The shallow waters off the coast of Norderney in the southern North Sea are characterised by a higher frequency of rogue wave occurrences than expected. Here, rogue waves refer to waves exceeding twice the significant wave height. The role of nonlinear processes in the generation of rogue waves at this location is currently unclear. Within the framework of the Korteweg–de Vries (KdV) equation, we investigated the discrete soliton spectra of measured time series at Norderney to determine differences between time series with and without rogue waves. For this purpose, we applied a nonlinear Fourier transform (NLFT) based on the Korteweg–de Vries equation with vanishing boundary conditions (vKdV-NLFT). At measurement sites where the propagation of waves can be described by the KdV equation, the solitons in the discrete nonlinear vKdV-NLFT spectrum correspond to physical solitons. We do not know whether this is the case at the considered measurement site. In this paper, we use the nonlinear spectrum to classify rogue wave and non-rogue wave time series. More specifically, we investigate if the discrete nonlinear spectra of measured time series with visible rogue waves differ from those without rogue waves. Whether or not the discrete part of the nonlinear spectrum corresponds to solitons with respect to the conditions at the measurement site is not relevant in this case, as we are not concerned with how these spectra change during propagation. For each time series containing a rogue wave, we were able to identify at least one soliton in the nonlinear spectrum that contributed to the occurrence of the rogue wave in that time series. The amplitudes of these solitons were found to be smaller than the crest height of the corresponding rogue wave, and interaction with the continuous wave spectrum is needed to fully explain the observed rogue wave. Time series with and without rogue waves showed different characteristic soliton spectra. In most of the spectra calculated from rogue wave time series, most of the solitons clustered around similar heights, but the largest soliton was outstanding, with an amplitude significantly larger than all other solitons. The presence of a clearly outstanding soliton in the spectrum was found to be an indicator pointing towards the enhanced probability of the occurrence of a rogue wave in the time series. Similarly, when the discrete spectrum appears as a cluster of solitons without the presence of a clearly outstanding soliton, the presence of a rogue wave in the observed time series is unlikely. These results suggest that soliton-like and nonlinear processes substantially contribute to the enhanced occurrence of rogue waves off Norderney.