Marine Licensing - Scotland

Marine licensing requirements for Scotland

Do I need a marine licence?

A marine licence is required for licensable activities defined in the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 involving the deposit or removal of a substance or material below the Mean High Water Springs Mark, or in any tidal river to the extent of the tidal influence. The Scotland Act 1998 handed responsibility for marine licensing in the Scottish offshore region to Scottish Ministers, and marine licences in both inshore and offshore Scottish waters are now issued by the Marine Scotland Licensing Operations Team (MS-LOT). Licensable activities include deposits, construction, alteration or improvements, removals and navigational dredging. 

If you think that a proposed scheme requires a marine licence then read the guidance on the marine licensing pages. There is general guidance, guidance for particular activities and a useful list of FAQs. If you think the activity requires a marine licence you are encouraged to telephone MS-LOT on 01224 295579 as soon as possible.

Forms to submit a marine licence application are available on the MS-LOT website. There are individual forms for dredging and sea disposal, pontoon installation, and moorings as well as others unlikely to be relevant to clubs. There is helpful information at the beginning of each form. You will need to assess the potential impacts the works may have, including interference with other uses of the sea. A key part of this relates to impacts on designated protected areas, such as a SAC, SPA, SSSI, MPA or Ramsar site. Further information is available on the RYA Marine Protected Areas pages. There are also shellfish water protected areas designated under the Water Environment (Shellfish Water Protected Areas: Designation) (Scotland) Order 2013, although few if any clubs are likely to be affected by them. The Water Framework Directive (WFD) protects waters between the Mean Low Water Mark (MLWM) to three nautical miles offshore from a baseline that cuts across the mouth of firths. Thus all club Marine Licence applications will fall within this area.

The form also asks how the application relates to Scotland’s National Marine Plan which is consistent with the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Section 12 of the Plan refers to recreation and tourism. It may also be helpful to refer to Scotland’s Marine Tourism Strategy.

The Marine Licensing (Pre-application Consultation) (Scotland) Regulations 2013 came into force on 6 April 2014. The Regulations require applicants for certain activities in the Scottish Inshore Region to carry out a public pre-application consultation. Prescribed classes of affected activities include pontoons over 50 metres in length.

The aim is to issue marine licences within 14 weeks. However, this may take longer if, for example, objections are raised, the form has not been completed correctly or further information is required during the processing of the application.

RYA Scotland may be able to provide advice and assistance. It is in any case helpful if they are told about marine licence applications from clubs as RYAS is a non-statutory consultee of Marine Scotland and is asked to comment on many marine licence applications.

Exempted activities

Exemptions are set out in the Marine Licensing (Exempted Activities) (Scottish Inshore Region) Order 2011. Those activities which are exempt are usually covered by other legislation. These include activities such as the deployment of scientific equipment. There are also some other activities that do not require a licence such as dredging and associated disposal authorised under local Acts or Harbour Orders.

Exempted activities relevant to recreational boating include:

  • launching of vessels;
  • deposits in the normal course of navigation (such as anchoring);
  • deposit or removal of moorings and aids to navigation by a harbour authority, lighthouse authority, or someone acting on their behalf; and
  • deposit or use of flares for safety or training purposes. 


Information on fees is available on the MS-LOT website. 

Further Consents

Approvals or consents may also be required from the Crown Estate Scotland, Transport Scotland, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), and any relevant Harbour/ Port Authority or Local Planning Authority. SEPA issues Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR) licences, which focus on point and diffuse pollution. The local SEPA offices can provide advice.