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


9.1 Introduction

This section presents details on other recreational vessel activity which is not fully covered by the previous assessment which focused mainly on sailing vessels. Also, in the course of the study some information was obtained on fish farm vessels, which has been reported below.

9.2 Dive Boats

There are a number of diving boats based in Orkney available for charter for recreational diving trips and less frequently for recreational angling and sight-seeing trips. The majority are members of the Orkney Dive Boat Operators Association (ODBOA).

The 8-10 active vessels within ODBOA spend the majority of their time visiting the numerous wrecks in Scapa Flow from a base in Stromness. Only about four of the larger vessels transit further afield, including trips to the northern isles of Orkney and beyond. All vessels are similar carrying approximately 12 passengers and 2-3 crew.

Two of the dive vessels were recorded in AIS during the survey. The combined tracks are presented in Figure 9.1.

Figure 9.1 Dive Vessel Tracks (Combined Winter & Summer 2012)

Figure 9.1 Dive Vessel Tracks (Combined Winter & Summer 2012)

In addition to activities by the two vessels on AIS within Scapa Flow, which are likely to be recreational diving, one of the vessels appeared to be carrying out work on behalf of renewable energy developments south of Hoy and west of Eday.

Caithness Diving Club based in Thurso has a 6.5m RIB which carries up to 8-10 divers. Dive sites listed on the club website are predominantly off the Caithness and Sutherland coast, between Lochinver and Dunbeath. It is expected this vessel may also cross the Pentland Firth on trips to Scapa Flow.

9.3 Fish Farm Vessels

Tracks of fish carrier vessels recorded during the AIS surveys are presented in Figure 9.2.

Figure 9.2 Fish Carrier Vessels on AIS (Combined Winter & Summer 2012)

Figure 9.2 Fish Carrier Vessels on AIS (Combined Winter & Summer 2012)

There were seven unique fish carrier vessels tracked over the combined survey period. The most regular were Ronja Settler, transiting mainly between Scalloway in Shetland and the fish farm at Toy Ness [52] in Orkney, and Island Senior transiting between Kirkwall and various fish farms on Orkney.

Further information was obtained on fish farm support vessel activities in the area by contacting two of the main operators, Scottish Sea Farms and Meridian. The locations of farms operated by these companies are presented in Figure 9.3.

Figure 9.3 Selected Fish Farm Locations

Figure 9.3 Selected Fish Farm Locations

Brief details were provided by Scottish Sea Farms indicating that support vessels visit the sites daily. The Scapa Flow sites are serviced from Stromness and Houton. Puldrite and Shapinsay are serviced from Kirkwall. The Eday sites are relatively new and information was not available.

Meridian Salmon Farms provided information on vessels based in the vicinity and the ports they operate from. It operates sites on Westray, Rousay, Hoy and at Kirkwall. Details of the vessels used are presented in Table 9.1.

Table 9.1 Meridian Salmon Farms Vessels

Site Vessel Name Length (m) Net Tonnes Draught (m) Base Port
Westray Crissanne 11.64 34.75 1.37 Pierowall
Westray Debi L 15 29 0.88 Pierowall
Westray Mauy 14.5 59.48 0.96 Pierowall
Westray Shoormal 14 32.6 0.65 Pierowall
Rousay Grafter 10.5 17.37 0.76 Trumland [53]
Rousay Lady Jean 15.8 52.92 0.87 Kirkwall
Hoy Colleen 11.64 34.75 1.37 Lyness
Hoy Prosperous 11.35 19.95 1.3 Lyness
Hoy Salmain 14.4 61.71 0.96 Lyness
Hoy Island Junior 14.9 116.94 3.03 Stromness / Houton / Scapa Pier
Hoy Emma 19.95 63.25 1.99 Scapa / Stromness
Kirkwall Ardlamont 12.5 40.75 2.03 Kirkwall
Kirkwall Keri 11.64 34.75 2.03 Kirkwall
Kirkwall Salmon Lander 14 32.6 0.65 Kirkwall
Kirkwall Annalie 13.64 59.6 2.54 Kirkwall

Vessels operating at the Westray sites make around six to seven return transits each week to the sites. In addition, each vessel will visit Kirkwall on an infrequent basis.

Vessels serving Rousay sites make 6-7 return transits each week from site to base port.

Six to seven return transits per week are also made by vessels operating at Hoy sites and based at Lyness.

Emma carries out maintenance and grid work at all sites in Scapa Flow. Annalie, serving Kirkwall sites, goes between all these sites, also carrying out maintenance and grid work.

The larger vessels also transit the Pentland Firth en route to Macduff on an annual basis.

In addition, harvesting is subcontracted to one of two vessels which are based in Kirkwall or Stromness dependent on requirements and will visit sites on a daily basis whilst carrying out harvesting. Details of these vessels are presented in Table 9.2.

Table 9.2 Meridian Salmon Farms Harvesting Vessels

Vessel Name Length (m) Net Tonnes Draught (m)
Conquest 18.95 129 3.5
Island Senior 28 335 3.6

9.4 Sailing Clubs

All the sailing clubs identified in the area were requested to complete the questionnaire. Of these, responses were received from Stromness and Pentland. The contribution of RYA Scotland's representative on the Steering Group for this study was very helpful in covering issues not addressed by individual respondents. Alternative means of engagement with sailing clubs, such as attendance at one of their main events or AGM, may be beneficial in obtaining their input to future replications of this or similar studies. Details on these clubs and the others from more general research are presented below:

  • Orkney Sailing Club:

Based in Kirkwall, Orkney Sailing Club is one of the principal sailing clubs of the Orkney Islands. Currently there are about 200 members with racing (in Wayfarer and Pico vessels) taking place twice weekly throughout the conventional summer season (May to September). Training takes place regularly once a week and occasionally at weekends also. Both training and racing occur at the club's Hatston base. The club is a recognised RYA Training Establishment providing a variety of courses.

