June 4, 2024

8 min


Sailing & Boating Holidays in Scotland: An Overview

sailing vacation in scotland

Scotland’s West Coast is a world of dramatic landscapes, rugged coastlines, sheltered coves, secluded sea lochs, and countless islands, making it a paradise for boating and sailing enthusiasts. Offering sailing holidays and private yacht charters, this region promises unforgettable adventures, breathtaking natural beauty, and a wildlife bonanza. From the majestic lochs and firths of the Highlands to the remote and windswept Hebrides, a boating or sailing holiday in Scotland promises unforgettable adventures, breathtaking natural beauty and a wildlife bonanza. Imagine navigating through narrow sea lochs flanked by towering cliffs, dropping anchor in a tranquil bay to explore ancient castles or spot marine life, or hoisting the sails and letting the wind carry you across the open seas. The islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides and the mountains all around mean sheltered water and anchorages in almost any wind direction. Whether you’re an experienced sailor or a novice looking to learn, the area is a joy to sail in with its rich history, beauty, wildlife, and charming coastal communities.

In this article we will look at the main regions to sail and explore and their highlights, the different types of water based holidays you can think about, the wildlife you can expect to see, and the best times of year to visit.

Sailing map scotland

The Hebrides

One of the most renowned areas in the western isles is the Hebrides, an archipelago off the northwest coast of mainland Scotland. This island chain is famous for its rugged landscapes, pristine beaches, and picturesque harbors, making it a paradise for sailors seeking a mix of adventure and natural beauty. They are wild and remote, so if modern facilities are for you, then look elsewhere, but for those who love the wilderness, nature and all it brings, the Hebrides are always a winner. Here are some of the highlights


Exploring the Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye, the largest and northernmost of the major islands in the Inner Hebrides, boasts dramatic landscapes, including the rugged Cuillin Mountains and the iconic Old Man of Storr. Sailors can explore hidden coves, pristine beaches, and picturesque villages like Portree.


Sailing through the Sound of Mull

The Sound of Mull, separating the Isle of Mull from the mainland, is renowned for its scenic beauty and abundant wildlife. Highlights include visiting Tobermory with its colorful waterfront, exploring the historic Duart Castle, and spotting dolphins and seals. There’s a wonderful week of sailing to be had here.


Navigating the Small Isles

The Small Isles—Rum, Eigg, Muck, and Canna—offer a tranquil and unspoiled sailing experience. Each island has its own unique character, from the rugged peaks of Rum to the sandy beaches of Eigg. These islands are perfect for wildlife enthusiasts, with opportunities to see puffins, otters, and a variety of seabirds.

Discovering the Outer Hebrides

The Outer Hebrides, including islands like Lewis, Harris, and Barra, provide a more remote and wild sailing adventure. Highlights include the stunning white-sand beaches of Harris, the prehistoric Callanish Standing Stones on Lewis, and the picturesque Castlebay on Barra. The Outer Hebrides also offer rich Gaelic culture and history.

st kilda

Exploring the St. Kilda Archipelago

St. Kilda, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most remote and spectacular parts of the Hebrides. This group of islands is known for its dramatic cliffs, ancient ruins, and abundant birdlife, including one of the largest gannet colonies in the world. Sailing to St. Kilda is a challenging but immensely rewarding experience, offering a true sense of adventure and the focus of our St Kilda expedition.

The Firth of Clyde

Located on Scotland’s West Coast near Glasgow, this is another hugely popular destination for boaters and sailors. Its sheltered waters mean excellent sailing conditions year round, with various marinas and anchorages giving sailors a wonderful selection of destinations. It is packed full of captivating highlights, including the Isle of Arran, often called “Scotland in miniature” for its varied landscapes and attractions like Brodick Castle. The Isle of Bute charms with Rothesay Castle and the opulent Mount Stuart House. Holy Loch provides a picturesque anchorage with rich maritime history, while the Kyles of Bute feature narrow sea channels with breathtaking scenery. Loch Fyne, renowned for its seafood, especially oysters, offers beautiful sailing waters and access to charming coastal towns like Inveraray.

caledonian canal

The Caledonian Canal

For those seeking a unique inland boating experience, the canal is a must-visit. It is 60 miles long and stretches from the northeast to the southwest of Scotland. Along the way it winds through stunning Highland scenery and a series of impressive lochs, including Loch Ness, Loch Oich, and Loch Lochy. As you navigate the canal, you’ll pass through charming villages like Fort Augustus and Fort William, each with its own unique character and historical sites. The canal itself is an engineering marvel, featuring a series of locks and aqueducts designed by Thomas Telford in the early 19th century.

The Northern Isles

The islands of Orkney, Fair Isle, and Shetland are a wonderful mix of history and natural beauty. Orkney, known for its Neolithic sites such as Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar, is rich in ancient history alongside stunning coastal scenery and abundant wildlife. The tiny and not always accessible Fair Isle, renowned for its birdwatching opportunities, particularly puffins, is truly remote and utterly fascinating to visit. Shetland, the northernmost archipelago, boasts a rugged landscape, Viking heritage, and the vibrant Up Helly Aa fire festival. If you love these types of remote northern isles then you should be on our Wild Islands expedition.

Types of Boating and Sailing Experiences

sailing scotland

Rubicon 3’s Scotland sailing holidays have long been one of the most loved ways to get involved in the adventurous side of sailing. While standard yacht charters require a group of sailors and stick to their well-trodden routes, Rubicon 3 sailing adventures are perfect for solo sailors and beginners right through to groups and seasoned sailors. You get to sail to and explore the areas that not many others can get to, such as the St Kilda expedition and the Wild Islands route to Orkney and Shetland. As well as being able to sail and explore the rugged beauty of Scotland’s islands, you get tuition from some of the best sailors and instructors around. Tailored sailing holidays in specific island groups like the Hebrides, Orkney, and the Firth of Clyde offer unique and remote experiences. Looking for something shorter? Our 1 week Western Isles of Scotland, an exploration of the Isle of Mull, is a sell out way in advance each year. This part of Sctoland is also where we set off for the Faroe Islands and arrive back from Iceland! There’s a reason Rubicon 3 are far and away the highest rated adventure sailors in Scotland.

Canal boat scotland

For a more leisurely pace, canal boat holidays allow you to meander through the countryside, passing through quaint villages and historic landmarks at a gentle speed. Highlights are the Crinnan and Caledonian canals. These self-driven narrowboats offer a unique perspective on Scotland’s inland waterways, with endless opportunities to stop and explore along the way.

Adventurous spirits may prefer the thrill of sea kayaking, where you can paddle along rugged coastlines, weave through sea caves, and spot wildlife up close. Guided kayak tours are available for all skill levels, providing a chance to experience Scotland’s coastal landscapes from a different vantage point. An operator we’ve heard lots of good things about is the Arisaig Sea Kayak centre.

For family groups and those wanting some RYA style instruction, there are small charter companies that deliver some great holidays and training, either separately or combined. Have a look at Oban Yacht Charters for a great option run by Ollie Cotterall, and ex round the world race skipper.

Scotland sunset

When to Sail in Scotland

Sailing in Scotland is best from May to September, when the weather conditions are most favorable. During these months, Scotland experiences milder temperatures, longer daylight hours, and more stable weather patterns, making it ideal for sailing. The winds are generally moderate from the southwest, providing excellent sailing conditions without being too harsh. Additionally, the summer months bring clearer skies and reduced rainfall, enhancing visibility and the overall sailing experience. The days are long in the prime summer months, with the sun setting as late as 10 PM, allowing for prolonged sailing hours. This period also coincides with the blooming of Scotland’s flora, adding to the scenic beauty of the journey.

Month Average Air Temperature (°C) Average Water Temperature (°C) Hours of Daylight
May 10-15 10 15-17
June 12-17 12 17-18
July 14-19 14 16-17
August 13-18 14 14-16
September 11-16 13 12-14

Wildlife and Nature Spotting from the Water

Sailing trips in these coastal waters offer a remarkable opportunity for wildlife and nature enthusiasts to observe the region’s diverse flora and fauna up close. From the deck of a boat or sailboat, you can witness the majestic sight of seabirds soaring overhead and nesting on rocky cliffs. Species like puffins, gannets, and fulmars are commonly spotted, providing a captivating display of their natural behaviors and vibrant plumage.


The waters around Scotland are also home to a variety of marine mammals, including seals, dolphins, and even whales. Catching a glimpse of these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat is an unforgettable experience. Seals can often be seen basking on remote islands or playfully swimming alongside boats, while the sight of a pod of dolphins gracefully breaching the water’s surface is a breathtaking spectacle.

Eagle scotland

Beyond the wildlife, boating and sailing holidays in Scotland offer unparalleled views of the region’s stunning coastal landscapes. Rugged cliffs, pristine beaches, and picturesque fishing villages dot the shorelines, providing a constantly changing panorama of natural beauty. The play of light on the water, combined with the ever-shifting colors of the sky and land, creates a mesmerizing visual experience that captures the essence of Scotland’s coastal charm.

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