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Scenic boat tours around Bressay and Noss
the Galathea underway
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 ✲  Our season runs from May to September  ✲ 

If You’re Wondering…

…you’re not alone! We get lots of questions from people thinking about taking a tour with us, and many questions come up regularly. So, we’ve listed some of the most common questions here, along with the answers.

You’ll find lots more information on our other pages as well, but if you don’t find the answer to your question, please don’t hesitate to contact us directly.


Questions about our Tours…

What will I see?

The most common question is the most difficult to answer. What will you see? Lots of wildlife, spectacular scenery, interesting bits of old Lerwick, and miles of beautiful coastline! That we can guarantee. But when it comes to specifics, we can never tell. Our tours are highly adaptive and our commentary is personalised and responsive — we don’t do things by rote — so every trip is different! And when it comes to wildife in particular, no one can give guarantees. There are some seabirds that are always around: gannets, shags, black guillemots, fulmar petrels; but some seabirds — such as puffins and common guillemots — are only here during the breeding season. We always see seals; but whales, dolphins, porpoise? Only when we’re lucky. Same with otters. But you might be surprised at how much wildlife, scenery and history we can pack into just a few hours.

Giant’s Leg archway photo
Steaming through the
“Giant’s Leg” archway

Often, what’s most surprising is what we see underwater. And while we can’t say for sure specifically what we’ll see there, either, we always see something interesting: maybe a line of shrimp marching up a pier leg; two velvet swimming crabs in a ‘pre–mating embrace’; a starfish enjoying its lunch; or a hermit crab searching for a new home. The possibilities are endless!

Where do the tours go?

Another difficult question, because it depends: partly on which tour, but primarily on the weather. We always go a bit south from the Small Boat Harbour, to see some of the old town; and we always go a bit north, to see the interesting ‘industrial’ (old and new) parts of Lerwick. We always spend most of the tours steaming along the coastline. How far north and/or south we go depends on which tour (we’re more limited on our 2–hour tours) and the weather.

We might go to the “Orkneyman’s cave” and the “Giant’s Leg” archway at the far south of the island of Bressay. Heading north, we might steam by the unusual island of “Beosetter Holm”, to see even more harbour and grey seals. Sometimes, on our ‘Discovery’ tours, we go all the way around Bressay.

On our “Noss Cliffs” tours, we go beyond Bressay, to the cliffs at Noss. Depending on which way the winds have been blowing, we might go around Bressay by north or south. Sometimes we’ll go out one way and return the other.

If you’d like to see some of the routes we take, you can download our tour routes map.

Which tour should I book?

We designed our four tours — the “Discovery”, “Noss Cliffs”, “Essential” and “Simmer Dim” — for different needs, interests and constraints; so none of them is (or all of them are) ‘the best’.

Our 3–hour Discovery tour is ideal for people who would like some of everything: wildlife & nature (seals, birds, geology), coastal scenery and history, accompanied by fun & interesting stories; and a good look at the amazingly rich and surprisingly colourful sea life beneath the waves. On this tour, we travel the coastline around Lerwick and the island of Bressay, delving into the past, speculating about the future, revelling in the wildlife in the air and on the shores, and — with ‘dives’ in two different habitats with our submarine video camera — you’ll see a wide range of Shetland’s remarkable submarine sea life. Why the extra time underwater? Is it really anything special? Well, even experienced scuba divers have been enthralled with our presentation of Shetland’s underwater world!

Our 3½–hour Noss Cliffs tour is ideal if your focus is primarily seabirds. But make no mistake: it’s not just for birders! Who could fail to be impressed and astounded by the thousands of seabirds (and not just gannets) breeding on Noss and by the cliffs themselves? We also show you some of Shetland’s submarine sea life, on one ‘dive’ with our submarine video camera.

photo of the Galathea
	 in early evening
A ‘Simmer Dim’ evening

If you’re concerned that perhaps 3 hours might be too much — you’re not sure about the weather or how you’ll feel; you have small children that might find 3 hours too much; or you simply don’t have the time — our 2–hour Essential tour is the answer. It’s a condensed version of our Discovery tour. But if you’re not sure you’re not sure, there’s no problem: book an Essential tour. We often combine our Discovery and Essential tours, so if you change your mind in the first 2 hours, you can opt to stay aboard to enjoy the full 3–hour Discovery tour.

