Cruising in the United Kingdom


Great Britain, the dominant industrial and maritime power of the 19th century, played a leading role in developing parliamentary democracy and in advancing literature and science. At its zenith, the British Empire stretched over one-fourth of the earth's surface. The first half of the 20th century saw the UK's strength seriously depleted in two World Wars. The second half witnessed the dismantling of the Empire and the UK rebuilding itself into a modern and prosperous European nation.

As one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, a founding member of NATO, and of the Commonwealth, the UK pursues a global approach to foreign policy; it currently is weighing the degree of its integration with continental Europe. A member of the EU, it chose to remain outside the Economic and Monetary Union for the time being. Constitutional reform is also a significant issue in the UK.

The Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, and the Northern Ireland Assembly were established in 1999, but the latter is suspended due to wrangling over the peace process.


Location: Western Europe, islands including the northern one-sixth of the island of Ireland between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, northwest of France
Geographic coordinates: 54 00 N, 2 00 W
Map references: Europe
Area: total: 244,820 sq km
Land: 241,590 sq km
Water: 3,230 sq km; note: includes Rockall and Shetland Islands
Land boundaries: total: 360 km
Border countries: Ireland 360 km


12,429 km

Maritime claims

Territorial sea: 12 nm
Exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm
Continental shelf: as defined in continental shelf orders or in accordance with agreed upon boundaries


Temperate; moderated by prevailing southwest winds over the North Atlantic Current; more than one-half of the days are overcast


Mostly rugged hills and low mountains; level to rolling plains in east and southeast

Elevation extremes

Lowest point: The Fens -4 m
Highest point: Ben Nevis 1,343 m


The UK, a leading trading power and financial center, is one of the quintet of trillion dollar economies of Western Europe. Over the past two decades, the government has greatly reduced public ownership and contained the growth of social welfare programs. Agriculture is intensive, highly mechanized, and efficient by European standards, producing about 60% of food needs with less than 2% of the labor force. The UK has large coal, natural gas, and oil reserves; primary energy production accounts for 10% of GDP, one of the highest shares of any industrial nation.

Services, particularly banking, insurance, and business services, account by far for the largest proportion of GDP while industry continues to decline in importance. GDP growth slipped in 2001-03 as the global downturn, the high value of the pound, and the bursting of the "new economy" bubble hurt manufacturing and exports. Output recovered in 2004, to 3.2% growth, but fell in 2005, to 1.7%. Despite slower growth, the economy is one of the strongest in Europe; inflation, interest rates, and unemployment remain low. The relatively good economic performance has complicated the BLAIR government's efforts to make a case for Britain to join the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).

Critics point out that the economy is doing well outside of EMU, and public opinion polls show a majority of Britons are opposed to the euro. Meantime, the government has been speeding up the improvement of education, transport, and health services, at a cost in higher taxes and a widening public deficit.


Airports: 471 (2005)
Airports - with paved runways: total: 334
Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 137
Heliports: 11 (2005)
Pipelines: condensate 370 km; gas 21,446 km; liquid petroleum gas 59 km; oil 6,420 km; oil/gas/water 63 km; refined products 4,474 km (2004)
Railways: total: 17,274 km
Roadways: total: 387,674 km


3,200 km (620 km used for commerce) (2003)

Merchant marine

Total: 444 ships (1000 GRT or over) 10,775,537 GRT/11,464,492 DWT
By type: bulk carrier 20, cargo 64, chemical tanker 45, container 143, liquefied gas 14, passenger 9, passenger/cargo 66, petroleum tanker 31, refrigerated cargo 20, roll on/roll off 26, vehicle carrier 6
Foreign-owned: 208 (Australia 4, Canada 12, Denmark 41, Finland 2, France 3, Germany 63, Greece 7, Ireland 1, Italy 5, Netherlands 2, NZ 1, Norway 40, South Africa 4, Sweden 15, Taiwan 1, Turkey 1, US 6)
Registered in other countries: 365 (Antigua and Barbuda 5, Argentina 4, Australia 2, The Bahamas 68, Barbados 7, Belgium 1, Bermuda 8, Brazil 1, Brunei 8, Canada 1, Cape Verde 1, Cayman Islands 9, China 1, Cyprus 8, Faroe Islands 1, French Southern and Antarctic Lands 1, Georgia 5, Gibraltar 4, Greece 8, Hong Kong 35, India 1, Indonesia 2, Ireland 1, Italy 6, South Korea 2, Liberia 49, Malta 6, Marshall Islands 20, Morocco 1, Netherlands 21, Netherlands Antilles 2, Norway 4, Panama 36, Papua New Guinea 6, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 16, Singapore 10, Slovakia 1, Tonga 1, US 2) (2005)

Sailing Specifics: Ports and terminals

Hound Point, Immingham, Milford Haven, Liverpool, London, Southampton, Sullom Voe, Teesport


In 2002, Gibraltar residents voted overwhelmingly by referendum to reject any "shared sovereignty" arrangement between the UK and Spain; the Government of Gibraltar insists on equal participation in talks between the two countries; Spain disapproves of UK plans to grant Gibraltar greater autonomy; Mauritius and Seychelles claim the Chagos Archipelago (British Indian Ocean Territory), and its former inhabitants since their eviction in 1965.

Most Chagossians reside in Mauritius, and in 2001 were granted UK citizenship but no right to patriation in the UK; UK rejects sovereignty talks requested by Argentina, which still claims the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands; territorial claim in Antarctica (British Antarctic Territory) overlaps Argentine claim and partially overlaps Chilean claim; Iceland, the UK, and Ireland dispute Denmark's claim that the Faroe Islands' continental shelf extends beyond 200 nm

Other Sailing Destinations in the Region

Arctic Ocean - Bermuda - Spain and Canary Islands - Cape Verde Islands - Faeroes Islands - France - Greenland - Iceland - Ireland - Portugal, the Azores and Madeira - United Kingdom

Further Reading

Back to "vacations"