Scuba diving in Scotland

Written by Chris Thornton | 6th of April 2024
Scuba diving in Scotland

When visiting Scotland, diving might not be the first thing you think about, but our small country has many fine places for scuba diving with its long, winding coastline. Scotland's landscape is famous throughout the world for its mountain ranges, lochs and forests. Still, the coastline has significant offerings in terms of marine life, soft corals, gullies, underwater cliffs, reefs, archways and wrecks.

Let's look at some of the best dive destinations, dive centres and wildlife available in Scotland.

Coastal wildlife while diving in Scotland

Scotland has an abundance of sea life, including large mammals such as sealsdolphins and minke whales.

On the Moray Firth Coast, Orcas have been sighted in recent years, feasting on the large seal populations peppered along the many beaches on this stunning stretch of coastline. Basking sharks have been seen on the Moray coast and the west coast near Oban.

Dolphins

The rare Risso's dolphin is a common sight near the Isle of Mull, and exotic seabirds such as Puffins live on the plunging cliffs on the east coast mainland.

Rissos Dolphin.  Padi dive centers, dive trip.

Moon Jelly

I was lucky enough to capture some photographs of beautiful "moon jelly" jellyfish common in the north sea. They are very beautiful and delicate creatures and a common sight while diving in Scotland.

Jellyfish, Scottish sub aqua club

Seals

Scotland has many seal colonies along the coast, and many are intrigued by divers. Please don't go diving to see seals underwater expressly, but if they come to you, be calm and respectful as they are wild animals.  Please read my dedicated article on Moray Firth seals.

Moray Firth Seals.  Water temperature ranges between seasons.
 
Basking sharks, dry suit recommended
Basking shark in the north sea, harmless to humans.

The top dive sites in Scotland

Here is a brief overview of the best dive sites in Scotland; and well worth your time if you are interested in dive trips.

Scapa Flow - Orkney

Scapa Flow is one of the most popular dive sites in Scotland since it was the primary naval base for the British fleet during both world wars. Its large natural harbour and deep entrances were perfect for large ships entering the bay.

On the 21st of June 1919, a German naval commander named Ludwig Von Reuter scuttled the entire German fleet while they were anchored in Scapa Flow, paranoid that the fleet would be seized by the British. Although many sunken ships were salvaged, three battleships still remain, the Kronprinz Wilhelm, the König, and the Markgraf. Four battle cruisers also lie on the seabed of Scapa Flow along with many other support vessels; combined with the battleships, there are some fantastic opportunities for diving the shipwrecks.

The main focus of diving in Scapa Flow is the "Churchhill Barriers". These barriers (named 1 through 4) were formed by purposely sinking ships to stop access from German ships or submarines during World Wars 1 and 2. This is what makes Scapa Flow a unique place for diving - scuba divers love it here.

Eyemouth

A excellent collection of diving sites within the same area east of Edinburgh.

  • Nest Ends Gully

  • Greenends Gully

  • Gulley of Doom

  • Diver's hole

  • Submerged reef

Mega blockbuster Avengers: Endgame was filmed nearby at St Abbs, the real-life location of "New Asgard".

St Kilda

One of Scotland's most westerly islands, it has found a place amongst divers as an amazing place to dive. Trips often include onshore excursions too and liveaboard accommodation on the boat. Only for experienced divers, but a fantastic destination for the more adventurous.

Loch Long - Argyle and Bute

No wrecks here, but many scenic areas to dive. Rocky reefs hide conger eels, crabs, scallops and dogfish.

Craggen

Still, on Loch Long, this is for more experienced divers. Many unique sea creatures live here, including sea urchins, white plumose, fireworks, sea loch anemones, and dead men's fingers.

Conger Alley

On the north side of Loch Long, you can discover a wide variety of wildlife, including mackerel, starfish, dogfish, anemones, and conger eels. Currents are minimal here due to protection from the surrounding hills.

The Caves

Although called caves, this site has a very steel boulder slope and when underwater it has a very cave-like feel. A unique dive site on Loch Long.

Loch Long dive centers offer courses.
Loch Long, a divers paradise.

Lochaline - Morvern

One of the best sites for diving wrecks in the west of Scotland.

A-Frames - Helensburgh

A very pretty site for shore diving in Scotland. Good parking is available and perfect for a range of different diving skills. Seals and Dolphins are frequently seen here too.

Tarbet Isle - Loch Lomond

A lovely freshwater dive from the shore of Loch Lomond. Things to see here are a small wall containing flecks of fool's gold, the interesting underground formations around the island, and the freshwater fish that frequent the rocks.

Wemyss Bay - SS Kintyre

There are two dives available here, "the pipe" and the wreck of the SS Kintyre a steamer which sank in 1907 after a collision.

Bonawe Quarry, Oban

This old quarry is a great spot for diving and contains two wrecks available to explore. The small fishing boat is in about 15 m of water and has a wheelhouse you can enter.

Carnoch Bay, Ballaculish

Yet another area of outstanding natural beauty, this is a great place to see thornback rays and maybe other wildlife species.

Anchor Point, Loch Fyne

A great spot on the east shore of Loch Fyne; there is 30m of depth to play with here and some nice reefs and wildlife to see, including many varieties of jellyfish.

FAQs on Scottish scuba diving

Here are a few of the most popular questions about scuba diving in Scotland.

When is the best time of year for scuba divers in Scotland?

The typical dive season is between April and October, as the water temperature will be at its warmest - between 7°C and 14°C. If you are the hardy type, you can dive at any time of year, but keep in mind the conditions could be significantly worse.

What is diving visibility like in Scotland?

10 to 30 metres of good visibility is common but can be variable based on conditions such as recent storms or algae blooms. The west coast of Scotland is generally considered to have better visibility than the east coast.

How much does it cost to dive in Scotland?

It depends on what package you choose, but nine days of diving - 18 dives - including full scuba equipment rental, nitrox and weights will cost around £1400 ($1800/€1660). I think that's quite reasonable, considering it's spread over 18 dives.

Is snorkelling an option in Scotland?

Not really, the cold water does not lend itself well to this type of diving.

Can I scuba dive in Scotland?

Yes! Scotland has many great scuba diving locations and many training centres available.

Do you need a license to dive in Scotland?

To dive with a reputable dive centre, you need to be scuba certified via a PADI Open Water Course. No centre or club will allow you to dive with them without certification.

It's not illegal to dive independently with your equipment. However, the risks associated with scuba diving without certification are significant. As a result, it is highly recommended that you obtain a scuba diving certification before embarking on any of your underwater adventures.

Where is the best diving location in Scotland?

Oban on the west coast has a fantastic reputation for the best diving in northern Europe. The many Scottish islands in the west provide a plethora of habitats for marine life, excellent underwater visibility and very sheltered dive sites, ideal for beginners and experienced divers alike.

Where are the PADI dive centres in Scotland?

All of the dive centres in Scotland will offer PADI certification as standard practice. Training is often given in a safe environment in a swimming pool.

Is Scotland suitable for shore diving?

It's perfect; there are so many idyllic beaches where you can wade into the water and have a fantastic dive exploring fascinating topography. While not as glamourous as diving from a boat, many divers prefer the ease of access from the shore and it is a very tempting prospect, especially if you suffer from motion sickness.

Just be aware of fishing nets and creels offshore.

List of dive centres and clubs in Scotland

Here are a few of the best centres and clubs you should consider if planning to scuba dive in Scotland:

Title Location Contact
Aberdeen Diving Services Aberdeen 01224 081453
Aberdeen Sub-Aqua Club Aberdeen 01224 507683
Divebunker Burntisland 01592 874380
Scuba Ts Denny 07449 669494
Central Scotland Dive Club East Kilbride info@c-divers.com
Edinburgh Diving Centre Edinburgh 01312 294838
Diving Adventures Scotland Edinburgh 07540 247926
Scottish Sub Aqua Club Edinburgh 01316 254404
Marine Quest Eyemouth 01890 752444
C & C Marine Services Fairlie 01475 687180
Scuba Diving Scotland Glasgow 0800 2289099
Aquatron Dive Centre Glasgow 0141 429 7575
Blue Hippo Diving Glasgow 07900 892489
Hebridean Diving Services Isle of Skye 01470 592219
Highland Diving Muir of Ord, Inverness 07917 286985
Puffin Dive Centre Oban 01631 566088
Kraken Diving Orkney 07933 492349
North East Dive Portsoy 07817 800502
Shetland Scuba Diving Shetland 01856 851110
Freedom Diving Stirling 07824 712261


Scottish highlands diving

Scottish Scuba diving tour

Most of the diving centres above will offer scuba diving tours with varying amounts of dives in different locations. For example, one tour may include:

  • 9 days of diving.

  • Full hire of scuba equipment, nitrox and weights.

  • Exploring wrecks, reefs and wildlife.

  • Diving in lochs such as Loch Etive, Loch Leven, Loch Fyne and Loch Long.

  • Coastal dives.

Conclusion

Now that you have found out about the underwater world surrounding Scotland, why not book a scuba diving trip to Scotland? Dive on some amazing wrecks and see the incredible aquatic wildlife up close. Scotland is a beautiful country onshore and offshore, worthy of considering for your scuba diving holiday.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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