Thames Estuary

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


Seen by the Operational Land Imager Thames Estuary and Wind Farms from Space NASA.jpg
Seen by the Operational Land Imager
Naval chart of the estuary, 1801 To the Right Honourable the Master, Wardens, & Elder Bretham of the Trinity House, this chart of the entrances to The River Thames is ... dedicated (8250889146).jpg
Naval chart of the estuary, 1801

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

The limits of the estuary have been defined in several ways: [1]

The estuary is one of the largest of 170 such inlets on the coast of Great Britain. It constitutes a major shipping route: its thousands of movements each year include large oil tankers, container ships, bulk carriers and roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) ferries entering the estuary for the Port of London 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. More recently one of the largest wind farms in the UK has been developed in the estuary, located 8.5 km north of Herne Bay, Kent. The farm contains 30 wind turbines generating a total of 82.4MW of electricity. The much larger 630 MW London Array was inaugurated in 2013.

This area has had several proposed sites for the building of a new airport to supplement, or even to replace Heathrow/Gatwick. In the 1960s Maplin Sands was a contender; in 2002 it was to be at Cliffe, Kent. The new airport would be built on a man-made island in the estuary north of Minster-in-Sheppey [4] There is also some discussion about the need for a Lower Thames Crossing in order to alleviate traffic congestion at Dartford.

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.

Greater Thames Estuary

The upper part of the estuary from Tilbury to Mucking Creek looking north from Shorne, which is 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) south of the river Gravesendreach2.jpg
The upper part of the estuary from Tilbury to Mucking Creek looking north from Shorne, which is 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) south of the river

The appellation Greater Thames Estuary [5] applies to the coast and the low-lying lands bordering the estuary itself. 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 to temporarily flood some of that land in places at spring tides, to take the pressure off the defences.

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. [6] 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. [7]

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.


Official nameThames Estuary and Marshes
Designated5 May 2000
Reference no.1025 [8]

The River Thames flowing through London is a classic river estuary, with sedimentary deposition restricted through manmade embankments. The district of Teddington a few miles south-west of London's centre marks the boundary between the tidal and non-tidal parts of the Thames, although it is still considered 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. The Thames Estuary becomes brackish between Battersea and Gravesend, and the diversity of freshwater fish species present is smaller, primarily roach and dace, euryhaline marine species such as flounder, European seabass, mullet, and smelt become much more common. Further east, the salinity increases and the freshwater fish species are completely replaced by euryhaline marine ones, until the river reaches Gravesend, at which point conditions become fully marine and the fish fauna resembles that of the adjacent North Sea and includes both euryhaline and stenohaline marine species. A similar pattern of replacement can be observed with the aquatic plants and invertebrates living in the river. [9] [10]

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. It is also described in the first pages of Conrad's Heart of Darkness , 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 approaching the Nore and thus London, main deep-water routes were the Princes Channel, the 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 Channel which have been extensively marked. These are separated by slow moving sandbanks with names such as the East and West Barrows, the Nob, the Knock, the John, the Sunk, the Girdler, and the Long sands. [11]

The 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 and wait for the next tide.

Recreational craft are expected use channels most suited to the size of their vessel. When navigating to or from the north they should use the Middle Deep, Swin and Warp. Barrow Deep and Warp. When navigating to or from the south, they should use the Horse and Gore and Four Fathom Channels.

To cross the estuary large vessels used Fisherman's Gat, and small vessels to were expected to use Foulger's Gat. [12]

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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. [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] 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 No. 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 No. 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 No. 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 No. 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 No. 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 No. 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 No. 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 No. 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 No. 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 No. 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 No. 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)
Knock John No. 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) ̶̶̶
Knock John No. 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 No. 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 No. 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 No. 10Port buoyGroup flashing (3) red 10s̶̶̶
Black Deep No. 9̶̶̶ South cardinal buoy Quick flashing white (6) + long flash
Inner FishermanPort buoyQuick flashing red̶̶̶
Black Deep No. 7̶̶̶Starboard buoyQuick flashing green
Black Deep No. 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 No. 6Port buoyFlashing red 2.5s̶̶̶
Black Deep No. 5̶̶̶ East cardinal buoy Very quick flashing white (3) 5s
Black Deep No. 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 No. 3̶̶̶Starboard buoyGroup flashing (3) green 15s
Black Deep No. 1̶̶̶Starboard buoyFlashing green 5s
Black Deep No. 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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