With the ever-increasing numbers of coastal and offshore aquaculture farms around the UK, it is more important than ever that the RYA remains engaged in discussions with developers, planning and licensing authorities to ensure safety of navigation is not compromised.

Aquaculture, the cultivation of aquatic organisms, particularly for food, includes cultivation of finfish, shellfish, and marine algae. 

The RYA seeks to ensure that accurate account is taken of recreational boating activity and associated concerns when fishing and aquaculture activity is planned. 

The RYA position on fishing and aquaculture outlines potential issues for recreational boaters associated with aquaculture facilities and fishing gear, including possible impacts on navigational safety. 

As the number of coastal and offshore aquaculture farms around the UK increases, it is important that the RYA remains engaged with developers, planners and licensing authorities to ensure safety of navigation is given full consideration and is not compromised. The RYA believes that the threat to recreational boats can be minimised by consulting with stakeholders at an early stage, by following UKHO guidelines for charting static hazards, and that all hazards should be marked and lit in accordance with the General Lighthouse Authority requirements. Risk assessment should take into account recreational boating activity specific to the area, such as information from the RYA UK Coastal Atlas of Recreational Boating.

More information on types of fishing and aquaculture, navigational safety, considerations for the locating of future fishing and aquaculture facilities, as well as their decommissioning, can be found in the RYA position on fishing and aquaculture


Advice for recreational sailors

Aquaculture makes an important contribution to local economies, particularly in remote areas, although sites are being developed along all stretches of the UK coast. When well-planned, aquaculture has no adverse impact on recreational sailing and indeed there can sometimes be benefits from sharing facilities.

If you sail in places where fish, shellfish or seaweed is farmed - such as the west coast of Scotland, the Northern Isles and Northern Ireland - you will find useful information below about identifying and sailing around the farms. Depending on where you sail in the UK you may encounter farms for salmon and other finned fish, mussels, oysters,  seaweed and even scallop ranches.

Be prepared

Aquaculture facilities are not always where you expect them to be as charts, even electronic ones, are not always up to date. New farm licences can be granted, old ones surrendered and existing farms can rotate their cages between different sites. Sites can also be repurposed, with mussel farms being converted to growing seaweed.

As a result, it is prudent to download and carry with you the Notices to Mariners giving chart updates for your cruising area. It is also important to be particularly alert in conditions of poor visibility as marker lights for the aquaculture farms may not always be lit.

Give farms a wide berth

Fish cage anchors tend to extend outwards beyond the cages themselves but are not generally a hazard. It is wise however to give the cages a generous berth, particularly when a workboat is present. In a few places a feed store on land is connected to the cages by pipes near the surface so it is best to avoid passing between cages and the shore unless you are certain there are no feed pipes obstructing your passage.

Fish are generally brought to and taken away from fish farms in “well boats” which are small, fast and manoeuvrable coasters. Keep a good lookout even in remote sea lochs.

Mussel and seaweed farms often consist of ropes suspended from a cable supported by large grey buoys (grey to reduce the visual impact for tourists) and as the mussels mature the buoys sink lower in the water. It is therefore inadvisable to try to sail through a mussel farm or between the buoys.

Dinghy cruisers and yachtsmen anchoring or coming ashore should note that there area few oyster farms in shallow water and they may be unmarked. Hazards can include steel cages (trestles) or steel rods just under the surface.

Stay alert

It is perfectly safe to sail in waters with aquaculture farms. Good seamanship, particularly with regard to keeping watch, is the key.

Please inform the RYA at about problems you experience with aquaculture farms, particularly if they are not well marked or lit.