Coastal shipping was the mainstay of the port of Minehead and many ships were owned by Minehead merchants, mariners and others. They sailed up and down and across the Bristol Channel with West Somerset timber, grain and other produce returning with coal, limestone, slate and groceries. The expanding South Wales coalfields created a demand for food as well as timber for pit props, which could be supplied easily from Minehead. Regular visits by coastal freighters paying keelage and other dues kept the harbour in business and maintained the quays. Ships were a substantial and sometimes risky investment but could be very profitable and most local merchants and sea captains owned ships or shares in shipping.
It was not only the port's own ships that traded in and out of the harbour. Minehead saw a great variety of vessels from Genoese and Portuguese vessels in the port's early period and royal yachts in the late 17th century to the 19th-century pleasure steamer carrying cargoes of holidaymakers and day trippers.