Harwich Traffic Regs

On the outbreak of War, former Traffic (Public) Regulations for the Port of Harwich were cancelled and replaced with new Public Traffic Regulations to reflect War conditions. The Regulations applied to all merchant vessels and “small craft” (fishing vessels, yachts, barges, tugs, launches etc).  The area covered by the Regulations was all navigable waters of the River Stour and Orwell and along the coast for a distance of four miles in both directions from Landguard Point and also out to sea for a like distance in all directions.


Examination service


At Harwich, an Examination Service was in force. The object of an Examination service was to ascertain the character and intentions of all vessels seeking entry into the port with the exception of:

  • H.M Ships and Allied War Vessels provided with the Private Signal

  • Allied War Vessels complying with any special procedures

  • Enemy War Vessels unless flying a flag of truce.


The Examination battery was Landguard Right Battery. In an emergency  Beacon Hill battery could be ordered to act as an Examination battery. Two vessels (referred to as Examination Steamers or Examination Vessels) were employed as part of the Examination Service, and were stationed at the Examination anchorages - area in vicinity of Platters and Outer Ridge Buoys and the Cork Ledge for vessels approaching from the Cork and in the vicinity of Halliday Rocks Buoy for vessels approaching from the Naze. The Examination battery was in constant readiness to support the Examination Steamers and to enforce any restrictions ordered by the Examination Service.


All vessels wishing to enter Harwich had to close to the Examination Steamers and could not proceed into the port unless permission had been given by the Examination Officer.  If the Examination Steamers were not on station, vessels had to keep eastwards of the respective Buoys.  The Examination gun was kept trained on all incoming vessels until they had been identified as friendly.


If any vessel disregarded orders from the Examination Steamer, the Examination gun would open fire with a “Bring To” warning shot. If this was ignored the battery would open fire with HE and this would be the signal for other batteries to stand by to open fire. Care had to be taken on incoming tides as it may not be possible for a vessel to stop in time and if in doubt the Examination battery was not to open fire until instructed by the Examination Steamer.



Right: Defences and main

anchorage areas - Harwich Port








































Navigation Restrictions


The internal waters of Harwich were patrolled by Naval Patrol vessels and all vessels had to follow any instructions issued by the Patrol vessels. Visual signals could also be issued from land (Shotley or Landguard Fort) – a signal consisting of a cylindrical shape, red with white horizontal stripes meant that all traffic in the harbour was stopped.


Restriction of navigation applied during night or during fog or thick weather. In general, at night no vessel was to get underway within the Boom defences.  All lights on Buoys and Navigation Beacons had been extinguished and vessels had to extinguish their navigation and anchor lights (they could be shown temporarily to allow safe navigation). During fog, no vessel was to leave or enter the harbour. Any vessel approaching the harbour was to weigh anchor off Platters or Halliday Buoy and wait until the weather cleared.  Certain areas were also defined as Prohibited Anchorages or Dangerous Areas (i.e shallow waters - all vessels were to keep to recognized routes). In the Prohibited Anchorages and Dangerous Areas, anchoring, fishing, dredging, creeping or bottom sweeping was prohibited.


Instructions were also in place in case of a vessel having to anchor. Vessels should weigh anchor in the least depth possible so if damaged in an air raid and liable to sink they could beach themselves in a position to facilitate salvage or repairs to take place.  Every vessel within the harbour had to maintain on board, day and night, an emergency fire party sufficient to man the fire fighting appliances of the ships.  On an Air Raid, signal the fire party was to be ready for immediate action.


Two quarantine anchorages (one a deep water anchorage for deep draught vessels) were established and all vessels destined for Ipswich Docks had to anchor in these anchorages for inspection by Customs and the Military Security Control Officers.


The Flag officer in Charge of Harwich could order any vessel to be subject to compulsory pilotage.  Certain vessels were exempt from compulsory pilotage (e.g. H.M. ships, fishing vessels, ferries, tugs, dredgers etc).


When in harbour the use of wireless telegraphy, wireless telephony or sound signaling was forbidden.  This restriction was in force of all harbours in Britain. All ships also had to be completely darkened at night.


Vessels proceeding to sea would receive their route instructions from the Examination Office. A signal of a blue flag flown from Shotley Signal Tower or Landguard Fort meant no vessel was to proceed to sea. When proceeding to sea, all vessels were instructed to keep a close eye on Landguard Fort or the Examination Steamers for any signals.


War Ships


Special arrangements were in place for British and Allied War vessels. They were to approach from the direction of the Rough Buoy and pass close to the Cork Light Vessel. Initially all vessels were to be treated as potentially hostile and Fire Control would decide which battery was to be prepared to engage. Except if the vessel was obviously hostile, the battery would be given the order “Bring To Procedure” prefaced with the order “Observe”.  If immediate fire was required the order would be “Bring To” or “Engage”.  When the vessel had been correctly identified as friendly, the battery would receive the order “Target identified as H.M.S….Resume Normal Routine”.


Vessels were not to pass the Examination Steamer until given permission and all batteries had been given the signal “Approved to enter the harbour”. They could then proceed and were to fly their pendants.  



Manor House Fort Record Book, TNA


harwich traffic