The River Deben, or Woodbridge Haven as it is also known.....
..... offers around 9 miles of navigable water for any sailor intrepid enough to tackle the somewhat intimidating entrance. The River has no commercial traffic so could make a nice change when anchoring, not having to worry about passing ships.
There is a River Deben Association with it's own website and has a load of contact numbers for just about everyone involved with the River. There are various "Harbour Masters" on the way up the River with their own bits of River to "master" and this can be confusing especially as the various yacht clubs and boat yards also lay moorings in their vicinity.
There are historic towns and villages to be explored, several boatyards and many clubs. There are places where you can lie to your own anchor, pick up a mooring buoy, or one Marina at Woodbridge where the yachtsman or motorboater can remain afloat. For those able to take the ground there are untold places for drying out. There is much boating expertise in the area and plenty of marine specialists of all varieties.
Pub aficionados will find plenty of hostelries scattered around, even though shops and stores are very thin on the ground.
For stocking up there is a supermarket at Woodbridge, but in general this is not an area for grand provisioning, and if planning a couple of days exploration it would be wise to arrive fully stocked.
Unless you are staying in the Marina you will probably need a decent dinghy and outboard, as the tides run a hard. Likewise when anchoring you will need good gear well dug in with plenty of scope.
There are gloomy warnings on the charts about the approaches to the Deben, with it's shifting shingle banks and bar.
The area should not be approached in conditions of strong onshore winds or heavy seas, as it is a mass of breakers. Even in benign conditions the ebb can obtain rates of 6 kn out of the entrance making entry impossible. It is futile to give any firm directions about the passage through the shingle banks and over the bar, as virtually every winter storm changes things (sometimes dramatically).
The website (Eastcoastrivers.com) with downloadable instructions for entry to the River Deben has been discontinued.
These days life is a lot more organised and the East Coast Pilot website carries charts of both the Deben and the Ore entrances. And if this was my cruising ground I'd have an up-to-date copy of that on board.
This information used to be obtainable in printed form from local chandlers, clubs etc. - so if you come across a copy you should check the print date as it may well be of only historical interest!
For first timers unsure of themselves can contact the harbour master or his assistant at Felixstowe Ferry (just inside the entrance). They will help guide you through the entrance. Call "Odd Times" on VHF channel 08, and speak to the harbour master John White (01394 270106 / 07803 476621), or his assistant John Barber (07780 735604).
The following is general information about the approach and entrance, but entry shouldn't be attempted without local knowledge or help from the above sources. The Admiralty chart provided is up to date but is of limited use as it does not show the locally laid and maintained buoyage in the Deben.
The first stage in any approach will involve finding the Woodbridge Haven safe watermark which is a red and white spherical buoy (Mo(A)15s). Although this buoy is lit none of the others are.... entry at night is definitely NOT recommended. Timing of your entry attempt is important bearing in mind the strengths of the tide. At least a couple of hours after low water and well before high water is probably best for newcomers. (Probably the best time to leave outbound would be around high water, before the ebb really gets going...)
During the winter of 2012/2013 the Knolls (midway between the landfall buoy and the entrance) have moved westwards and the buoyage has been moved accordingly (so scrap last year's way points) and there's not quite as much water over the bar as there was in 2012. Follow the buoyage (West Knoll and Mid Knoll) and as you pass West Knoll line up a point on the land beyond the Mid Knoll and use that as a transit to avoid being pushed off track by the tide. Pass close to the black basalt rocks on the seawall and stay close to that West bank until the red Deben Can Buoy when, if you maintain your course, you will start to close the east bank (where there is deeper water) to pass up the channel to the East of the Horse sand Bank
There is an alternative entrance over "The Knolls" which all the fishermen use but there is an unmarked bar at both ends of that and until that is buoyed and charted it is not recommended to the casual visitor. It can be seen at the top of the aerial photo on the East Coast Pilot download.
It is necessary to keep favouring the eastern side of the Channel to avoid the extensive drying Horse Shoal. On your starboard side are moorings and there is a deep water pool in this area... keep heading NNW for the red can Horse Sand buoy which you leave on your port hand side. You are now clear of Horse sand, and into the River Deben.
Not exacty pilotage, but this video from Dylan Winter shows entry to the Deben, and gives a feel for the place.
As you enter the River and clear Horse Shoal....
....you will notice on the other side of the river some moorings, fishing huts and boatyard. This area is called Felixstowe Ferry and once past the red can Horse Sand buoy, you can turn back on yourself leaving Horse Sand on your port side and approach these facilities from the North.
The boatyard at Felixstowe Ferry (01394 282173) may be able to find you a short-term vacant mooring where you can lay afloat. Alternatively it may be possible to find an anchorage to the north well clear of the moorings.
Dinghy landings can be made on the shingle beach at all states of the tide. Whether at anchor or on a mooring pay great attention to the strength of the tide which can run up to 5 kn, making dinghy work hazardous, and anchoring tricky. A water taxi operates in this area, callsign Deben Ferry, VHF channel 08. It also nips back and forth across the entrance from Felixstowe Ferry to Bawdsey.
If you do get ashore in this area you will find the boatyard has a chandlery where diesel can be obtained. Also on the spot is a cafe, a couple of pubs and the Felixstowe Ferry Sailing Club. The nearest place to obtain provisions would be Old Felixstowe a fair hike (2 miles) away to the south, but with both the pubs serving food plus the popular cafe the hungry crew will be well sorted on the spot.
Bawdsey Manor on the Eastern Shore was much used by the RAF in the development of radar during the Second World War. It is possible to land here in the dinghy where you will find Bawdsey Haven Yacht Club, and a watersports centre.
Moving up River, there is a speed delimited section from Felixstowe Ferry, through Sea Reach towards Ramsholt. (From there on the limit is 8 knts). In this area the scenery is low lying, with seawalls and plenty of mudbanks. The deepwater runs fairly centrally with the bias towards the western shore.
At Green Point the River turns northwards and changes character a bit, becoming more rural and less flat and marshy. Falkenham Creek, an indentation on the Western side marks the end of the de-restricted section, and the speed limit is now 8 Knts. On the eastern side you will see the pub at Ramsholt Quay. Landing can be made by dinghy on the sand near the old barge quay. There are no other services here, or public transport, but the pub does provide a freshwater tap (operated by tokens), and a public phone box will be found.
The River is thick with moorings in this area and you may be able to borrow one by getting in touch with the local harbourmaster George Collins, who is normally about during the days on his boat. Telephone 07930 304061, or try VHF channel 77.
Otherwise you may have to root around to find somewhere to anchor, either above or below the moorings, and maybe not that close to the pub.
Once through Ramsholt Reach, and past Prettyman Point on the eastern side, the deeper channel of the River swings to the north-east slightly in an area known as The Rocks. A series of red can buoys with even numbers are left to port and commence the marking of the channel that extends as far as Woodbridge. Where the deepwater makes a swing back to the North West you will find the first green conical buoy (No.1) which is left to starboard. And the tiny village of Waldringfield will be on your port side. The channel is narrow here, moorings proliferate up and down river.
Waldringfield Boatyard has visitors moorings and may even leave a visitors tender on the mooring if contacted in advance. Their number is 01473 736260 and they charge £10 a night for a mooring. They now have a website:-
Our original contact for the Waldringham Fairways Association was Richard Woolf but they have re-organised and they have a Harbour Master, Tony Lyon who deals with the day to day stuff and is the guy to contact if you want to stop in this vicinity. Tony can be contacted on 01473 736291 or mob 07925 081062 if the Boatyard hasn't got a spare mooring
Although Waldringfield has no specific moorings for visitors they have been offering visitors vacant moorings for the last three or four years, and can cater for single hulled craft up to 36ft or 11m. They do not charge for the loan of a mooring but suggest the yachtman makes a donation to the RNLI lifeboat in either the pub or sailing club.
Busy summer weekends can be a bit frenetic in this spot, and you are unlikely to be able to find a spare mooring. There is no longer any room to anchor in front of the club house
The navigable channel is very narrow here, and you may well have to find your anchorage above or below the moorings, or at the Rocks.
