The River Orwell stretches from the big container terminals at Felixstowe....
... to the county town of Ipswich, about 8 miles. It is far more commercialised than the Stour with surprisingly large ships regularly going to and from Ipswich. The River still has beautiful scenery, and a visit to the hard at Pin Mill together with its pub is a must for most East Coast types.
This stretch of water boasts five marinas, some mooring buoys at Pin Mill, and various anchoring opportunities. Boat facilities abound.
The difficulties of provisioning depend on where you are in the River, but the two marinas based at Ipswich Wet Docks (see photo gallery), are right in the town. Ipswich offers excellent shopping and transport connections.
The heavy shipping using the River can cause problems for leisure craft in transit, at anchor, or even on moorings. Even if you scoot out of the channel when passing, at LWS the wash can pick you up and dump your keel on the bottom. Any anchorages must be chosen with care, keeping completely out of the fairway.
Sailing barges are frequently seen in the River, quite often chartered.
Entry to the Orwell is via Harwich and Felixstowe and is the subject of another article. Due to heavy shipping movements extreme care will be necessary entering Harwich.
Follow the directions already given in our Harwich article for entering that harbour....
and make as if you were going to Shotley Spit Marina. Instead of aiming for the green Ganges buoy, keep more to the East and pass the southerly Cardinal buoy Shotley Spit (Q(6)+LFl.15s) close on your starboard side.
Steering NNW from here leave the red can College buoy (Fl(2)R.10s) on your starboard side and steering NW leave the next two red can buoys, Pepys and Barbergh very, very close to starboard.
This keeps you well clear of the Trinity Container Terminal, it also puts you in danger of grounding on your port side at low water. Extreme care will be needed to stay close to the red can buoys and not to stray towards the Marina and Shotley point.
Further pilotage details:
If you are certain there is no shipping emerging from the Orwell, or heading into the Orwell from behind you, and there are no movements on the container terminal opposite, you might be safer to move over to the starboard side (Fagbury point) as soon as you pass the red can College Buoy. In fact this is by far the best plan if the traffic allows.
Anyway whichever way you get there move to the starboard side of the River and get past the green conical Fagbury Buoy (Fl.G.2.5s) which can be left close to port if shipping movements demand it. Otherwise leave it to starboard, and move up the River steering NNW. From Fagbury onwards the River Orwell comes under the control of ABP at Ipswich, and you need to change VHF channels from 71 to channel 68. Ship movements on the River Orwell are promulgated on this channel.
Speed limits in the River are 6 kn, (except in specified areas).
You are now in Lower Reach which leads northwards, the dredged channel being fairly central. Should you meet shipping, remembering to keep a sharp eye out behind, it is possible to get out of the channel. The big problem is the edges shelve fairly steeply, and particularly at low water springs care needs to be taken that you have enough water under your keel. Bear in mind that the wash from a passing ship could first lift you up and then deposit your keel (or worse still your unprotected propellers) on the riverbed. This needs to be borne in mind throughout the whole River.
Continuing northwards about 1 1/2 miles past sets of red can and green conical buoys the River bends round to the north-west just past the green Trimley buoy (Fl.G.2.5s). On your starboard side is the dredged entrance to Suffolk Yacht Harbour (covered shortly). Moorings are laid in this vicinity.
Continuing up River on your port hand side is an indent called Colton Creek on the chart. Various small craft moorings will be seen here and it is a recognised Anchorage. Locally this is called Butterman's Bay, and you may be sharing this Anchorage with sailing barges. There is room to anchor well out of the channel as defined by the red can No.4 buoy (Q.R).
Pushing onwards you will shortly come to Pin Mill, and a visit here is a must for all aficionados of sailing barges.... and waterside pubs. There really isn't sufficient room to anchor here (unless you can take the ground), and some mooring buoys are provided, details later. On the charts this reach of the River is labelled "Butterman's Bay", and just past Pin Mill the River swings in a slightly more northerly direction into Potter Reach.
The channel is narrow and steep sided so caution will be needed at low water or if passing ships are encountered.
