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06 October 2021

Your Guide to Navigating the Norfolk Broads

The Norfolk Broads is a beautiful water system to navigate, and a must see for boaters in the area. Of national park status, the Broads feature diverse wildlife and important cultural heritage. It offers over 200 kilometres of navigable waterways to cruise and is the UK’s largest protected network of rivers & lakes. This means, of course, there are rules to follow which are crucial to the overall safety for all Broads users and to protect its local wildlife. Experienced and new boaters alike should be knowledgeable of the rules of the Broads before cruising them, so we have created a brief overview of the most important points to make navigating the Broads an enjoyable and breath-taking experience for all.

Speed Limits:

The Broads Authority have put into place a number of speed limit signs around the broads to make sure, when coming to corners or blind spots, collisions and the damage that can ensue are minimised. This is also to protect fishermen and water sport participants, such as paddleboarders, as the wake caused by the boat’s speed can cause paddleboarders to lose balance and fall off their boards.


The links that connect the lakes of the Norfolk Broads are tidal rivers, this means that the water’s height will change depending on the tides. The result of this means that sometimes, depending on the height of the water, larger boats will have to wait for low tide to fit under certain bridges. 

There are many bridges to experience while boating on the Norfolk Broad and the first thing to remember when coming up to a bridge is to slow right down and give yourself enough time to direct your boat towards the bridge’s arch. 

Keep an eye out for gauge posts when coming up to the bridges, these will advise you on the maximum clearance at the peak of the arch of the bridge. It is important to note that if your boat is higher than the reading on the gauge, do not attempt to pass under the bridge. This could result in getting stuck under the bridge and causing disruptions for the rest of the waterways. Plus, you will inevitably damage your boat!

Wroxham Bridge – The bridge in Wroxham is one of the lowest bridges to cross the water and sits at the heart of the Norfolk Broads. It is so low that any holiday users are only allowed to pass under with an experienced bridge pilot’s guidance. Once you safely pass under the bridge, you can access the picturesque village of Hoveton – a must for a nice afternoon out!

Potter Heigham Bridge – This bridge, on the gateway to Upper Thurne, is a medieval bridge which is famously low and known for its tricky navigation. Some larger boats may be unable to pass, if this is the case there is still the option for mooring before the bridge and you can still walk to Potter Heigham on foot. 

This bridge has been known to catch some boaters out, quite literally catching the boats underneath the arch. At average water height, the bridge has a 6ft 6” headroom, so make sure before attempting to sail through, you know the height dimensions of your boat to avoid unnecessary damage.  

Before setting out on your boating holiday it is a good idea to plan your journey ahead of time. This can cut out any unexpected obstructions, such as bridges that are too low to sail under. The bridges listed above are only two of many you will find on the Broads, most of which are easy to navigate but some, such as those above, may require a little more planning. 

Read our previous blog post to find the contact information for the Norfolk Broads swing bridges. You can enquire about when the bridges will next be opening, allowing you free passage. 

Rivers on the Broads: 

River Bure  – This river flows from Aylsham, through Coltishall, then out to sea at Gorleston. The River Bure is the longest river on the Broads, averaging 80 km in length.

River Thurne  – This river flows through Martham Broad and gives access to Horsey Mere and Hickling Broad. It is roughly 11km long and goes through the Potter Heigham Bridge (the notoriously low bridge we mentioned above), so planning before this river is essential.

River Ant – The River Ant features diverse habitats and is a tributary river of the river Bure. It is 27 km long. The Ant Broads is a national nature reserve where you can spot lots of natural wildlife, so is a great river to meander. 

River Yare – Navigation on the lower parts of this river is trouble free within the marked channels and it connects to the rest of the channels. As long as you stay within the marked channels this river is easy and stress free to navigate.

River Waveney  – Forming the boundary between Norfolk and Suffolk, this river features a series of lakes and rivers that are interconnected, forming part of the National Broads Park. There is a lot to see along this stretch of river, so it is worth the long sail.

River Chet – Navigable for 5.5 km this is the smallest river on the Broads and is a tributary of the River Yare. This is a great river to drive down if you only want a trip that’s short and sweet.

Walking the Broads:

The Broads are not just a beautiful place for yachts and boats, they also offer many places to stretch your legs and go for scenic walks. There are over 305 km worth of footpaths and nature trails to explore. There are a range of different length walks to choose from to suit all abilities. There are many circular walks along the Broads that are all well signposted. Below we have chosen some of our favourite trails to explore:

Burgh Castle – This Roman sight walk is 1.6 km long. The main attraction of this walk is Burgh Castle itself, which you will see in all its glory along this path. Unfortunately only 3 of its 4 walls remain as the 4th wall has disappeared into the Waveny. This site also offers views of the Halvergate Marshes where you may be able to catch a glimpse of Marsh and Hen Harriers. You can download a map here.

Coltishall to Horstead – This is a longer walk, with the whole trail coming to an approximate 9.6 km. Along this route you can see the Bure Valley railway line that goes from Hoveton and Wroxham stations to Aylsham. You can also see Horstead Church and Saint John the Baptist’s Church. Both of these walks are circular, so you know you will end up back where you started if you stay on the path. You access maps to help you on your way. 

The Broads offer breath-taking scenic routes and wildlife to explore. Here at NYA, we know the Norfolk Broads like the back of our hands and can confirm that navigating the bridges and speed signs are worth the extra planning! If you are looking for broads boats for sale, new or used, to start your journey and experience the Norfolk Broads in their full glory then send us a message via our enquiry form with any questions you have. You can also call us on 01603 713434 if you fancy a chat, we’d love to hear from you. 

For more information on the Norfolk Broads rules and regulations, take a look at the Broads Authority website.

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