Contacts Harbour Masters Office 01395 223265 VHF 12 (C/S Exeter Port Authority)
Exmouth Marina 01395 269324 VHF 14 (C/S Exmouth Dock)
Often overlooked by those heading West, the Exe estuary at....
..... high tide stretches 6 miles long and about a mile wide. Unlike other Devon harbours it is low and flat and very much like the estuaries of the East coast of England. It is a magnet for birdwatchers and conservationists with the whole area being designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The whole area comes under the umbrella of the Exe Estuary Management Partnership and it can be difficult to work out who is responsible for what (especially when you come across an inviting looking buoy!) Where possible we have indicated below who owns what and given a means of contact but the list may be by no means exhaustive.
For the visiting yachtsman or motorboater it offers a few deepwater anchorages, some useful boatyards, and a small Marina. For those prepared to push on up the estuary a tranquil and secure berth can be found just within the Exeter Canal. Reaching Exeter itself is impossible for sailing boats as the way is blocked by a road bridge with 10 m clearance. There are special areas set aside for waterskiing and PWC's, with adequate launching facilities.
The entrance is via buoyed channels through a shifting sand bank and is dangerous with onshore winds and swell. This cannot be considered a harbour of refuge, and should not be approached in even moderate weather from the E right round to the SW. Between 2006 and 2009 the channel shifted completely and a new channel was established with new buoyage which has been modified in subsequent years as the channel becomes more stable. The most recent buoyage is laid out in the Approach notes below.
It is inadvisable to approach the area with onshore winds from the East, right through to the South West.
Heavy swell from this direction will also cause problems. Confused and breaking seas, plague the approach, and as you run in parallel to the beach you will be worryingly close to the lee Shore, which has several rocky outcrops to add to the fun.
In settled offshore conditions the ideal time to approach is around 2 to 3 hours before high water, in daylight. Although the channel is lit, a nighttime approach is not recommended.
The new channel that has established itself is now marked by a red and white buoy EXE (Mo(A) 10s)), laid in the entrance to the channel approximately 50° 35'.9N and 003° 23'.7W. The channel initially leads 335°T between three pairs of Port & Starboard IALA channel buoys. You must be very careful here not to start your approach too early on the flood as there is a lump in the middle of the channel between the No 6 buoy and the No 8 buoy. When you get to the elbow at the No 8 & No 9 buoys ease over to starboard and shape your course towards the No 10 red can buoy on about 305°T and try to pick up the leading marks at the far end. If you can't pick up these marks, not to worry, just make for the buildings on the starboard side way up ahead at the Town Quay. This could be a very disconcerting bit of the passage as you may have white water to port and the beach close to starboard giving the impression that you are in shallowing surf waters when you are, in fact, proceeding up a narrow channel scoured by the stream coming out of the estuary. Following the leading line of 305°T, the red can buoys numbers 10 and 12 will be located and must be left to port as usual. At this point in the narrows the tide accelerates dramatically.
After passing the red can number 12 on your port side keep heading towards Exmouth pier head before making a positive turn to westwards to pick up the buoyage, marking the winding channel up the River Exe. You should note that much of the buoyage is laid on the mud outside the channel and give it a sensible offing.
The depths in this channel vary from day to day and year to year and it would be best to assume a least depth of minus 1.0m in the channel between the No2 buoy and the No 8 buoy (because of that lump) and do some careful sums before you start the approach. Remember, it's only about seven miles from the entrance buoy to Topsham and with a flood tide under your transom you won't be pushed for time (unless it's getting close to closing time!) so there's no need to rush in early and then grind to a halt in the middle.
Update April 2018. The channel remains as shown in the latest Admiralty Chart(in our Gallery)
There are various mooring options around Exmouth, Starcross, Topsham and the Exeter Canal. There are various options offered by the local authority along with package deals for locking into and out of the canal at the Turf Lock -you can find details of this at
Other possibilities are:-
Exmouth Marina, is formed in the old dock basin and has it's own Admiralty chart 2290-2. It is now full of pontoons and surrounded by a fancy housing development. Although once dredged to 2m it was silting up, the bottom being soft mud. NEW 2021 Their dredging licence has been reinstated so they have been dredging over the 20/21 winter.and three quarters of the marina has been improved with plans for the rest in November 2021
Room here used to be very restricted but they now have dedicated visitor berthing located on the hammerhead to starboard as you come into the basin. They are on VHF channel 14 callsign " Exmouth Dock", telephone 01395 269314 and it would be wise to contact them to check on availability. The office is only open during normal office hours so, if you intend to arrive after 1800 that, you must make sure that the marina office is made aware of it. On approach to the dock entrance beware of strong cross tides and counter eddies as these can reach velocities of to 5 or 6 kn. Be warned, you don't want to be stuck there trying to hold while some one searches for someone to open the bridge; so make contact early.
The footbridge across the dock entrance lifts on request, The Marina has showers and toilets, electricity and water, with diesel alongside. There is a nearby chandlery, plus newsagents, cafe, restaurant and pub. They are charging (2018) £27.00 for a 10m boat. A link to the marina website is given below
There is a deep pool lying to the north west of the Marina, but it is full of moorings including those of the lifeboat and the tide runs very hard. There are no moorings or anchorages available in this area.
Exe Sailing Club is located at the back of the point on Shelly Bank. Visitors who are members of an RYA affiliated sailing club are welcome at the club when it is open, telephone 01395 264607 or check their website below for opening hours:
On the opposite side of the River, Dawlish Warren is a nature reserve and bird sanctuary protected by by-laws, and policed by wardens. Leave it to the birdwatchers.....( the British are very keen on watching and photographing wild birds, other nations are more concerned with different methods of cooking them!)
Five visitors mooring buoys are maintained by Exeter City Council in the bight of deepwater south of Bull Hill Bank. Availability is strictly first-come first served and no prior bookings are taken. Four of them can handle can handle boats up to 12 m, whilst the fifth can handle even larger boats. The moorings are all close together and marked fairly well on the chart. Contact the Exmouth Water Taxi on VHF channel 37 (M) or 07970 918418 for advice, and the taxi also collects the mooring fees.(2021) £13.90 per boat unless huge.
The Water Taxi has a website http://exeplorerwatertaxis.co.uk/
The tides can run very strongly here and a foray in the inflatable to either Exmouth or Starcross could be a bit of a struggle, even with a decent outboard. The safest option is to use the water taxi.
Continuing up River past number 17 buoy the channel forks, with the Western branch coming close to the village of Starcross, and the eastern branch (the main channel) continues towards Topsham, swinging round to the NNW.
Anchorage is possible off the pier at Starcross, and you will obtain shelter in winds from the westerly quadrant. The best water is taken up with moorings, but you should be able to find from 0.5 m to 2 m LAT. One visitors mooring buoy is maintained by the Starcross Fishing and Cruising Club, with the possibility of others available should members be away. The waters around Starcross are not so fierce tide wise, and the visitors buoy is positioned at 50:37'.39 N 003:26'.489 W.
The visitors mooring here can accommodate boats up to 35 feet with plenty of depth, alternatively two smaller boats of less than 30 feet may raft up together. It is a large yellow buoy marked SFCC Visitors. The club accepts no responsibility or liability for use of this mooring, and there is a £5 per night charge. The club's facilities and bar are available also to visitors.
They are on 01626 891996, (or contact the Rear Commodore on 01626 891012/ 07702 941332) and a link to their website is below.
If taking the main channel the moorings on the Western side marked the edge of the drying Shaggle Sand, and to the eastern side the whole area dries out completely, with a large area set aside for waterskiing activities, marked by buoys. Just south of number 19 Green buoy is a deep pool with 2 m which could prove a useful anchorage when you locate it with your depth sounder.
Continuing up the main channel is simply a matter of carefully following the numbered buoyage. We are informed by the HM that the No 23 green buoy is in place between the red can No 18 and the green cone No 25, positioned to keep you off the Lympstone Sand. The channel has enough water to get to Turf Lock, in the region of No. 39 green conical buoy.
Here you will find a yellow harbour authority visitors mooring, or you can anchor in about 1.5 m clear of the channel. For a real change from all the seagoing stuff you can lock in to the canal. Arrangements need to be made with the harbour office telephone 01392 274306, and there is a minimum charge of two nights at £11.60 each.... no real problem considering the peace and quiet within. Ashore will be found a freshwater tap and toilets, and you can leave your boat here for a maximum of one month. This is a popular spot for laying up, and the Turf Hotel (which can't be reached by car) has an excellent reputation amongst seafaring types (See photo gallery).
For those not waylaid by the delights of the canal it is possible to push on to Topsham by following the buoyed channel bearing in mind that from here on, it virtually dries out, and will have to be tackled on the rising tide. Berths can be found by those prepared to take the ground in very soft mud alongside Topsham Quay, with a £12.35 charge. A water tap and toilets are nearby.
Bilge keelers can use the facilities of Trout's Boatyard, and with suitable rise of the tide deeper keeled boats too. Best to phone ahead to check availability. They are on 01392 873044, with link to their useful website below, that features a live webcam, and some overhead pictures:
Full boatyard services are available here with diesel and water available alongside, camping and Calor gas, engineering, repairs, rigging and hauling out. Prices are around £18 for a 10 m boat overnight, with shower and toilet for visitors.
Pushing on with the tide under you it is possible to reach the Retreat Boatyard about half a mile north, just before the M5 motorway bridge blocks further progress for sailing vessels. (10 m clearance). This yard is accessible a couple of hours either side of high water for many boats, and has diesel and water available alongside. It can also handle lifting up to 36 tonnes, and offers full boatyard facilities with a good chandlery. They are main dealers for Yamaha, Mercruiser and Volvo, telephone 01392 874720, link to website below:
It is impossible to anchor anywhere along this route and remain afloat, and although it's possible to find space outside of the channel opposite Topsham, the holding ground is tenuous, and the ebb can run fast.
Exmouth is a busy holiday town during the season and can cater for all provisioning needs. There is a supermarket and all the High Street names are represented. Banks and Chandlers will be found as well as a launderette. Bottled gas is available from the hardware store in the town. Trains run to Exeter for connection with the mainline, as well as frequent buses. Trailer boats can use the slipway at the recreation ground. It is concrete and usable for about half of the tidal range, and located at the rear of the Marina. The link below gives a more useful information about the town in general:
The village of Starcross has some handy facilities including a mainline railway station and buses to Exeter. Day-to-day provisioning can be achieved and there are pubs serving food and a fish and chip shop. The local garage can supply petrol, diesel and gas bottle exchange (Jerry can job for fuel, made easier by the fact that the garage has its own landing pontoon). The garage can also handle Marine engineering. Starcross pier itself is private and locked up, and landings are made at the clearly marked slipway at the inner end of the pier.
Topsham is a very useful place for the boat and the crew, with all the day-to-day provisions obtainable. Two banks with cashpoints top up the depleting funds while two Chandlers (check the directory), a hardware store and a plethora of pubs and restaurants complete the picture. For those with a couple of days to spare, taking advantage of the facilities at the boatyard or quay whilst exploring and investigating the very interesting history of this town could be a pleasant diversion. It is becoming very popular with the well-heeled, who have pushed the housing prices to lofty levels....it probably won't be long before " designer" outlets start forcing out useful shops. Bookworms after secondhand nautical books and aficionados of antiques will be pleased with what they find. Topsham has frequent buses and trains to Exeter which is only 3 miles away, furthermore the M5 motorway is on the doorstep.
The whole of the River Exe area is popular with sail boarders, kites surfers, water skiers... in fact the whole spectrum of water sports enthusiasts. Check the directory for further information and links to any clubs not mentioned in the text, as well as all local Marine information.
The town is defined by the sea and river frontages (each about a mile long), and stretching around 2.5 miles (4 km) inland, along a north-easterly axis. The docks lie at the western corner of this rectangle, where the river passes through a relatively narrow passage into the sea, the mouth of the estuary being nearly closed by Dawlish Warren on the opposite shore of the river. Dawlish Warren is one of the few natural sand spits in the world and is home to a wide range of rare and exciting wildlife and plants. The sea frontage forms a fine, golden sand, 2-mile long beach; at its eastern end, the town is limited by the cliffs of the High Land of Orcombe, a National Trust-owned open space which rises to a peak at Orcombe Point.
Geologically, the low hill known as "The Beacon", in the centre of the present town, is formed of breccias that are an outcrop of a similar formation on the west side of the Exe estuary. The rising land on which the town has grown is formed of New Red Sandstone. This solid land is surrounded by mudflats and sandspits, some of which have been stabilised and now form part of the land on which the town is built, and some of which remain as tidal features in the estuary and off the coast; the outflow from the river flows eastwards, parallel to the beach, for some distance, limited by sandbanks that are exposed at low tide.
Administratively Exmouth lies within the East Devon district, along with neighbouring coastal towns east of the Exe. It has its own town council, presided over by a mayor.
Although Roman coins have been found around Exmouth, there is no evidence of Roman settlement in the area. From the 11th century there is evidence of a ferry port in the area of the present docks, which have only recently (2001-2002) been converted into a marina. For some centuries, however, commercial trade through the port was limited by the power of Exeter, which owned the dock and controlled estuary traffic. The dock served primarily as a base for fishing, and a small amount of commercial fishing is undertaken to this day.
The name Exmouth seems to be relatively recent; in Saxon times and the Middle Ages the present town consisted of two parishes, Littleham and Withycombe (these names are still used for districts of the town), while in the 13th century there are references to the dock area as "Pratteshuthe". By the end of the 17th century, however, the town was developing something of its modern form, and becoming known as a seaside resort. Exmouth's Georgian terraces and sandy beach attracted people including Horatio Nelson, whose wife, Lady Nelson lies buried in the nearby Littleham Churchyard, and Lord Byron. Mass tourism developed rapidly after the arrival of the railway in 1861.
The Strand gardens in Exmouth town centre, looking towards the war memorial. Image taken in summer 2006Exmouth has a wide and varied range of architecture, ranging from small cob cottages in parts of the town that were once villages and are now incorporated into it, such as Withycombe, to the many Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian town houses. The seafront has a traditional promenade.
The RNLI has a lifeboat station at Exmouth with a Trent Class All Weather Lifeboat (ALB) named Forward Birmingham and "D" Class Inshore Lifeboat (ILB).
The majority of buildings in Exmouth were constructed during the Victorian era with the arrival of the railway. The area to the west of Exeter Road is land that was reclaimed by the railway, Exeter Road originally being part of the seafront. The houses in the colony were mainly constructed for the workers of the railway.
There have been 3 railway stations at Exmouth. The line first reached Exmouth from Exeter in 1861. In the first five days 10,000 people travelled on the line and property prices increased overnight. By the 1880s commuter traffic to Exeter was considerable. In 1903 a link to Budleigh Salterton was opened the line going eastward over a viaduct which went from Exeter Road to Park Road where it entered a cutting continuing onto Littleham Cross where there was also a station (now a private residence), and from there to Budleigh Salterton, there turning north to rejoin the main London and South Western Railway line. Exmouth Station was rebuilt in 1926. When the line to Budleigh was lifted the viaduct was left in place for many years and as it slowly decayed arches here and there were removed, with its final destruction in the late 1980s. A plethora of cheaply built houses mark its position now. The route of the line continued behind Phear Park, which was once the grounds of a large house belonging to the Phear family, used during the Second World War to station U.S. soldiers. Shortly after the war the house was burnt down and left derelict; eventually it too was demolished, and its grounds were given to the town by the Phear family to become a park. The old railway line behind Phear Park was just left as a bare trackbed for many years. At its far end there was a short tunnel through to Littleham, which was filled in when the line was closed. The trackbed has now been tarmacked and now forms an off-road cycle way from Exmouth to Budleigh Salteron.
The odd little house called A La Ronde, now in the ownership of the National Trust, lies on the northern outskirts of the town. Exmouth also has one of the county's longest surviving nightclubs: Samanthas. This was originally a cinema before being converted into a ten pin bowling alley. While it was a bowling alley, in the late sixties and early seventies, a small dance club called Deneys was set up in a small part of the building. It proved so successful that in 1973 it was converted to a nightclub and has remained so ever since. The club has seen many national and international artists as well as many well known radio DJs. The club is also the resident venue of Mr Sams himself - Alan Clarke - who has worked as DJ and subsequently as Manager at the venue since 1978 and is still there in 2007. Sadly, the nightclub has recently anounced its closure (October 2008).
Demographics and Economics
In addition to its substantial summer tourist trade, Exmouth serves as a regional centre for leisure industries, particularly water sports such as sailing and wind-surfing, and outdoor activities such as bird-watching and walking. The Exe Estuary is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is noted in particular for its wading and migrating birds. A large part of the estuary lies within a nature reserve. Exmouth marks the western end of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, which stretches eastwards along the coast to Poole, in Dorset; the South West Coast Path allows for walking along this coast. The town is also at the western end of the East Devon Way path that leads to Lyme Regis.
Exmouth serves as a commuter town for Exeter, to which it has good public transport links by train and bus. Commuters by car mainly using the very crowded A376 to get to Exeter from the Northern part of the town - the village of Brixington - represented on East Devon District Council and Exmouth Town Council by Trevor Cope.
Exmouth railway station is the terminus of the Avocet Line to Exeter St Davids station. The Exmouth to Starcross Ferry is a passenger ferry that operates during the summer months across the Exe Estuary to Starcross, where the pumping station for Brunel's Atmospheric Railway can be seen.
Topsham is a small town in Devon, England, on the east side of the River Exe estuary between Exeter and Exmouth. It is served by Topsham railway station.
The native Celtic settlement of Topsham became the port of the Roman city of Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter) in the first century AD, and continued to serve it until the Roman occupation southern Britain ceased about the year 400. In the 7th century the Saxon rule in East Devon saw the settlement grow into a considerable village.
Although village-sized, with a current population of around 5,023, it was designated a town by a 1300 royal charter. It is now officially a suburb of Exeter. Topsham's position, offering a sheltered harbour to seagoing trade has enabled it to thrive as a port, a centre for fishing and shipbuilding, and notably was the scene of a Parliamentarian naval assault during the civil war.
Formerly a major seaport, it is of current interest for its architecture, scenery and proximity to the nature reserves for wading and migrating birds on the Exe estuary, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
There are a large number of Dutch style houses in Topsham dating from the time when Topsham was an important cotton port. Many of Topsham's houses are built using Dutch bricks, which were brought over as ballast from Holland - to where the wool and cotton from South-West England had been exported.
Topsham Museum is located in one of a set of 17th century buildings looking out over the Exe Estuary. The lovely furnished period rooms of the house, themselves can be explored, together with displays of the local history of the town and memorabilia of Vivien Leigh, the film star. The museum is open from April to October, 2 p.m.-5 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
St Margaret's Church in Topsham, part of the Church of England, dates back to the 10th Century. Although reconstructed several times through the years, it remains in its original location as granted in 937 by King Athelstan, who gave "a parcel of land, i.e. a manse, which the vulgar called Toppesham, to the monastery Church of St Mary and St Peter in Exeter, for the cure of his soul, to have in eternal freedom so long as the Christian Church shall endure."
Topsham enjoys cult status with students of nearby Exeter University and Rolle College as the home of the "Topsham Ten", a pubcrawl of ten pubs in a little over a mile.
The Exeter Canal
The Exeter Canal, downstream of Exeter, Devon, England was built in 1563 which means it pre-dates the "canal mania" period and is one of the oldest artificial waterways in the UK.
At the start of Exeter's history, the River Exe was tidal and navigable up to the city walls enabling it to be a busy port. In the 1270s or 80s, the Countess of Devon, Isabella de Fortibus, built a weir across the river to power her mills (this weir is remembered in the name of the nearby suburb Countess Wear). This had the effect of cutting off Exeter's port from the sea and damaging its salmon fisheries. In 1290, trade with Exeter's port was restored, only to be blocked by a new weir built in 1317 by Hugh de Courtenay, 9th Earl of Devon (Isabella's cousin), who also built a quay at Topsham. Because of the blockages on the river, boats were forced to unload at Topsham and the earls were able to exact large tolls to transport goods to Exeter. For the next 250 years the city petitioned the King to have the waterway reopened, to no avail, until 1550 when Edward VI finally granted permission. However it was by then too late because the river channel had silted up.
In 1563, Exeter traders employed John Trew of Glamorgan to build a canal to bypass the weirs and rejoin the River Exe in the centre of the city where a quay would be built. Work began in February 1564, and was completed in 1567. The canal had three locks with vertical gates – the first pound locks to be built in Britain. They accommodated boats up to 16 tonnes. The original cut was 3 feet (0.91 m) deep and 16 feet (4.9 m) wide (0.9 m by 5 m). It ran one and three quarter miles (2.8 km) from just below the Countess Weir to the centre of Exeter. This navigation was not very effective; it could not be entered at all states of the tide, and the double transfer of cargo over such a short distance made it uncompetitive with road transport. The weir that maintains the water level in the quay is still named "Trew's Weir" after the canal's builder.
In 1677 the canal was extended and the entrance was moved downstream to Topsham. In 1701 the canal was deepened and widened to allow the passage of ocean-going ships. At the same time the number of locks on the canal was reduced to one. Floodgates were also fitted to the canal entrance. These improvements lead to the canal being highly successful until demand for access declined with the end of the wool trade in the early nineteenth century and later with the rise of the railways.
There were many notable failures to connect Exeter and the South West to the national canal and rail networks: The Grand Western Canal linking Exeter to Bristol (1796) was never completed; The Bristol & Exeter Railway link to the canal basin was postponed in 1832 and 1844; The South Devon Railway ran services to the canal from 1867, but by this time the canal was too small to attract the sizeable ocean-going vessels and the canal was taken over by its creditors for sixteen years. Use of the canal has declined gradually ever since.
The last commercial use of the canal was in 1972 when the Esso Jersey left the canal basin, carrying oil to its terminal, although the government owned water board ran a sludge tanker, the Countess Weir, until 1997 by which time it was privately owned.
The fall of commercial traffic in the 1960s coincided with the rise of leisure use of the canal. After some recent difficulties the future of the canal looks good with the city basin being included in part of a £24 million redevelopment. The quay area has been subject to redevelopment over recent years and is continuing to be converted to wider recreational use. The canal basin itself is popular for a range of water sports.
The text on this HISTORY page is covered by the following licence
Exmouth... being a holiday town just about all kinds of eating out are catered for from fast foods such as kebabs, fish and chips etc, going up the scale to Italian and seafood specialists. The usual Chinese and Indian restaurants abound together with some more unusual ethnic specialities such as Thai and even Mexican. A plethora of pubs and cafes complete the picture, all in all plenty of choice. The links below may give some ideas:
Starcross boasts three pubs that provides food, and a fish and chip shop.
Topsham is over endowed with pubs, ten of them .... the town provides a boozing binge for Exeter University students determined to do the " Topsham Ten". When the intrepid mariner has finished carrying out his own investigations into this matter he will find no shortage of eating places to satisfy his hunger. From traditional to ethnic all are represented. Links below for more ideas: