Thames Estuary

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Coordinates: wiki 51°30′N0°35′E / 51.500°N 0.583°E / 51.500; 0.583


The half of the estuary that lies east of its narrow Tideway-named part, by the Operational Land Imager Thames Estuary and Wind Farms from Space NASA.jpg
The half of the estuary that lies east of its narrow Tideway-named part, by the Operational Land Imager
Simplified naval chart of 1884 28 of 'Our Seamarks; a plain account of the Lighthouses, ... Buoys, and Fog-signals maintained on our Coasts. ... With ... illustrations' (11285891284).jpg
Simplified naval chart of 1884

The Thames Estuary is where the River Thames meets the waters of the North Sea, in the south-east of Great Britain.



This limit of the estuary has been defined in two main ways: [1]


London Stone, Yantlet Creek London Stone, Yantlet 338.jpg
London Stone, Yantlet Creek

These limiting lines have three alternates: [1]


The estuary just east of the Tideway has a tidal range of 4 metres. Winds excluded, it moves at 2.6 knots (4.8 km/h; 3.0 mph) in bi-monthly spring tides. [3]



The estuary is one of the largest of 170 such inlets on the coast of Great Britain. It constitutes a major shipping route, with thousands of movements each year, including: large oil tankers, container ships, bulk carriers (of loose materials/liquids), and roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) ferries. It is the accessway for the Port of London (including London Gateway, associated Tilbury and Purfleet) and the Medway Ports of Sheerness, Chatham and Thamesport.

The traditional Thames sailing barge worked in this area, designed to be suitable for the shallow waters in the smaller ports.

Wind farms

A 2000s-decade-built wind farm is 8.5 km north of Herne Bay, Kent, on a shoal south-west of Kentish Knock. It is 30 wind turbines generating typically 82.4MW of electricity.

The much larger 630 MW London Array was inaugurated in 2013.

Greater Thames Estuary

A western cross-section of the estuary. Background runs from Tilbury (left) to Mucking Creek: looking north from Shorne, which is 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) south of the river Gravesendreach2.jpg
A western cross-section of the estuary. Background runs from Tilbury (left) to Mucking Creek: looking north from Shorne, which is 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) south of the river

The term Greater Thames Estuary [4] applies to the coast and the low-lying lands bordering the estuary. These are characterised by the presence of mudflats, low-lying open beaches, and salt marshes, namely the North Kent Marshes and the Essex Marshes. Man-made embankments are backed by reclaimed wetland grazing areas, but rising sea levels may make it necessary briefly to flood some of that land at spring tides, to take the pressure off the defences and main watercourses.

The Blackwater Estuary, on the Essex coast, in the northern part of the Greater Thames Estuary. Mersea Island is on the right. Thames estuary (aerial view).jpg
The Blackwater Estuary, on the Essex coast, in the northern part of the Greater Thames Estuary. Mersea Island is on the right.

There are many smaller estuaries in Essex, including the rivers Colne, Blackwater and Crouch. Small coastal villages depend on an economy of fishing, boat-building, and yachting. [5] The Isle of Sheppey, the Isle of Grain, Canvey Island, Two Tree Island, Havengore Island, New England Island, Rushley Island, Potton Island, Foulness Island and Mersea Island are part of the coastline. [6]

Where higher land reaches the coast, there are some larger settlements, such as Clacton-on-Sea to the north in Essex, Herne Bay, Kent, and the Southend-on-Sea area within the narrower part of the estuary.

The Thames Estuary is the focal part of the 21st-century toponym, the "Thames Gateway", designated as one of the principal development areas in Southern England.

The Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission report published in June 2018 identified the economic potential of the region. In 2020 the Thames Estuary Growth Board [7] was appointed, led by government-appointed Envoy Kate Willard OBE, to unlock the potential of the UK's number one green growth opportunity.

Entrepreneurs and investors have looked at the greater estuary as a possible place for a new airport, [8] and have expanded Southend Airport in the 2010s, which has a rail link to Liverpool Street station, London among others.


Official nameThames Estuary and Marshes
Designated5 May 2000
Reference no.1025 [9]

The Thames flowing through London is an archetypal, well-developed economy urban, upper river estuary with its sedimentary deposition restricted through manmade embankments and occasional dredging of parts. It is mainly a freshwater river about as far east as Battersea, insofar as the average salinity is very low and the fish fauna consists predominantly of freshwater species such as roach, dace, carp, perch, and pike. It becomes brackish between Battersea and Gravesend, and the diversity of freshwater fish is smaller, primarily roach and dace. Euryhaline species then dominate, such as flounder, European seabass, mullet, and smelt. Further east salinity increases and conditions become fully marine and the fish fauna resemble that of the adjacent North Sea, a spectrum of euryhaline and stenohaline types. An alike pattern of zones applies to the aquatic plants and invertebrates. [10] [11]

Cultural references

Joseph Conrad lived in Stanford-le-Hope close to the Essex marshes. His The Mirror of the Sea (1906) contains a memorable description of the area as seen from the Thames. He refers to this area in the first pages of his novel Heart of Darkness , describing it as both the launching place of England's great ships of exploration and colonization and, in ancient times, the site of colonization of the British Isles by the Roman Empire.


The form of speech of many of the people of the area, principally the accents of those from Kent and Essex, is often known as Estuary English. The term is a term for a milder variety of the "London Accent". The spread of Estuary English extends many hundreds of miles outside London, and all of the neighbouring home counties around London have residents who moved from London and brought their version of London accents with them, leading to interference with the established local accents. The term London Accent is generally avoided, as it can have many meanings. Forms of "Estuary English", as a hybrid between Received pronunciation and various London accents, can be heard in all of the New Towns, all of the coastal resorts, and in the larger cities and towns along the Thames Estuary.


For commercial shipping rounding the Nore sandbank and thus accessing Greater London, main deep-water routes were the Princes-Queens Channel and the South Channel to the south, to a lesser extent the Kings Channel and the Swin to the north. The Swin was used by barges and leisure craft from the Essex rivers, and coasters and colliers from the north east. These channels were made up of natural troughs; Yantlet Channel (Sea Reach), Oaze Deep, Knock John Channel, Black Deep/Black Deep Channel which have been much-marked. These are separated by slow-moving sandbanks with names such as the East and West Barrows, the Nob, the Knock, Kentish Knock, the John, the Sunk, the Girdler, and Long Sand/the Long Sands. [12]

Shallow-bottomed barges and coasters would navigate the swatchways at flood tide, and would cross the sand banks at spitways, points where the water was least shallow, and just deep enough at that point of the tide. If they missed the moment they would heave to (lay anchor) and wait for the next tide.

Recreational craft are expected use channels most suited to the size of their vessel. Their main guide says to use when navigating to or from:

To cross the south-east quarter of the estuary large vessels use Fisherman's Gat, and small vessels to were expected to use Foulger's Gat. [13]

Map all coordinates using: OpenStreetMap  
Download coordinates as: KML

This table shows, from west to east, the principal navigation lights, buoys and other marks to the north (port) and south (starboard) of the main deep-water channels of the River Thames from Gallions Reach to the Sunk Light Float. [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] The Thames is in IALA region A so port buoys are red and starboard buoys are green.

Thames estuary navigation marks

Name of navigational markSouth of channelChannelNorth of channel
Type Light Location coordinateType Light Location coordinate
Margaretness Point (or Tripcock Ness) Light Lighthouse Group flashing (2) white 5s 51°30.662′N0°05.766′E / 51.511033°N 0.096100°E / 51.511033; 0.096100 (Margaretness Point) Gallions Reach / Barking Reach̶̶̶
Crossness Point LightLighthouseFlashing white 5s 51°30.920′N0°07.990′E / 51.515333°N 0.133167°E / 51.515333; 0.133167 (Crossness Point Light) Barking Reach / Halfway Reach̶̶̶
Crayfordness Point LightLighthouseFlashing white 5s + fixed 51°28.689′N0°13.000′E / 51.478150°N 0.216667°E / 51.478150; 0.216667 (Crayfordness Point Light) Erith Rands / Long Reach̶̶̶
Stone Ness Light̶̶̶Long Reach / St Clement's ReachLighthouseFlashing green 2.5s 51°27.9167′N0°16.8231′E / 51.4652783°N 0.2803850°E / 51.4652783; 0.2803850 (Stone Ness Light)
Broadness Point LightLighthouseOcculting red 5s 51°27.878′N0°18.900′E / 51.464633°N 0.315000°E / 51.464633; 0.315000 (Broadness Point Light) St Clement's or Fiddler's Reach / Northfleet Hope̶̶̶
Tilbury Warning Light̶̶̶Gravesend ReachWarning light, vessels manoeuvring at TilburyIsophase 6s 51°27.000′N0°21.340′E / 51.450000°N 0.355667°E / 51.450000; 0.355667 (Gravesend Reach)
Shornmead LightLighthouseGroup flashing (2) white, red 10s 51°26.983′N0°26.533′E / 51.449717°N 0.442217°E / 51.449717; 0.442217 (Shornmead Light) Gravesend Reach / The Lower Hope̶̶
Ovens̶̶̶The Lower HopeQuick flashing green 51°27.493′N0°26.355′E / 51.458217°N 0.439250°E / 51.458217; 0.439250 (The Lower Hope)
Haven Traffic Warning LightsWarning light, vessels manoeuvring at CorytonE 51°27.90′N0°30.10′E / 51.46500°N 0.50167°E / 51.46500; 0.50167 (Coryton) The Lower Hope / Sea ReachWarning light, vessels manoeuvring at CorytonWhite 51°30.50′N0°31.65′E / 51.50833°N 0.52750°E / 51.50833; 0.52750 (Coryton)
London Gateway̶̶̶Sea ReachBuoy 51°30.30′N0°28.20′E / 51.50500°N 0.47000°E / 51.50500; 0.47000 (Sea Reach)
Sea Reach № 7Port buoy

Racon T

Flashing Red 2.5s 51°30.011′N0°36.908′E / 51.500183°N 0.615133°E / 51.500183; 0.615133 (Sea Reach No. 7 port) The Yantlet ChannelYellow pillar buoyFlashing yellow 2.5s 51°30.206′N0°36.938′E / 51.503433°N 0.615633°E / 51.503433; 0.615633 (Sea Reach No. 7 starboard)
Sea Reach № 6Port buoyFlashing red 5s 51°29.932′N0°39.839′E / 51.498867°N 0.663983°E / 51.498867; 0.663983 (Sea Reach No. 6 port) Starboard buoyFlashing green 5s 51°30.126′N0°39.867′E / 51.502100°N 0.664450°E / 51.502100; 0.664450 (Sea Reach No. 6 starboard)
Sea Reach № 5Port buoyVery quick flashing red 51°29.848′N0°41.426′E / 51.497467°N 0.690433°E / 51.497467; 0.690433 (Sea Reach No. 5 port) Starboard buoyVery quick flashing Green 51°30.041′N0°41.473′E / 51.500683°N 0.691217°E / 51.500683; 0.691217 (Sea Reach No. 5 starboard)
Sea Reach № 4Port buoyGroup flashing (2) red 5s 51°29.504′N0°44.121′E / 51.491733°N 0.735350°E / 51.491733; 0.735350 (Sea Reach No. 4 port) Starboard buoyGroup flashing (2) green 5s 51°29.694′N0°44.193′E / 51.494900°N 0.736550°E / 51.494900; 0.736550 (Sea Reach No. 4 starboard)
Sea Reach № 3Port buoyQuick flashing red 51°29.221′N0°46.707′E / 51.487017°N 0.778450°E / 51.487017; 0.778450 (Sea Reach No. 3 port) Starboard buoyQuick flashing green 51°29.410′N0°47.061′E / 51.490167°N 0.784350°E / 51.490167; 0.784350 (Sea Reach No. 3 starboard)
Sea Reach № 2Port buoyFlashing red 5s 51°29.296′N0°49.754′E / 51.488267°N 0.829233°E / 51.488267; 0.829233 (Sea Reach No. 2 port) Starboard buoyFlashing green 5s 51°29.493′N0°49.726′E / 51.491550°N 0.828767°E / 51.491550; 0.828767 (Sea Reach No. 2 starboard)
Sea Reach № 1Port buoyFlashing red 2.5s 51°29.368′N0°52.445′E / 51.489467°N 0.874083°E / 51.489467; 0.874083 (Sea Reach No. 1 port) Yellow pillar buoy

