Sailing in Dorset


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Dorset is a world-class sailing location and Weymouth and Portland hosted the sailing events of the London 2012 Olympics. The stunning views and world heritage coastline makes sailing in Dorset an unforgettable experience.  There is a wealth of facilities for sailors at the many marinas situated along the coast.  Learning to sail is easy with lots of locations and courses to choose from.

What do I need?

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

If you have your own boat then you can use the iCoast map look at the tides, currents and water sports weather.  If you are keen to learn then find out the location of all the sailing training centres in Dorset. All of the Sailing training centres on the iCoast map run RYA approved courses which teach you 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.  Junior courses are also available, and there are several training centres approved as RYA Sailability centres, which enable disabled people to enjoy the exciting sport of sailing.  The RYA have also launched a Sailability equipment directory full of information and advice on equipment for disabled sailors

If you already have some basic skills in dinghy sailing then why not hire a dinghy for an hour, half day, or even a whole day from one of the dinghy hire centres.

When is the best time to do it?

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


Planning your trip

Planning your trip

 What to look out for

Sailing along the Dorset coast can offer fantastic opportunities to see wildlife such as seabirds and 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. There may be other users in the water including swimmers and divers so you should be observant and careful when you are out.

Watch out for the environment

  • Think about whether you are going to be going through or landing at any areas that are important for wildlife.
    • The Dorset coast has many areas that are important for wildlife and birds.  These areas have restrictions at certain times of the year to help to protect the wildlife.  On iCoast please turn on the restricted areas icon to show these areas when planning your activity. 
  • Don’t linger for too long when you are close to wildlife– By all means look, but then move on. Keep back and stay slow around dolphins –
  • 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.
  • When you are within 300 metres of dolphins move at a constant slow speed, don’t go any closer than 100 metres.

For more information about how to behave around marine wildlife and some top tips for spotting marine wildlife visit The Green Blue Wildlife Guide

  • Avoid anchoring, dragging and boat wash in eelgrass (seagrass) sensitive areas because they::
    • Provides a sheltered home for lots of creatures including cuttlefish, fish, and spiny and the short-snouted seahorses.
    • Provides food for overwintering birds such as brent geese, wigeon and mute swans.
    • Stabilise the sediment.
  • Seagrass sensitive areas are marked within Poole Harbour, close to Whitley Lake. These areas are marked with buoys.
  • Take home all rubbish– do not discard rubbish at sea. 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.
  • Is your hull clean? In the springtime 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 non-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.
  • 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.

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.
  • 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. Follow the Sea Sense code, which tells you who has priority in which situation and how you can be more considerate to other sea users:

Read the full MCA 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 at:

  • 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. 
  • 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 webpage that helps you make mooring in a marina easy.
  • Plan your route and have a back-up plan– 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 marine environmental protection measures that apply. In your route plan it is best to suss out a few places where you can take refuge if the weather changes or if someone gets hurt. Having a GPS is great but they do fail sometimes so it is best to know your route and have an admiralty chart. You can buy admiralty charts from most chandleries in Dorset, find out where the closest chandlery to you is using the iCoast map.
  • Look at the restrictions layer on the iCoast Map – All the information you need on speed restrictions and areas to avoid such as bathing only areas and sea danger areas can be found on the iCoast map –
    • Sea danger areas –The Ministry of Defence operates 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 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 week days.
        • 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.
      • Sailing in Ports and Harbours –Ports and Harbours are very busy places so make sure you follow the rules:
        • Poole Harbour: Poole Harbour Commissioners provide guidance on sailing in Poole Harbour Poole Harbour Commissioners website
        • Portland Harbour – Portland Harbour Authority have produced a leaflet which includes guidance on speed limits, port and marina traffic signals. If you plan to sail in Portland Harbour then please read and follow the guidance on the Portland Port website
        • Christchurch Harbour – The Christchurch Harbour Sailing Club has created some navigational notes about Christchurch harbour and entrance. There is a 4 knots speed limit within the harbour.
      • Make yourself more visible by installing 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. Find out more about Radar reflectors at the RYA website.

Staying safe

  • 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 and you are not back on time.
  • Register your vessel with the CG66Voluntary 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.
  • 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 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. Advice Onboard is a personal face-to-face safety advice service that takes place on board your own craft. To find out more visit the RNLI sea safety page.
  • Carry emergency alerting equipmentso you can call for help, such as a VHF radio, flares, emergency position indicating radio beacons, personal locator beacons, man overboard devices – more information and advice on emergency alerting can be found at the RYA website.
  • Check the weather and tides and be aware of local hazards– Learn to interpret tide tables and weather forecasts.
  • Always wear a lifejacket or buoyancy aid – When out dinghy sailing a buoyancy aid is the best thing to wear but if you are out sailing you need to ensure that everyone on board is wearing a lifejacket. For advice on what to look for when choosing a lifejacket visit the RNLI website
  • Be sun smart
    • Always wear SPF factor 30 and above waterproof sun cream. Reapply 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.

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