Cruising the Islands of Orkney - a Guide

This brief guide has been written by local sailor, Mike Cooper, to help the cruising visitor create an enjoyable visit to our islands.

Click on the map below to find out about marinas, moorings and anchorages all around our Islands. 

Click here to download the file.

This guide is by no means exhaustive and only mentions the main and generally obvious anchorages that can be found on charts. Some of the welcoming pubs, hotels and other attractions close to the harbour or mooring are suggested for your entertainment, however, much more awaits to be explored afloat and many delights can be discovered ashore.

You should consult available local visitor guides and information available online and other sources to see what each individual island area has to offer.

Orkney waters, if treated with respect, should offer no worries for the well prepared and experienced sailor and will present no greater problem than cruising elsewhere in the UK. Tides, although strong in some parts, are predictable and can be used to great advantage; passage making is a delight with the current in your favour but can present a challenge when against.

The old cruising guides for Orkney waters preached doom for the seafarer who entered where “dragons and sea serpents lie”. This hails from the days of little or no engine power aboard the average sailing vessel and the frequent lack of wind amongst tidal islands; admittedly a worrying combination when you’ve nothing but a scrap of canvas for power and a small anchor for brakes!

Consult the charts, tidal guides and sailing directions and don’t be afraid to ask!

There are two distinct cruising areas in Orkney: The North Isles (and North/West Mainland) and the South Isles (and South/East Mainland).

© 2013 Mike Cooper
George St.
KW15 1PW

Updated 20.05.16

*This publication is for information only and should not be used for navigation.
Advice is given in good faith, however should only be used in conjunction with relevant charts, tidal publications and common sense.

Further details, advice and help can be obtained from

Click here for Useful Information.

• Red painted mooring “Visitor” Buoys are placed in a number of locations around the islands: Off Gill Pier Westray. East side of Papa Westray. Fersness, Calf Sound, East of Kettletoft Sanday. North east of Whitehall pier Stronsay. North of Eday pier. South east of North Ronaldsay pier. West of Rousay pier. East of Balfour pier Shapinsay. South of St Marys pier Holm. East of Burray pier. Longhope pier/bay.

o These moorings can often be difficult to pick up; Hint: use a weighted/sinking heaving line to first “lassoo” the buoy and then attach a mooring rope to the steel ring on top to moor up. Designed for vessels up to 18 tons.

• Dover tide tables are the preferred tables for passage making in Orkney. These tie in with Orkney Harbours and Admiralty printed guidance and tide charts.

• Tides can run at up to 8 knots in the tidal gates during Springs, However in general around the islands the tides are much less. Maximum range 2.5 meters.
Treat with great respect and plan before making passage, tides can be used to your advantage and will dictate where and when you go.
Tidal gates:
Eynhallow (Between Mainland and Rousay)
Hoy Sound (West entrance to Stromness)
Lother (south of South Ronaldsay)

• Consult the tidal atlas, in general:
Ebb tide runs North and West
Flood tide runs South and East
Within the confines of Scapa Flow there is little tidal influence.

Eddies can form on the “tidal lee” of islands where often counter tides will be encountered.

• Orkney Marinas operate “Ask a Local” service. Please take advantage.

Should you require further help or advice contact
Mike Cooper:
Cruising Association
Ocean Cruising Club
RNLI Community Safety Officer 07793049664