Information and Advisory Note Number 28 Back to menu
Scotland's marine environment, with its clean water, magnificent scenery and wildlife, and a wide range of sea conditions and sheltered anchorages, provides some of the best settings for marine water sports anywhere in the world. This note introduces the principal water sports which are popular around Scotland. It also describes the trends related to participation in marine water sports, and provides a summary of relevant bodies, -legislation and regulatory processes for these activities. Some conflicts have been reported between marine water sports and natural heritage interests in Scotland. The note presents two case studies where such conflict was either resolved, or where a code of conduct was developed, to encourage good practice with the aim of avoiding conflict.
This includes small dinghy sailing and racing, keelboat sailing and racing, and cruising trips of varying lengths. The main Scottish centres are the Firths of Forth and Clyde, and the west coast, based around Oban, although sailing is also increasingly popular around almost all our coasts, including the Northern Isles. Sailing is a year-round activity in some locations, and seasonal in others. Charter hire companies, and commercial cruising operations exist in several locations, particularly on the west coast.
1.3 Windsurfing (Boardsailing)
Although mainly an inland sport in Scotland, windsurfing is a widespread activity, encountered in many coastal locations from
the Firth of Forth to St Kilda. It is not thought that the total numbers participating are increasing, but key sites such as the island of Tiree continue to attract experts. In general, waters favoured range from estuaries, harbours and sheltered bays for beginners, schools and equipment hire centres, -" to" exposed sites where wind, swell and shoreline combine to create exciting conditions for experienced participants.
Surfing is a rapidly-growing water sport, taking place all year round. It may involve the use of surf boards, "wave skis' or canoes, any of which may be "transported easily from roof-rack to shore wherever there is a safe and reliable wave-break. Surfing now takes place in several locations, especially on the east and north coasts. Thurso, for instance, is now a world famous venue for both recreational and competitive surfing, with possibly the best surf in Europe. Machrihanish is a popular venue for canoe surfing in South-west Scotland.
1.5 Sea kayaking
Sea kayaking is a popular activity, accessible at many different levels, and not dependent on ferry or road access. In summer months, canoeists are seen off many holiday beaches, where their activities are generally confined close to shore. Sea kayak touring, as a specialist sport offering a great deal of freedom, is also growing in popularity, with 550-600 participants in Scotland. Sea kayakers may be found on literally any of Scotland's coastal waters and island groups, although the main areas are on the west coast (Seil; Sound of Luing; Oban; Cumbraes; Clyde). There are also active clubs in Glasgow, Lothian, Fife, Tayside, Orkney and Shetland. The main season tends to be from spring to autumn.
1.6 Power Boating
This takes several forms, from speed boats, motor cruisers and inflatables, to powered dinghies used for as yacht tenders, or rigid hulled boats transporting scuba divers. Loch Lomond provides a freshwater focus for this sport, which also takes place at a number of other freshwater locations (e.g. L. Tay, L-Earn, Strathclyde Park, Castle Semple Loch). In coastal waters, however, this sport is generally undertaken close to the major population centres on the Firths of Forth, Clyde and Moray, and from the larger marinas in the Oban-Fort William area.
1.7 Water Skiing
Water skiing is more popular on freshwater sites in Scotland, including a number with dedicated water ski centres. In coastal waters, this activity is most common in the major Firths, close to population centres. Water skiing is undertaken increasingly within the confines of club membership, with the trend towards quieter, gas-powered boats, although these are not suitable for all kinds of water skiing.
1.8 Personal Watercraft ('Jet Skis')
This sport-has a similar freshwater distribution to that of power boating. It is also popular in the main Firths, and where access to sheltered waters is easy for car & trailer. The use of personal watercraft may be perceived to involve fast and erratic changes of direction and is accompanied by a relatively high noise level. The rapid increase of numbers in recent years has, therefore, resulted in some conflicts of interest between personal watercraft users and nature conservation, and also with other water users. A voluntary code of conduct involving personal watercraft and other water sports has been developed for the Moray Firth (see section 6, "Case Studies").
1.9 Sub-Aqua Diving
Sub-aqua diving (or SCUBA diving) is an increasingly popular activity at sites all around the coast, especially off the west coast and islands. With a combination of clear waters, diverse marine life and historical interest, Scotland offers some of the best diving conditions in Britain. Diving is undertaken as day trips, weekend or longer trips, from the shore, day boats, or" live-aboard" dive boats (mostly in Oban and Scapa Flow). Main centres of activity are based around Oban, Skye and Mull, but there are also popular sites on the east coast, such as St Abbs Voluntary Marine Reserve, and in Orkney, particularly Scapa Flow. Although taking place mainly during the summer months, growing numbers are participating in this sport throughout the year.