Racon T

Flashing yellow 2.5s 51°29.586′N0°52.710′E / 51.493100°N 0.878500°E / 51.493100; 0.878500 (Sea Reach No. 1)
West Oaze̶̶̶The Oaze DeepRed & white buoyIsophase 5s 51°28.975′N0°55.413′E / 51.482917°N 0.923550°E / 51.482917; 0.923550 (West Oaze)
Oaze Bank̶̶̶Starboard buoyQuick flashing green
OazeYellow pillar buoyGroup flashing (4) Yellow 10s 51°28.977′N0°56.917′E / 51.482950°N 0.948617°E / 51.482950; 0.948617 (Oaze) ̶̶̶
Argus̶̶̶Yellow pillar buoy yellow ‘X’ topmarkFlashing yellow 2.5s 51°29.297′N0°58.715′E / 51.488283°N 0.978583°E / 51.488283; 0.978583 (Argus)
Oaze Deep̶̶̶Starboard buoyGroup flashing (2) green 5s 51°30.000′N1°0.000′E / 51.500000°N 1.000000°E / 51.500000; 1.000000 (Oaze Deep)
KnobRed & white buoyIsophase 5s̶̶̶
SE Mouse̶̶̶Starboard buoyQuick flashing green
Knock John № 7̶̶̶The Knock John ChannelStarboard buoyGroup flashing (4) green 15s 51°31.956′N1°06.406′E / 51.532600°N 1.106767°E / 51.532600; 1.106767 (Knock John No. 7)
Knock John № 5̶̶̶Starboard buoyGroup flashing (3) green 10s 51°32.490′N1°07.750′E / 51.541500°N 1.129167°E / 51.541500; 1.129167 (Knock John No. 5)
Knock John № 4Port buoyGroup flashing (3) red 10s 51°32.323′N1°07.906′E / 51.538717°N 1.131767°E / 51.538717; 1.131767 (Knock John No. 4) ̶̶̶
Knock John № 3̶̶̶Starboard buoyFlashing green 5s 51°33.278′N1°09.692′E / 51.554633°N 1.161533°E / 51.554633; 1.161533 (Knock John No. 3 starboard)
Knock John № 2Port buoyFlashing red 5s 51°33.112′N1°09.847′E / 51.551867°N 1.164117°E / 51.551867; 1.164117 (Knock John No. 2 port) ̶̶̶
Knock John № 1̶̶̶ South cardinal buoy Quick flashing white (6) + long flash 15s 51°33.717′N1°10.833′E / 51.561950°N 1.180550°E / 51.561950; 1.180550 (Knock John No. 1 Starboard)
Knock John Port buoyGroup flashing (2) red 5s 51°33.661′N1°11.357′E / 51.561017°N 1.189283°E / 51.561017; 1.189283 (Knock John No. 1 Port) ̶̶̶
Black Deep № 12Port buoyGroup flashing (4) red 15s 51°33.661′N1°13.511′E / 51.561017°N 1.225183°E / 51.561017; 1.225183 (Black Deep No. 12) The Black Deep Channel̶̶̶
Black Deep № 11̶̶̶Starboard buoyGroup flashing (3) green 10s 51°34.250′N1°13.475′E / 51.570833°N 1.224583°E / 51.570833; 1.224583 (Black Deep No. 11)
Black Deep № 10Port buoyGroup flashing (3) red 10s̶̶̶
Black Deep № 9̶̶̶ South cardinal buoy Quick flashing white (6) + long flash
Inner FishermanPort buoyQuick flashing red̶̶̶
Black Deep № 7̶̶̶Starboard buoyQuick flashing green
Black Deep № 8̶̶̶ West cardinal buoy Quick flashing white (9) 15s
BDM2Yellow pillar buoy (mid-channel)Flashing yellow 2.5s 51°37.370′N1°20.040′E / 51.622833°N 1.334000°E / 51.622833; 1.334000 (BDM2) ̶̶̶
Black Deep № 6Port buoyFlashing red 2.5s̶̶̶
Black Deep № 5̶̶̶ East cardinal buoy Very quick flashing white (3) 5s
Black Deep № 4Port buoyGroup flashing (2) red 5s̶̶̶
BDM1Yellow pillar buoy (mid-channel) yellow ‘X’ topmarkFlashing yellow 2.5s 51°41.960′N1°27.590′E / 51.699333°N 1.459833°E / 51.699333; 1.459833 (BDM1) ̶̶̶
Black Deep № 3̶̶̶Starboard buoyGroup flashing (3) green 15s
Black Deep № 1̶̶̶Starboard buoyFlashing green 5s
Black Deep № 2Port buoyGroup flashing (4) red 15s̶̶̶
SHMYellow pillar buoy (mid-channel) yellow ‘X’ topmark Racon TFlashing yellow 2.5s 51°46.050′N1°31.540′E / 51.767500°N 1.525667°E / 51.767500; 1.525667 (SHM) ̶̶̶
Sunk Head Tower ̶̶̶ North cardinal buoy Quick flashing white
Black DeepPort buoyQuick flashing red 51°48.10′N1°36.60′E / 51.80167°N 1.61000°E / 51.80167; 1.61000 (Black Deep) ̶̶̶
Trinity South cardinal buoy Quick flashing (6) + long flash 15s̶̶̶
Dynamo̶̶̶Yellow pillar buoy yellow ‘X’ topmarkFlashing yellow 2.5s 51°50.060′N1°33.880′E / 51.834333°N 1.564667°E / 51.834333; 1.564667 (Yellow pillar)
Sunk Inner̶̶̶Light floatIsophase 3s 51°51.170′N1°34.400′E / 51.852833°N 1.573333°E / 51.852833; 1.573333 (Light float)

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Thames sailing barge

A Thames sailing barge is a type of commercial sailing boat once common on the River Thames in London. The flat-bottomed barges with a shallow draught and leeboards, were perfectly adapted to the Thames Estuary, with its shallow waters and narrow tributary rivers. The larger barges were seaworthy vessels, and were the largest sailing vessel to be handled by just two men. The average size was about 120 tons and they carried 4,200 square feet (390 m2) of canvas sail in six working sails. The mainsail was loose-footed and set up with a sprit, and was brailed to the mast when not needed. It is sheeted to a horse, as is the foresail; they require no attention when tacking. The foresail is often held back by the mate to help the vessel come about more swiftly.

Nore Sandbank at the mouth of the Thames Estuary

The Nore is a long bank of sand and silt running along the south-centre of the final narrowing of the Thames Estuary, England. Its south-west is the very narrow Nore Sand. Just short of the Nore's easternmost point where it fades into the channels it has a notable point once marked by a lightship on the line where the estuary of the Thames nominally becomes the North Sea. A lit buoy today stands on this often map-marked divisor: between Havengore Creek in east Essex and Warden Point on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

Maplin Sands

The Maplin Sands are mudflats on the northern bank of the Thames estuary, off Foulness Island, near Southend-on-Sea in Essex, England, though they actually lie within the neighbouring borough of Rochford. They form a part of the Essex Estuaries Special Area of Conservation due to their value for nature conservation, with a large colony of dwarf eelgrass and associated animal communities.

Tail of the Bank

The Tail of the Bank is the name given to the anchorage in the upper Firth of Clyde immediately North of Greenock, between Inverclyde and Argyll and Bute. This area of the Firth gets its name from the deep water immediately to the west of the sandbank which marks the entrance to the navigable channel up the Estuary of the River Clyde.


The Tideway is that part of the River Thames in England which is subject to tides. This stretch of water is downstream from Teddington Lock. The Tideway comprises the upper Thames Estuary including the Pool of London.

River Roach River in Essex, England

The River Roach is a river that flows entirely through the English county of Essex. It is one of four main streams that originate in the Rayleigh Hills to the west, and flow east. They then flow towards the centre of the Rochford Basin, a circular feature which may have been caused by an asteroid impact in the Late Oligocene or Early Miocene periods. To the east of Rochford, the river becomes tidal, and is governed by the Crouch Harbour Authority. It joins the River Crouch between Wallasea Island and Foulness Island. To the west of Rochford, there is some doubt as to which of the four streams is officially the Roach.

Fisherman's Gat is a much-deepened channel in the North Sea, between the final long line of shoals loosely associated with the Thames Estuary. The channel cuts across Long Sand. In the west it opens onto the nominal cut-off point of Knock Deep (north) or the Princes Channel (south) which links to the Strait of Dover. In the west it opens to Black Deep, a Thames approach.

Grazing marsh is a British Isles term for flat, marshy grassland in polders. It consists of large grass fields separated by fresh or brackish ditches, and is often important for its wildlife.

The Black Deep is in the outer Thames Estuary. It is the greatest of three mainly natural shipping channels linking the Tideway to central zones of the North Sea without shoals, the others being the Barrow Deep and Princes Channel. Between these, a few others, and the shores of Kent, Suffolk and Essex are many long shoals in the North Sea, broadly shallow enough to wreck vessels of substantial draft at low tide.

Gat (landform) Relatively narrow but deep strait that is constantly eroded by currents flowing back and forth, such as tidal currents

A gat is a strait that is constantly eroded by currents flowing back and forth, such as tidal currents. It is usually a relatively narrow but deep, up to 30 m (100 ft) passage between land masses or shallow bars in an area of mudflats. A gat is sometimes a shallower passage on lagoon coasts, including those without any tidal range.

The Broomway Public pathway in Essex, England

The Broomway is a public right of way over the foreshore at Maplin Sands off the coast of Essex, England. Most of the route is classed as a Byway Open to All Traffic, with a shorter section of bridleway. When the tide is out, it provides access to Foulness Island, and indeed was the only access to Foulness on foot, and the only access at low tide, until a road bridge was built over Havengore Creek in 1922.

The Kentish Knock is a long shoal in the North Sea east of Essex, England. It is the most easterly of those of the Thames Estuary and its core, which is shallower than 18 feet (5.5 m), extends 6 miles (9.7 km). Thus it is a major hazard to deep-draught navigation. It is exactly 28 miles (45 km) due east of Foulness Point, Essex and is centred about 15 miles (24 km) NNE of North Foreland, Kent – both are extreme points of those counties.

Shoeburyness Boom

The Shoeburyness Boom refers to two successive defensive barriers across most of the Thames Estuary in the mid-20th century. As to the part perpendicular to the north shore most of the latter incarnation remains, and its nearest concrete mooring/patrol point 600 metres south. A 2 km stretch, this is designated a scheduled monument and marks the western edge of MoD Shoeburyness firing range, a restricted area. The rest was taken up in the 1960s.

Swin (Thames) A passage in the Thames estuary

The Swin is a passage in the Thames estuary between Maplin Sands, Foulness Sand and Gunfleet Sand northwest and the Barrow and Sunk sand ridges (shoals), southeast. The Swin was used by barges and leisure craft from the Essex rivers, and coasters and colliers from Hull, Great Grimsby, North East England, Edinburgh and other similar sets of trading ports.

SB <i>George Smeed</i> A Thames sailing barge built in 1882

George Smeed is a Thames barge built in 1882 by Smeed Dean & Co. Ltd. in Murston.



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