If you’re more interested in simply enjoying time on the water on a cosy and comfortable classic motor yacht, try our 2–hour Simmer Dim Evening Cruise. Relaxing and entertaining, enjoy drinks & nibbles — and maybe a spectacular sunset — on this gentle cruise in the sheltered waters of Bressay Sound. We allow reponsible drinking on our evening tours (bring your own), so if you’ve got a special occasion, or just want to celebrate being in Shetland (or living here!) bring a bottle of bubbly and we’ll chill it in the fridge. While not focussing heavily on Shetland’s wildlife and history, we will entertain you with stories and fun facts. Please note that our Simmer Dim cruises are for over 16s only.

Are the tours appropriate for children?

They say, “Never work with children or animals!” because they’re so unpredictable. It’s true. So we can’t guarantee your children will love every second of the tour, but we’ve devised our tours so that there’s something for everyone. And although most of our guests are adults, many children over about 5 years old can follow most or much of the commentary and, unlike on many ‘jam–packed’ tours, they’re always welcome to ask us questions — we love ’em! Children under 5 are often more entertained by our stuffed animals and colouring books...but you never know. If you let us know a day or so in advance that you’ve got youngsters, we can prepare our small outdoor aquarium with an animal or two: perhaps an urchin, a starfish or a velvet swimming crab.

photo of our outdoor aquarium
Our little outdoor aquarium

Can I bring a pet?

Although we are (obviously!) animal lovers, we regret that, due to health & safety issues, we are unable to allow pets on board, even well–behaved, house–trained dogs or cats. We need to be sensitive to other passengers’ allergies and concerns, and we never know just how some of the wildlife will react to just the smell of other animals.

If you would like to bring a guide dog aboard, please let us know as early as possible so that we can make appropriate arrangements with our other guests.

Will I be seasick?

It’s impossible for us to predict whether or not someone may feel queasy or unwell during a tour. While we never go out on days where we feel the seas may be too rough for our passengers, sometimes just a slight swell or the gentle rocking of the boat will upset someone’s tummy. If you’re at all prone to seasickness/motion sickness, we think it’s best to be on the safe side and take precautionary measures, such as taking prophylactic medicine. Please ensure that it is safe for you to do so and that you follow the instructions carefully — most tablets need to be taken well beforehand to be effective.


Questions about Departure Details…

Where do I board?

We board our guests at the slipway (sloping ramp) in the Small Boat Harbour, on the south side of Victoria Pier, where there is a carpark, in the centre of town. There are other boats that also use the public slipway, so occasionally we may need to wait a few minutes for the slipway to be cleared. On rare occasions, we may embark or disembark passengers from the pontoons (floating docks) in the Albert Dock, on the north side of Victoria Pier, but we will always let our guests know of this beforehand. If you’d like to see the harbour area, you can download our harbour area map.

photo of Galathea at slipway
The Galathea at the slipway

When do I board?

We board people approximately 15 minutes before departure. We give our introductions and safety briefing during this time, so please be at the quayside at the boarding time so that we can depart promptly. Our regularly scheduled boarding times are are 09.30, 14.00 (2pm) and 18.30 (6.30pm); however, times may vary, so check with us to ensure boarding time for your tour. We often leave early when cruise liner passengers have booked with us who need to be back aboard their ships a bit earlier than our normal return time.

Please note that our pre-2016 publicity material lists departure times. Please be ready to board 15 minutes prior to the advertised departure time.

What if I’m late?

We try our very best to accommodate all our guests, and we can generally delay a tour for a short while if we know someone will be a few minutes late. Just ring us to let us know — we always answer the phone before departure time. In some instances, such as one of our guests having a prior time commitment, we cannot delay past our departure time.


Questions about Booking & Payment…

How do I book?

If you’re planning your activities several days in advance, the easiest way to book is to email us at info@auw-shetland.com. We aim to answer our emails within 24 hours, but please be aware that, living on our boat, we rely on mobile internet access. In Shetland, this can be inconsistent, so if you need an answer quickly or would like to book with the next 24 hours, it’s best to ring us on +44(0)77 88 66 55 65.

