How Long Does it Take to Sail the English Channel?

How Long Does it Take to Sail the English Channel? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

October 13, 2020

Sailing

When it comes to crossing the English Channel, one of the most important things to keep in mind is how long it takes to sail from one end to the other. After all, you'll be anxious not to be caught offshore by worsening weather.

Crossing the English Channel on your sailboat can be an ultimately rewarding experience. The sort of accomplishment and freedom that you gain during this sailing trip can truly kindle a sense of adventure in you and make you realize just how sailing is enriching and extremely rewarding. While sailing through the open-sea passage like the English Channel always feels like proper cruising, being out of sight of land even for hours can be so anxious especially for inexperienced sailors.

So how long does it take to sail the English Channel? It can take you anywhere from a few hours to many weeks. It all depends on your boat, its speed, the wind, and the passage that you choose to use. For example, it can take you just under four hours to sail from Dover in the UK to Calais in France if there are a calm south-westerly wind and neap tides. You can as well spend a week waiting for favorable winds or weather, especially if the wind is going in the wrong direction as you may have to wait until the wind becomes favorable.

In this brief article, we'll take a closer look at everything you need to know before attempting to cross the English Channel and how long it would take you.

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The English Channel

The English Channel is an appendage of the Atlantic Ocean that splits France from England. The Channel stretches about 150 miles at its widest point and measures 350 miles long while its narrowest point measures 21 miles in the Dover Strait.

So when it comes to how long it takes to cross the English Channel, it's important to choose the right crossing point. With that in mind, here are a few things to consider when choosing the right crossing point.

Is it hard to cross the English Channel?

You are probably wondering whether it is challenging to cross the English Channel. If you're a skilled sailor with a robust sailboat, sailing across the English Channel shouldn't be that difficult. On the other hand, you have to be careful if you're crossing the channel for the first time. The best thing to do is be in the company of an experienced sailor.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the English Channel is an extremely busy sea area with lots and lots of ships and ferries coming and going throughout the year. This means that it is not advisable to use a small sailboat. But if you have to use a small sailboat, you have to make sure that you do not get closer to the ships and ferries.

With that in mind, it's of great importance to choose a safe crossing point so that you can avoid the cargos ships and ferries. You should also mind your speed and do not try going a lot faster than the ships. Remember, they can clock more than 18 knots per mile. As such, the most appropriate time to make the crossing is during the daytime. You should avoid sailing at night as it's always quite difficult to spot the harbor or moor your sailboat safely under the cover of darkness.

Safety should also be your primary concern and so you should never ignore the importance of having safety equipment and ensuring that your boat is in good condition at all times. You have to make sure that you have pills for seasickness, life jackets, drinking water, courtesy flags, snacks, and binoculars. All these are essential for your safety. Remember, the English Channel is more volatile than the mild Mediterranean. There are high chances of you dying from hypothermia than drowning if you fall into the water, so you have to be very careful, especially when it comes to safety.

Where to Cross the English Channel

As we noted earlier, it's essential to travel in the company of an experienced sailor who is used to crossing the English Channel if you're crossing for the first time. Whether you are sailing alone or sailing as a group, there are many yacht clubs on both sides of the Channel that can help you find an experienced sailor.

So which crossing point should you use? Many sailors prefer the Needles or Poole to Cherbourg crossing point thanks to its ease of stay, as well as proximity to Brittany and Normandy in France.

This is a 60-mile crossing point that starts in Needle or Poole in England before docking at Cherbourg in France. Using this passage would mean that you only have to deal with large cargos ships and ferries at a 15-mile band, which is fairly acceptable. This passage is very easy to navigate and you'll cross at exactly the right angles.

You also have to remember that the English Channel can become very rough in a blink of an eye, especially in the wrong conditions and so you have to choose a fairly short route. In favorable conditions, you can start from Needles or Poole and sail to Cherbourg. You, however, have to be aware of the cargos ships and ferries. Even though you have the right of way if you're meeting a down-Channel ship, you should always alter your speed or course to avoid any accident. You should also remember that up-Channel ships have right of way, so they'll expect you to be out of their way.

Any experienced sailor will tell you that a large ship might seem as if it's not moving but these massive ships cruise at 18 to 25 knots and this can be staggering, so it's important to be patient and give way before continuing with your journey across the Channel. There are occasions when the fog can swirl in when you've already set sail.

The best thing to do under such circumstances is to turn back and avoid dealing with the nightmarish situation of poor visibility. It may be quite unreasonable to push on if you have doubts because you'll be risking your life. As such, you have to be always on the lookout, use a moderate speed of about 6 nautical miles, and think clearly without panicking should you find yourself in a precarious situation.

And even if you cross safely, you have to keep in mind that Cherbourg is a bustling ferry port and you can choose to safely moor your boat at the main harbor, which is four miles wide, or the old and large sheltered marina in Port Chantereyne. Cherbourg also has a very friendly yacht club that is very popular with visitors.

DocumentsYou'll Need to Cross the English Channel

Here are the documents that you need to cross the Channel without any issue.

Passport/Visa/ID

You'll not be required to have any special passport or visa if your country is an EU member. You, however, must have your passport and perhaps visa if your country is a non-EU member. You should check with your embassy or consulate and find out about the rules that apply in your case. Generally, you'll require a valid passport, as well as a visa or invitation letter. You should begin this process a little earlier, say three months before you travel since obtaining travel permits can sometimes be a lengthy process.

Boat Insurance

Of course, your boat requires valid insurance if you're planning to cross the English Channel. The requirements can be different across the countries so you should check if your boat insurance once you cross in a given country's territory.

Health Insurance

It's always a good idea to have appropriate insurance if you're planning to sail across the world. The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) can be an ideal choice as it always guarantees medical services in the event that you are in an emergency. You can easily apply for this insurance online.

Radio License

UK rules stipulate that any boat that has radio equipment must have a radio license. This is a legal obligation that you must adhere to if you do not want to find yourself on the wrong side of the law, especially in the UK.

Boat Registration

You'll have to show proof that your boat is registered and that it has been accounted for. This means that you should have the original registration document of the boat onboard, as well as proof of ownership.

Make a Passage Plan

With all the documents in place, you should decide the right passage to use and make a plan for it. This is a legal requirement and you can be prosecuted for crossing the Channel without passage planning, especially if an accident happens. You should give yourself enough hours to cross the Channel and even have more hours to spare. This is essential in ensuring that you only cross when the weather is favorable.

As we've noted, do not try outrunning the cargo ships and always remember that the horizon can be quite deceiving, so your safety should always come first. You should also consider crossing during the day. Although crossing at night might give you smoother and calmer crossings it's often very cold and navigating your sailboat in darkness can be complicated. You also have to keep in mind that many French ports have the lock-to-enter system so you should give yourself plenty of time, especially if you don't want to scramble to enter into the lock.

So if you've been thinking about crossing the English Channel and looking forward to enjoying the cold French beer and sumptuous French dishes that await you on the other side, you should know everything that is required of you and your boat, and this is a great place to start.

Happy crossing!

How Long Does it Take to Sail the English Channel?

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How Long Does it Take to Sail the English Channel?

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