The English Channel is a narrow sea separating France and Great Britain. It is 180 km (112 mi) wide in the west where it meets the Atlantic Ocean and narrows to 34 km (21 mi) in the Dover Straits in the east where it links to the North Sea. Regular ferry services cross the Channel between many ports including Dover, Plymouth, and Portsmouth in Great Britain and Calais, Dunkerque, Boulogne-sur-Mer, and Dieppe in France. These ferry crossings along with the huge amount of cargo vessels transiting through the Channel make the Dover Straits one of the busiest shipping channels in the world with over 400 vessels monitored each day. Channel Tunnel (a rail tunnel) opened in 1994 can carry passengers, cars, and lorries.
The English channel is known in French as La Manche (the sleeve), and the chief commercial ports are Southampton in Great Britain and Cherbourg and Le Havre in France.
Following a shipping accident in January 1971 and a series of disastrous collisions with wreckage in February, the Dover Traffic Separation System (TSS), the world's first maritime radar controlled TSS was set up by the International Maritime Organization.
The shore-based long range traffic control system was updated in 2003. Though the system is inherently incapable of reaching the levels of safety obtained from aviation systems such as the Traffic Collision Avoidance System, it has reduced accidents to one or two a year. Marinas along both coasts provide information on the Traffic scheme and Channel weather.
The scheme allows vessels travelling north to use channel on the French side of the straits and south bound vessels to use the English side, between these two channels is a separation zone. Coastal traffic, and yacht passaging between marinas, can use the inshore zones and vessels crossing the scheme, such as ferries, must cross at 90 degrees.
Live English Channel Ship movements
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