North and East Coast Passage Planning

Advice for recreational sailors planning cruises on the North and East coast of Scotland
02 Dec 20

The volunteers on the Cruising and General Purpose Committee ensure that marine planning consultations and potential issues to navigation for recreational sailors in Scotland are managed correctly. 

Graham Russell, the Planning and Environment Officer for RYA Scotland brings to light a useful compendium of links for those planning a passage around these waters over the next year. 

"Even only ten years ago, sailing up the east coast of Scotland to the Caledonian Canal or the Northern Isles and vice versa involved long stretches with little to watch out for, except near the port of Aberdeen. Now, however, there are 11 windfarms at various stages of development and a tidal generation scheme, all with their associated support vessel traffic. These are really not a problem for safe navigation as marine wind turbines are spaced about 800 m apart so there is plenty of space between them."

"However, it is important to know the location of the various schemes when planning watch keeping, particularly when sailing short-handed. Mariners are requested to keep 50 m away from structures in operational wind farms but during construction and maintenance there is a 500 m safety zone and some of the support vessels, for example cable layers and survey craft, will be restricted in their ability to manoeuvre and the relevant ColRegs apply. The tidal array is well below keel depth but support vessels can be anchored in the fast-flowing tidal stream."

"Unfortunately, there is no consistency in the way in which Notices to Mariners are issued by the various operators to describe operations that may be short term, temporary and weather dependent. Marine renewable schemes are marked on up-to-date charts but some activity takes place outside these areas. Some schemes are at the very early data collection stage."

Advice for recreational sailors

It is perfectly safe to sail within wind farms or over tidal arrays in these waters. Good seamanship, particularly with regard to passage planning and keeping watch, is the key. Be alert at all times as it is easy to miss warnings and Notices to Mariners. Notices to Mariners are often posted at harbours and marinas. If you sail close inshore, particularly off the coast of Fife between Elie and Fife Ness, you will encounter many creel buoys. Note also that a new commercial harbour facility for Aberdeen is being built in the bay south of Girdle Ness.

Be prepared

Up to date charts, whether paper or electronic, are essential as there are new features each year.

Kingfisher ( maps hazards for the fishing industry but it is equally useful for recreational sailors. It is kept up to date with information from Notices to Mariners so is of most use a few days before setting off.

The Marine Traffic website (https:/ shows the position of AIS enabled Aids to Navigation that mark some of the sites. It can also display a chart of AIS transmission intensities that is useful for identifying the routes taken by commercial vessels/.

The Crown Estate Scotland asset map ( shows where the leases are but not the stage of development.

Note that changes can happen quickly and that it is the skipper’s responsibility to check that information is up-to-date and to obey the ColRegs at all times.

Notices to mariners by windfarm and tidal array operators