The Solent is known internationally for its recreational value as a location for sailing and other watersports. Large numbers of both local people and visitors take part in recreational boating throughout the year. Sailing, windsurfing, kite surfing, diving, power boating and the use of personal watercraft all take place in various locations around its shores. Angling is also a very popular activity. There are sheltered harbours for novices and children and safe open water for the more experienced. Taking to the water is a fantastic way to appreciate the Solent's landscapes and seascapes, enjoy the fresh air and get some exercise.
The Marine and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is an excellent source of information for safety at sea and on the coast. This Agency is responsible throughout the UK for implementing the Government’s maritime safety policy. That includes co-ordinating search and rescue at sea through Her Majesty’s Coastguard, and checking that ships meet UK and international safety rules. It works to prevent the loss of lives at the coast and at sea, to ensure that ships are safe, and to prevent coastal pollution.
One of the most critical things to carry out before setting out on the water is to check the weather forecast and tide times. Being caught in adverse tidal conditions or inclement weather can soon lead to an emergency developing. Tide times are available from chandlers, local shops or the harbour authority office. There are several ways in which you can access the weather forecast, these include:
It is important that you have the right equipment and kit for the job and that you check your safety equipment regularly. Simple things like checking you have enough fuel for your expected trip is very important for motorised craft. Organisations such as the RYA and RNLI provide safety information for different types of watersports and this will help to make sure that you have the correct equipment and kit. It is important not to overestimate your ability, so rest when you are tired and keep hydrated. If possible always participate with someone else and always let a family member of friend know where you are going and what time you will be return.
Before setting off on the water you should consult the appropriate maritime chart and local harbour authority handbook (if applicable). These will contain local safety information and considerations such as restricted areas, areas difficult to navigate and any local zoning schemes or speed limits that may be in use. You should also obtain and read Notices to Mariners issued by the Harbour Authority, these will give up to date information on what water users need to be aware of. Notices to Mariners are issued from a number of different sources, such as the UK Hydrographic Office, Trinity House or Local Harbour Authorities and may contain a variety of information such as chart updates, changes in buoyage, prior warning of activities such as dredging, exclusion zones, harbour closures and byelaws etc.
There are many public launch points scattered around the Solent offering a varying degree of facilities. The well equipped have car and trailer parking, toilets and are available at all states of the tide. Please read the accompanying notices at the slipway to make sure that you launch your craft safely and do not impede other users. The local harbour authority will be able to provide you with information on slipways and there charges within their harbour. Another good source of information is Boat Launch, which can be viewed at www.boatlaunch.co.uk.
Numerous watersports events take place in the Solent throughout the year ranging from those for beginners to the competitive experienced sailor. Many are organised by local clubs and contacting them is a good way to find out about events taking place in a specific area. Large competitions such as Cowes week, held in August, is a must event in many sailor's diaries. Even for the non-competitor there is much to see and do at such events and thousands flock to watch. The Southampton International Boatshow is held in Southampton every September and is an excellent source of boating advice and products.
The annual Round the Island Race, organised by the Island Sailing Club, is a one-day yacht race around the Isle of Wight, an island situated off the south coast of England. The race regularly attracts over 1,700 boats and around 16,000 sailors, making it one of the largest yacht races. Competitors come from all over the UK, other parts of Europe and as far away as the USA to follow the 50 nautical mile course round the Isle of Wight. Starting on the famous Royal Yacht Squadron line in Cowes, the fleet races westabout, to The Needles, round St Catherine's Point and Bembridge Ledge buoy, and back into the Solent to the finish line at Cowes.
A good place to find out about events is by contacting the Solent Racing and Cruising Association on telephone 01983 295744 or visit www.scra.org.uk.
Harbour authorities are responsible for the management of many aspects of boating in their area of jurisdiction. They publish Notices to Mariners which give up to date information on what is happening in the harbour. They also provide information on events, clubs, launch points, moorings, local facilities, by laws and safety. Requesting a copy of their harbour handbook or visiting their website is a good idea as it will be full of useful information.
The easiest way to find out about the activities taking place, details of training courses and local clubs is to contact the appropriate governing body for that sport. They will be able to provide you with all the information and guidance that you need.
Relevant contact details are as follows:
There are a number of activity centres located throughout the Solent offering a wide range of courses to the public, schools, community groups and local businesses. They provide an excellent way to get out on the water, to learn a new watersport or improve existing skills. They will also teach you how to enjoy a sport safely and responsibly.