Cruising in Dorset.


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Motor or sail cruising is a great way to explore new places along the Dorset coast, from sheltered bays to bustling ports and harbour towns. Cruising in Dorset gives you the opportunity to view wildlife and the outstanding coastal geology that this area is so famous for. If you are planning to cruise along the along the South Coast, or even across to France, then stopping off in Dorset is a must because there are 15 marinas to choose from with facilities and locations to suit all.

What do I need?

For all types for cruising you need a boat, clothing for all weather conditions and safety equipment.

If you have just starting out then you can use the iCoast map to find out the location of all the training centres in Dorset. All of the training centres on the iCoast map run RYA approved courses which teach the basic principles of sailing with other like-minded people in fantastic locations along the Dorset Coast. The RYA Training Centres will provide all the safety and wet weather kit you need.

In Dorset RYA training centres run special courses for under 16 Sail cruisers and several centres are approved RYA Sailability centres, which enable disabled people to enjoy the exciting sport of sailing.  The RYA has also launched a Sailability equipment directory full of information and advice on equipment for disabled sailors.

When is the best time to do it?

Cruising in Dorset can be done all year round on the Jurassic coast, and many sailing centres run boat courses all year round too. You should always check the weather, tides and currents before you go out. During winter months the water is colder, winds stronger, there are rougher seas and fewer hours of daylight – this all needs to be taken into consideration.


Planning your trip

 What to look out for

Cruising along the Dorset coast can offer fantastic opportunities to see wildlife such as seabirds, seals and dolphins in their natural environment and opportunities to see the unique geology of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Coastline. The waters can get busy, especially close to amenity beaches with other users, such as, divers and swimmers in the water.  Do your bit: Watch out for wildlife.

  • The Dorset coast has some Special Protection Areas for birds. It is important not to disturb roosting or nesting birds between:
    • November and March when birds are “over wintering” and need to conserve energy reserves.
    • Mid-April to the end of June when birds are breeding. If birds are disturbed during this time then birds can abandon eggs or chicks.
  • Don’t linger for too long when you are close to wildlife– it’s great to look, but then move on. Keep back and stay slow around whales and dolphins:
    • When you are within 300 metres of dolphins move at a constant slow speed, don’t go any closer than 100 metres.
    • Avoid sudden or repeated changes in speed or direction.
    • Do not chase whales or dolphins when they leave you.
    • Do not attempt to approach mothers and young calves.
  • Report live strandings of cetaceans, and injured/entangled marine mammals to British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) on 01825 765546 (24 hours). Report all other live injured or entangled animals to RSPCA 0300 1234 999.
  • More information about how to behave around marine wildlife and some top tips for spotting marine wildlife.
  • Avoid anchoring, dragging and boat wash in eelgrass (seagrass) sensitive areas because it::
    • Provides a sheltered habitat for lots of wildlife including; cuttlefish, fish, and spiny and short-snouted seahorses.
    • Provides food for overwintering birds, such as brent geese, wigeon and mute swans.
    • Stabilises the sediment

Recreational boats can impact on seagrass beds by:

  • Vessel grounding – If this occurs it can uproot the plants.
  • Propeller wash- Scouring of the seabed and disturbance from wash can damage, dislodge and smother the seagrass plants.
  • Anchoring cause can damage.
  • Mooring can cause scarring and scouring
  • Seagrass-sensitive areas are marked out within Poole Harbour, close to Whitley Lake and are marked with buoys .

Become a Green Blue boat by following the Green Blue code

  • Is your hull clean? In the spring time many boaters lift out their boats to clean them. Having a clean hull can increase fuel efficiency; increase speed and can stop non-native invasive species spreading. An antifouling coating is used to stop unwanted marine organisms such as barnacles, algae and not native invasive species colonising the hull – Antifoul is toxic though so it is important to be careful when applying it – guidance on Antifouling and the marine environment
Watch out for other users
  • Share the water – Jetskiers, gig rowers, kitesurfers, anglers etc. all use the Dorset waters. It is important to be observant, careful and respectful when you are out cruising.
  • Keep your distance from other boats, especially diving boats that are flying the blue and white ‘Alpha’ flag – This flag means that divers are in the water.
  • Get skilled up in seamanship, navigation and the Rules of the Road to avoid conflict and collisions with other sea users. Be aware of who has priority in which situation and how you can be more considerate to other sea users.
  • Understand Kite surfers – When you come across a kite surfer while out cruising, it can be difficult to recognise which tack and course they are on. Being aware of kitesurfing can help you predict its movements and avoid a colliding with them.   
  • Plan your route– Plan your route using the iCoast map and admiralty charts, then you can ensure that you won’t end up in any busy shipping lanes and you can avoid any known navigational hazards and any sensitive or restricted areas. You can buy admiralty charts from most chandleries in Dorset, find out where the closest chandlery to you is using the iCoast map.
  • Install a radar reflector– If it is possible to use a radar reflector on your boat then you need to ensure you have installed the largest radar reflector possible. Radar equipment is used by commercial vessels to avoid collisions in bad weather or at night. Small vessels or vessels made of wood or fibre glass are hard to see on radar screens so installing a large radar reflector helps you be as visible as possible to other sea users.
  • Avoid sea danger areas –The Ministry of Defence operate in a number of areas along the Dorset coast. In order to keep safe and to avoid disturbing training and operations it is important to avoid the sea danger areas (see sea danger area on the iCoast map).
    • The Lulworth Ranges Sea Danger Area – the boundary of this area is shown in iCoast and in the below link. You can find out when the army are firing here by:
      • Reading the Lulworth Ranges – Information for Mariners
      • Contacting your local yacht club – Exact details of the firing programme are sent monthly in advance to all the main yacht clubs in the area.
      • Listening to the radio – Firing times are broadcast on Radio Solent (300m, 221m, 96.1 MHz and 103.8 MHz) during the shipping and weather news at about 0645 and 0745 hours on weekdays

If you are already out then it’s easy to see when firing is taking place because red flags are flown, and red flashing lights are displayed from the flag-staffs on Bindon Hill, Kimmeridge Bay and St. Albans Head. During firing, range safety boats are on station at the outer extremities of the danger area.

  • Take care when mooring in a marina– Marinas can be quite confined spaces with lots of moored boats and other vessels moving around so the RYA have put together a web page that helps you make mooring in a marina easy.

Guidance on distress signals and prevention of collision

The RYA offer a number of courses to help you get skilled up, find the right one for you.

Watch out for the environment
  • Take all rubbish home – do not discard rubbish at sea or on the beaches. Marine and beach litter spoils peoples experience of the Dorset coast, can harm marine wildlife and can disrupt commercial industries, such as by litter getting tangled up in fishermen’s nets. Find out more about Marine litter in Dorset.

Staying Safe

Stay safe by following these simple steps:

  • Always tell somebody responsible where you are going and when you will be back. They will be able to raise the alarm by calling 999 and asking for the Coastguard if they get worried if you are not back on time.
  • Register your vessel with the CG66– Voluntary Safety Identification Scheme. This scheme gives the Coastguard details of your vessel so that, if you get into trouble, they have all the information they need to mount a search and rescue operation. You can join online and the scheme is free.
  • Check your equipment and boat– The RNLI offer a completely free, friendly and confidential service that looks at safety aspects involved with your boat. Advice Onboard is neither a test nor an inspection and there is no pass or fail. SEA Check is a personal face-to-face safety advice service that takes place on board your own craft.
  • Carry emergency alerting equipment such as a VHF radio, flares, emergency position indicating radio beacons, personal locator beacons, man overboard devices so you can call for help  – more information and advice on emergency alerting.
  • Learn your life saving signals –If you get into trouble and search and rescue ship or plane comes to help then it is important that you know how to communicate with them properly using the internationally recognised life-saving signals. This leaflet tells you all you need to know in a simple, friendly way.
  • Check the weather and tides and be aware of local hazards– Learn to interpret tide tables and weather forecasts.
  • Wear a lifejacket–When out cruising you need to ensure that everyone on board is wearing a lifejacket. Advice on what to look for when choosing a lifejacket.
  • Be sun smart
    • Always wear SPF factor 30 and above waterproof sun cream. Re-apply frequently.
    • Drink plenty of fluids as you dehydrate faster while exercising.
    • Consider taking a rest and seeking shade during the hottest part of the day.
  • Be prepared for “Man overboard”– Man overboard is not really something anyone wants to think about but it is important that if one of your crew fell overboard you would know what to do. The RYA recommend having a regular drill in place, then you could buy yourself valuable time should the unthinkable ever happen. The RYA website has all the information you need to learn and follow in a “man overboard” situation and guidance on what you should do in your regular drill.    
  • Safe and Speedy – One of the most exciting things about motor cruising is the speed that you can travel at. Keep you and your crew safe when travelling at speed by:
    • Letting your crew know before you speed up, this gives then time to sit down and hang on.
    • Wearing a kill cord.
    • Looking out for other vessels.
    • Avoiding situations where you will need to change your direction quickly.

See the RYA guide on travelling at speed

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