West Highland Anchorages and Moorings Association

Moorings on the West Coast

While the inalienable right to anchor has always been favoured by many cruising yachts on the West Coast of Scotland, many visiting yachts particularly from southern Britain, France and Scandinavia find public or private moorings more attractive for a variety of reasons. Marinas are a relatively unusual facility in these waters though there are certainly more of them than there used to be.

In the 1970s the Highlands and Islands Development Board (HIDB) laid mooring buoys for visiting yachts in a wide variety of locations in harbours/bays on the Mainland and in the Inner and Outer Hebrides. These Hippo moorings, as they were known, were popular, widely used and provided security of mind in some of the more exposed anchorages as well as in more sheltered areas. For a time these moorings were serviced regularly but as a result of changes at HIDB - the advent of the Enterprise Boards - changes in local government and, most importantly, successive economy drives with relatively short time horizons the moorings began to be offered to communities/local authorities at the beginning of the 1990's.

By no means all the communities offered these facilities felt able or were willing to take responsibility for the buoys, their maintenance or the collection of fees where these were charged (not universally the case in the early days). Added to that was probably the fear (founded or unfounded) of public liability issues. Where the offer was not taken up the buoys were lifted and removed. This resulted in a loss of facilities which, while understandable, was nonetheless regretted and had some effect on visitor numbers in those places where they were lifted.

The more enlightened councils, notably Western Isles, had retained the moorings and recognised their benefits to the communities served by them. Others, particularly on the mainland, simply allowed short termism to dictate their actions, undoubtedly driven largely by financial needs. This has resulted in a sharp reduction in the number of moorings available in some areas though in the more popular locations moorings are still available and, in one or two of the islands, enterprising individuals have taken over the moorings and levy a charge to cover costs. The servicing record of these moorings is unknown at the time of writing this note.

Meanwhile in Orkney and Shetland a quite different attitude prevailed and these island councils, faced by large numbers of visitors from mainland Scotland and Scandinavia, recognised the financial benefits, indeed quantified them, and installed fine facilities (both mooring buoys and marinas) in both sets of islands in the early years of this century with attendant benefits such that they are now being expanded.

Around 2000 a realisation that sailing/boating in its broadest sense was a real benefit to economic well-being in Scotland in general and, in Western Scotland in particular, began to manifest itself and studies by Scottish Enterprise were able to indicate the benefits derived from this form of recreation. Simultaneously, at least one of the mainland councils (Highland) began to provide more extensive facilities in its ports and harbours though mostly as mini marinas and at higher fees than in Orkney and Shetland. Meantime WHAM was consulted by Western Isles Council (WIC) about additional provision of buoys in their area and this has resulted in additional moorings being laid there though WIC now charge for their use.

In more recent times, not least through the efforts of the Scottish Boating Alliance of which WHAM is a founder member, there has been a rapidly growing awareness of the benefits from boating at Holyrood and the founding of a Cross Party Group of MSPs to further its development. We may perhaps look to further developments in the coming years.

There are many Moorings Associations on our coast and they are widely scattered. Many are members of WHAM. Most of them have retained areas for anchorage where this has been appropriate and some have installed visitor moorings instead/as well. In some recent cases of application for mooring areas WHAM has asked the applicant if they would consider reserving an area for anchoring yachts and/or provide a visitor buoy(s). In almost all cases we have had a sympathetic response and this information has been passed to the pilot book editors.

In addition to facilities provided specifically for visitors there are many private moorings on the West Coast. While many of these are vacant for all/part of the sailing season their owners may not view favourably their use by visitors without permission and the weight recommendation for the mooring may not be known. A visitor will certainly not be insured for their use. It would be unwise to use them without permission except possibly 'in extremis'.

There now exists a very welcome and useful booklet, updated annually, called 'Welcome Anchorages' which lists most mooring facilities on the West Coast. It is freely available at boat shows, from marinas and marine businesses and on line at www.welcome-anchorages.co.uk/

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WHAM, West Highland Anchorages and Moorings Association, is Scottish registered charity number SC044698.