Coastal Waters

Key Characteristics

    • Open expanse of sea marking the transition between nearshore and offshore areas with a simple bathymetry typically ranging between 20 and 30 metres in
    • Seabed is characterised by relatively undisturbed
    • Significant areas designated for biodiversity Sandbanks form important habitats in some areas.
    • Several shipping routes travelling to and from continental Europe and major coastal ports. Activity also includes fishing boats and vessels servicing designated aggregates dredging areas and offshore wind
    • Visually unified and extensive open water character in views
    • Coastline seen as low horizon and offshore windfarms are visible subject to location and conditions.
Return to Map


The Coastal Waters SCT is located approximately 8km (4.3nm) from the coast, extending approximately 18km (9.7nm) out to sea. It marks a transition between the Nearshore Waters SCT and Developed Nearshore Waters SCT and the Offshore Waters SCT which lies further out to sea.

Physical Influences

The Coastal Waters SCT is a transitional area between the shallower Nearshore Waters and deeper Offshore Waters of the southern North Sea. Bathymetry is relatively simple, ranging on average from 20-30m in depth. Local variations occur, for example north of Great Yarmouth where sandbanks run parallel to the coastline.

The seabed is characterised by a mix of relatively undisturbed sediments and the bedrock is rarely exposed on the seafloor. Sediments include those laid down by ancient river channels prior to the formation of the North Sea.

A significant proportion of the Coastal Waters SCT is designated, or proposed for designation, for its nature conservation interest. It forms part of the Southern North Sea Candidate SAC, Greater Wash SPA and Outer Thames Estuary SPA, and includes parts of the recommended Orford Inshore MCZ. Sandbanks north of Great Yarmouth fall within the Haisborough, Hammond and Winterton SAC and are a particularly important feature as a range of fish species including sand eels, goby and plaice use them as feeding and nursery grounds.

Cultural Influences

Material trawled from the seabed indicates that there is potential in the offshore sediments for evidence of the communities and landscapes that occupied the area prior to the formation of the North Sea. There are also numerous recorded wrecks, highlighting the busy nature of these waters throughout history.

Today, the Coastal Waters SCT contains several busy shipping routes. Vessels predominantly travel north-south parallel to the coastline and transit to and from European ports and the English Channel. Traffic includes cargo vessels, tankers and passenger ships. The frequency of vessel movements is particularly high on the outer approaches to the larger ports of Harwich, Felixstowe, Ipswich, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. East of Felixstowe the Harwich Haven Harbour Authority Area coincides with an area of particularly dense vessel movements and there are several anchorages and buoys marking the approaches to the Haven.

Other commercial activity includes vessels travelling to and from licenced aggregates dredging areas approximately 8km and 30km (4.3-16nm) east of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft within the Coastal Waters SCT and adjacent Offshore Waters SCT. Vessels associated with the transit of plant and supplies for the construction, operation and maintenance of offshore wind farms in the adjacent Offshore Waters SCT are also noted.

Commercial, charter as well as some recreational vessels fish these waters. A key focus is potting for whelk, crab and lobster and white fish including skate, ray, whiting, herring, sole and bass are also targeted.

Aesthetic and Perceptual Qualities

Subject to conditions, views to the coastline are possible, limiting the sense of isolation and exposure in this SCT. The coast typically forms a low, narrow horizon, on which major landmarks are the only aids to navigation. In poor weather views to the coast become obscured and a more remote character prevails. Views offshore are unified and formed of consistent panoramic horizons.

Views encompass tankers, passenger ships and cargo vessels utilising shipping routes, fishing boats and vessels servicing offshore wind turbines and aggregates dredging areas. From some locations, views to operational offshore wind turbines in the adjacent Seascape Character Types are possible, subject to weather conditions.

The SCT can display a relatively busy character, particularly on the approaches to the major ports due to the regular transit of commercial vessels.