An important change or trend over the past decade has been the shift from
passive to active forms of recreation, and an associated increase in
participation in outdoor pursuits. Water sports, in particular, have
substantially increased in popularity in recent years. Although numbers of
people involved in water sports have been projected to increase by a further 30%
by the end of the century, accurate numbers are often difficult to obtain, due
partly to the diverse locations and the limited opportunities for club
participation for many of these activities. Cited participant numbers usually
also include both marine and inland participants, in Scotland, power boating,
water-skiing, sub-aqua diving and personal watercraft are particularly popular,
relative to other areas of the UK and, along with sailing, are the sports
expected to show the highest growth. These activities may be popular partly
because they may be pursued flexibly and on an individual basis. Participant
numbers may continue to grow as consumer income grows, and a middle-aged group
develops, with an increasing commitment to an active lifestyle.
With regard to yacht sailing and cruising, Scotland presently has in the region of 600 moorings (marina and non-marina) and 150 launch sites. Due to the increasing demand, however, around 60% of these sites have waiting lists and there is, therefore, potential pressure to expand. Growth in the sailing and cruising sectors has led to several recent proposals to site new marine facilities around the coast and islands, a trend which is likely to continue. In contrast to the facilities for larger vessels, there are probably thousands of sites around the Scottish coast where it is possible to launch small craft, such as sailing dinghies. In this situation, access rights to reach the shore may be an issue.
A recent Ross and Cromarty Enterprise (RACE) survey projected a demand for 220 permanent berths to the north of Inverness alone, in order to cater for increased demand from both day-sailors and multi day cruisers. Another study by Moray, Badenoch and Strathspey Enterprise foresees a requirement for 282 new berths in the Moray Firth as a whole. As development is hampered by lack of berthing space, it has been suggested that development of certain unused fishing harbours could provide marina facilities.
The Royal Yachting Association (Scotland) suggest that, due to leisure time patterns and multi-interest lifestyles, trends are towards J more frequent but shorter trips (day/weekend, etc.) rather than extended multi-week cruises. A recent increase, in England, in the use of Trailer Sailors', which do not require berthing facilities and can be towed by car (demountable keels), has not been demonstrated in Scotland.
Some water sports have shown a large increase in affiliated membership, although the increase in actual numbers is still very small. In 1992, the Scottish Water Ski Association membership-'increased by 70%,-" although this may to some extent reflect previously existing skiers coming under the auspices of SWSA or affiliated clubs. The growing popularity of sub-aqua may bring a demand for the siting of facilities such as new slipways, suitable accommodation and services, sometimes in remote locations. There has already been an increase in the number of "dive centres" offering, for example, air compressors, cheap accommodation, and hard-hulled boats. At .the very least, an increase in levels of such activities will put pressure on existing access facilities to varying degrees, and may create pressure for provision of more access, perhaps in presently undeveloped areas.
Finally, it has been noted that better outdoor equipment, a growth in the popularity of 'second holidays' and policies aimed at encouraging 'off peak' visitors, are likely to contribute towards trends in lengthening the seasons of some marine water sports in Scotland.
Most marine water sports have some representation at national (Scottish or UK)
level. The authorities and organisations listed below are able to give
information on local representatives and contacts in your area.
SCOTTISH SPORTS COUNCIL, Caledonia House, South Gyle, Edinburgh EH12 9DU. Tel. 0131-317 7200 - National agency with a
statutory duty to promote the development of organised sport amongst the general public, and to foster provision of facilities. Umbrella body for the sporting associations mentioned below. Runs the National Watersports Centres at Inverclyde and Cumbrae (01475 674666/720).
ROYAL YACHTING ASSOCIATION (SCOTLAND) Caledonia House, South Gyle, Edinburgh EH12 9DQ. Tel. 0131-317 7388. Governing body for keelboat and dinghy sailing, power boating, windsurfing, and personal watercraft (Windsurfing Association also at same address).
SCOTTISH CANOE ASSOCIATION (SCA), Caledonia House, South Gyle, Edinburgh EH12 9DQ. Tel. 0131-317 7314. Governing body for canoeing, kayaking, sea-kayaking and canoe-surfing. Yearbook contains details of these, along with many local contact addresses. Developed a code of conduct for sea kayakers in 1996.
INTERNATIONAL SEA KAYAK ASSOCIATION, 5 Osprey Avenue, Westhaughton, Bolton, Lancashire BL5 2SL, Tel. 01942 842204. Forum for sea kayakers throughout Britain and Europe.
