Watersports in Orkney

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Download your copy of the Active in Scotland 2014 - 2015 brochure.
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View the official guide to adventure activities in Scotland

  • A group of kayakers close to a rocky coastline with a wide open sea beyond
    Kayaking off the coastline at Yesnaby, Mainland, Orkney
  • small sailing boats and dinghies tied up to a pontoon walkway stretching out into water
    Kirkwall Marina

The seas around Orkney are constantly restless. Waves making their way thousands of miles from the mid-Atlantic eventually find themselves on the islands’ western shores, churning up the sea to form awesome waves. It is little wonder that Orkney is such a favourite for all manner of watersports; from surfing to sailing and everything in between.


Long sweeping beaches, high swells and high average wind speeds all conspire to make some of the best surfing conditions in Europe. Boasting some of the largest waves on the islands, Skaill beach on the West Mainland is a surfing hotspot, with boarders who have gone up against the Atlantic’s powerful waves saying it was their most memorable surf.

The islands are also well-known for being an adventure playground for thrill-seekers. When the conditions are right, keen kite and wind surfers are often seen on Orkney’s tranquil beaches powering along the crest of waves.


Whether it’s the swirling sea in the Pentland Firth or the clear, glassy waters near sheltered cliffs, the conditions around Orkney offer some unparalleled opportunities for kayaking and spotting vast seabird colonies and sleeping seals. The archipelago’s 70 islands, with their sandy beaches, towering cliffs and deep caves, cater for all abilities too, from beginner to advanced paddlers.

For first timers, the sheltered shoreline in Scapa Flow or near Churchill’s Barrier, allows you to take it at your own pace and get to grips with the equipment. For more of a challenge, the white water and fast-moving currents on the remote stretches of coastline and between islands will test the mettle of more experienced kayakers.

There aren't any hire facilities but you may be able to go out with local kayak clubs if there are kayaks available. Or you can bring your own equipment with you.


The islands, with their sheltered anchorages and picturesque harbours, have attracted yachtsmen from far and wide willing to tackle the challenging tidal swells. Well placed as a stopping point between east and west Scotland as well as Shetland and Norway, the berths at new marinas in Kirkwall, Stromness and Westray are always a hive of activity. Around the outlying isles, small harbours with friendly hotels, suppliers and essential services abound. Every island has a different feel, boasting fascinating ancient sites and teeming with wildlife.

Whichever sport you choose to enjoy during your stay, it’s imperative that you check the local weather forecast and tide tables before you set out; for your own safety and to ensure the conditions match your ability.