A roadstead (or roads - the earlier form)[lower-alpha 1] is a body of water sheltered from rip currents, spring tides or ocean swell where ships can lie reasonably safely at anchor without dragging or snatching.[3][4] It can be open or natural, usually estuary-based, or may be created artificially.[5] In maritime law it is described as a "known general station for ships, notoriously used as such, and distinguished by the name".[6]


A roadstead can be an area of safe anchorage for ships waiting to enter a port (or to form a convoy); if sufficiently sheltered and convenient it can be used for transshipment (or transfer to and from shore by lighters) of goods and stores[3] or troops.[lower-alpha 2] In the days of sailing ships, some voyages could only easily be made with a change in wind direction, and ships would wait for a change of wind in a safe anchorage, such as the Downs or Yarmouth Roads.

Robinson Crusoe

Daniel Defoe has Robinson Crusoe recall an early journey in the coastal trade: "The sixth day of our being at sea we came into Yarmouth Roads; the wind having been contrary, and the weather calm, we had made but little way since the storm. Here we were obliged to come to an anchor, and here we lay, the wind continuing contrary, viz., at southwest, for seven or eight days, during which time a great many ships from Newcastle came into the same Roads..."

Notable roadsteads

See also


  1. Charts and nautical publications often use roads rather than roadsteads;[1] Roads is the earlier term.[2]
  2. For example, in the Second World War, many merchant ships and many troops arriving at the UK were unloaded/disembarked from ships anchored at the Tail of the Bank in the upper Clyde estuary[7]


  1. Walker, George K. Definitions for the Law of the Sea: Terms Not Defined by the 1982 Convention. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2012.
  2. Little, William; Fowler, H W; Coulson, Jesse; Onions, C T; Friedrichsen, G W S (1983). The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles (Volume II) (3rd ed.). London: Book Club Associates. p. 1838.
  3. United States Army technical manual, TM 5-360. Port Construction and Rehabilitation. Washington: United States. Government Printing Office, 1964.
  4. Oxford Dictionaries: Definition of roadstead in English
  5. Roadstead: Extensive Definition
  6. Black's Law Dictionary: What is roadstead?
  7. Robins, Nick (21 January 2014). "Clyde Anchorages Emergency Port". Scotland and the Sea: The Scottish Dimension in Maritime History. Seaforth Publishing. p. 175. ISBN 978-1-4738-3441-5.
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