Cowes Harbour and the River Medina see over 30,000 movements of commercial vessels each year, as well as a constant flow of leisure traffic on passage to and from marinas and river moorings.
Good seamanship calls for the fairways, which extend from the northernmost harbour limit near Prince Consort buoy down south to the Folly Inn and beyond, to be navigated with caution and due regard to other vessels.
In particular, all vessels are required to keep to the starboard side of the Outer and Inner Fairways when practicable. However, large commercial vessels can often only navigate in the centre of the fairways and smaller vessels must not impede their passage.
Approaching Cowes from the west
If approaching from the west, stay 125m from the shore to avoid rocks along The Green and stay clear of the row of yellow swinging moorings (March-October).
The Cowes Outer Fairway extends 500m north of Nos. 1 and 2 buoys. All vessels must comply with Rule 9 of the Collision Regulations: Navigation in Narrow Channels. Vessels should enter and leave the Inner Harbour between the green No. 1 and red No. 2 fairway buoys.
Approaching Cowes from the east
If approaching from the east, pass 200m north of Old Castle Point leaving the Shrape Beacon to port. Pass north of the swinging moorings and Cowes Breakwater. Small vessels up to 20m in length may use the Eastern Channel.
Vessels entering the Inner Fairway from the Eastern Channel or marinas should do so with caution and give way to any vessel already within the Inner Fairway. Before starting any manoeuvre to turn across the vessel traffic or enter any marina always give close attention to all other vessels in the vicinity, especially those astern.
Diagram of Cowes Harbour Fairways. Download a PDF of diagram.
Be prepared for large Red Funnel vehicle ferries and Red Funnel freight ferries entering the harbour and turning across the Fairway when approaching the East Cowes terminal, and for fast Red Jet passenger ferries crossing the traffic lane when departing from Cowes Town Quay.
A sailing vessel fitted with an auxiliary engine must proceed with the engine running and ready for immediate use in the Inner Harbour.
Inner Fairway Precautionary Areas
Two new Inner Fairway Precautionary Areas are used by ferries for manoeuvring and highlight where vessel traffic merges between the Inner Fairway and Eastern Channel. Mariners are advised to navigate with particular caution and keep a good lookout.
Sound signals for manoeuvring may help to clarify your intentions. Do not overtake other vessels unless you can do so without exceeding the 6 knot speed limit and beware of passing too close; it may be safer to remain astern rather than sit abreast of another vessel whilst overtaking slowly.
Certain activities are not permitted within the main harbour fairways: towing of persons; kite surfing; wind surfing; paddle boarding, and swimming as per General Direction 4.4.