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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.




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.
  • Six million migratory birds, almost 50% of Europe’s population!
  • 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.


So whether you spot something in the distance whether something pops up on the port side, whether you use a small craft that can reach shallower depths, or whether your passage takes you by protected seals hauled out on rocks or colonies of roosting birds on cliff edges. Follow our best practice guidance below to help minimise disturbance when boating so we can continue to enjoy these beautiful creatures for years to come.


Find Out

  • Discover what wildlife you may find on your way and at any sites you may be visiting. The more you know and understand about a particular animal and their behaviour, the better equipped you will be at operating your boat around them and minimising disturbance.

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.

Reduce Your Wash

  • 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.
  • Hull design can have a major influence on wash. Short full bows give higher waves, while longer and finer bows can reduce wash.
  • A well balanced and clean propeller will disturb less sediment and reduce your impact on the underwater environment.
  • Sensible use of throttle and good boat handling skills can significantly reduce wash as well as improve fuel efficiency.
  • When you go ashore try to use recognised landing places to avoid damaging shallow water and shoreline habitats.


  • 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.

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 will see 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:



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