The Solent coastline is around 241 miles long on the mainland between Selsey Bill and Hurst Spit, and includes Chichester, Langstone and Portsmouth Harbours, Southampton Water and the tidal extent of the main rivers. It is around 50 miles long from the Needles in the West to Bembridge in the East on the Isle of Wight. It is located at the southern margin of the Hamsphire Basin.
The Solent itself is the strait that separates the Isle of Wight from the mainland of England. It is about 20 miles (32 kilometres) long and varies in width between 21⁄2 and 5 miles (4 and 8 km), although the Hurst Spit which projects 11⁄2 mi (2.4 km) into the Solent narrows the sea crossing between Hurst Castle and Colwell Bay to just over 1 mile (1.6 km). It is considered to be the drowned valley of a river which once flowed east between the Isle of Wight and the mainland of Hampshire and West Sussex.
It encompasses a major estuarine system with four coastal plain estuaries (Yar, Medina, King's Quay Shore, Hamble) and four bar-built estuaries (Newtown Harbour, Beaulieu, Langstone Harbour, Chichester Harbour). The Solent and its inlets are unique in Britain and Europe for their hydrographic regime of four tides each day, and for the complexity of the marine and estuarine habitats present within the area.
Parts of the coast are characterised by coastal accumulation forms such as barrier spits and islands, for example, Hurst and Calshot spits in the west Solent and Hayling Island in the east Solent. Erosional coastal environments are present along the coast of the Isle of Wight.
The offshore areas show complex morphology with several offshore banks and deeply incised channels like the Hurst Narrows.
The Solent is one of the busiest waterways in the world and every year, passing by Calshot in and out of Southampton Water are 79,000 shipping movements, 1.2 million container movements, 170 cruise ship arrivals, and 22 million tonnes of crude oil shipped from the refinery.