The Wash and its approaches have, over time, acquired a somewhat tarnished reputation as somewhere to sail. A study of the relevant charts however, while clearly showing many inter-tidal areas requiring caution, also reveals sufficient deep water for safe navigation without undue concern. The commercial ports of King’s Lynn, Boston, Wisbech and Sutton Bridge, with their regular flow of short sea trading vessels bear witness to there being draft enough for the average cruising yacht.

And because of these ports, buoyage is extensive, inshore surveys frequent and the data promulgated on the respective harbour authorities’ web pages are for the benefit of all.

It is true that features on the low-lying coasts can difficult to identify from a distance but a little time devoted to a plan, to include safe anchorages in case of need ensure a safe passage and timely arrival.

And having decided on a destination, there is invariably local knowledge available for the asking.

See our individual harbour pages for contact details.


Sailing the UK east coast, even for those who are new to it, should not present difficulty given its particular conditions are taken into account at an early stage. These being, for the most part, shoal waters and tides although the region is not unique in that.

Of greatest importance is the fact all the Wash and north Norfolk destination harbours are tidally constrained, an optimum time for arrival being essential to establish. Having said that, even when there is sufficient depth for entry, there could still be value in an arrival when the tide is slack as in some locations, especially over springs, tidal rates can catch out the unwary. Seeking local knowledge may be key.

Clearly, after a long and arduous passage there is a desire to be alongside as early as possible and as soon as the tide permits. However, if entering a harbour for the first time, seek out local knowledge. In most places, as long as someone knows your plan, there can be help at hand when you get there.

On that topic too, in most locations it is essential to check berth availability in advance. While all the moorings are first class and a perfect link with the region’s many attractions, arriving to find there is nowhere to moor can be more than an embarrassment as returning to sea might not be an option once the tide is away.

From the south

A likely approach for many will be a coastal passage, maybe after an overnight stop in Lowestoft from where the entry to the Wash will be approximately 66nm away. Alternatively, and after a 53nm passage sits the Wells Harbour fairway buoy and given the right conditions, Wells is not to be missed.

When sailing north out of Lowestoft however, the rate of tide through Yarmouth Roads is not to be underestimated and having some north going stream an important consideration until your course has some easting in it. Thereafter, deep enough water is to be found 2nm or so offshore and if the wind is off the land, a smooth passage results. An eye on the echo sounder remains a requirement nonetheless as well as a good lookout for crab and lobster pots, especially off Cromer and Sheringham. Some of these can carry little by way of top marks and if the passage is at night, particular vigilance is recommended. A rope around a propellor can spoil an enjoyable sail in an instant.

If Wells Harbour is your goal, arrival just before local high water should be the aim but more importantly, take heed of the advice on the harbour’s own website. If early, anchorages are shown on the chart (UKHO 108 and Imray Y9) in both Wells Road and Holkham Bay. Not advisable if the wind is or has been in the north but under these circumstances, Wells may not be tenable in any case.

From the WCM marking the start of the Wells approach channel, it is then 12nm to the Woolpack PHM on the eastern edge of the Wash proper. Shaping a course via Bridgirdle PHM and leaving it to port is advised as the Bridgirdle shoal remains a consideration. This shallower area has been around for a long time with little change which says much for its consistency.

An alternative, inshore passage through The Bays is possible, leaving Gore Middle and Middle Bank to starboard which brings into play The Bays anchorage, especially if shelter is required. The sandbanks are great breakwaters and have been used as such for centuries. However, while this inshore route is attractive, leaving Bridgirdle PHM to port should remain part of the plan unless draft is a lesser consideration but even then, not on a falling tide.

Upon entering the Wash, the Roaring Middle LF is the usual waypoint from which a course can be laid for whichever of the ports is the aim. Inshore pilotage details are on the individual ports’ own websites.

From the north

Given a cruise has included other harbour visits, there’s every chance your last port of call will have been either Grimsby or Hull but in any case, Spurn Head will be your tide influenced point of departure for passage purposes towards the Wash from the north.

Again, timing a passage to carry a flood tide into the Wash to arrive at a destination at local high water should be the aim but given it is approximately 40nm from Spurn to the Roaring Middle LF this can mean some adverse tide or a preparedness to kill time either at anchor or hove to. For more information, see the Day Cruising page.

A course 3+ nm offshore is fairly straightforward but should be shaped outside the Donna Nook bombing range yellow DZ buoys, for obvious reasons. Safe havens en-route are non-existent for all practical purposes and while there are tidal moorings in Saltfleet Haven, without good local knowledge and a boat which can take the ground, this is not an option.

Upon nearing the Wash, keeping landward of the Lynn and Inner Dowsing windfarms is again straightforward and love them or hate them, these structures make fine visual targets, especially towards the end of a passage. And from the SW corner of Lynn WF comes the decision over approach which will be conditioned by objective and weather.

If Boston or Fosdyke is the aim then it is perfectly valid to continue into Boston Deep leaving Outer Dogs Head to port. Be advised however that this route has long since been un-buoyed. Nevertheless, recent surveys have shown it to be entirely viable for yachts with typical draft. Around local LW but on a rising tide is a good time in that uncovered sands are a simpler prospect although weather, particularly wind direction will doubtless be a consideration.

Worthy of mention here is Wainfleet Haven, home to the Gibraltar Point Sailing Club. Not for everyone as entry is limited along with draft. More detail via www.gpsc.org.uk The Gibraltar Point National Nature Reserve is however, highly recommended.

This inshore route leads naturally to Lower Road and from the Freeman Channel there is good buoyage, this being the approach channel for the port of Boston (River Witham) as well as Fosdyke (River Welland). Tabs Head is the where one decides. If early, an anchorage to await the tide is possible in the vicinity of the PHM Foxtrot but be mindful to keep well to landward and thus clear of Boston commercial shipping.

Inward passage beyond here will be conditioned by destination. If Fosdyke then refer to that port’s own website  If Boston then be advised entering the Witham without having made berthing arrangements in advance is, at the time of writing, not recommended. Below the sea lock; The Grand Sluice, there are no all-afloat moorings and entering the commercial dock basin is not an option. Above the sluice, non-tidal mooring options exist but the air draft is limited.

The deep water route into the Wash after leaving the Lynn and Inner Dowsing windfarms is via Lynn Knock SHM and North Well SWM. A prominent navigation aid and Racon. This is the logical passage if either King’s Lynn (River Great Ouse) or Wisbech (River Nene) are the objectives although it serves all ports via the respective, well buoyed approach channels.

A quick study of the chart (UKHO 1200, ImrayY9) will serve to reassure over depths in the Wash which are considerable when clear of the inter-tidal areas. For those mariners with lingering doubts over entering the Wash embayment, note that it is not unusual to find extremely large, ocean-going ships using it for temporary shelter.

And even if the weather is or has been brisk from the north or north east, given an approach to, in particular Sutton Bridge is made after half tide rising, good shelter can be found under almost any conditions.