The Solent Forum

Working in partnership for the future


The Solent's sheltered natural harbours, double tides and inshore waters made it an ideal location for a ports industry to develop. Activity centres on the privately-owned Associated British Ports' (ABP) Port of Southampton and Portsmouth Commercial Port, which is owned and managed by Portsmouth City Council. Cowes Harbour is the main port for the Isle of Wight, and the only location on the Island with deep-water channels capable of handling bulk-cargo carrying ships.

The twentieth century has seen a progressive growth in the scale of port operations in both Portsmouth and Southampton, associated in many cases with reclamation of intertidal land. The expansion of the ports industry is driven by trends in the world market for shipping, which are essentially governed by market forces, the demands of the ship operators, and the supply within the ports. Competition within the UK ports industry and with Northern European ports is intense. The main trend driving the development of the Port of Southampton is the buoyant market in containerised goods - particularly from the Far East, and the increase in the maximum size of the container ships (the post-Panamax vessels).

The statutory functions of ports includes levying and collecting harbour dues, compliance with the Port Marine Safety Code, maintaining navigational aids and hydrographic surveys, navigational control, access through dredging, policing and Notices to Mariners, conserving the environment, the provision of pilotage services, oil pollution control and waste management, works and dredge licence consents and harbour safety.

Commercial services offered by the ports include, providing moorings
, marinas and boatyards, events, storage, maintenance and repair, property leasing, fuel provision, pilotage and ferry services.

Headline Figures

Source: Solent LEP

Solent Ports


Cowes Harbour is a key economic driver and gateway to the Island. Ferries and commercial ships enter the harbour 24/7. Cowes Harbour Commission operates the largest port on the Isle of Wight, with a fast-craft, passenger and freight ferry connection to the Port of Southampton handling approximately 3,000,000 passengers annually. The port also provides for commercial ships handling approximately 600,000 tonnes of cargo each year. Cowes is world renowned for its yacht and leisure community, hosting events such as Cowes Week and the annual Round the Island Race. As a Harbour Authority, CHC provides a Pilotage service and a dedicated harbour patrol for on-the-water safety and assistance.

Approximately 600,000 tonnes of cargo are handled annually, including such commodities as fuel, oil/petroleum, stone, shingle aggregates, timber, grain, and general cargo. Ships of up to 100 metres (330ft) in length and with a draft of up to 5.7 metres (18.7ft) use the port and mainly berth at Kingston or Medina Wharves.


ABP Southampton is the harbour authority for the Solent and manages one of the busiest ports in the UK. Southampton is the UK's number one vehicle handling port, handling 900,000 vehicles per year. It is also Europe's leading turnaround cruise port, welcoming around 2 million passengers annually and is home to the UK fleets of the largest cruise line operators in the world. It is also home to the second largest container terminal in the UK and in 2018 handled more than 1.9 million TEUs.

It is the UK's number one export port, handling £40 billion of exports every year including 90 per cent destined for countries outside the EU. The total trade handled by the Port is worth some £75 billion. The Port of Southampton serves as the UK's number one port for automotive exports and is home to the UK's second largest container terminal, each year it handles around one million containers. The Port's critical role has been cemented by more than £280 million of investment over the past 5 years, including more than £50 million in brand new state-of-the-art vehicle export facilities. The Port hosts some three million ferry passengers travelling to and from the Isle of Wight.


Portsmouth International Port (PIP) is the largest and most successful city owned port in the UK. The port is also the second largest cross channel port on passenger and freight volumes, serving many destinations to Europe. PIP is both the statutory and competent harbour authority for all commercial shipping into Portsmouth harbour covering the International Port and the Camber. The Continental Ferry Port accounts for 80 per cent of the Port's business and is served by passenger and freight ferries sailing to the Isle of Wight, continent and the Channel Islands. Portsmouth City Council has owned the Port since 1839. 

The Port took practical completion of of its new, net zero, passenger terminal extension (part funded by the UK Government’s levelling up grant) in October 2023. The new terminal has the most advanced technology from sea water, under floor heating and cooling systems,smart LED, solar and living walls to purify the air. It meets the expectations of the boutique cruise liners and, to date, has had 75,000 passengers pass through the terminal since it became operational.

The Camber activities include fishing and leisure craft. PIP also provide all of the marine and pilotage services. There has been some extensive investment in the Camber by port users in 2023, particularly Fish Portsmouth who are providing facilities to attract fishing trawlers back to the Camber. 

Ports as Harbour Authorities

The Port of Southampton differs from Portsmouth International Port in the extent of its harbour authority powers within the Solent. ABP is the statutory harbour authority for the port of Southampton, whereas the harbour authority for Portsmouth Harbour and the Eastern Solent is the King's Harbour Master. ABP and KHM co-operate in administering shipping movements within the Eastern Solent with ABP taking a co-ordinating role. The harbour authority role encompasses responsibility for the navigational safety of all vessels, including the maintenance dredging of channels to advertised depths, navigation marks, hydrographic data, and control of developments which would affect hydrography by issuing harbour licences.

ABP, Portsmouth International Port and Cowes Harbour Commissioners are the designated Competent Harbour Authorities (CHA) for the Solent. All pilotage of commercial ships is undertaken by pilots licensed by the respective CHA. There are close liaison arrangements between the three CHAs and KHM Portsmouth over pilotage and navigational safety matters. The smaller harbour authorities within the Solent carry similar responsibilities for ensuring navigational safety and close working relationships exist between them and the larger authorities.

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