Exceptional underwater visibility makes Shetland perfect scuba diving country. Some of the most spectacular views in the islands are below the waves - submerged cliffs, stacks and caves of long-drowned shorelines.
In addition to the profusion of wrecks, the submarine scenery and wildlife are major attractions for sport divers and underwater photographers. More and more divers are discovering that, quite apart from the fascinating wreck sites, Shetland's profusion of underwater wildlife is truly astonishing, one of the richest marine environments around the British Isles.
Shetland’s coastline extends to 2,702 kilometres (1,697 miles) and Gordon Ridley, in Dive Scotland Volume III, estimates that it offers 405 geos (coves), 351 caves, 246 bays and firths, 205 skerries, 190 stacks, 158 natural arches and at least seven subterranean passages. There’s plenty to keep the keenest scuba enthusiast busy for a lifetime!
The variety of diving experiences is a big draw - Shetland has everything from historic wrecks (like the 18th Century Swedish East Indiaman and WWI steamship Gwladmena - both in Lerwick Harbour) to modern trawlers and the 1993 wreck of the huge tanker Braer; from sea cliffs and gullies teeming with colours and life to offshore pinnacles and reefs.
The shape of Shetland means that you can dive on almost any day of the year - there's always somewhere sheltered, with deep water close inshore.
The long hours of summer daylight are an added bonus, allowing you to pack more diving time into a week's stay than would be possible further south.
The water is chilly, but nothing like as cold as most other places on this latitude. In late summer the sea temperature gets up to around 13°-14°C, dropping to 5°C or 6°C in midwinter.
If you don't want to get wet, there's other ways to explore Shetland underwater: Seabirds-and-Seals runs daily excursions with a remote-control submarine camera, displaying live colour video pictures on the deck of their cruise boat Dunter III. Alternatively, a nature tour with UnderWater Shetland will show you Shetland's submarine world with a live feed from thier ROV camera .
Wreck Dive Sites
This is just a small selection of some of the more accessible wrecks around Shetland. There are hundreds more.
- El Gran Grifon (Spanish Armada hulk, Fair Isle)
- Norseman's Bride (1970s trawler, Fair Isle)
- Braer (100,000 tonne oil tanker, Fitful Head)
- St Sunniva (1930s steamer, Mousa)
- Murrayfield (steamer, Mousa)
- Queen of Sweden (18th century. Swedish East Indiaman, Lerwick)
- Gwladmena (1st World War steamer, Lerwick)
- Glen Isla (1st World War steamer, Lerwick)
- Samba (1960s coastal tanker, Lerwick)
- Lunokhods (Lithuanian fish factory ship, 1993, Bressay)
- Pionersk (Russian fish factory ship, 1994, Bressay)
- Borodinsky Polye (Russian fish factory ship, 1994, near Lerwick)
- Jane (steamer, off Fetlar)
- Kennemerland (17th century Dutch East Indiaman, Out Skerries)*
- Wrangels Palais (17th century Danish warship, Out Skerries)*
- Highcliffe (2nd World War freighter, Papa Stour)
- Ben Doran (1930 trawler, Ve Skerries)
- Oceanic (1st World War liner, off Foula)
- Goodwill Merchant (1970s freighter, Burra Isle)
Shetlad Museum has extensive records and displays of artefacts recovered from wrecks around the coast.
*Please note that some wreck sites, including those of the Kennemerland and Wrangels Palais, are designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. To dive on a protected site, you need a licence. For more information, visit the Historic Scotland page on wreck diving.
Shetland Coastguard provide a weather advisory service and radio cover for dive boats. Be sure to contact them on 01595 692 976 or VHF Ch. 16 before every dive.
Scenic / Wildlife Dive Sites
- Fair Isle
- Waari Geo
- Giant's Leg
- Stoura Clett
- Orkneyman's Cave
- Noup of Noss
- Score Point
- Green Holm
- Ship Stack
- Ramna Stacks
- Hams of Roe
- Ve Skerries
- Papa Stour
What They Said When They Surfaced
Don't take our word for it: the following links to diving websites show the effect Shetland has on divers when they first venture north. Diver John Howe's first impressions of Shetland underwater are typical:
"Nothing could've prepared me for the clarity of the water: 10-15 metre visibility was normal (I'm from Dorset - 3 metres is good!). The life was prolific with sunstars, scallops, dogfish, lobsters, anemones, pollack and wrasse all common sights on one dive. I was impressed.
"...we sank down into beautiful clear water, following the anchor line onto vertical 10 metre high blades of rock covered with Anemones, Dead Men's Fingers and orange breadcrust Sponges and the ubiquitous Brittle-Stars. ... Shoals of tiny fish flashed and darted amongst the kelp-covered tops..."
"There is a huge variety of dives in Shetland from the deep wrecks around Lerwick to the gentle scenic dives in the Atlantic to the west. ... The potential of Shetland is yet to be fully realized, with new dives being discovered every year."
Another newcomer, writing in Dive International, was dazzled by his first encounter with one of Shetland's underwater precipices.
"...Approach the first cliff wall, and you simply gaze in wonder at the incredible range of colours and variety of animals there. ... The near-vertical and, in some cases, underhanging walls are carpeted in jewel anemones (Corynactis viridis) and it is here that you'll find the largest aggregation of dahlia anemones (Urticina felina) that I have ever seen - there are thousands of these large, psychedelic-coloured anemones everywhere you look."
"The outside was dominated by kelp, but once in the entrance, this gives way to a tightly packed covering of strawberry tunicates, biscuit-coloured hydroids and anemones...Sites like this are nearly always a good bet for dense riots of colour from anemones and soft corals.
"I am not disappointed. With clear water and reasonable light entering the slot, the scene is spectacular. One of the other divers beckons me along the wall. A small scorpionfish is hiding among sponges and hydroids... There is so much to see that I have to force myself to save a few frames on the film."
"A few days later, we approach an impressive double arch on the [Bressay] cliffs called Giant's Leg ... big enough to drive a bus or two through, with room to spare... Dropping into 20m, we land on a rocky slope dominated by big yellow dead men's fingers...There is some plankton in the water, but even so, I can look up and see the arch above me and sky either side of the shadow of the rock... spectacular walls of dead men's fingers and dahlia anemones."
On This Site
- Try other eco-tourism options available in Shetland
- Learn about the sea mammals living around Shetland's coast