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Scuba Diving in United Kingdom and Ireland

PADI Scuba Diving in the United Kingdom and Ireland

Taking a giant stride in the UK. You can grab the photos from here: Images Courtesy Mark Evans at Sport Diver UKAlthough the United Kingdom and Ireland might not immediately spring to mind when thinking of exotic or challenging dive destinations, the waters surrounding these ancient nations are something of a revelation. Hundreds of years of merchant seafaring – plus a quite a few seaborne military events over the years – have left a rich wreck heritage, the huge tidal ranges have to be seen to be fully appreciated and fauna ranging from tiny seahorses to gigantic basking sharks all mean the underwater realm here is rich with surprises.

The United Kingdom and Ireland effectively occupy two large islands off north-western continental Europe. England, Scotland and Wales share one, while the island of Ireland sits just to the West, home to the separate states of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Between the main land masses and hundreds of smaller islands, there are almost 24,000 kilometres/15,000 miles of coastline on offer and no point on any of the island nations is further than about 116 kilometres/72 miles from it. These coasts are also notable for their variety and seemingly change from sandy beaches, to shingle, to crags, to rocks, to cliffs and back again in just a small area. Plus, as you might expect with so much varied coastline, there is a very healthy domestic diving population, served by a remarkable concentration of more than 270 PADI Dive Centers and Resorts. There is also an equally large fleet of dive boats, an increasing number of which are being equipped with diver hoists to ease entries and exits for heavily-laden technical divers - a community well represented in this area.

Positioned at latitudes between about 50 and 58 degrees North (with the tip of the Shetland Islands reaching nearly 61 degrees North) the waters are cool or cold most of the year, so good exposure protection is the order of the day. For those properly, however, these sometimes challenging waters can serve up some truly memorable dives.

Plan your trip with a PADI Dive Shop or Resort in the UK and Ireland.

Tourism Areas and Diving

With an extensive coastline and multiple inland diving opportunities, the United Kingdom and Ireland offer countless opportunities to get wet. Among the popular are:

  • The scuttled WW1 warship fleet in Scapa Flow off of Scotland's Northern tip  
  • Seals around the Farne Islands off of England's northeast
  • The wrecks and drift diving off of England's south and southeast coasts
  • Slightly warmer waters, basking sharks and seahorses off of southwest England
  • Abundant seals in southwest Wales’ Skomer Island sanctuary
  • Anemones, dolphins (seemingly every bay has its own resident) and even corals off o western Ireland

PADI Dive Shops and Resorts

Find contact information for all the PADI Dive Shops and Resorts in the UK and Ireland.

Most Famous Dive Site

Dive Scapa Flow in the UK. Images Courtesy Mark Evans for Sport Diver UKOn 21 June  1919 Admiral Ludwig von Reuter ordered the entire German fleet scuttled at their internship berths in Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands off Scotland’s Northern coast. British guard ships were able to beach some of the vessels before they slipped beneath the waves, but at least 52 sank.  Many have been salvaged over the intervening years but  the remaining wrecks provide an eerie reminder of turn-of-the-century naval technology and have become one of the most famous wreck sites in the world - let alone one best dive sites in this area. The dives on offer in this one spot include the “big seven” - three 177 metre/580 foot, 26,000 tonne battleships (the Konig, Markgraf and ) and the four 155 metre/510 foot, 6000 tonne cruisers (the Coln, Karlsruhe, Dresden and Brummer).

Sited at 58°53.23N; 03°11.18W and at depths from 10-27 metres/33-89 feet, the Karlsruhe is the shallowest of the fleet wrecks and makes an excellent enriched air dive.

The neighboring Markgraf at 58°53.31N; 3°09.55W, is the deepest of these behemoths and lies in water 22-43 metres/72-141 feet deep.Because of this, it's an ideal technical dive.

As the name Scapa Flow suggests, strong tides can run here and you have to carefully plan your dive times around them. However, the strong flow brings nutrient-rich water that reward divers with abundant sea life including anemones, sponges, sea urchins, large horse mussels, starfish, brittlestars and large, healthy shoals of native British fish. 

Getting to the site :

Although you can access the Orkneys directly by air (via scheduled services from London, Birmingham, and Manchester in England as well as Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Wick in Scotland), many take the ferry from Aberdeen - one of the main UK international airports.

 An alternative passage by sea takes you on a wonderfully scenic drive north from Aberdeen over the Moray and Dornoch Firths, through the beautiful Scottish Highlands and on to the Stromness ferry from Scrabster, just outside Thurso. You can stop at John O’Groats en route, which is just 28 kilometres/17 milesfrom Thurso. This is a popular photo opportunity since it marks the furthest end of the British mainland - the opposite being Land’s End in Cornwall.

Dive all United Kingdom wrecks. Images Courtesy Mark Evans at Sport Diver UKDive Summary

Depth :            From 10-45 metres/33-150 feet.

Visibility :        Unpolluted, nutrient-rich waters generally provide approximately 10-15 metres/33-50 feet of visibility but can get up to 33 metres/100 feet at times.

Currents :        Strong tides can run through the narrows of Scapa Flow, so local guides and detailed briefings are very strongly recommended. Local dive boats generally provide both.  

Water Temp :  4° C/39° F in April to 14° C/57° F) in September

Dive Season :  June to September, unless fully prepared for cold water.

Weather :        Windy – Orkney is famous for its winds! Spring and Autumn can bring some quite impressive storms, but these are more than made up for by the seemingly endless midsummer days at these latitudes where the sun hardly seems to go down. 15-19oc / 59-66of May -September, 5-6oc / 41-43of in Winter.

Access :           Most diving is by boat, but there are some excellent shore-based rummage dives available.

Skill level :       Advanced – Technical; the diving range from 10-45m / 33-150 feet provides everything from superb Enriched Air dives to fully Technical profiles, however the currents and predominance of wreck diving reward divers who have built up some experience and training prior to making their visit here.

Recommended Courses:

Scuba Gear:

All seasons:    

Length of stay : 

7-14 days

Featured Creatures

Grey seals, common seals, wrasse, Conger eels, jellyfish, crabs, sea urchins, brittle stars, starfish and sponges. Interesting subjects abound, so honing fish identification and underwater photography skills rewards conscientious divers. 


Topside TreasuresInteresting rock formations. Images Courtesy Mark Evans at Sport Diver UK

Quite apart from the breathtaking scenery you'll experience getting to the destination itself, the Orkneys have  a unique beauty all their own. A wild and remote group of about 70 islands and “skerries”, you'll be well rewarded by visiting some of the smaller islands surrounding the main group. Orcadians (as Orkney’s residents are called) are typically excellent hosts, so you're nearly guaranteed a warm welcome, although their natural reserve can come across as shyness if you're more used to the hustle and bustle of city life. The main industry on the islands is beef farming, which means that those that enjoy a good steak will find themselves very happy. Plus, because the island group is surrounded by highly nutrient-rich, flowing water, seafood offerings here are fresh and flavorsome.

Marwick Head in UK. Images Courtesy Mark Evans at Sport Diver UK

The strong sense of tradition and folklore in the Islands leads to some interesting names to things like festivals such as the Night of the Ogress and Festival of the Horse - along with the mysterious Old Man of Hoy. Visiting the Old Man of Hoy might surprise you if you're expecting a gentleman of advanced years, perhaps one weaving traditional island tales. This particular Old Man is truly ancient, however, as it is a 137 metre/450 foot tall stack of red sandstone, impossibly perched on a plinth of Igneous Basalt rock. While it looks as if it might collapse at any second, it has withstood the sea and wind's fury for millennia - only to become a world-famous rock climbing experience.

Fast Facts

  • Getting there: Major airlines directly serve Scotland or route through other UK airports. You can fly direcly to the Orkneysfrom London, Birmingham and  Manchester in England or  Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Wick in Scotland. You can also take a ferry from Aberdeen or Scrabster (near Thurso) on Scotland’s northern coast. 
  • Time Zone:  Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) from November – March, British Summer Time from April - October.
  • Language: English (with a very distinctive Orcadian dialect) along with other traditional Norse and Celtic-influenced local tongues.
  • Visa requirements: UK Border and Immigration laws cover the Orkneys - visit the UK’s visa information web site for current visa requirements.
  • Currency: the pound sterling. You can find  currency conversion rates at, or ATMs are widely available , all major credit cards are accepted and you can exchange currency in the airport or at banks.
  • Mobile Phones: Coverage is good in the Orkneys. The nationwide UK emergency number for all emergency services is 999 (no area code required).
  • Tipping: Tipping is entirely voluntary throughout the UK and common practice is to reward good service with 10 percet - particularly  in restaurants. Although hotel porters, bartenders, taxi drivers and tour drivers will certainly thank you for any gratuity, it is not necessarily expected of visitors.
  • Car Hire: Most major international car hire companies are well represented in the Orkneys and there are even one-way rental companies operating to and from the islands. Driving is  on the left.
  • Other transportation: Bicycle hire, taxis, tour buses and boat tours are all available in the Orkneys. Adapted transport, wheelchairs and “shop mobility” scooters are also available. You can find more information on travel options at
  • Medical: Balfour Hospital, in the main town of Kirkwall, serves the Orkneys. Patients requiring specialist treatment are sent to the Scottish mainland, usually Aberdeen.
  • Don’t Leave Home Without: Your camera and your PADI certification card. Anything else you may need is widely available if you forget anything.

 Related Resources on the Orkneys

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