SCOTTISH WATER SKI ASSOCIATION, Development Officer, Town Loch, Dunfermline, Fife. Tel. 01383 620123. A "Code of Practice for Water Skiing and the Environment" is available.
SCOTTISH SUB-AQUA CLUB, The Coburg Centre, 40 Bogmoor Place, Glasgow, G51 4TQ. Tel. 0141-425 1024.
BRITISH SUB-AQUA CLUB, Telford's Quay, Ellesmere Port, South Wirral, Cheshire L65 4FY. Tel. 0151-357 1951
PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION OF DIVING INSTRUCTORS (PAD I), Scottish representative at: Puffin Dive Centre, Laggan, Glensalloch, Oban, Argyll. Tel. 01631 64142.
SCOTTISH SURFING FEDERATION, Tel. 01346 513736 (weekends only).
SCOTTISH TRUST FOR UNDERWATER ARCHAEOLOGY (STUA), c/o Department of Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, 16-20 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9JZ. Tel. 0131-650 6536. Aims to promote research, recording and protection of Scotland's underwater heritage in both coastal and inland waters.
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR OUTDOOR EDUCATION (NAOE) SCOTLAND, Loaningdale House, Carwood Road, Biggar, Lanarkshire ML12 6LX. Tel. 01899 221115. Policy-making body; promotes outdoor education in the broadest sense. Often at forefront of innovations in outdoor education. Involved in development of adventure programmes with schools and youth groups.
SCOTTISH YOUTH HOSTELS ASSOCIATION (SYHA), 7 Glebe Crescent, Stirling FK8 2JA. Tel. 01786 451181. Promotes its own holidays and outdoor activities including sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, etc. Can provide information on local hostels, wardens and open/closed dates.
MARINE CONSERVATION SOCIETY (MCS), 9 Gloucester Road, Ross-on-Wye HR9 5BU. Tel. 01989 66017. National voluntary organisation concerned with all aspects of the conservation of marine life and habitats, principally in UK waters
Each local authority Education Department has Advisors in Outdoor Education, together with Outdoor Centres, equipment and resource bases. Local authorities often run courses for teachers, community workers and youth groups in outdoor skills including sailing and canoeing.
The following is a summary of the most relevant pieces of the extensive and
complex legislation relating to marine recreation.
4.1 UK legislation
4.1.1 Access and the right of navigation
Access to the coast is a form of access over land, except that there is a common law public right of access for recreation on the foreshore - between tidal limits - although a legitimate means of access to the shore is required to enable this right to be enjoyed. Access to water is a crucial issue for the active pursuits. At sea, and on estuaries to the High Water Spring Tide Point, there is a general right of navigation. There are also some incidental rights, such as temporary anchoring or mooring, but such use must be incidental to the act of navigation. Access to navigable waters, however, is not an incidental right.
4.1.2 Water quality
The licensing of discharges of sewage effluent within three miles of shore is controlled by, and resultant water quality monitored by, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) through the Control of Pollution Act 1974, as amended by the Water Act 1989. Bacteriological quality of bathing waters, which are frequently used for a number of water sports, is controlled under the terms of the EC Bathing Waters Directive, and is also monitored by SEPA.
4.1.3 Recreation based on motorised vessels
According to the Department of Transport, water skiing is an act of towing' rather than an exercise of the public right of navigation and may, therefore, be legislated against through bye-law rather than by primary legislation. Use of personal water craft, however, is construed as an exercise of the public right of navigation, which cannot be over-ridden either by the general directions of the Harbour Master, or by the introduction of bye-laws. Nevertheless, motorised vessels may be regulated to some extent by Harbour Masters, by the introduction of speed limits. Below a certain speed, personal water craft become unstable and, therefore, inoperable. This should also be borne in mind if providing zoned sites to allow personal water craft use, as an access channel exempt from the speed limit may have to be provided.
In some areas, local authorities may be able to control the use of recreational craft up to 1000m beyond the Low Water mark via powers to make bye-laws under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act (1982). In this way, for example, areas may be set aside for bathing and vessel use. One form of bye-law which may be invoked relates to speed limits and may be useful in regulating certain marine-based recreation (see above).
4.1.4 Development control
Development of new marina (and other built) facilities require the granting of planning permission by the relevant planning authority (discussed in greater detail below). Port Authorities also have powers to manage and regulate activities within their area of jurisdiction
4.2 EC Legislation
The EC is developing an increasing role in instigating environmental legislation by the adoption of Directives which are binding in member states (although these states have to introduce legislation to implement them). For example, the Environmental Assessment (EA) Directive introduced legislation requiring EAs to be conducted on all major developments likely to have a 'significant' effect upon the environment. The Wild Birds and Habitats and Species Directives have improved the protection of wild birds and important habitats, flora and fauna, largely through designation of a network of sites (Special Protection Areas, SPAs, for birds; Special Areas of Conservation, SACs, for habitats and species).
4.3 International Conventions
The most comprehensive attempt to formulate globally applicable and enforceable international laws governing the marine environment is the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III). Britain , has not yet ratified the convention. The UK government has, however, ratified ANNEX V of the MARPOL (Marine Pollution) 73/78 Convention, which makes it illegal to dispose of most litter and rubbish over the sides of vessels.
Construction, and subsequent operation, of new marinas may result in losses of coastal and intertidal habitats, disturbance of wildlife, and the interruption of water and sediment transport patterns important for geomorphological conservation. For proposed marina developments in Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Nature Reserves National Scenic Areas, and within or likely to affect Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation, SNH is a statutory consultee in the planning process. There are, however, other opportunities for SNH to influence marina development proposals, as described below.
5.2 Local Authority planning process
The principal statutory instrument for land-use planning in Scotland is the Town & Country Planning (Scotland) Act (1972), as amended by the Planning & Compensation Act (1991). Marinas are included in Annex 2 of the EC Environmental Assessment Directive, which is implemented via regulations which relate back to the T&CP (S) Act. Accordingly, local authorities have a discretionary power to request that an EA is earned out for any proposed marina development. This, and any subsequent planning consultation, may provide SNH with a valuable opportunity to comment on- likely natural heritage issues. In addition, there is may be opportunities for SNH staff to seek the inclusion, by local authorities, of commitments to ensuring the appropriateness of future developments as part of the structure/local plan process.
5.3 Discharge consent licences
If a new marina proposes to make an effluent discharge (e.g. from toilets, septic tanks, clubhouse, etc.), it will require a license from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, under the terms of the Control of Pollution Act (1974), as amended by the Water Act (1989). The public consultation process for this is another opportunity for SNH to_ comment on likely effects of the proposal on natural heritage interests.
5.4 Marine construction licences
The Food and Environment Protection Act (1985), as amended by the Environmental Protection Act (1990), requires that any deposition of material below Mean High Water Mark of Spring Tides, including construction of structures, should be assessed prior to issuing of a license. There is an opportunity for SNH to comment on proposed marina developments through a consultation with the licensing authority, the Scottish Office Agriculture Environment and Fisheries Department (SOAEFD), over the issuing of marine construction licences under this Act. SOAEFD also consults a number of other environmental agencies during this licensing process.
6.1 Moray Firth Dolphin Awareness Project
The Moray Firth is one of the most important UK locations for cetaceans, and home to Scotland's only resident population of
Bottlenose Dolphins. It is also a very popular recreational venue, with activities like power-boating and personal watercraft on the increase. Fast, manoeuvrable vessels may affect cetaceans adversely, both by direct injury and indirect disturbance.
Following reports of incidents between personal watercraft and dolphins, SNH initiated a 'Dolphin Awareness' project, designed to raise the awareness of boaters to the potential problem, and to alert local people to the importance and sensitivity of the area. A voluntary 'code of conduct' was developed, and is displayed in pamphlets and signboards (July 1993). Close collaboration between SNH, Aberdeen University, the Sea Watch Foundation, the Personal Watercraft Association and the Royal Yachting Association (Scotland), as well as local boat clubs, harbours and local authorities, has been an important factor in the success of the project. It has had a very positive uptake so far, but long-term success depends upon maintaining the relationship developed in the early stages between the many different parties. Contact SNH NW Region Aquatic Advisory Officer 01463 239431.
6.2 "Boats and Birds"
The Royal Yachting Association has recently collaborated with the RSPB to produce an advice leaflet for those participating in sailing, yachting and cruising entitled 'Boats and Birds'. Aware of the numbers of people taking part in water sports, and the associated pressures on the marine and coastal environment, it outlines a 'code of conduct* designed to ensure that boat users have a minimal impact on the internationally significant populations of waders, waterfowl and seabirds for which UK aquatic environments are so important. Contact: RYA 01703 629962. RYA (Scotland) has an advisory panel on environmental matters in Scotland. Contact RYA (S): 0131-317 7388.
This note was drafted by Brian Wilson, of Wildland Natural Heritage Services. The SNH contact points for further information are the Aquatic Environments Branch and the Recreation and Access Branch, both at:
Research and Advisory Services Directorate
Scottish Natural Heritage
2 Anderson Place
Edinburgh EH6 5NP
Tel. 0131-447 4784
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