  • Holm Sailing Club:

Based in St. Mary's, a small bay on the eastern side of Scapa Flow. Club facilities include a pier and slipway that allows launching of boats at most tidal states. The club operates "one design racing" with all boats used belonging to International Snipe Class. Racing takes place every Tuesday evening throughout the summer season and an annual regatta (open to all types of sailing craft) is held by the club.

  • Stromness Sailing Club:

Based at the Ness Point end of Stromness Harbour, Stromness Sailing Club is a small club with membership comprising a mixture of competitive and recreational sailors. The snipe is the main class of dinghy used and 13 of these are based at the club. Racing takes place on a weekly basis in Stromness harbour and the club holds an annual regatta. Basic training is also offered by the club to beginners by several RYA-trained instructors.

Pentland Firth Yacht Club:

Based in Scrabster Harbour, Pentland Firth Yacht Club primarily sails in Thurso Bay, providing a large deep-water sheltered sailing area with few restrictions. Sailing typically takes place twice weekly with Thursday evenings directed at training for less experienced members and Sunday afternoons focused on club racing. Typical group size is roughly 10-15 vessels. Activity is limited to the summer season.

  • Westray Sailing Club:

Westray Sailing Club sails twice weekly (Tuesday and Thursday) throughout the summer season typically using skiff vessels. Numerous club competitions are held throughout the course of the year as well as a club annual regatta which attracts around 50 boats per year.

  • Longhope Sailing Club:

Based in Longhope, this club holds an annual regatta and is known to operate several yoles.

  • Orkney Yole Association:

Formed in 2000, Orkney Yole Association aims to preserve and promote the use of this historic vessel type. The club frequently holds events to refurbish yoles back to seaworthy condition. Frequent sailing events of the eight remaining seaworthy yoles occur throughout the summer season. The club also participates in numerous regattas held throughout the course of the year around Orkney.

9.5 Sea Angling

The following sea angling associations were targeted in the questionnaire but did not respond.

  • Caithness Sea Angling Association
  • Orkney Islands Sea Angling Association

From research and consultation, Orkney Islands Sea Angling Association own and charter out the Welcome Home (12.5m length) based in Stromness. As well as fishing, she is available for charter for bird and seal watching and pleasure trips. It is understood most trips are relatively short day or part-day trips staying close to Stromness, e.g., to west of Hoy, west of Orkney Mainland and Scapa Flow.

The Silver Line sea angling vessel is berthed in Scrabster. The charterer attended the Scrabster workshop and indicated he mainly carries out trips in the surrounding area off the north coast, e.g., Brough Bay and west of Thurso. The Hebridean Warrior is also based in Scrabster for sea fishing trips off the north coast, e.g., Brough Bay, and advertises summer trips to Orkney.

9.6 Boat Trips and Wildlife Cruises

John O'Groats Ferries operate the Pentland Venture. This vessel does not carry AIS but the operator took part in the questionnaire. The ferry operates 2-3 return trips per day between John O'Groats and Burwick, Orkney between 1st May and 30th September 2011. It also carries out afternoon wildlife cruises daily between June and August. The particular route for the cruise depends on the prevailing tide and weather conditions, however, the two main routes are around Stroma or east past the Duncansby Head lighthouse and Stacks of Duncansby.

Details of other boat trip companies that were identified from research are presented below (note, list may not be exhaustive and is changeable).

  • Seaorkney: Wildlife tours, such as sight-seeing and whale watching on the Nicky Tam. This also carries out fishing trips.
  • Pettlandssker Boat Trips: Boat trips to the Pentland Skerries or Swona departing from Burwick Harbour, South Ronaldsay. Depending on weather conditions, boat lands on Muckle Skerry or Swona. The vessel Pettlandssker is an ex RNLI Lifeboat.
  • Dawn Star Boat Trips: Dawn Star II (7.5m length motor boat) operates boat trips from Holm Pier, St. Mary's into Scapa Flow. Also sea angling can be arranged in Scapa Flow.
  • Orkan Adventures Scapa Flow Boat Trips: Sheila C (7m length) scallop dive boat operates sightseeing and fishing trips all year round, weather permitting,
  • M/V Lady Rose Boat Tours: Converted fishing vessel offering short trips on Scapa Flow from Stromness. Sea Angling in Scapa Flow or offshore, round trips to the islands of Orkney and Shetland or cruises further afield are also available.
  • MV Stormdrift II: Fishing boat for charter or hire out of Scrabster.
  • Wild Sea Charters: Wildlife and sailing trips onboard a renovated ketch rigged fishing trawler from Scrabster to the Pentland Firth.
  • Sail Orkney Yacht Charter operates from Kirkwall Marina and charters one yacht, Catherine J.

9.7 Sea Kayaking

The following sea kayaking clubs based in Orkney and Caithness were included in the questionnaire circulation.

  • Orkney Sea Kayaking Association
  • Kirkwall Kayakers Club
  • Caithness Kayak Club
  • Pentland Canoe Club

A number of individual kayakers also took part in the questionnaire.

Overall, the responses were of a high quality (see excerpts in Section 6) and the information has been forwarded to Marine Scotland, to be included in a future study on tourism and recreation activities which will include sea kayaking, and other marine-based recreational activities.


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