Abstract Observations of the residual fluxes of water, salt and suspended sediment are presented for seven stations along the Tamar Estuary. The data include measurements over single spring and neap tidal cycles, and are generally applicable to medium or high run-off conditions. Surface to bed differences in salinity are typically of the order of several parts per thousand. Gravitational circulation is an important component of residual flow in the deep, lower reaches of the estuary. Here, Stokes drift is insignificant. In the shallow upper reaches, the major residual currents are generated by Stokes drift and freshwater inputs. Data are compared with predictions from Hansen and Rattray's (1966) model of estuarine circulation. Salt fluxes due to tidal pumping and vertical shear are directed up-estuary at spring tides, tidal pumping being dominant. Tidal pumping of salt is also directed up-estuary at neap tides, although it is insignificant in the lower reaches, where vertical shear dominates. Tidal pumping of suspended sediment is directed up-estuary near the head at spring tides, and probably contributes to the formation of the turbidity maximum. The existence of the turbidity maximum is predicted using a simplified model of the transport of water and sediment. The model shows that an additional mechanism for the existence of the turbidity maximum is an up-estuary maximum in the tidal current speeds (and thus resuspension). In the lower reaches, transport of suspended sediment is directed down-estuary at both spring and neap tides, and sediment is essentially flushed to sea with the fresh water.