Shipping Study of the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters

A study of shipping activity to better inform the marine spatial plan pilot for the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Strategic Area. The aim of this process is to ensure there is good knowledge of the

use of these waters by all stakeholders so that futur


6.1 Introduction

At the project outset it was anticipated there would be knowledge available that is relevant to the project but unpublished, particularly relating to recreational vessel activity. This was confirmed during the taking stock exercise based on the literature review and initial stakeholder consultation.

A questionnaire survey was designed, with input from the Steering Group, to help obtain this information. A full copy of the questionnaire is provided in Appendix A, and the data provided are held by Marine Scotland.

The questionnaire was mainly targeted at recreational vessel organisations and individual users of the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters. It was directly issued to the organisations listed in Table 6.1, as well as to individuals who were known by the Project Steering Group to have potentially relevant information, such as recreational sailors.

Table 6.1 Initial Recipients

Caithness Sea Angling Association Orkney Marinas
Clyde Cruising Club Orkney Sailing Club
Cruising Association Pentland Ferries
Deerness Small Boat Owners Association Pentland Firth Yacht Club
Gill's Bay Harbour Trust RNLI Stations (Wick, Longhope, Stromness and Kirkwall)
Highland Council Harbours Sail Orkney Yacht Charter
Holm Sailing Club Scrabster Harbour Trust
John O'Groats Ferries Stromness Sailing Club
Kirkwall Small Boat Owners Association Stromness Small Boat Users Association
NorthLink Ferries Westray Boat Owners Association
Orkney Dive Boat Operator's Association Westray Sailing Club
Orkney Islands Sea Angling Association Wick Harbour Authority
Orkney Sea Kayaking Association Kirkwall Kayakers Club
Pentland Canoe Club Caithness Kayak Club
OIC Marine Services Longhope Sailing Club
Wick Angling Association

Anatec and the RYA also advertised the questionnaire on their websites to solicit further responses.

A total of 42 valid responses were received to the questionnaire which are summarised in Section 6.3. The majority were from recreational sailors or clubs, but a sizeable minority (7 in total) were from sea kayakers and kayaking clubs.

Around the same time as the questionnaire, an article in the Cruising Association magazine "Cruising, March 2012" asked for information on navigation around the Pentland Firth and Orkney waters. The question set differed slightly, therefore, the responses received are analysed separated in Section 6.9.

6.2 Question 1: Information on Response

This introductory question gathered background information on the respondents (i.e., contact details) and how they had completed the survey. The responses to the latter question are summarised in Figure 6.1.

Figure 5.21 Lengths of Vessels visiting Highland Council Facilities

Figure 6.1 Summary of Responses to Question 1(b)

There were 20 responses representing organisations and 22 from individuals. All but one respondent indicated they would be willing to participate in further consultation. Those willing to participate further were invited to the local workshops held in July 2012 (see Section 8).

The remaining questions were generally more open-ended, allowing respondents flexibility in the information they provided about the use of the area. Not all respondents answered every question but a reasonable sample (over 20 responses) was obtained for each question. The lengths of responses varied from a few words to several paragraphs.

A summary of the questions (see Appendix A for full details) and answers are provided below. Excerpts from responses are provided but they have been kept anonymous.

6.3 Question 2: Approach to Identifying Commercial Shipping using AIS

The majority of responses commented that the planned approach to characterise commercial shipping activity using one month of data from winter and one month from summer was representative.

However, some concerns were raised surrounding "unseasonal" weather patterns, and variability of fishing and cruising activity. Selected excerpts are presented below:

ID Feedback
10 Responding primarily for leisure users then these months would be representative.
32 I suspect both fishing and commercial cruising vessels may vary month to month. Also events such as last year's Tall Ships race only occur in a single month.
16 Not a good idea. Orkney waters are very weather influenced and this can have an effect in seemingly unseasonable times. For example, winter can be very still and calm, this is not uncommon, while summer can be subject to sea fog (Haar) or other unfavourable conditions. Therefore surveys need to be spread over a longer, more representative period.
15 Winter month should be January to March to pick up pelagic trawlers / purse seine-netters. Specifics depend on shoaling activities of herring and especially mackerel, which are obviously variable annually. These are the deepest-draughted vessels from UK, Norway, Germany, and Netherlands regularly transiting Firth.

The comments on fishing activity were not pertinent as these vessels are not relevant to the current study having been analysed in the ScotMap project by Marine Scotland.

Cruise ship activity was considered to be well-represented by the July period, which is a peak month. The AIS data were checked against cruise ships visits reported by OIC Marine to put the data in context (see Section 7.8).

It was concluded from the responses that the approach being taken was appropriate for commercial shipping. It was also confirmed that using just two months of AIS data would not be sufficient for recreational vessel activity, only a minority of which carry AIS and which are more affected by weather and seasonal variations.

6.4 Question 3 - Description of Recreational Vessel Activity

This question was divided into six parts to obtain information on the respondents' knowledge of recreational vessel activity in the area. More details are provided below:

a) Nature of Activity:

The responses were generally divided into club activities (sailing and sea kayaking clubs) and individual activities, i.e., recreational sailors cruising in the area.

b) Vessels Involved:

Specific details of the number, type and size of vessels involved in group activities were provided by clubs. Most other responses were from owners of yachts ranging in size from 19-50 feet with the majority in the 30-40 feet range.

ID Feedback
4 Dinghies- 15 below 18ft. Yachts - 10 varied up to around 35ft. Motor boats - various but most of them kept ashore - sizes generally less than 20ft.
7 Private yacht - 11.6m
8 Catamaran 11.3m.
10 Sailing dinghies, canoes and personal water craft - 2m to 6m, up to 25 vessels; Motor and sail cruising, day sailing - 5m to 10m (approx.); We receive on average two to three yachts per month during mid- summer - 5m to 15m approx.; Leisure fishing - 4m to 8m (approx.). During summer months there may be up to 4 vessels fishing in Thurso Bay, inshore and other bays.
23 Single 36ft yacht.
31 One 10m yacht.
33 One vessel 10.5m long keeled yacht.
40 10m ketch sailing yacht.

Selected excerpts from sea kayaker responses are provided below:

ID Feedback
3 Very difficult to estimate, but certainly some paddlers out all year round in this area; in summer (May to August), 100s of sea kayakers around each week; lower numbers out in 'shoulder' holiday months of March / April and September / October
9 Group size can vary from 3 to 20, paddling 17 foot single kayaks and 19 foot double kayaks.
13 Numbers vary but groups of up to 10
42 The club has between 50 and 60 members and a fleet of 18 sea kayaks for use by members. Additionally a number of members have their own sea kayaks. Sea kayaks are in general 5.5m long and .6m in breadth. Max speed attainable by a good competent paddler with no tidal influence is 3kn.

c) Area of Activity:

Several respondents indicated the whole of the PFOW study area is within their area of activity. Other highlighted specific places or features, as indicated by the excerpts given below:

ID Feedback
4 Dinghies mainly in Stromness Harbour but into the Bay of Ireland [2] for the regatta and some other events. Yachts, generally all round Orkney, crossing the Pentland Firth, east and west coasts of Scotland, Fair Isle and Shetland. There are also trips to Norway etc.
7 Westray, Eday, Stronsay, Kirkwall. South Ronaldsay, Scapa Flow and Stromness.
8 Outer Sound, Inner Sound, Scrabster, the Orkneys as a whole.
10 Motor and sail cruising generally use Thurso bay area only or sail between bays with up to 4 vessels. Only very occasionally would vessels venture further out. Yachts require to make passage through the Firth (mostly Inner Sound) and across to Orkney. Leisure fishing in Thurso Bay, inshore and other bays.
12 Hoy, Scapa Flow, Shapinsay, Stronsay, Eday and Kirkwall Bay
13 Any coastal area around Orkney Islands typically within 1 mile of shore unless crossing between islands
23 Cape Wrath [3] - Stromness, west coast of Orkney from Stromness to Westray, Westray to Fair Isle / Shetland, Westray to Kirkwall (i.e. through the middle of the island group), Kirkwall to Wick. Intend to sail Scapa Flow (Stromness to south entrance) & leave via the Pentland Firth.
31 All indicated areas.
33 Any and all parts of the identified area could be visited; depends on weather conditions and time. Away from built up towns with facilities we would normally anchor or pick up a mooring buoy.
37 Inner Sound, Outer Sound, Scapa Flow. Eynhallow Sound, Sanday Sound.
40 Kinlochbervie via most of the Orkney Islands and down to Wick (our base is Carrick Castle, Argyll - route up the west coast of Scotland and back via the Caledonian Canal and west of Scotland again.

Kayakers highlighted particular routes often undertaken by different clubs but more generally indicated that the whole of the PFOW study area is used. It was also highlighted that additional routes commonly used by kayakers may be found in published guide books:

ID Feedback
3 All of the area.
9 Trips in all the south of the area and extended trips in the Orkney Isles in the north of the area.
13 Any coastal area around Orkney Islands typically within 1 mile of shore unless crossing between islands
42 The Club regularly paddles the coastline from Tongue to Duncansby Head on the north coast including the island of Stroma. Some typical trips are published in sea kayaking guide books for the area by Pesda Press.

d) Period of Activity:

The vast majority of activity takes place throughout the summer months (April to October) for all stakeholders. Examples of all-year round activity, which are restricted to suitable weather, included sailing, kayaking and leisure fishing.

e) Frequency of Activity:

Club activities, such as sailing, were the most regular activities, e.g., weekly. There were several responses from cruising yachts which typically visit the area for several weeks annually (or less frequently).

ID Feedback
4 Dinghy sailing is active mainly once or twice a week with some training taking place in the weekends. Power boats are probably more frequent in the week and weekends, especially for fishing trips and very much weather dependant. Local yachts are busy from April to October when many are lifted out of the water for the winter. Some stay afloat in the marinas and will be active whenever the weather is good. Visiting yachts are busy during the same months with around 600 coming to Orkney on a yearly basis.
10 Sailing dinghies are used 2 or 3 times per week during summer.
11 At least weekly but not daily.
7 2010 and future.
23 Every 4 years.
31 Occasionally.
33 Currently once every four years but when there would be full time except for any time spent in Shetland, Norway or Faroes.
38 Annually until 2005.

Sea kayaking is a regular activity being carried out on a weekly or fortnightly basis by clubs, as well as individual activities.

ID Feedback
9 We paddle weekdays, weekends and holidays averaging 30 - 40 trips annually.
13 Varies but probably fortnightly.
42 The majority of paddling trips are in the summer months at the weekends though some individuals will paddle outside of this depending on the weather and the shift patterns. There are also visiting paddlers to the area (e.g. other clubs; outdoor centres and lone recreational paddlers).

f) Broadcast on AIS:

Of the yacht owners who took part in the survey, a few were equipped with AIS receivers but only one had a transmitter which was not always used. It was indicated that some of the better equipped visiting vessels broadcast on AIS.

ID Feedback
4 It is unusual for recreational craft to have AIS transmitters but a considerable number of visiting boats and probably one local do have receivers.
10 None of these vessels usually carry AIS. Very rarely some of the better founded visiting yachts may.
22 Do not broadcast on AIS at present.
31 No, but receive.
33 Yacht is fitted with an AIS transponder but we don't always switch the AIS unit on or we switch the unit on in receive only mode in busy areas.
40 Receive AIS but do not broadcast.

None of the kayakers use AIS.

6.5 Question 4: Important Areas

Several responses made it clear that the total area is important to recreational vessel activity. The clubs that took part highlighted areas used by their organisations for regular activities as well as training, e.g., Stromness and Thurso Bay.

Sailors highlighted the significance of features such as access to harbours (e.g. Kirkwall, Stromness and Pierowall), bays with good anchorage/ shelter (e.g. Loch Eriboll [4] , Freswick Bay and East Weddel Sound [5] ) as well as popular transit routes, including passage through the Pentland Firth and routes between islands.

ID Feedback
4 1. For the dinghy sailors the areas close to the clubs are the important sailing grounds. These are Stromness Harbour and The Bay of Ireland, Kirkwall Bay, St Mary's Bay [6] , Longhope [7] and Pierowall. In all these weekly points races take place plus various other events. Clubs are also being set up in Finstown using the Bay of Firth [8] and Stronsay and using the area at Whitehall, Papa Sound [9] . 2. With respect to cruising yachts the very nature of what they are doing means that they go everywhere where the water is navigable. Most of the bays around Orkney are used as anchorages at some time depending upon weather, for overnight stays, places of interest and safety in inclement weather, for instance East Weddel Sound is a safe anchorage on the east side being safe from all wind directions. The Orkney Sailing Directions & Anchorages as published by the Clyde Cruising Club plus Admiralty Charts indicate where most of the anchorages are situated. 3. The renewables industry is not a great problem as regards anchorages as in general they are not suitable for their needs. However the approach to safe anchorages in adverse conditions is a different matter. If care is not taken in their positioning and marking they become a source of danger with the prospect of the loss of a vessel and maybe lives. This is especially so at present and into the future with the deterioration of weather patterns throughout the year due to global warming. 4. The renewables service industry may also produce a problem for recreational sailing in that they are forever requiring greater water and land space. Stromness Harbour may become overcrowded hence putting pressure onto dinghy sailing and training in the only safe area around. 5. The installation of the three marinas in Orkney has resulted in a large increase in visiting yachts many coming from Europe and Worldwide. Marinas are used as a base for conducting cruising around the islands resulting in far more frequent use of anchorages than has ever been done in the past. The current financial crisis does not appear to have resulted in a downturn of traffic which may mean that once it is over there could be a considerable increase. 6. The greatest problem facing recreational sailing will come from the aquaculture industry. They tend to use the same areas as required for dinghy sailing, training and anchorages. An instance of this is the proposal to use St Mary's Bay for shellfish farming. This bay has been used by Holm Sailing Club for what must be at least 50 years and possibly before the War, for all the above requirements plus the annual regatta.
7 To enjoy cruising in the area it is important to be able to visit the Orkney Islands and sail between them, either anchoring in suitable bays or using the various harbours. In particular access to / from Kirkwall and Scapa Flow from northwest, northeast and south or west respectively. Also being able to pass through the Pentland Firth in either direction is difficult enough with the very strong tides. No doubt this makes the area attractive for the sea power experiments but adequate passageways must be left for convenient transits and safety if small boats are not to be forced to use the much longer and possibly dangerous routes through or round the Islands.
10 Anchoring anywhere in the Firth is highly dangerous for any vessels and not possible for yachts and leisure craft. Most of the bays have sandy bottoms suitable for anchoring and are out of main tidal flow. Larger vessels may anchor in Thurso Bay and Dunnet Bay; yachts occasionally anchor in Thurso Bay. Vessels need to anchor in the lee of headlands and this may require them to change anchorages if swell direction changes. During incidents (say loss of steering or power) commercial vessels may need to drop anchors to slow drift or similar. As stated above, Thurso Bay is the area most used for both leisure activities and anchoring with very occasional use of Dunnet Bay for anchoring. Dinghies and smaller vessels may travel along coast and visit Thurso, Murkle [10] and Dunnet Bays. Yachts and similar travel to Orkney, through the Firth and west, and safe unobstructed passage of the Firth is essential. On behalf of the PFYC our most important activities are day sailing and dinghy racing in Thurso Bay and adjacent bays; we also support visiting yachts.
33 Access to main ports of refuge Stromness & Kirkwall is obviously important. Pierowall is also useful. I would not like to see prohibited areas which prevent access between any of the islands. If a slightly longer route has to be taken to avoid some installation at sea this is not a particular problem as the distances are generally fairly short anyway.
36 The whole area is of interest and of course in a small sailing boat it is not always that one can choose a detailed itinerary. The nature of local weather and tides makes it important to have free access to all navigable ports and safe anchorages.
39 Routes between Cape Wrath, Stromness and Westray are the most important for our activity.
40 The below routes are most important: Route Kinlochbervie to Stromness, Route Stromness to Wick, Route Kirkwall to Wick, Route Scrabster to Stromness, Route Kirkwall to Shetland, Route Stromness to Kirkwall, Routes between all the Orkney islands. Important anchorages: - Loch Eriboll, Freswick Bay. Many of the Orkney islands have visitors' moorings laid through the summer that are essential to yachtsmen.

Specific areas mentioned by kayakers included popular transit routes (e.g. the Pentland Firth and Eynhallow Sound) but the total area was also mentioned, especially areas close to the coast and areas where kayaks can be easily landed.

ID Feedback
2 It's unlikely to change in the future but we mainly kayak around the Orkney mainland. Especially barriers, east coast with Gloup [11] , Scapa, west Mainland. Basically all over Mainland depending on how the weather is and the safest place for paddles. We do paddle close to the coastline unless we paddle across to other islands like Cava [12] and so on.
3 a) Pentland Firth - for long-distance journeys by very experienced paddlers b) Coast from Tongue to Scrabster - used frequently all year round c) Orkney islands - used much in summer months - all routes between all islands. The only definite change is in an increase in sea kayaking everywhere around the Scottish coast ( SCA survey, Summer 2012, and 2010 UK report on recreational activities)
9 The Pentland Firth, especially the Inner Sound and Duncansby Head, along the north coast as far as the Kyle of Tongue and Loch Eriboll. These areas provide essential training waters for our more experienced paddlers and it is a major highlight of the club to visit the islands, headlands, harbours and cliff features of this scenic and environmentally wild area. We practice in the tidal streams as appropriate to the group.
13 Scapa Flow, west Mainland, Eynhallow Sound and seas around Rousay, east of Burray [13] , Copinsay Pass [14] , Deer Sound, Shapinsay Sound, Gairsay Sound [15] . Typically use sheltered areas in lee of land masses for beginners & general areas and crossings for more advanced kayakers. Unlikely to change in future.
14 Close inshore along north coast of Scotland and around all Orkney islands, probably rarely more than 500m offshore, with the exception of direct crossings between islands. Kayaks can access areas that no other vessels can and we can land easily on beaches. The tide races at Eynhallow and Hoy Sound are good for advanced training.
42 The key areas are: the coastline - generally within 1000-1500m of the coast except when crossing to an island such as Eilean Nan Ron [16] / Stroma or Swona. The area on coastline which is not regularly paddled is Sandside Bay [17] to Brims Ness [18] . The Club holds weekly training sessions in Thurso / Dunnet Bay crossing from Thurso Beach to Holborn Head [19] almost weekly in the summer months during the evenings. Whilst in strong tidal areas, kayakers need to undertake careful planning and the actual route may be slightly different from that planned due to the unpredictable nature of some local currents.

In terms of future changes, on the whole the responses suggested that the areas of importance are unlikely to change in the future. However, a few respondents expressed concern about potential disruption being caused by other industries, notably renewable energy and aquaculture.

6.6 Question 5: Effect of Tide and Weather on Recreational Vessel Activity

Virtually all respondents emphasised that careful consideration of tidal patterns is essential due to the nature of tides around the Pentland Firth and Orkney. Certain passages are not possible when travelling against the tide, or if the tide is opposing the prevalent wind direction (e.g. entering or leaving Scapa Flow). The importance of timing a journey to coincide with tides was frequently emphasised (e.g. when transiting between Kirkwall and Stromness) and the need to be readily adaptable (i.e., change of course or prolonged sheltering) is highlighted. Force 6 is frequently mentioned as a cut-off point for dinghy sailing and many visiting yachts remain in shelter when weather conditions exceed this threshold. The need for sufficient preparation and planning and gaining accurate, up-to-date weather information was also stressed as vital.

Sample comments below:

ID Feedback
4 Tide and weather affect the whole aspect of recreational sailing in Orkney. Although the tidal range is quite small, usually no more than 3m, the strength of the current is probably the largest in the UK reaching over 8kts at times. Due to this the tide has to be considered at all times when making passages, with some routes not being possible if the tide is against you or when you have tide against wind. Always when planning a passage make sure that the tide is with you especially when entering or leaving Scapa Flow and even then if there is a strong wind over tide avoid going. When sailing between Stromness and Kirkwall the western route is the shortest. However you need to leave Stromness by the start of the west going tide, leave it any later and if the wind is a strong westerly you will be taking green waves over the deck. You need to be at Eynhallow by the start of the flood before the race at the Reef of Burgar [20] builds up. This gives 6 hours between Stromness and Eynhallow which will then give 6 hours of flood to reach Kirkwall. Similar planning needs to be taken when reversing the route. If taking the easterly route between the two towns then you have two hours to round the foot of South Ronaldsay before turning north at Old Head [21] . This will then give an hour or so to travel north before the tide turns against you. If the weather is turning bad you can then head for East Weddel Sound for a safe anchorage or hang around in Holm Sound until the tide turns, about 5 hours. Once the tide has turned you can then head on through the Copinsay Pass if not too rough or outside Copinsay otherwise and if night time. This will then get you through the String with a favourable tide. The above types of considerations need to be taken wherever you go in Orkney. You cannot beat the tides or the weather. The former you can make work for you. Some routes due to the tide are only possible one way such as a round tour of Hoy. This needs to be done from east to west but make sure that you reach Tor Ness before the easterly stream gets too far advanced as this is the end of The Merry Men of Mey, a tidal race which stretches all the way across the Pentland Firth.
7 Even with any significant wind a small low powered vessel will struggle to make any headway against the fierce tides. Add a force 4+ and the strongest tidal gates become impassable in the wrong direction. This will not always be wind with tide as the two opposed can often create dangerous overfalls. A small boat's ability and its skipper's skill in manoeuvring in strong currents are much more limited than in larger more powerful vessels. So any new restrictions or obstructions need to be very well marked and published considerably in advance and probably for many years so as to effectively notify those who have known the area previously. Reminders through the RYA and at least Northern Yacht Clubs and nearby harbours are also likely to be effective.
8 The weather and then the tide dictate the when, where and how. We do this for fun.
10 Dinghy sailing takes place up to around Force 6 especially if offshore wind and sea flatter. Similarly for day sailing. Visiting yachts usually restrict their passages to less than force 6 due to very large sea state in Firth but obviously may get caught out in worse weather whilst on passage. There are very little winter leisure activities, just an occasional dinghy or two may venture out in calm weather. Not included here directly but the leisure fishing and small commercial fishing continues in small numbers daily throughout winter in reasonable weather - say up to force 5.
20 The tides and tidal streams affect all of Orkney including the Pentland Firth. You have to study them and ensure that the vessel can undertake the voyage safely. The tides and weather have to be studied before undertaking any cruise.
23 We don't intentionally sail if the forecast is Force 6 or more, though it is still possible to be caught out. This means that one can have to stay put in an anchorage or harbour waiting for a suitable weather window. Tides are very important throughout Orkney - we certainly need to go with the tide on any passages, or at slack to avoid overfalls etc. As we have a cruising speed of about 5 knots, we would need to use the tide rather than fight it.
25 The advice given which from bitter experience I have found to be true. Always go with the wind and tide. In a small boat (25' - 35') wind against tide produces a most uncomfortable passage. When approaching Orkney from home (Sunderland) care has to be taken to time arrive at the correct time after a passage time of 50 hours, to catch the tide to the destination, this can be particularly difficult on a sailing boat.
33 We would never go against the tide and always plan passages to make best use of the tide in Orkney. We have so far only skirted the side of Pentland Firth as there seems no need to make passage from east to west or vice versa through the Pentland Firth unless on a direct passage across the top of the mainland which we aren't when cruising. We wouldn't bother sailing in wind conditions > Force 6 outside of the protection of the islands and probably not within the islands unless seeking better shelter.
36 Tide and weather are obviously of prime importance. They will usually dictate the sailing plan. A revision or cancellation of a previously settled plan is quite normal. I left Shetland in July 2010 bound for Stornoway via Scrabster. Strong westerly winds forced me to Wick and thence to Inverness. This is not an unusual event in these waters.
39 The tidal streams and gates are major factors in timing our passages. Being a sailing vessel the wind strength and direction will determine whether the passage takes place or not. Strong headwinds of Force 5 upwards would probably mean a postponement.
40 As the tides are very strong around the Pentland Firth and the Orkney islands, great care in planning is essential. Some destinations such as Stromness can only be entered at certain states of the tide and in favourable weather conditions. It is quite normal for yachts to stand off the north west of Hoy awaiting entry to Stromness via Hoy Sound. There is a wave machine to the north of this entrance that is sufficiently out of the way of waiting vessels and when passing north from exiting Hoy Sound can be passed on the east side going north. Great care has also to be noted of the tidal stream directions as these vary around the islands.

Sea kayakers also emphasised that careful consideration of the tidal and weather patterns is essential. Force 6 is once again mentioned as a cut-off point but it is suggested that some activity may continue in these weather conditions. The ability of the group is frequently mentioned as another factor that must be taken into careful consideration.

ID Feedback
2 It depends on how tidal and wind conditions are and how experienced the group is. Sometimes you even might set out but turn around if you realise members are struggling or the conditions are different from what you expected. Our aim is safe paddling in the 1st line within our experience. We do check tides before we paddle and also weather forecasts to help us make decisions as a group.
3 Some paddlers are competent, and also do go out, in adverse weather, high seas and all states of the tide. The Guidebooks for sea paddlers (mainly published by Pesda Press), contain very minute detail on these conditions e.g. tide races etc. Obviously, in good settled weather, there are likely to be far more groups of paddlers undertaking such trips as cross Pentland Firth, and around Orkney. In mid-summer and settled weather, there could well be up to 10 large groups of sea kayakers in this whole area. British Isles sea kayaking has both some of the most challenging conditions in the world, and also some of the most skilled sea kayakers, comparative with Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Chile etc.
9 The activity can only take place within certain limits which are well established by our most experienced coaches based on the knowledge and the feeling they have built up over the last 30 plus years. Turbines are introducing an unknown factor especially if there is increased turbulence over subsea devices or if some devices project above the surface. Have there been any studies on the effects of surface and near-surface turbulence and mixing of the water column. Our natural path across to Stroma would cut across one of the turbine arrays. We are concerned for the safety of our paddlers. There is no literature available to enable us to predict the effect of turbine or turbine arrays on sea kayakers. There is potentially a conflict between our activity and of the utilisation of the waters. Such conflict can be kept to a minimum by suitable liaison between all the interested parties.
14 Novice sea kayakers will struggle in winds of force 3-4; experienced kayakers will manage for a short time in force 6-7 but would not go out in these wind speeds by choice. Orkney is unique in that there are always sheltered areas to paddle in all but the most extreme conditions. Experienced paddlers can kayak at about 4 knots but would always plan to paddle with the tide rather than against it. Tides might dictate where we go but rarely if we paddle.
42 Trips are planned to make best use of the tide and weather. Tides: in key areas such as the Swilkie (Stroma) trips are planned to coincide with slack water. Other headline may be undertaken at slack or mid tidal cycles. Weather: in terms of wind this depends on the wind direction e.g. following a strong wind is beneficial to a trip. Also a trip is possible in a strong offshore wind using the shelter of the cliffs. For the Club, you could assume an upper level of F4/F5. Swell is another consideration. A large swell may restrict activities especially if exploring a coastline. A major consideration is the ability of the group. Individuals paddling may have different levels.

6.7 Question 6: RYA Coastal Atlas Critique

Respondents were asked to comment on the RYA Coastal Atlas map of Pentland and Orkney (see Figure 4.2).

Several responses indicated that the current map was "ok as is" and provided a "pretty reasonable set of routes". Important routes were highlighted such as access to Kirkwall, Scapa Flow and transit through Pentland Firth.

Routes either side of Eynhallow were mentioned, but the southern route is preferred (currently only northern route is shown). The Inner Sound route via the Pentland Firth was also highlighted (currently only the Outer Sound route is shown).

It was commented that routes are indicative and vary due to tide (e.g., flood or ebb) and weather (see Question 5 responses), which is acknowledged by the RYA in their introduction to the Atlas.

Many sailors indicated that they also deviate from the main routes, making an indirect passage to explore remote locations and anchorages as well as the main harbours and marinas.

Less common routes often undertaken by sailors that could be added include Westray to Papa Westray and Eday to Rousay.

ID Feedback
1 1. The route from Cantick Head [22] out into the Firth between Swona and Stroma thence past Duncansby Head South. This is the route recommended by the Clyde Cruising Club Pilot and is my main choice for a trip south from Orkney to Wick and Inverness. It's important to note that the Pilot recommends leaving Cantick Head with the ebb still running westward before arriving in the middle of the Firth for slack water.
2. The route from Hoxa Sound [23] round the Lother Rock [24] thence to Copinsay and Kirkwall via the String is also a recommended cruising route and one taken by many visitors.
4 The route from the Atlantic to Kirkwall via Eynhallow needs to go to the south of the island as per the Clyde Cruising Club directions. Although to the north has deeper water there is a big rock shelf sticking out into it. There is a race at the Reef of Burgar so passage should be timed for close to slack water. When rounding South Ronaldsay take the route inside the Lother Rock and keep to the north of the Liddel Eddy [25] . This will avoid some very bad sea conditions. When coming south from Kirkwall for Scapa Flow down the east side don't go too fast. If you arrive at the Lother too early the seas will be boiling over the top and the calm gap between the Lother and South Ronaldsay will be quickly getting narrower and narrower. When going South from Scapa Flow to the Scottish east coast keep close to Cantick and use the back eddy at the start of the flood and head towards Brims then shoot off to pass half way between Swona and Stroma. This will stop you being swept down towards the Pentland Skerries and you should be able to carry the tide until past Wick travelling north the route shown appears to be good. To be done on the west going stream and making sure that you pass between Swona and South Ronaldsay. When sailing west from Duncansby the Inner Sound should be taken. The routes shown are very much indicative and there should be no reliance placed on them. All routes will vary due to tide and weather with quite different one being taken depending upon the flood or the ebb.
6 We find existing charts and pilotage notes quite adequate and do not feel the need for any further information - we appreciate the challenge of exploring "uncharted" areas and for a couple of weeks, free of interference.
7 For a Cruising Yacht the most important routes are access to/from Kirkwall and Scapa Flow as well as transit through The Pentland Firth
10 These are typical passage routes only. For example there are two ways through Eynhallow Sound (either side of rocks) depending on conditions. In addition to these main passages, leisure craft may visit any of the bays of Orkney and north coast of Scottish Mainland and nearly all of the Orkney Islands have suitable anchorages or small harbours depending on conditions. So there are also minor passages between each of this other points of interest not shown on the above map. By definition leisure boats users will often go to more remote locations and anchorages as well as the main ports and harbours shown above.
15 This is generally OK as far as Pentland Firth is concerned, but Inner Sound is used by visiting small sailing vessels; the 'new' marinas at Wick and Kirkwall may increase such small-boat sailing.
33 We have sailed several of these routes but when cruising with time on your side there is a tendency to go via unconventional routes for a change and to explore. This is not without its risks but no worse here than in many other places.
36 I would add the passage south of Stroma - It is used by yachts. I have experience of using perhaps half the routes shown on the RYA chart. Some are obviously well used (e.g. passages to Kirkwall and Stromness) and others less so. I do not feel qualified to suggest amendments.
40 This marked area shows basic routes however there are many other routes between one island and another e.g. Westray to Papa Westray, Eday to Rousay, etc.

Sea kayakers indicated that as well as using the main routes presented, it is common practice for them to go further afield as they are not limited by water depth. Reference was also made to guidebooks that detail additional routes and maps for sea kayakers (Ref. [viii] Ref. [ix]).

ID Feedback
2 For sea kayaking I would outline all the routes around the islands including southwest of Hoy, all of Shapinsay and Sanday, east coast of Rousay and so on. Since we don't rely on the depth of water we can easily go other places compared with ships / boats.
3 Sea kayaking uses all of these areas, and many various different routes.
9 Our paddling groups have used many of the routes shown in the Orkneys above, but also around Sanday and Egilsay, Wyre and Gairsay. In the Pentland Firth most of our routes are around Stroma, the Inner Sound, Duncansby Head and St John's Point [26] , both close inshore and crossing the tidal streams to reach our objectives.
13 Very local anomalies occur throughout; local knowledge is invaluable to sea kayakers but any additional accurate information will always be welcome.
42 This ignores sea kayaking trips. Pease speak to us directly. There are 2 sea kayaking guide books which give a flavour of some trips: Scottish Sea Kayaking: Fifty Great Sea Kayaking Voyages (Cooper & Reid, 2005). This lists 7 trips along the north coast and east Caithness coastline. The Northern Isles. Orkney & Shetland Sea Kayaking (Smith & Jex, 2007). 2 Trips in the Pentland Firth and 23 trips in Orkney. The crossing of the Pentland Firth and undertaking the "Pentland Triangle Trip" (Stroma/Skerries/Swona) is not listed as this is undertaken by experienced paddlers who plan their trip based very carefully based on a number of factors.

6.8 Question 7: Additional Information

From the received response it is evident that consultation and liaison with the various stakeholder groups is essential, especially when planning offshore developments.

ID Feedback
6 We enjoy the solitude of the islands and area and would not encourage others to organize our visits. If we wanted more support for our cruising we would visit areas such as the Clyde, North Wales or south Coast which provide a marina based cruising area where facilities cater for those who enjoy that sort of boating.
10 The questionnaire seems complete enough. I just would like to emphasise again the importance of keeping at least one clear passage through the Firth and not expecting yachts to be able to manoeuvre around obstructions during full tidal flow. Also the need to have guard vessels far enough clear of the ends of Firth to warn vessels before they commit. As leisure vessels are unlikely to try and make passage against the tide then one guard boat positioned well upstream should be sufficient.
36 I hope the authorities will consult with local yacht clubs and similar boating organisations (and individual yachtsmen/pleasure boaters/anglers/divers etc. if you can find them!), marinas, port authorities and other users of this wonderful stretch of water.
40 Orkney Harbours provide an excellent Harbours Handbook - essential to visitors to the islands.

Kayakers highlighted issues with cables and the importance of consultation.

ID Feedback
3 One of the most important factors that has arisen so far in relation to new energy developments is that sea kayakers often require to hug the coast, and some new works have prevented this, forcing a course further out to sea. The need for on-coast facilities to e.g. take cables ashore can be redesigned simply to take this into account. Further, and more detailed, consultation is required in the future.
9 We would have further concerns about the subsea cables and very importantly any servicing and construction work for instance on the surface. This liaison with recreational users is essential for safety, good practice and good relations.

6.9 Cruising Association Feedback

In parallel to the questionnaire, the Cruising Association requested feedback in a magazine article about the project. Three responses were received from experienced yachtsmen who had all chartered vessels in the area numerous times. The question set differed to the questionnaire, and a selection of notable quotes and a summary of the key points is provided below:

Use of Area

Orkney is a cruising area in its own right. There are many miles of sheltered waters with good safe anchorages. It is also offers useful stopping place when on the way to Shetland. Scapa Flow/Stromness can be used to avoid some of the worst of the Pentland Firth especially bound west.

Weather and Tides

  • The weather is changeable as expected in those latitudes, however in the late spring/summer sailing season it does not deserve being called 'stormy'. Tides need to be respected and can be used to advantage.
  • Much activity, except perhaps within Scapa Flow is controlled by the tides. With wind against tide the Pentland Firth should not be attempted in winds exceeding force 4. The west facing sounds should be respected if there is an appreciable Atlantic swell coming in against a west going tide.

Special Precautions

  • No special equipment is needed apart from that normally recommended for a yacht cruising up to 60M offshore. Should be prepared, with strong enough crew to make a night passage if necessary. It is strongly advised to carry UKHO tidal stream atlas, or equivalent.

Activity outside Summer Season

  • I wouldn't dream of sailing those waters outside the conventional summer season. The CCC sailing directions offer guidance on this subject, which I wouldn't ignore.


  • In the Pentland Firth, bound west to east, I have always used the Outer Sound between Stroma and Swona, keeping well south of the Pentland Skerries - bound northeast pass between Pentland Skerries keeping closer to the South Ronaldsay side. Eynhallow Sound can be difficult.
  • On passage north from the north and west coasts of Scotland I would advocate making landfall at Stromness and then running up to Pierowall on Westray before jumping off for either Fair Isle or direct to Lerwick in Shetland; I've done both. Back from Shetland to Kirkwall via Fair Isle makes a lot of sense and works with the tides.


  • Overnight anchorages listed included East Weddell Sound, west end of Deer Sound, Wyre Sound [27] , Gairsay, bay on south side, Rousay Sound [28] , Bay of Ham [29] , Bay of Carrick [30] , Houton Bay [31] , north of Longhope village, Pierowall Bay, Loch Eriboll, Scapa Flow, Aiker Ness [32] and St Mary's Bay.

Safe Havens

  • Three marinas at Kirkwall, Stromness and Westray, Deer Sound anchorage, Whitehall pier [33] , Kettletoft pier [34] , Pierowall Bay, inner bay anchorage, Houton Bay and Scrabster Harbour.

Most Valuable Area

  • Whole of Orkney has a wide variety of attractions. North coast of Scotland between Scrabster and Tongue has less interesting features for the cruising yacht.

6.10 Conclusions

The main conclusions reached from the feedback are as follows:

  • Characterising commercial shipping using AIS is generally appropriate
  • All of the PFOW area is important to recreational users with individual areas of importance dependent on the specific user group
  • The vast majority of recreational activity takes place throughout the summer months (April to October) for all stakeholders. Examples of all-year round activity include limited sailing, kayaking and leisure fishing
  • Club-orientated activities are the most regular occurring on a weekly basis. Less frequent sailing trips occur on an annual or bi-annual basis
  • Consideration of tide and weather conditions is imperative due to the strong nature of tides in the PFOW area with certain passages not possible in certain tidal states or weather conditions
  • Few resident recreational vessels in the area are equipped with AIS. More commonly it is better equipped visiting yachts that are equipped with AIS
  • RYA Coastal Atlas provides a good foundation for characterising recreational shipping
  • Indicative routes do not tell the full story as individual recreational sailors like freedom to go where they please, and routes are already very variable due to tides and weather
  • Kayakers are a separate, unique group that have similarities to yacht sailors but would need a separate study to fully characterise their behaviour: No kayaks carry AIS and therefore a more in depth study is required to fully understand the most commonly used routes
  • Kayakers exhibit different behaviours to other recreational users: Routes taken often hug the coastline: As kayakers are not limited by depth, they are able to make use of areas other recreational users cannot: Kayakers value bays with suitable launching sites with greater importance compared to conventional marinas and anchorages.


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