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Cowes Outer Harbour Project

Cowes Outer Harbour Project

The Cowes Outer Harbour Project (OHP) has provided Cowes and East Cowes (together 'Cowes') with a sheltered harbour environment via the delivery of the Cowes Breakwater and Eastern Channel.

The Cowes Outer Harbour Project was a major infrastructure project, involving the construction of an outer breakwater, the detached Cowes Breakwater, and the dredged Eastern Channel. Over a 10-year period, Cowes Harbour Commission (CHC) invested over £4.6 million into the Outer Harbour Project to maximise the potential of Cowes Harbour and its adjacent waterfront marine employment sites for the long-term economic future for all harbour and Island stakeholders.

Cowes is not a natural harbour and was very exposed to northerly winds, which have in the past caused major damage to, for example, the Venture Quays pontoons, boats in the Inner Harbour, vessels and pontoons at Cowes Yacht Haven and Shepards Marina, and the Trinity Landing pontoons.

Phase 1: Cowes Breakwater Project
The Cowes Breakwater was built to provide vital shelter and protection to the Inner Harbour, including the central day class moorings, vessels in the harbour, marinas including Cowes Yacht Haven and Shepards Marina, the Red Funnel ferries, and waterfront businesses on the West Cowes side as well as the East Cowes side of the Medina Estuary.

Phase 1 of the Outer Harbour Project, construction of the new detached Cowes Breakwater, began in May 2014. Following a tender process, CHC and their partners at Homes England (formerly Homes and Communities Agency) appointed Boskalis Westminster on a design and build contract. This was a £7.5m project including a fixed price contract of £7m with Boskalis Westminster; funding being from Homes England providing £3m of inward investment and CHC contributing the remainder of the cost.

The initial construction phase was completed in October 2014, at which point the gravel core was visible approximately 4 metres clear of Low Water spring tides. Following a winter settlement period, Boskalis Westminster returned in February 2015 for a week of re-shaping work. In July 2015 Boskalis Westminster mobilised for the final stages of the build. This involved bringing the slopes of the core into profile and the placement of rock armour protection. The placement of rock armouring layers was carried out in autumn 2015, to deliver the completed 350 metre long, detached rock armoured breakwater.

Navigation information can be found at:

Cowes Breakwater Project videos
Videos associated with the Cowes Breakwater Project can be viewed by clicking on the links below:

The Cowes Breakwater Project - Isle of Wight (August 2014)

Why Build a Breakwater for Cowes Harbour? ( June 2015)

Pre Cowes Breakwater build - rough seas at Cowes (June 2015) 

Cowes Breakwater slideshows of images
A photographic record of the Cowes Breakwater Project is given in the Flickr slideshows below, starting from August 2013 when ground investigations of the seabed in Cowes Harbour were carried out to provide important geotechnical data:


Phase 2: Dredged Eastern Channel & Shrape Breakwater extension
The Phase 2 harbour infrastructure was due to be delivered under a ‘Harbour Infrastructure Funding Agreement’ (HIFA) between Homes England, their developers, and CHC.

In autumn 2018, Homes England informed CHC that their East Cowes development partner Victoria Quay Estates Limited (VQEL) had decided they were unable to proceed with the planned Victoria Quay Marina East Cowes development and would be terminating their agreement with Homes England.

As a significant part of the Outer Harbour Project and in spite of the Homes England led Victoria Quay Marina development not progressing, CHC approved the upfront funding of the Eastern Channel dredge.

The dredging works to construct the Eastern Channel commenced in January 2019 with CHC’s contractor Jenkins Marine and the project was completed on time and as planned, before the close of the MMO (Marine Management Organisation) consented window that ran to the end of March.

In line with CHC’s priority and overriding responsibility for navigational safety and strategic objective to deliver improvements to harbour access, the Eastern Channel provides a more direct route to the Solent than the previous Small Craft Channel, allowing smaller vessels safe access to and egress from the harbour, reducing the potential conflict with the larger ferry and commercial traffic movements.

The 35 metre wide Eastern Channel is dredged to 2.25 metres below chart datum, giving the minimum depth of water in the Channel as equal to the height of tide plus 2.25 metres. Small craft, up to 20m in length, approaching from or departing to the north or east can now use the Eastern Channel and avoid the busy main harbour entrance.

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Cowes OHP completed
Now that the Cowes Breakwater has been constructed and the capital dredge of the Eastern Channel completed, the Outer Harbour Project to transform Cowes into a sheltered harbour has been delivered.

CHC does not intend to progress the planned extension to the Shrape Breakwater at this time. CHC has determined the construction of the Shrape extension is not warranted unless marine development goes ahead in the future on the Venture Quays site in East Cowes that requires the increased sea defence protection.

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