Boating Around Wildlife


As boaters we are always delighted to encounter wildlife when out on the water or when onshore, be it dolphins riding the bow wave, a group of seals and their pups resting on a rocky outcrop or a heron stood majestically amongst the reeds. While boating around wildlife it is important to take steps to prevent disturbing the creatures sharing our boating waters.

A bottlenose dolphin
A common seal's head emerging from the surface of the water
A grey heron standing on a fence next to an inland waterway

There is a wealth of wildlife and habitats for boaters to see and enjoy throughout the British Isles and off our extensive coastline, including;

  • The world’s second largest fish, the basking shark, which can grow up to 6-8 meters (20-26ft) in length (but don’t be afraid – they only eat plankton!).
  • Six million migratory birds, almost 50% of Europe’s bird population, make their way to the UK throughout the year.
  • Seagrass beds are like the rainforest of the marine world! They provide important nursery grounds for fish, store significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, helping mitigate climate change impacts and help anchor and stabilise sediment reducing coastal erosion.

We share the waters we use for our recreation with an amazing array of wildlife, but the presence of boats and other water craft should not necessarily have to mean disturbance to the local wildlife. If craft are handled with sensitivity and boat users are vigilant there can be minimal or zero disturbance.



The Green Wildlife Guide for Boaters

Image of the Green Wildlife Guide for Boaters leaflet.


Slow Down!

  • Slow down to a no-wake speed when you spot wildlife in the distance or if wildlife approach you. This also help you to reduce your fuel consumption and noise levels.

Keep Quiet

  • Shhhhhh! Lower voices and turn off any music. Sound can be heard over longer distances on open water and many animals have more sensitive hearing than humans.

A common dolphin leaping out of water

Keep your Distance

  • Use binoculars! Keep 300 ft from wildlife in and on the water or on cliffs, beaches and rocky outcrops where wildlife might be feeding, resting or breeding.

A person of a yacht at sea looking through binoculars


Reduce Your Wash

  1. Keep to designated speed limits. If in doubt, don’t exceed 4 knots when close to shorelines and banks as your wake can disturb wildlife and erode habitats.
  2. A well balanced and clean propeller will disturb less sediment and reduce your impact on the underwater environment.
  3. Sensible use of throttle and good boat handling skills can significantly reduce wash as well as improve fuel efficiency.

Direction of Travel

  • Keep a consistent course when you spot wildlife in or on the water to avoid collisions. Changes in direction make you unpredictable and difficult for wildlife to know which direction to go in order to avoid your boat.
  • Never approach wildlife from directly behind or in front as this is interpreted as predatory or aggressive, causing stress to wildlife.
  • Avoid travelling through rafts of birds on the water or groups of animals such as dolphins, whales and seals as this can split mothers from their young


Most of the marine wildlife you encounter around the UK are protected species. Whether you are in a Marine Protected Area (MPA) or not, it is worth noting the legislation that protects wildlife in the UK. This includes the Marine Acts, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Habitats regulations.


Offences might be summarised as intentionally (or, in Scotland recklessly) killing, injuring or taking a protected species, without lawful excuse; and intentionally or recklessly destroying, damaging or obstructing a protected species’ place of shelter or protection, or disturbing a protected species while within it, without lawful excuse.


Find out about different marine species and how they are protected by EU and UK wildlife legislation:


Support Our Campaign

Boating Wildlife Aware Week

A bottlenose dolphin

Info and Guidance

Anchoring With Care

An anchor attached to a boat

Info and Guidance

Invasive Species Prevention

Montage of images of invasive species
A selection of green boating guides available from The Green Blue

Boat User Resources

The Green Blue Directory logo

Green Products & Services

Shopping Cart

Sign up to our mailing list

Get all of the latest information, news and updates from The Green Blue

The legal basis for processing that information shall be consent. You may withdraw your consent at any time by unsubscribing within a sent email. Your personal information will be stored in accordance with the RYA privacy policy and may be shared with British Marine who will use and store such information in accordance with their own British Marine privacy policy.