Landings in the dinghy can be made at all states of the tide, and once ashore you will find apart from the The Maybush Inn, The Waldringham Sailing Club, and the boatyard there is not much else other than a cluster of houses. No shops, no transport.
The popular pub however is open all day seven days a week, serving food at breakfast, lunchtimes and in the evenings. Water in Jerry cans can be obtained from the sailing club and the boatyard, while the latter can also provide diesel and some chandlery. Normal boatyard services are available here too and they have a 40 tonne crane. A public telephone (Cards only) near the Maybush completes the picture here.
Above Waldringfield the River narrows and shallows dramatically, the direction of the channel being marked by buoyage and moorings. It is best tackled on a rising tide. The aptly named Troublesome Reach will be guaranteed to give you trouble too. The River deviates in a "C" shape. It is well marked with buoys and beacons and shouldn't pose a problem if these are followed closely with a decent rise of the tide.
A short cut marked on the chart called Loders Cut is for very shoal craft around high water only.
Martlesham Creek branches off to the West at Kyson point in this "troublesome" area, and the intrepid creek crawler can make his way to the boatyard at the head of this Creek. Drying moorings are available (by arrangement) With electricity and some boatyard services are available. The Creek itself dries to a gutway.
Once past the interesting diversion in Troublesome Reach the view towards Woodbridge opens up. Any boats not able to take the ground will only be able to visit Woodbridge around high water, as apart from the Tide Mill Yacht Harbour, pretty much all dries out now.
The run of the channel is marked by buoyage and beacons and various drying moorings. It can be a bit confusing however... the deeper water favours the Western side as you pass the clubs with their pontoons and jetties and slipways. It then swings over to the eastern side running close under Ferry Cliff.
The white tide mill building is clearly recognisable and it is just before you get to it that the River swings violently to starboard... the way is marked by the red buoys 20, 22 and 24. This detour gives access to the Tide Mill yacht harbour, where vessels can lay afloat in a pond, the depth of which is maintained by a sill.
Tide Mill Yacht Harbour, Woodbridge.
Access is available in to the Marina about an hour either side of high water, and the Marina is virtually right on top of all the town facilities. The marina has very helpfully prepared a day by day reckoner of the depths available for entry, and here it is to download:
Contact them on VHF channel 80, callsign Tide Mill Yacht Harbour, or telephone 01394 385745. A link to their homepage is provided below:
All the usual Marina facilities are available here with water and electricity on the pontoons, toilets, showers and launderette ashore in newly built facilities. WiFi is available throughout. A berth for a 10m boat here will cost you (2022) £32.00 with a charge of £6.00 for electricity hookup
A good range of boatyard services are available, together with diesel alongside and a small chandlery. Bottled gas available.
For boats able to take the ground there are many more mooring opportunities in the Woodbridge area, many of the various boatyards can provide stagings, pontoons and quays. Try calling Everson's, Charter Marine or Robertson's, their details will be found in the directory.
For those that think the world ends at Tide Mill, a little surprise...the river continues and there is another useful little facility for those prepared to push on. The Melton Boatyard ( formerly the Granary Yacht Harbour) is a fully service boatyard, with pontoon, and swinging moorings, all drying. A 30 ton travel lift and shoreside storage are available. The yard provides buoyage to help you get safely up the river, and a chartlet is available on their website:
They can be contacted on 01394 386327 and as this is only a small facility it would be wise to check with them before setting out to see if they will have room. In 2021 they are charging £21.60 per day for boats up to 30ft . They have shore power on coin op metres on the pontoon. There is a Spar shop at the garage close by with a pub up the road and a floating ex Swedish MTB called HMS Vale which serves an all day breakfast and has a bar just along the hard from the pontoons.
Coverage updated May 2022
Facilities available around the various anchorages and mooring places in the Deben have already been touched on, and this section deals more with the Woodbridge area.
Woodbridge is a decent sized town with a long seafaring history. With the various boatyards and marine specialists in the immediate area most boating needs can be taken care of. Of interest to classic boat owners will be Classic Marine who sell and even manufacture special parts. Check the directory for all Marine services available.
There is a good range of shops and most of the main banks are represented too. Transport is excellent with the station almost on the riverfront, connecting with Ipswich. From Ipswich there are good services to London.
The Woodbridge Cruising Club and the Deben Yacht Club are right on the waterfront.
Trailer Sailors can use the ramp at Robertson's Boatyard in Woodbridge by arrangement only. It allows access at half the tidal range, and charges are £10 per day. It is necessary to enquire in advance as the slipway may be blocked by other work in hand.
More video magic from Dylan Winter ... The Deben in all it's glory.
The River Deben is a medium length river in Suffolk rising in Debenham, passing through Woodbridge, turning into a tidal estuary before entering the North Sea at Felixstowe Ferry. The mouth of the estuary is crossed by a ferry connecting Felixstowe and Bawdsey.
The Deben Estuary is a Special Protection Area and Ramsar Site and within the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Its significance arises from it over-wintering population of avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta). The estuary features shifting sandbanks. Plant-life is dominated by the Common Reed (Phragmites australis). The saltmarsh and intertidal mud-flats that occupy the most the area have the widest range of saltmarsh flora in Suffolk.
There are many yacht and dinghy clubs on the river Deben. These include the Deben Yacht Club, the Waldringfield Club, Felixstowe Ferry Sailing Club and the cruising club.
Woodbridge is a town in Suffolk, East Anglia, England. It is in the East of England, not far from the coast. It lies along the River Deben, with a population of about 7,480 although this seems larger due to the number of surrounding villages. The town is served by Woodbridge railway station on the Ipswich-Lowestoft East Suffolk Line. Woodbridge is twinned with Mussidan in France.
The earliest record of Woodbridge is in the mid 10th century, when it was acquired by St. Aethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, who made it a part of the endowment of the monastery he helped to refound at Ely, Cambridgeshire in AD 970. Woodbridge did not acquire its own monastery until about 1193, when a small priory of Austin Canons was founded by Ernald Rufus.
It was a centre for boat-building, rope-making and sail-making since the Middle Ages. Edward III and Sir Francis Drake had Elizabethan era fighting ships built in Woodbridge.
Around the town there are various buildings from the Tudor, Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras. The town has a restored tide mill, one of only 4 in the UK, and one of the earliest — a mill was first recorded on this site in 1170, operated by the Augustinian Canons. In 1536, it passed to King Henry VIII. In 1564, Queen Elizabeth I granted the mill to Thomas Seckford. In 1577 he founded Woodbridge School and the Seckford Almshouses, for the poor of Woodbridge.
Sutton Hoo, a group of low grassy mounds famous for turning up Anglo-Saxon treasure of one of the earliest English kings, Rædwald, overlooks Woodbridge from the Eastern Bank of the Deben.
The so-called Rendlesham Forest Incident took place in nearby Rendlesham Forest in 1980. Unexplained lights were seen in the sky close to RAF Woodbridge, a United States Airforce base, and there were claims that a UFO had landed in the forest. The incident continues to interest ufologists and vigorous debates take place between those who believe that an alien spacecraft landed there and the sceptics who offer alternative explanations.
Woodbridge has its own Brass Band, the Woodbridge Excelsior Band, who were formed in 1846 and are the oldest community brass band in East Anglia.
There is a museum devoted to the Suffolk Punch, a breed of heavy working horse, in the Shire Hall on the Market Hill.
Local folklore has it that the route from the river to the top of Drybridge Hill (via Church Street, the Market Hill and Seckford Street) is the hill which was marched up by the Grand Old Duke of York in the popular Nursery Rhyme.
The text on this HISTORY page is covered by the following licence
A wide range of restaurants and pubs will be found in Woodbridge, with up market tastes being catered for as well as the usual range of offerings. Suffice to say the crew won't go hungry here... or thirsty for that matter.
As usual it is not our habit to delve too deeply, and leave you with a couple of links below for further investigations: