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Portishead Marina and approaches to River Avon

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Courtesy Flag

Flag, Red Ensign


None Given


Admiralty, 1179, 1859, SC5608

Rules & Regulations

See Text and Link


Plenty..Fierce Tides, Shipping, Narrow Channels, Drying Areas

Tidal Data Times & Range

HW Dover -0405 MHWS 13.1 MHWN 9.7   (links)

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General Description

Portishead Marina  tel 01275 841941 VHF #80 

Portishead Docks were once used for servicing adjacent power stations, but with the closure of these a Marina has been built within the locked dock. This is a fairly recent development having been commenced in 2000.  Portishead Marina is now one of the Quayside Marinas operation

The Marina is now fully established and is strategically important spot for those intending to push on up the River Avon to Bristol, or up the Severn to Sharpness. Due to the extremely tidal nature of the area it has always been very important for small craft to find somewhere safe to await the correct tidal conditions before proceeding to these two places. The Marina now provides this, beforehand the only option was an extremely exposed anchorage. Full Marina services including fuel are available.

Anyone intending to navigate in this area needs to be acutely aware of the power of the tides and the vast quantities of commercial shipping in the vicinity. If intending to push on to Bristol (covered separately) a very good understanding of the tidal, safety and reporting requirements will be needed.

Even if simply aiming to go to Portishead Marina a good study and understanding of the recommended small craft approach channels will be required. This whole area is not for an inexperienced tyro. In this article we will try and give you as much information as possible regarding safe approachs to Portishead.

This whole area can experience tides of over 13 m, which are the second highest tidal ranges in the world. It doesn't take too much imagination to realise that the tidal flows will also be very strong, and they are compounded by the various banks, shoals,(and islands) that dry at low water. The tide accelerates around these obstructions with further increases in speed and changes of direction.

Wind over tide conditions can kick up very nasty seas, and to complete the gloomy picture there are very few (if any) places where a small craft can anchor safely.

This is not a place for the inexperienced, and your craft should be well equipped and in tiptop seagoing condition.


If approaching from the West the yachtsman or motorboater...................

.....needs to be acutely aware of shipping approaching Avonmouth, Royal Portbury Docks or heading for The Avon (or vice versa). It is mandatory to keep listening watch on VHF channel 12 for Bristol VTS but it is no longer necessary for you to call them apart from when exiting the River Avon

Pilotage Directions...

The Portishead Cruising Club produces a very useful guide available here, you will have to locate the pilotage guide from the menu at the side:

We supply a chartlet of the approaches to Portishead Marina in our navigation images top right (suggest you right click and open in new tab for ease of reference)

Small craft intending to go to Portishead Marina are obliged to use the inshore route as shown on the plan (not the chart), and commercial vessels often pass within 200 m of Portishead Point. Small craft rounding Portishead Point therefore need to keep well inshore to avoid nerve wracking incidents. The tidal stream close in (where you are likely to be ) off Portishead Point turns West going 2 hours of before high water, so it may be wise to plan to be here before then.

The inshore route involves keeping outside of the shipping channel as defined by the buoyage, and closer to the shore. The plan shows the likely routes taken by heavy shipping. The final approach to the Marina lock gates is made after passing the green conical Firefly buoy (Fl(2)G.5s). This marks the Firefly rocks which have a minimum depth of 0.9 m at CD. With a suitable rise of tide this shouldn't be a problem, but keeping very close to the Firefly buoy will clear them anyway.

If approaching Portishead Marina having emerged from the River Avon, you are obliged to use the inshore route too, paying special attention to ships that might be entering or leaving the Avonmouth or The Royal Portbury Docks (You will be monitoring Bristol VTS on channel 12 since your mandatory call passing Nelson Point outbound)). From this direction you can begin your approach when you are adjacent to the green conical Outer buoy (FlG.5s). There are least depths of 0.8 m at CD not far inshore of this buoy, but with a suitable rise of tide this need not be problematic. Otherwise pass the buoy fairly close to.