The River now swings round more to the North West, with moorings on both sides after you pass the green conical Park Bight buoy (Q.G). You should be able to see the Orwell bridge in the distance and the green conical Cathouse buoy (Fl.G.2.5s) will be on your starboard side. The curious name has nothing to do with a house of ill repute for lonely sailormen (sadly), but a smugglers cottage where a white cat displayed in the window warned of prowling officials.
On your port side is firstly the Royal Harwich Yacht Club's marina, followed immediately by MDL owned Woolverstone Marina. Further details on these later. It is worth noting that Wolverstone Marina has diesel and you can just drop in for a top up - they sell at cost and don't charge mooring fees for a short visit for fuel.
As the River continues North West the channel is narrow but extremely well buoyed. There is still just enough room to keep out of it for passing ships. The looming road bridge crosses the River at a slight diagonal, and it's supports are protected from collision by artificial islands at the bases. It has vertical clearance of 38 m, while the channel through is 92 m wide, so poses no problem for yachts.
Do not try and pass under the bridge at the same time as a ship, let him go first.
Once under the bridge the channel is even narrower, and any kind of shipping activities at the quays on your starboard side can be avoided by keeping just out of the channel on the port side, paralleling the red buoys, leaving them close to starboard. Usual warning about the proximity of the steeply shelving riverbank applies. You will pass under two sets of electricity cables with 45 m clearance.
The red can buoy No.12 marks the entrance to the Ostrich Creek on your port side, within which nestles Fox's Marina and the Orwell Yacht Club. Further details following...
Moving onwards in a northerly direction you will pass through quays and docks until you reach the lock leading into the wet dock and its two marinas. If planning to use the lock you can call Ipswich Port Radio on VHF channel 68 just before you pass under the bridge, and they will give you instructions.
Should you have to wait there is a special pontoon in the approach to the lock on your starboard side. Inside the lock there is a pontoon to starboard, and the lock is controlled by simple traffic lights again on your starboard side in the approach. Shipping movements have priority through the lock, but during working hours it is quite likely the lock will operate on request.
Details of the two full-service marinas within are given shortly.
The visiting yachtsman or motorboater will have no trouble securing a berth in the River Orwell area.
Marinas include Suffolk Yacht Harbour, the Royal Harwich Yacht Club Marina, Woolverstone Marina, and Fox's Marina. At Ipswich will be found Neptune Marina, Ipswich Yacht Haven and Debbage Yachting in New Cut.
A couple of anchoring possibilities have already been mentioned in the previous paragraphs, but wherever you anchor make sure you stay well clear of areas where cables cross the river underwater. These are marked on the banks by noticeboards.
The other places you can moor your boat are now dealt with in the order that you will pass them on route to Ipswich, together with prices:
Suffolk Yacht Harbour.
First up is Suffolk Yacht Harbour opposite Collimer Point, where the River bends round to the north-west into Long Reach. It lays on your starboard side and the narrow entrance dredged channel is marked by beacons. There is about 2 m depth at LWS, and there's a picture of it's entrance in the photo gallery. The Marina maintains mooring buoys in the River too.
In the past there were some pontoons with mooring "loops" - these have now been upgraded to cleats.
Tides can set hard across the 30 m wide channel and care will be needed in these circumstances not to be pushed aground or driven on to an unforgiving beacon, but in general things are quite straightforward.
This is possibly one of the largest marinas on the East Coast and is still in independent hands. It does have a waiting list for permanent berth holders but can normally accommodate visitors. The best plan is to contact them on VHF channel 80, or telephone 01473 659465. Advice can be obtained about the entry channel for deeper draft craft. A link to their website is provided below:
All the normal Marina facilities are available here with water and electricity at each berth on the pontoons. Toilets, showers and launderettes are available ashore and they have WiFi rigged throughout the Marina. Overnight rates (2019) come out at £2.40 per metre +VAT with a weekly rate of £1.75 per metre/day + VAT
Both Diesel and petrol is available near the entrance and Calor and camping gas can be obtained. Chandlery is available on site and some small provisions can also be obtained here.
Full service facilities are available for your boat including a 60 tonne travel lift, a 20 tonne crane, a slipway and even scrubbing posts. All specialists are on-site with engineering, electrical, electronics, sail makers, and shipwrights. All in all pretty comprehensive.
Food and drink can be obtained at the Haven Ports Yacht Club, based in the lightship within the Marina. They are welcoming to visitors and are currently expanding their premises.
The little village of Levington can be reached by foot about two miles away, and offers a further pub but little else and no public transport to speak of.
No marinas, a very long and muddy hard, and a couple of boatyards more concerned with wooden boats and sailing barges. It is however a very popular spot for East coasters probably because of the Butt and Oyster pub on the waterfront. The pub is open all day seven days a week and serves lunches and dinners.
Anchoring in this vicinity is not a good idea due to the narrowness of the channel and the shipping movements. There are however mooring buoys laid for visitors, telephone Kings Boatyard on 01473 780258 for information about those.
Landing is made on the public hard and is unlikely to be a clean affair, especially at low water. The hard is not steep, and if the tide is making you will have to haul your dinghy right up to the top. Likewise if you arrive at high water the dinghy will have to be got down the hard later. A gutaway running beside it may save dragging and lugging.
The only facilities here are the pub, a water tap, the two boatyards and some scrubbing posts. A walk inland to the village of Chelmondiston will turn up a general stores, a further pub and the Chinese takeaway...
Royal Harwich Yacht Club.
This club offers hospitality to visiting yachtsman and also reserves visitors berths in it's own Marina directly in front of the club. (Just before you get to the MDL owned Woolverstone Marina). It's berths lay Directly opposite the green conical Cathouse buoy, on the southern side of the River. Overnight mooring is possible by arrangement, telephone the Berthing Master, costs work out at £28 daily for a 10 m boat(2021). A link to their website is provided below:
The club has a long history of racing keel boats and dinghies while having a large cruiser section also. The club offers water and electricity on the visitors pontoon, with toilets and showers and laundry facilities at the impressive clubhouse.
There is a bar/restaurant here, and all the facilities are available during the season.
This comes up on the southern side immediately after the Royal Harwich Yacht Club. Full Marina facilities are available at this 5 Gold anchor award site.
The outer berths have water at all states of the tide, but if asked to berth deeper into the Marina be aware that the tide flows through it. Any kind of manoeuvring within while the tide is flooding or ebbing strongly will require some forethought and skill to avoid cringingly embarrassing situations. In common with the club moorings mentioned above the site is subject to swell from passing vessels...
The Marina also maintains plenty of moorings in the River, and the best plan is to contact them in advance on VHF channel 80 (Woolverstone Marina) or telephone 01473 780206. A link to their website is provided below:
Visitors rates (2021) are at £3.50 per metre per night. MDL have a loyalty scheme which you can find on their website
All the usual MDL facilities are available here, with the usual emphasis on tight security. Water/electricity (included in the mooring fee) are available on the pontoons, with toilets, showers and laundry facilities ashore. Very basic provisions are available at the minimart within the chandlers, while Buttermans bar/restaurant, also on-site, is open lunchtimes Monday to Thursday, and all day Fridays Saturdays and Sundays.
Calor and camping gas are available, and a chandlery is on-site. Full boatyard services are available ashore, and facilities include a slipway, and a crane. Diesel is a available from the fuel barge, between the yacht club moorings and the Marina.
The nearest village is Chelmondiston (half a mile away), already mentioned in connection with Pin Mill.
Fox's Marina lies in Ostrich Creek, having passed under the bridge and the electricity pylons. The entry to the creek is no longer marked by the red can No.12 port hand buoy (Q.R) as this has been moved a couple of hundred yards down river. The turn to port into the creek is now marked by two unlit cardinal buoys to help you get in, an N cardinal and a S cardinal. Pass between these. The entrance channel is defined by lateral buoyage consisting of 2 green cones and 1 red can buoy. Closer in the way is marked by pile beacons, and the Marina berths are on the left hand side as you go in. The berths on the right-hand side belong to the Orwell Yacht Club.
Fox's Marina and boatyard are the home of Oyster Yachts, and if you berth here you will probably see many of these beauties in various stages of commissioning. Contact them on VHF channel 80 or callsign "Fox's Marina", or telephone 01473 694680 to enquire about a berth. A link to their website is provided below:
All the usual Marina facilities are available here, water and electricity on the pontoons, toilets and showers ashore. Good security with gated pontoons. Massive chandlery, Calor and camping gas are available and their fuel dock sells petrol and diesel. Prices here (2021) are £2.45 pmpn+ VAT per night.
Provisions are obtainable from nearby shops, and the Marina has its own club with a bar/restaurant.
The yard has full capacity to do deal with just about any problem you can think of on-site. Liftings are available up to 70 tonnes, and on-site specialists include but are not limited to rigging, engineering, electronics, undercover spray shops, stainless fabrications, osmosis treatment etc, etc.
The yard specialises in refits and repairs to both leisure and commercial craft.
This Marina is about 1 1/2 miles from Ipswich, and is connected by a bus service. The local pub is a Beefeater establishment called The Oyster Reach.
The docks at Ipswich have been transformed somewhat and made yacht friendly, with two marinas and much regeneration including housing. The docks were in use by square rigged ships right up to the 1930s, and some commercial activity still takes place within.
Approach is made by following the River from Ostrich Creek, past all the quays and the Ro-Ro terminals on the Western side, the lock entrance will be seen dead ahead, while the New Cut branches off slightly to port. A waiting pontoon lies to starboard in the approach should it be required.
If you wish to use the lock it is best to call up on VHF channel 68, callsign " Ipswich Port Radio", or telephone 01473 213526 as you pass the Orwell Bridge on your way in. It is quite likely that your request will be accommodated straightaway, and you'll be given instructions.
Inside the lock there is a pontoon on the starboard side where you can tie up or raft out from, but entry is controlled by simple traffic lights on the control tower. Sometimes the lock operates free flow traffic around high water, but the traffic signals need to be observed and permission for entry obtained.
Once within the wet docks Ipswich Yacht Haven, run by Associated British Ports lies on your port hand side, with the visitors berths further in. At the north end and right on top of the town is the smaller Neptune Marina.
Ipswich Yacht Haven.
This is a full-service marina and the facilities include water and electricity on the pontoons and toilets and showers ashore. WiFi is available. Prices come out at £2.80 per metre per night, 2021)
Both diesel are available from the fuel berth and Calor gas and camping gas can be obtained.
Boats can be lifted up to 70 tonnes and there are various specialists and a chandlers on-site.
Contact the Marina on VHF channel 80 callsign Ipswich Haven Marina, or telephone 01473 236644. A link to their website is provided below:
There is a club on site, and plenty of other choices in the town.
This Marina is perhaps a little bit closer to the town and once again offers full Marina facilities. Water and electricity on the pontoons, with toilets and showers ashore. WiFi available. Their fuel berth is on the starboard hand side as you approach and sells diesel.
They have a 30 tonne travel lift, a crane, and can offer normal boatyard facilities.
Contact them on VHF channel 80 callsign Neptune Marina, or telephone 01473 215204. A link to their website is provided below:
An overnight berth here (2021) for a 30ft boat works out at £32.50 including electricity and that hasn't changed now for a couple of years.
Both the above marinas are very close to all the facilities of Ipswich town.
In the approach to the lock you will see New Cut branching off on your port hand side. The River Gipping joins up with the Orwell at this point. There is a structure built into the bottom of the Creek here that controls water velocity. It is sometimes raised and then lurks just below the surface. To put this into perspective, apart from engineering tests it's only been used twice for real in 15 years ! Three vertical red lights warn of this situation, so keep a close eye if planning to enter New Cut. Also it is not wise to cut the corner when entering, get past the red can buoy Blackwall Bight (Q.R) before turning to port.
Within New Cut on the port hand side is Debbage Yachting. They have various pontoon berths that normally have water, and are accessible usually 2 hours either side of low water. They only dry out at LWS and then to very soft mud, thus are able to handle moderate fin keeled boats. Overnight visitors rates are £10.
This welcoming family run outfit may well be worth considering should you need to abandon your boat in Ipswich for a period of time. The rates here are far cheaper than the marinas, for instance a 30 foot boat would cost £42 plus VAT for a whole week.
Water, electricity are available, with showers and toilets ashore for the crew. Cranage is available up to 12 tonnes and small repairs can be undertaken. Boats can be stored in a locked compound and road transport delivery handled.
The yard can be contacted on 01473 601169, and a link to their website is provided below:
The moorings here are very close to Ipswich town centre, so there are a wide range of pubs, restaurants, shops, and leisure facilities within easy walking distance as well as a launderette.
That about covers the mooring up opportunities in the Orwell and Ipswich areas.
Some details have already been given of what facilities you can expect to find around the various marinas and mooring places in the River Orwell.
For any kind of big town facilities and serious provisioning you will need to be near to Ipswich, either at Fox's, Debbages, or the two marinas in the docks.
Ipswich itself has plenty of supermarkets reasonably close by, and good transport connections. The railway station is not too far from the docks, and connects with Norwich and London. National Express coaches provide services too, and local buses serve nearby villages.
For the Trailer Sailer there are a few launching opportunities in the Orwell. Nearer to the entrance there is Suffolk Yacht Harbour, and they have a steep concrete ramp which is accessible at the full tidal range. The cable and pulley system makes easier work of the steep ramp. Charges here work out at £10 for boats over 6 m and £20 for 6 to 8 m boats. Telephone them for details on 01473 659465.
The public hard at Pin Mill is very long and shallow, therefore not suitable for launching other than dinghies by hand trolley.
Woolverstone Marina also have a concrete ramp available at half the tidal range. Charges here work out between £10 and £20 depending on size. As well as that they have a diesel pontoon that you can use in passing (like a petrol station!)
Altogether for the boat owner the Orwell and Ipswich area offer just about every facility that could be needed, a quick glance through the directory will reveal all kinds of specialists. It is not too difficult to find a marina berth somewhere here even during busy periods. You also have the choice between rural peace and quiet and the busy town.
The River Orwell flows through the county of Suffolk in England. Its source river, above the tidal limit, is known as the River Gipping. It broadens into an estuary at Ipswich and flows into the North Sea at Felixstowe after joining with the River Stour at Shotley. The large Orwell Bridge carries the A14 trunk road over the estuary just east of Ipswich.
In the name Orwell, Or- comes from an ancient river-name — probably pre-Celtic; but -well probably indicates an Anglo-Saxon naming. In A tour through England and Wales written in 1722, Daniel Defoe calls the river "Orwel" (though does this inconsistently). He also mentions that "a traveller will hardly understand me, especially a seaman, when I speak of the River Stour and the River Orwell at Harwich, for they know them by no other names than those of Maningtre-Water, and Ipswich-Water".
The writer Eric Blair chose the pen name under which he would later become famous, "George Orwell", because of his love for the river.
The Orwell provides a popular venue for sailing. Interest originally centred on the hamlet of Pin Mill (featured in two children's novels by Arthur Ransome: We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea and Secret Water) and its "hard", and is home to the Pin Mill Sailing Club. A charming film, "Ha'penny Breeze," was made in Pin Mill, featuring a yacht that was based in the area. For many years Pin Mill was a centre for the repair of Thames sailing barges. During World War II, Pin Mill was home to Royal Navy MLs (Motor Launches) and to a degaussing vessel created from a herring drifter, and prior to the Normandy invasion in 1944 was also home port, with Woolverstone, to many LCTs (Landing Craft, Tanks) used in the invasion.
Since the 1970s marinas have opened at Levington (Suffolk Yacht Harbour, pictured), Woolverstone, Fox's (just outside Ipswich), and two marinas in the old Ipswich Wet Dock. Woolverstone is home to the Royal Harwich Yacht Club that was for many years host to the Swordfish 15-foot racing dinghy built by Fairey Marine, in addition to its 12-foot Firefly, a derivative of the National 12-foot dinghy, both designed by the great sailor Uffa Fox.
The text on this HISTORY page is covered by the following licence
The rural marinas and mooring places have their own attractions/nearby villages, and these matters have already been touched on.
For those more interested in towns and thus moored either in or near to Ipswich, there is an enormous choice of things to do and places to eat and drink.
For those interested in history the Ipswich Museum would be worth a visit, while the arts and theatre are well represented in this town too. A multiscreen cinema is close to the docks.
Just about every style of restaurant can be found nearby including, but not limited to, Mexican, Indian, Thai, Chinese, and vegetarian.
Pubs include plenty of real ale hostelries including a couple of JD Wetherspoons and various cask ale specialists.
A couple of links are provided below to point you in the right direction: