Oban Municipal Harbour Consultation


The purpose of this briefing and consultation document is to advise stakeholders of proposals to introduce a Municipal Harbour Authority for the sections of Oban Bay which are currently unmanaged.

This is being progressed to ensure that the Bay can be operated safely and builds on the excellent work carried out by Oban Bay Management Group (OBMG) who have put in place a voluntary code of practice and improved buoyage and marks leading into and out of the bay over recent years.

The proposal for a Municipal Harbour Authority will formalise the work of the OBMG, provide an enhanced operating model which will be sustainable whilst ensuring that safety and access for all users is paramount. 

Oban Bay is an asset of strategic importance to a great number of island communities as it provides a ‘gateway to the isles’, and as such we are also asking those island communities for their views on these proposals.

The proposals themselves are early drafts for discussion. The feedback from this consultation is crucial in allowing us to further develop the proposals.

The consultation will run for six weeks, and we will update the below FAQs as we go through the consultation depending on what if any additional questions are raised.


The Council, CMAL/CalMac and the Northern Lighthouse Board have different responsibilities for areas of Oban Bay, and some parts of the bay are not part of the specific jurisdiction of any organisation – the situation is not ideal and can lead to confusion for users, with no organisation in overall control of the bay itself.

There are separate Harbour Orders in place for Oban: the North Pier, the Railway Pier and the South Pier. The approaches and most of the waters in the bay are not covered by a local Harbour Act or Order. The responsibility in terms of marine safety for waters outside of harbour limits defaults to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

Having one or more statutory harbour authority controlling the entirety of the bay would remove any ambiguity and provide clear marine safety management to users of the bay.

For a number of years the Council with CMAL/CalMac, the Northern Lighthouse Board and various stakeholders have worked to progress a solution which would result in all the bay, including the approaches, being covered by provisions which would enable the bay to be fully managed.

The Council commissioned an independent Options Appraisal by Caledonian Economics for the future management of the bay, the results of which were reported to the Council’s Harbour Board in December 2021

The Harbour Board at its 2 December 2021 meeting unanimously agreed the following 6 points:

  1. thanked Caledonian Economics for their work on the Options Appraisal;
  2. agreed that the Council would not at this time proceed with a transfer of assets on the basis that there were too many uncertainties around the proposal;
  3. noted that Options 4 or 5 (Argyll and Bute Council or Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) becoming the Harbour Authority for the unmanaged section of Oban Bay) provides a quicker route to addressing the current safety concerns and are therefore the best options available at this time.
  4. agreed that either Options 4 or 5 should move forward and request that Officers engage with CMAL, through the OBMG, on the basis that the Council’s preference would be option 5 and that the Council was prepared to be the Harbour Authority for the unmanaged section of Oban Bay, to begin the process of application for a Harbour Revision Order covering the unmanaged section of Oban Bay and to expedite the process for such an order and to report back to members on that process;
  5. noted that there was no inherent reason why a Trust Port would not be a good future option; and
  6. agreed that once Options 4 or 5 were delivered there would be a period of bedding in to monitor the new arrangement and, after that time, there would be a further report to members on the potential for and exploration of the future development of a Trust Port.

You can read the minute of the Harbour Board and access the papers here.

Following the decision of the Harbour Board the Council is progressing a Municipal Port Authority for Oban Bay. This will include the approaches into the bay but exclude the existing CMAL ferry terminal which will remain a separate Harbour Authority. This will allow the Council to manage the wider Oban Bay and its approaches to ensure that vessels follow the provisions which will be included in a formal Harbour Order.

At this stage of the process we are looking to consult users and the general public on our outline proposals. This is an informal public consultation, the results of which will inform our proposed Harbour Revision Order. Once this is submitted to Transport Scotland, there will be a further phase of formal consultation on the proposals.

You will find below:

  • FAQs on the scheme
  • Maps of the proposed Harbour Limits
  • Information on another part of the process called a Navigational Risk Assessment [or in FAQs]
  • Draft protected provisions [the framework through which we propose to manage the area within the proposed limits]


What is it the Council is doing with Oban Harbour?

Currently there is no overseeing organisation for the approaches into and out of Oban Bay. The Council are progressing a Municipal Harbour Authority which will enable us to take responsibility for the unmanaged areas of Oban Bay together with the North Pier which we are already the Harbour Authority for.

Why is it necessary to promote a Municipal Harbour Authority?

Currently the Oban Bay Management Group has promoted a code of practice for vessels entering and leaving Oban Bay. This is a great piece of work and has significantly increased marine safety within the Bay. However, it is only with a Harbour Authority that positive safety measures can be fully enforced and managed to further enhance safety for all users.

What has been done in recent years to improve safety in the Bay?

The code of practice [referenced above] improved buoyage and published procedural information for vessel traffic using Oban Bay.  This has helped qualified marine professionals who oversee the other parts of Oban Bay on behalf of public bodies to ensure that marine risk is managed.

Why the Council?

Addressing the safety issues by bringing the waters under the management of a SHA as soon as possible is the top priority. The Council already manages a part of Oban Bay and has a wider network of 38 piers and harbours across Argyll and Bute, managed by an experienced team of marine professionals.

This group of marine assets is ultimately governed through the Council’s Harbour Board which is comprised of Elected Members drawn from across the Council area. The Harbour Board meets in public regularly and its minutes are published on the Council website.

Therefore, the Council has an existing operational and governance arrangement in place which makes it well placed to expand its operations in Oban to manage the unmanaged section of the Bay and its approaches.

Isn’t there an Order in place which enables the council to manage Oban Bay now?

No, not the whole of the Bay or its approaches.

So who is currently responsible for Oban Bay?

There are separate Harbour Orders in place for Oban: the North Pier, the Railway Pier and the South Pier. The approaches and most of the waters in the bay are not covered by a local Harbour Act or Order. The responsibility in terms of marine safety for waters outside of harbour limits defaults to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

Will there be any restrictions on vessel movements with a harbour authority? What about the kayakers, dinghies and leisure craft?

The purpose of the proposed Harbour Order is to ensure that all users have safe access within the Bay. There will be new powers allowing the Harbour Master’s team to direct traffic within the Bay to ensure that the bay can function safely for the benefit of all users. 

What difference will there be for vessels coming into Oban?

On the face of it, very little. At busy times, in the interests of safety, management of traffic may be required in the form of information, guidance and directions.  The Council’s objective is essentially to extend the existing successful operations within its current area of authority, out into the Bay.

What is the process for establishing the Harbour Authority?

There is specific detail on the process in the Delivery Plan which is available here

Will there be a consultation process prior to the formal process taking place?

Yes, that is what this information is provided to support. This consultation runs from Friday 15th July for six weeks and can be completed here online or hard copies are available on request by calling 01546 605514 or visiting one of the Council’s Customer service points [please note these are only open in the morning]

Does the council have the expertise to become a municipal harbour authority?

Yes. The council operates 38 piers and harbours, has 6 municipal harbour authorities already in place, operates 4 ferry services and has an extensive team of Harbour Masters, mariners, design engineers with marine specialisms, lawyers, accountants, back office support, a diverse management team and a multi skilled executive team which provides leadership support. Oban Municipal Harbour will simply be an extension of existing business, benefiting from the systems, expertise and organisational backing that is already well established and in place.

What happens to any income from the harbour authority?

This will follow the Council’s existing arrangements for marine income where it is re-invested in that asset group.

What will be the governance arrangements for the new municipal harbour authority?

All of the Council’s marine assets are ultimately governed through the Council’s Harbour Board which is comprised of Elected Members drawn from across the Council area. The Harbour Board meets in public regularly and its minutes are published on the Council website.

Under the Council’s constitution strategic committees section the Harbour Board is responsible for providing policy direction to officers/others involved in operational management and use of the facilities and for scrutinising implementation of these.

For each of our main harbours we have users groups we consult with regularly on the detailed operation of the harbour. Over the pandemic the meetings of these user groups were postponed – we are in the process of re-establishing these useful meetings.

I have a mooring within the wider bay how will I be affected?

There will be no change to the existing arrangements.

Will the sailing club still be able to train and race in the bay?

Absolutely. The Bay will remain open for all users to enjoy safely.

Will there be timed restrictions where boats will not be able to enter or leave the Bay?

The current Code of Practice augments the maritime ‘Rules of the Road’ and the Harbour Master’s team will continue with and build on those procedures.

Will there be a speed limit within the Bay?

Yes. All vessels are required to proceed at a safe speed but to clarify and prevent accidents or damage the present 10 knots and 6 knots speed limits work well.

Has the council any plans to make any future developments

There is a proposal being presented to the Council’s Harbour Board in August to progress a business case to extend the existing North Pier berthing face.

This is a valuable strategic asset to Argyll and Bute and is in high demand from commercial vessels. An increased berthing capability would provide a greater number of options, and would continue to support key sectors like aquaculture, while at the same time providing increased landing capability for salt deliveries which are used to maintain our winter salt stocks and ensure that Argyll and Bute remains open for business.



Below are the proposed Argyll & Bute Council limits for Oban Harbour. It should be noted that these are proposed limits and may change as we carry out technical assessment work on vessel traffic patterns and marine risk. 

The CMAL area around the Railway pier has been left out of the chart but will be nested within the larger Municipal area.

The area enclosed by the northern boundary includes the No 1 and No 3 anchorages which are marked with the magenta anchor symbols.

The southern limit extends to beyond the CFL ferry service to Kerrera.



Purple linePurple lineIndicate the limits of the proposed harbour limits
Star pointsStarIndicate the points on the boundaries which define the limits



Figure 1: Proposed Northern Limits including the ‘Outside Anchorages'.

Figure 1: Proposed Northern Limits including the ‘Outside Anchorages’

Oban marine chart

Figure 2: Overview of proposed limits

Oban marine chart

Figure 3: Proposed Northern Limits including the ‘Outside Anchorages’

Oban marine chart

Figure 4: Proposed Southern Limits including approaches to Kerrera Ferry


In order to underpin the Harbour Revision Order (HRO), an NRA is being undertaken to understand the current level of marine risk and proposed mitigation for reducing the risk.  The NRA will be reviewed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) as the competent authority with a marine safety remit for Oban Bay (as most of the area is currently outside of a statutory harbour area). 

Following industry guidance, we are conducting a vessel traffic survey of 28 days, split into two separate 14 day periods, the first of these being the last two weeks in July due to the anticipated traffic in Oban Bay during this busy period and the second will be in a winter off-peak period.

As part of the data collection method, ABPmer [working on behalf of the Council], will consult with local operators to obtain anecdotal information on vessel traffic routeing and activity levels. The aim of this additional consultation will be the quantification of vessel traffic data, especially for vessel moves that may not occur during the 14 day onsite observations. 

This wider public consultation is in addition to the NRA stakeholder engagement, which will be scheduled separately following the Marine Traffic Data Collection exercise.


The process of Argyll and Bute Council becoming the Statutory Harbour Authority (SHA) for the larger Oban Bay will result in a legal document called a Harbour Revision Order, which is a piece of legislation governing a port. It is made as a Scottish Statutory Instrument under the 1964 Harbours Act (1964 Act) by Scottish Ministers.

A Harbour Order can exist for some considerable time (some are over 100 years old) and Oban is a vibrant developing harbour, so it’s important for Argyll and Bute Council and Transport Scotland to focus the Powers, Duties and Provisions included in the Order on what will remain important in years to come, irrespective of day to day changes and operational requirements.

It is also important that the Powers asked for, the Duties undertaken and the Provisions extended to our harbour users cover what we all need for the harbour to continue to thrive and prosper year on year, therefore a separate policy document should be put in place that includes and protects other provisions and can adapt to the needs of the harbour users without the need to make a new Order.

The Council will also consult on the policy document once the formal Order is submitted.

Many of the Powers, Duties and Provisions are relatively ‘standard’ and form the basis of many Harbour Orders and others we will include in the separate policy document. Some of them are listed below with a brief explanation.

The below points are for discussion for possible inclusion in the Order.

  • To define clear limits for the Harbour Authority and jurisdiction.

- To use Latitude and Longitude positions to define the area, which makes for efficient plotting for users.

- To use the High Water Mark and / or clear land boundaries in defining limits.

  • Define the extent of the Authorities undertaking.
  • Define the purpose of the Harbour Authority.

- Definition in terms of Marine Safety, Conservancy, operation of quayside and harbour facilities.

  • Duties.

- Open Port Duty. To keep the Harbour open for shipping and unshipping of goods and the embarkation and landing of passengers on payment of rates. (ref: Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847).

- Facilitate Customs and Border Agencies requirements.

- Exemptions granted to Crown and Sovereign Vessels.

- Comply with relevant sections of the Environmental Act 2021.

- Comply with relevant sections of the Harbours Act 1964.

- Facilitate under the Merchant Shipping Act, Northern Lighthouse Board to lay down buoys, or alter buoyage or beacons in the area.


Included below are other elements with reference to relevant sections of the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 (HDPCA 1847) and Harbours Act 1964. 

  • Harbour Dues

Under the 1964 Act, the Authority as the SHA may recover 'ship passenger and goods dues'.

An all-encompassing ‘Ship’ Definition and one covering ‘used in navigation’.

- Other charges to cover marine services.

  • Enforcement for non-payment of dues

- The power to distrain for non-payment of ship dues in HDPCA 1847. 

  • Works powers

- Powers to ‘improve the harbour and may from time to time construct, maintain, alter, or improve’. 

- Powers to licence others to carry out works.

  • Dredging powers

- Powers to ‘deepen, dredge, scour and excavate any portion of the harbour to the extend necessary to secure a sufficient waterway for vessels using the same’. 

  • Byelaws

- Powers under the HDPCA 1847. 

  • Special Direction

- Powers under the HDPCA 1847. 

- Definition of Harbour Master allowing delegation to all Deputies, Assistants, or officers of the Authority including vessel traffic and patrol officers. 

  • General Direction

- To be issued, subject to agreement and consultation.

- General Directions to be issued in an emergency in the Bay.

  • Harbour Master Powers

- Boarding of vessels.

- Search, removal, notification of details.

  • Abandoned, Sunk and Dangerous Vessels

- Powers to recover money from owners.

- Powers to take action, disposal of wrecks or dangerous derelicts.

Other examples of Provisions to be considered for users are listed below.

  • Weather limits. All vessels react differently in worsening conditions and mariners must take into consideration prevailing circumstances and conditions when making decisions. Rather than be rigidly defined, weather limits should be defined by risk assessment.
  • Speed limits. Every vessel is required to proceed at a safe speed but to clarify and prevent accidents or damage the present 10 knot and 6 knot speed limits work well.
  • Identification devices (AIS) required by larger and commercial vessels. Not only does this system enhance safety and security it also gives valuable traffic data used to evolve the management of vessels in the Bay.
  • Protection of Lifeline Ferry Service timetables. This will help ensure our island communities have a service they can rely on for School, NHS, work and other needs.
  • Port user and stakeholders to be equally consulted on and advise the Authority on the following matters as a minimum (at least 6 monthly meetings).

- Navigational Safety

- Operational Directions and changes

- Harbour developments & moorings

  • No charges on recreational craft entering or transiting the Bay.
  • The Authority Marine Safety Management System (MSMS) as required by the Port Marine Safety Code (PMSC) is implemented as a priority and is, as far as practicable, compatible with other MSMS being operated in the Bay.
  • Safe operations in the Bay should incorporate and build upon the good progress made with the Oban Bay Management Group’s (OBMG) Code of Practice.

If you have any questions about the consultation please email us at: MarineConsultation@argyll-bute.gov.uk