Tidal streams in the immediate vicinity of the approaches are nothing like as fierce as they are a bit further out in King Road. A local tidal eddy sets West towards Portishead pier head during most of the flood tide, and this needs to be considered in your final approach.

For craft of normal draft locking in an out of the Marina is possible 3 1/2 hours either side of high water at springs, with the window open 4 hours during neaps. Contact the Marina on VHF channel 80, callsign "Portishead Quays Marina", or telephone 01275 841941. A link to their website is provided below:

Portishead Marina | boatfolk

There are useful videos of the close in approach to Portishead and its lock on the Navigation page of that website. If you dig deeper on that website and find this page it has the Lock times and tides

Portishead Marina – Getting here | boatfolk

Entrance to the lock is controlled by standard IALA signals, three vertical red lights mean do not enter and keep clear, three vertical green white green lights mean proceed with caution when instructed by the Marina control tower. There are some relevant photos in the gallery of the lock. It is wise to fender up both sides as rafting may be necessary in the lock, likewise rig your lines both sides.

If there is a bit of a scrum waiting to go in, the Marina will call vessels into the lock in order of size or manoeuvrability.  
For the experienced a night approach is possible proviing due allowance is made first for the main tidal stream, and secondly for the local West going eddy setting you towards the pier (which is lit Iso.G.2s).

The entrance to the lock has port and starboard lights as well as the IALA signals mentioned above.

Berthing, Mooring & Anchoring

Marina staff will give you berthing instructions as you passsthrough the lock.

Prices (2022) here work out at £3.50 per metre per night. The minimum fee is to cover the lock operation, and the same price applies to short stays.

In the days before the Marina small craft waiting for a suitable tide would have to anchor in Portishead Pool to the north-east of Portishead Pier, in depths of around 3 m. This option is still available but not recommended. Note on the chart the areas bounded by the pecked lines, any anchoring must be done within these limits.

The Anchorage is very exposed and can be dangerous in strong winds from anywhere other than offshore, add to that the fierce tides and shipping, it is unlikely your experience will be a pleasant one. Call Bristol VTS for advice on VHF channel 12 if you plan to anchor here. The authorities recommend you use the Marina. However, as has been said above, before the existance of the Marina, Portishead Pool was the only option and was advised as such by all the yachtie Pilot Books (the old Imray Lundy pilot carried a photo of a yacht at anchor there - hull down behind the mud banks!); why it carries such dire warnings these days is a puzzle.


The Marina is staffed 24 hours, and offers totally sheltered and secure pontoon berths. Water and electricity (by card £1.45 for 10 KW) are available all the pontoons, with toilets, showers and laundry facilities (coin op) in the Control Building and in the boatyard too.

WiFi is available throughout.

On-site services include chandlery (bottled gas), boatyard services including repairs to boats and engines, and a rigging service. Liftings are available up to 35 tonnes.

There is now a Co-op store adjacent to the Marina Office.

Local town facilities in Portishead includes plenty of shops plus various pubs and restaurants. For those in need of a large stock up, the nearby Waitrose supermarket will deliver to the Marina.

The old docks at Portishead were getting a bit run down, but the coming of the Marina seems to have rejuvenated the town which has expanded rapidly since then, there is some dispute as to whether services have quite caught up.

Public transport is not particularly brilliant, with no rail links at all, and road congestion meaning the bus service is slow (1 hr to Bristol during rush hours ?). Perhaps not the ideal place for crew changes, Bristol would be better for this. 


Portishead  is a coastal town in North Somerset, England, with a population of 21,000 (Local council update July 24, 2007).

Portishead’s history dates back to Roman times. Its name derives from the ‘port at the head of the river’, having been called Portshead and Portschute at times in its history and Portesheve in the Domesday Book, and was locally known as Posset. The town was built on the mouth of a small tributary; the High Street once met the water at the top of the river. Iron rings, evidence of where the old fishing boats used to moor can still be seen today on the street’s stone walls.

The dominant architecture is early Victorian with some buildings maintaining their original features.

Portishead dock

The act governing the enclosure of Portishead was passed in 1814 and stipulated the right to a public wharf, although there is historical evidence of the nautical connections dating back to The Patent Rolls of 1331. Around the 1860s at the height of the iron and steel era, a pier and a deep-water dock were built by the Bristol & Portishead Pier and Railway to accommodate the large ships that had difficulty in reaching Bristol Harbour. They brought valuable cargoes from across the globe and exported local products overseas. Ships carrying coal were commonplace in Portishead Docks.

In the 1880s Portishead Dock was acquired by Bristol Corporation, and was managed as part of the Port of Bristol until it closed.

Redevelopment of the docks

The harbour area has been developed to provide a marina. The area of the town formerly occupied by the two power stations has also been redeveloped to provide a wide range of housing, from social housing to grand apartments. Development is also under way on the 'ashlands' to the east of the harbour, so-called because they were the dumping ground for power station waste, extending further the area of the town towards Portbury.

Portishead today

Portishead is primarily a dormitory town for Bristol and its environs. Local employers include the Avon and Somerset Constabulary, which has its headquarters on the western edge of the town, Gordano School, and numerous care homes for the elderly, as well as a major retail complex. The town has retained a 'local shop identity' - despite some larger DIY chains and supermarkets being built in recent years.

The 'marina' area continues to undergo housing redevelopment, with accommodation and commercial premises being constructed.

Transportation links to Bristol and beyond have been a concern for some residents of the town. Despite representations from town groups and local politicians, plans to reopen a disused train line to Bristol have been dismissed as uneconomical. The main A369 road, known as "The Portbury Hundred", which links the town to the nearby M5 motorway is often congested, especially during rush hours.

The Portishead coastline is of environmental and geological interest. The Lake Grounds area, built in the early 20th century around an artificial lake, is the town's main park area. One of the UK's last surviving outdoor swimming pools is situated on the shore next to the Lake Grounds and is open during the summer months. Above the Lake grounds is Battery Point, where guns were placed to protect the Severn Estuary from invasion fleets.

The Bristol-based trip hop group Portishead took their name from the town, despite claiming to hate the place. The town was the birthplace of famous Scrumpy and Western star Adge Cutler.

Portishead is also home to clubs and societies, ranging from sports to musical societies. Most notable of these is the Portishead Choral Society and Portishead Town Band.

The text on this HISTORY page is covered by the following licence

Eating, Drinking & Entertainment

There are a couple of eateries around the Marina itself, one adjacent to the lock. The leisure centre and the Waitrose supermarket are close by the Marina.

Otherwise it's not a great hike to the town where various long established pubs and restaurants will be found. As usual it is not our place to delve too deeply so we leave you with a couple of links for further investigation:




Your Ratings & Comments

Written by Don Thomson 3 | 3rd Oct 2022
I reviewed these notes in early October 2022. No Changes apart from prices
Written by Don Thomson 3 | 29th Sep 2021
I reviewed these notes at the end of September 2021. This Marina has now become part of the "Boatfolk" organisation with changes to their website links. They have a new pricing structure which offers deals covering all their marinas (11 of them at the moment) and it also does away with the minimum charge. The latest UKHO charts do not show the full marina layout but that can be found here and on their own website.
Written by Don Thomson | 25th Apr 2018
Portishead Marina is now well established and provides everything you could want. Their website has lots of advice which complements the advice given here. The videos on their website are very useful. Prices have increased.
Update Spring 2016
Written by dononshytalk | 29th Apr 2016
These notes were reviewed by Don in April 2106. They've added some more pontoons and upped their prices.
1 of 1 people found this helpful
Udate 2013
Written by dononshytalk | 19th Feb 2013
These notes were updated by Don T on the 19th February 2013. Prices were updated for the 2013 season. NB it is no longer necessary for yachties to talk to Bristol VTS at all, except when emerging from the River Avon, but it is still mandatory for you to monitor channel 12 in these waters.
5 of 5 people found this helpful
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