The Farne Islands are a favourite NE dive spot off Seahouses, Northumbria, famous for the playful and inquisitive seals, diving sea birds, numerous wrecks (nearly all very broken up due to the exposed situation), abundant diverse marine life, and strong currents for excellent drift dives. Many of the 26 volcanic islets rise sheer from the seabed, and there are spectacular walls (typically on the south sides of the islands) and gullies as well as wreckage to explore. A number of hardboats operate out of Seahouses Harbour, and many clubs bring their own boats to explore the area. The nearby slipway at Beadnell used to have a tractor launch service on the beach which has recently been closed, and is under review regarding further use (Feb 2007).
Toby Douglas , skipper of "Sovereign II", records the visibility and dive conditions.
The two Sovereign boats are available for charter by groups or individuals to dive around the Farnes and Northumberland coast. See further details on his website
or click here.
Skipper: Toby Douglas
Accommodation: Ailsa Douglas
Boat Name: Sovereign II
Address: Southfield House, 143 Main St, Seahouses, Northumberland, NE68 7TT.
Telephone: 01665 720059
Dive sites out of Seahouses and Beadnell are split broadly into several areas - the coastline, Inner Farne Islands, Outer Farnes, and the Megstones. The sites further offshore are often better dive sites with clearer water. Many of the sites are less than 20m and suitable for less experienced divers in the right conditions. However, many sites require slack water to be dived safely. As the slack window is short, if you are diving with your own boat in waves, the first wave will need to enter the water before slack starts, while the second will probably exit after slack ends, particularly during spring tides. Hardboats usually put all divers in the water in one wave, so all are diving more or less around slack water.
Slack water on the islands and dive sites below usually occurs about 1.5 to 2 hours after high and low water at Seahouses Harbour, known as North Sunderland Harbour. Westerly winds are best for good sea conditions, when diving in up to Force 5 is possible with care. SE winds can be dived with care up to about Force 4 if shelter is found in the lee of the islands. NE winds create a sea down both sides of the islands, making it difficult to find shelter and Force 3 is the absolute maximum that is diveable. Sea Fog can rapidly reduce surface visibility to less than 30 metres.
There are very many dive sites in the Farnes, here are just a few of the favourites. Nearly all wreck sites are also scenic. Information from the harbourmaster's information sheet, Northeast Diving and "Dive the North East Coast" by Peter Collings. Where GPS positions are given, note that the datum is not mentioned in the original sources - potentially may be OSGB 36 or WGS 84.
The Somali (approx. 25m in 30m, G.P.S. co-ordinates are: 55°34.066N, 001°35.997W, or 55°34.141N, 001°36.182W - datum is not mentioned, she is also a large wreck) was a 450ft, 6809tg commodore ship of a convoy, carrying gas masks, batteries and 1000 lead soldiers when she was bombed off Blyth in 1941. She now lies upright about 1.5 miles from shore in Beadnell Bay and is owned by Stan Hall. There is plenty to see, including winches, ammunition and guns and she is covered in life, though the wreck is fairly broken up with engine and boilers the most identifiable part. It is quite silty - reducing visibility when many divers visit. Many fish in summer, and the wreck is popular with anglers - beware monofilament and hooks!
The Chris Christianson (about 30-35m, GPS: 55°38.397N, 001°36.182W), a Danish Steamer that sank during WW1, lies close into the reef off the south tip of Longstone, Outer Farnes. The wreck is very broken up and flattened, with the boilers rising about 2.5m off the shale over rock seabed. A very pretty dive with Dead Men's Fingers and anemones on the seabed. One of the deepest wrecks in the Farnes with a good reef for a slow interesting ascent afterwards. Take care not to be swept deeper by strong currents. Essential to dive on slack, recommended on neaps only.
The Whirl Rocks Wreck (about 19-32m, 55°39.123N 001°35.933W) at the furthest of the Outer Farnes can be dived only in benign conditions as it is extremely exposed. The engines and boilers of an unknown wreck lie about 5m proud of the seabed in a circular depression in the reef at about 26m. The bows with two large admiralty pattern anchors are at about 19m in a gully about 70m east of the engines, while the stern is at about 32m about 80m south of the boilers.
The Abessinia (about 9-20m, 55°38.900N 001°36.120W) was a 453ft German steamship that drove onto Knifestone, Outer Farnes, in 1921. Her boilers stand proud of the seabed and there is a lot of wreckage strewn about - some of which is probably also from the 60-odd other ships that have been wrecked on these treacherous rocks. There is lots of marine life on the wreck and surrounding area, and seals often visit.
North Knifestone (up to about 25m), Outer Farnes, can be dived at any state of the ebb tide when the rocks break the surface. The north corner features dramatic corridors of rock covered with sponges, soft corals, Plumose and other anemones, crustaceans, starfish, as well as abundant fish life, seals and wreckage from countless wrecks. Strong tidal currents at each end of the reef mean you either retrace your steps or plan a drift dive.
The Brittania (wreckage between about 8m-30m, 55°37.688N 001°35.991W) was a 740t, 210ft British cargo/passenger steamship that struck the Callers, Outer Farnes, in thick fog in 1915. Now very broken up, her engines are half buried in sand although her boilers and condenser stand free in a gully between two reefs at about 16m. The bows lie away from the reef in 25-30m. Best dived at slack water.
Fang Reef (7m-30m, 55°37.530N 001°35.880W), named after its tooth-like shape, is a very scenic near-vertical wall covered in Dead Men's Fingers (soft corals), south of the Crumstone Reef, Outer Farnes. Dive at high or low water slack.
The Pinnacles, Outer Farnes, are magnificent pillars of dolerite (a volcanic rock) that extend below water to about 30m. Large boulders form arches and small caves, all covered with abundant marine life including anemones, and dead men's fingers. This is a sheltered site suitable for photographers.
The St Andre (about 17m-25m, 55°37.840N 001°37.180W) was a 1120t French steamship carrying pig iron, now lying very broken up at the base of the cliff half way along the SE face of Staple Island. Wreckage is spread over a wide area of boulders, where friendly Ballan wrasse are common and occasionally Razor Bills or Puffin are seen diving.
The boatlaunch website has details of most launching sites around the country. Zoom in to find slipways in the area where you plan to dive. Launching for the Farne Islands is best at Seahouses Harbour or at Beadnell where a tractor launch is available.