Navigation in the harbour and bridge clearances

Navigation instructions, byelaws and bridge clearances for Bristol Harbour.

Bristol Harbour navigation

Map of Bristol Harbour

Don’t use this map for navigation purposes.

Harbour byelaws

Navigation is subject to the Collision Regulations and byelaws made under the Bristol Docks Acts (pdf, 101k) (opens new window) and any amendments.

The whole of Bristol Harbour should be regarded as a narrow channel.

Bristol Harbour times and navigation lights

Bristol Harbour is open for navigation by day and night, although Netham Lock at the far end of the Feeder Canal is closed at night.

If you’re navigating after dusk your craft must display an all-round white light.  If you don’t display this light then you’ll have your licence revoked.

Speed limits

The speed limit in the harbour is 5.2 knots (6mph) and 3.5 knots (4mph) in the upper River Avon and Feeder Canal.
If you need to travel faster than this you must contact us for special permission.

Powered vessels

Powered vessels should hold a steady course and slow speed when passing pleasure craft moorings, sailing dinghies, canoes or rowing boats etc. You shouldn’t be going so fast as to cause a breaking wave.

Harbour depth and dredgers

The charted depth of the harbour may be reduced through silting and caution should be taken.

Dredgers display the signals show in the Collision Regulations.

Don’t pass on the side of a dredging vessel on which is displayed two black balls or two red lights in vertical line. Vessels should proceed on the side of two green lights or two diamonds in vertical line.

Craft restrictions

Vessels with tall masts may go as far as Redcliffe Bridge, subject to bridge movement and depth of water, some 2.5km from Cumberland Basin. Prince Street Swingbridge is passed on the way.

If your vessel is over 24 metres in length and you want to move in the harbour then you must tell us and get a harbour escort craft.

Harbour events and navigation

Yellow marker buoys are often used to mark an area being used for a special purpose or events. You should see our Events in Bristol Harbour page for further information.

You should be careful when passing any water sport training groups.

Model boats are used in the harbour and are required to keep clear of all other vessels. The white buoys, which are sometimes in use, have no significance to other vessels.

Apply for a Bristol Harbour navigation licence

To apply for a navigation licence for Bristol Harbour follow the instructions in our harbour fees document (pdf, 38k) (opens new window) .

The original boat safety certificate must accompany the application for a navigation licence.  This is not applicable to canoes/manually propelled craft and dinghies.

Bristol Harbour bridges

Two way navigation applies through all bridges except:

  • at bridges, locks and restricted areas
  • Temple Meads Railway Arches, you should keep to the arch on the starboard side
  • Plimsoll Bridge and Junction Lock Bridge: when opened vessels proceed in accordance with instructions from the Marine Services Supervisor or bridge operator
  • Prince Street and Redcliffe Bridges: if you’re going upstream should give way to vessels going downstream
  • Pero’s Bridge, if you’re going upstream using the central channel then you should give way to vessels going downstream

Before going through any bridges you should sound one prolonged blast on your horn due to the risk of collisions.

Swing bridges

See our swing bridges page  for opening procedures.

Bridge clearances

Bridge clearance above normal level (6.10 metres above O.D. Newlyn)

The clearances apply when the water level in the Floating Harbour is at Normal Float Level. Variations of maximum 0.5 metres either way are not uncommon.

Bridge Clearance / metres Bridge type
Plimsoll Bridge 5.8 metres
But varies from 5.8 metres at the south side to 6.7 metres at the north side of the lock. Reduced on the spring tides - by 0.8 metres on the top of a M.H.W.S. tide.
Swing
Junction Lock Bridge 2.5 metres Swing
Prince Street Bridge 2.2 metres Swing
Peros Bridge - Centre pan
- East + West pan
3.3 metres
2.2 metres for a distance of 6 metres from bridge piers.
Bascule
Guinea Street Bridge 2.7 metres Swing
Redcliffe Bridge (do not use East and West arches) 3.6 metres Bascule
Bristol Bridge - centre arch (do not use East arch) 4.1 metres Fixed
St. Phillips Bridge 4.2 metres Fixed
Temple Way Bridge 4.4 metres Fixed
Temple Foot Bridge 3.3 metres Fixed
Railway Arches (north side) 5.4 metres Fixed
Avon Street Bridge 3.3 metres Fixed
Silverthorne Lane Footbridge 3.8 metres Fixed
Services Bridge (1) 7.4 metres Fixed
Services Bridge (2) 6.6 metres Fixed
Feeder Road Skew Bridge (railway) 6.7 metres Fixed
Marsh Lane Bridge 3.8 metres Fixed
Netham Bridge 3.9 metres Fixed
Netham Bailey Bridge 4.0 metres Fixed
St. Annes Footbridge
(above O.D. Newlyn)
12.8 metres Fixed
Bickley Wood Road Bridge
(above O.D. Newlyn)
27 metres Fixed
Netham Dam top
(above Cumberland cill)
9.45 metres  
Netham Dam bottom (above O.D. Newlyn) 6.104 metres