A roadstead (or roads – the earlier form)[a] 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. It can be open or natural, usually estuary-based, or may be created artificially. In maritime law, it is described as a "known general station for ships, notoriously used as such, and distinguished by the name".
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 the transshipment of goods, stores, and/or troops; or, for the transfer of same to and from shore by lighters.[b] 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.
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...[page needed]
Golden Fleece lying at anchor in the roadstead (painting by Jack Spurling, 1929)
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