Cowes is one of the most visited ports on the South Coast and hosts an unequalled number of racing events and cruising rallies every season. In addition to the recreational craft there are also a considerable number of commercial movements with high-speed ferries, car ferries, and commercial craft up to 100 metres in length moving in and out of the harbour and river.
Due to the amount and variety of traffic that you may encounter it is important to understand how to avoid collisions and make a safe approach and entry.
Cowes Harbour is accessible at all states of the tide and has good all-round shelter in the upper reaches. When approaching from the east keep 2 cables off Old Castle Point to avoid The Shrape Mud.
Enter and leave the harbour by the main fairway, between the red can buoy No. 2 and the green conical buoy No. 1.
Small craft <20m may use the small craft channel which allows vessels arriving or departing from the north or east to avoid the main fairway entrance. The depth in the approaches to the channel are approximately chart datum meaning that if your draught is deeper than the current tide height you will NOT have sufficient water (see LNTM 09 of 2012 for full details).
During the summer season, a large number of individual swinging moorings exist to the eastward of the main fairway. Visiting craft should not go through these lines of swinging moorings, unless specifically with the intention of proceeding to a mooring, as a full appreciation of tidal set is necessary to avoid being set down onto moored yachts. The use of anchors within the complex of swinging moorings is prohibited, owing to the numerous ground chains which exist in this area.
The red can buoys Nos. 4 and 6 mark the eastern edge of the main channel up to the area of the Chain Ferry.
The speed limit within Cowes Harbour jurisdiction is 6 knots over the ground. Exceptions to this rule may be made on occasion, as authorised, over a course appointed and regulated by the Harbour Master. The maximum speed limit will not, however, exonerate the owner, Master or crew thereof of the responsibility of reducing speed as necessary in the observance of normal practice of seamanship when passing mooring trots, boats alongside wharves, jetties, pontoons, vessels engaged in maritime works and in any other circumstances which could endanger the safety of other persons, vessels, boats or properties or cause damage thereto.
Mariners are advised to keep a lookout for the approach and departure of the Red Funnel Car Ferries and Red Jet Catamarans. The Town Quay basin and its approaches are congested areas, often with vessels navigating in close proximity of the Red Funnel ‘Red Jet’ Terminal. All vessels must keep a proper look out and navigate with caution in this busy area. See Cowes Local Notice to Mariners No. 02 of 2006.
Power boats and motor cruisers should, at all times, when possible, endeavour to give a wide berth to all yachts engaged in racing and reduce speed when in close proximity.
All users of small craft are reminded of the dangers that can arise unexpectedly from the wash of passing vessels. In deciding whether to wear lifejackets it should be remembered that no harm comes from wearing them in even the most benign conditions and that they may save lives if an unexpected event occurs. This general recommendation comes directly from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency after a fatal accident in the North Sea.
Water skiing is prohibited within the harbour limits. Board sailing and kite sailing are prohibited in the approaches and within main navigable channels. Personal watercraft shall observe the 6 knot speed requirements and remain in the main navigable fairway (except to make the shortest approach to a recognised landing area), and keep clear of all areas where vessels are moored.
Swimming is prohibited within the main navigable fairway and its approaches, and in the areas around berthing/mooring facilities within the harbour.
Underwater diving activities (without a valid dive permit issued by the Harbour Master) are prohibited.
Any violation of these byelaws may result in prosecution and a substantial fine.
It is an offence to dump any garbage or refuse overboard within Cowes Harbour. Masters of vessels should seek detailed advice from the Harbour Office, Agent, Yacht Club or Marina concerning the way in which various types of waste are to be disposed of in the proper manner. See Cowes Harbour Commission Port Waste Management Plan.
Berth operators, marinas, shipyards and other water frontages provide reception facilities for garbage originating from the boats using their berths and arrange for the suitable disposal of such garbage.
Boats moored in the river or at anchor should retain their garbage on board until the vessel is berthed alongside, or take ashore to recognised garbage facilities. Large green garbage bins are situated adjacent to public landings.
Commercial and large private pleasure craft anchored or moored in Cowes Roads may make arrangements via Cowes Harbour Office for collection of garbage. There will be a charge levied at cost for this service.
South of the Chain Ferry the main fairway lies between the moorings on either side. All sailing vessels, if fitted with mechanical propulsion are strongly advised to proceed under power when navigating in the main Fairway of Cowes Harbour and the River Medina.
South of the Kingston Power Station (East Cowes) the main fairway to the Folly Inn and Newport is close to the moorings which lay on the starboard (west) side of the main channel. The red can buoys, Nos. 8 and 10 mark the eastern side of the fairway. Yachts with a draft in excess of 1.5 metres (5 feet) should proceed with caution at low water between the Kingston Power Station and the Folly Inn where the depth is in places 0.6 metres below chart datum.
Owing to the presence of underwater electricity cables and gas pipelines, there is a ‘no anchoring’ area southwards from Kingston Power Station, as indicated on navigational charts and notice boards on the river banks. Vessels shall also avoid anchoring in the vicinity of the Chain Ferry or within the fairways.
Upstream of Cowes the river is navigable as far as Newport Quay from –0130 HW Portsmouth to +0230 with 2 metres draft. Showers and toilets are available at Newport Quay. Above the Folly Inn the channel is buoyed but not lit. Half a mile up river of the Folly is Island Harbour Marina, which has an entrance lock open HW +/- 0330, with 1.8 metre draft.
A new training pontoon has been installed by Cowes Harbour Commission in the vicinity of No. 8 Fairway buoy. This pontoon is to be used by vessels wishing to practise berthing and unberthing manoeuvres and to encourage vessels not to practise on sections of resident and visitor pontoons.