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UK Coastal Atlas of Recreational Boating

The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) UK Coastal Atlas of Recreational Boating is a GIS dataset of recreational boating activity around the UK, comprising spatial data including indicators of intensity of use, general boating areas, as well as the locations of clubs, training centres, and marinas. 

This dataset is a powerful tool utilised by the RYA on behalf of its members to help protect areas of importance to recreational boaters, and is taken into account by developers in designing new development proposals and in discussions over navigational safety. It is important that recreational boating activity is given due consideration by the Government when it balances competing interests in commercial, environmental and leisure sectors around the UK coast. 

The RYA has been collecting recreational boating information since 2004, to gain a picture of the areas most utilised for general boating, racing and passage-making in the UK, and the distribution of clubs, training centres and marinas. This helps the RYA to understand which areas are most important to the sport and our members so that we can work to protect them. The information gathered also effectively demonstrates the relative density of sailing activity around the UK. The first dataset was released in 2005, with updates in 2008 and 2012. A new version with substantial changes to the data format was released in 2016, with the most recent update coming in 2019. 

UK Coastal Atlas of Recreational Boating 

The data have proved to be vital when representing recreational boating interests: it is taken into account when new developments are proposed along the coast and offshore, and ensures we have a seat at the table when discussions about navigational safety are underway. The Atlas is used by government, local authorities, marine licensing authorities and renewable energy developers to name a few. It has also been shared with the general lighthouse authorities and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to help improve the safety of recreational boaters at sea and is used to inform marine planning processes.

The new edition

The newest edition of our dataset, updated in September 2019, takes a different approach to mapping recreational boating use from our previous datasets. A new format of boating activity representation has been created utilising a ‘heat map’ type approach around the coast based on Automatic Identification System (AIS) data. This new approach is based on tangible passages and accurately portrays the behaviour of recreational vessels regardless of differing weather conditions, providing a robust picture of UK cruising activity. 

UK Coastal Atlas of Recreational Boating Southwest Detail 

The AIS heat map approach, indicating a range from light to heavy vessel activity, provides a very useful data source for those considering recreational boating activity when mapping proposed offshore developments and areas for conservation. The data improves on our previous datasets, where vessel activity was indicated by individual lines, so recreational activity is no longer represented as confined to distinct routes with no activity in the gaps between lines. Almost full coverage is now provided.

The AIS data generally provides good coverage of the UK’s coastal waters. There are however some data gaps, particularly in estuaries. This part of the dataset is limited in that it only represents vessels that carry AIS transponders, which may exclude a large proportion of recreational craft that use the areas close inshore. It is assumed that these areas, particularly estuaries, are frequented by vessels that are small and may not carry AIS transponders. In areas where there is no AIS data coverage, we recognise this does not mean no recreational craft visit the area. For this reason we also provide a further dataset of general boating areas, using data supplied by RYA clubs and other sources, utilising in particular the 2015 RYA club survey data.  

The RYA UK Coastal Atlas of Recreational Boating is available under licence as a digital download from the environment team at the RYA. Please contact us for further information at

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