to the S of this lighted buoy before changing course toward the E entrance of The Solent.

Back of The Wight, W to E

Freshwater Bay lies about 3 miles E of Needles Point and a prominent hotel stands in its vicinity. Tennyson’s Cross, a prominent monument, stands near the top of the cliffs, 1.2 miles W of Freshwater Bay. Hanover Point is located 4.7 miles ESE of Needles Point. Precipitous white chalk cliffs extend E from the latter point to within 1 mile of Hanover Point, where they merge into a shore of clay and sand. These cliffs, up to about 120m high, are conspicuous in contrast to the dark ground behind them.

Saint Catherines Point (50°35'N., 1°18'W.), low and rounded, is located 12 miles SE of Needles Point Light and forms the S extremity of the Isle of Wight. St. Catherines Point Light is shown from a prominent castellated tower and dwelling, 26m high, standing on the point. This light structure is very distinctive when viewed from E or W. The land within the point rises gradually for 1 mile toward Saint Catherines Hill, which is the highest on the isle. A former disused light tower stands on this hill and is prominent. Hoy Monument, situated about 1 mile N of the hill, is also prominent from seaward. Conspicuous television towers stand on the heights at Chillerton Downs, about 4.8 miles NNW of the point, and at Rowridge, about 6.8 miles NNW of the point.

Between Saint Catherines Point and Dunnose, about 5 miles ENE, the coast consists of a low cliff with large masses of rock, known as The Undercliff, rising behind it. This formation is backed by a precipitous rocky wall which rises to a height of almost 150m.

The town of Ventnor, a resort, stands close W 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 may best be seen on the chart.

See our coverage of:

Ventnor Fair Weather Haven

Culver Cliff, located about 10 miles NE of Saint Catherines Point, is very conspicuous. It can be easily identified by the marked contrast between the white chalk bluff and the land in the vicinity.

Yarborough Monument stands close W of the cliff. Foreland (50°41'N., 1°04'W.), the E extremity of the isle, is low and fronted by dangerous reefs and shoals. See Whitecliff Bay coverage. Numerous prominent buildings stand in the vicinity of this point. Nettlestone Point, on which the town of Seaview stands, is located 2.5 miles NW of Foreland. The coast between is fronted by several shoals.

See our coverage of:

Whitecliff Bay Anchorage

Saint Helen’s Fort (50°42.3'N., 1°05.0'W.), a round stone structure marked by a light, stands 0.6 mile offshore, 1.2 miles
NW of Foreland.

See our coverage of:

Bembridge Harbour

 Adjacent area coverage is available here:

Channel West, (Scilly Isles to the Solent)

Channel East, (North Foreland to The Solent)


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More Info

Warning, much of the text on this page has been adapted from material intended mainly for big ship mariners (NGA Sailing Directions). It's suitability for small craft must be left in the hands of the individual skipper. As with everything else on this site, the information is not to be used for navigation purposes, but may be useful in the passage planning stages.

The coverage of individual harbours, including approach and entry, is specifically written for yachts and motorboats.

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