You can also book through the Tourist Office, located in the centre of town. You can also ring them on +44(0)1595 693 434. Please note that, as VisitScotland charge us 12% commission, we are unable to offer any discounts for tours booked through the Tourist Office.

Why can’t I book online?

We try our best to provide the widest range of choices for our guests and to be as accommodating as possible. Unfortunately, this means that standard online booking systems are simply unmanageable: we have 4 different tours, each with 5 different fare rates, plus varying discounts. It's a minefield! We also find that many of our guests have a question or two when they book, and it’s easier to ask questions directly.

How do I pay?

The most most straightforward way is to pay when you come aboard with cash or a UK cheque. Besides pounds sterling, we accept US dollars and euros. Payments in dollars or euros are calculated at the daily exchange rate +50c (to cover bank charges).

If you prefer to pay by debit or credit card, we can email you a PayPal invoice or you can pay at the Tourist Office (see Can I pre–pay?, below, for these options).

We require pre-payment for all charters and block bookings by non–residents.

Can I pre-pay?

We’re always happy to take payment in advance, and prefer PayPal. You don’t need your own account to pay with PayPal. Because of the unpredictable nature of our internet access and our time constraints, we require 72 hours’ notice to process PayPal payments.

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Alternatively, you can pre–pay by card at the Tourist Office. Please remember, however, that because VisitScotland charge us a 12% commission, we cannot offer any discounts for tours booked through the Tourist Office.

What if I cancel or can’t come?

Because we generally limit the number of guests to 8 on our daytime tours, a last–minute cancellation can have a disproportionate effect on our small business. We realise, though, that life is unpredictable, so if you have to cancel due to some unforseen and unavoidable circumstance, please give us as much notice as possible so that we can try and sell your space to another person(s).

Cruise liner passengers who have pre–paid and who are unable to come due to changes in their ship's schedule will be refunded in full. For details of our cancellation and refund policy, please see our terms&conditions page.

Do you give discounts?

We give discounts for group bookings of 6 or more and for families. Please see our prices page for details. We also offer a 10% discount if you’ve already been on a tour with Above&UnderWater Shetland. When you book, be sure and remind us of when you’ve been with us before, so that we can welcome you back with this discount.

As mentioned above, because VisitScotland charge us a 12% commission, we cannot offer any discounts for tours booked through the Tourist Office. So, book with us directly for the best fares.


Questions about Shetland & the Weather…

What will the weather be like in Shetland?

There’s only one thing we can guarantee about the weather and that’s that it’ll change soon! Shetland’s weather is notoriously fickle: variable, unstable and unpredictable. Even the meteorologists find it difficult to say with assurance what the weather will be like in a day or so. Our climate here is what’s known as ‘temperate maritime’. It’s surprisingly warm for this far north (we’re at 60°) and although the weather is quite variable on a day–to–day (or minute–to–minute!) basis, the degree of change, in terms of temperature, is not that large. Although summer temperatures sometimes reach around 20°C (68°F), more often they hover around 14 or 15°C (about 58°F). Winter temperatures are not generally that much colder, typically around 3–8° (37-46°F), and on the rare occasions when it snows, it never lies for long.

photos of stormy and sunny days
Our changeable weather

Between May and September, the chance of precipitation at some point during the day is around 70–80%. But keep in mind the quick and frequent changes: many days with cloud or rain also have sun!

The weather aspect that Shetland’s most known for is wind. Of course, it’s generally worse in winter, but winds in the summer can vary from a light breeze to a full gale. Especially on a boat on the water, strong winds can make the temperature feel colder than it actually is.

For more information about our weather, see Promote Shetland’s climate page.

What should I wear?

Layers! If you’ve read the previous question, you’ll understand that there’s no telling what the weather will be like in a few hours — you might just swelter in what we consider a heat wave (18°C/64°F!) with practically no wind; or you might be surprised by an unexpected gale with driving rain suddenly blowing up. If you want to spend time out on our aft deck, we advise you to bring waterproof clothing, just in case. If you’re not the ‘outdoorsy’ type when it’s cold or rainy, don’t worry — you can sit inside our totally enclosed saloon. We also have spare coats, hats and gloves, in case you need them...as well as sunscreen, believe it or not! When you’re planning what to wear: hope for the best; expect the worst; and prepare for anything!

What if it’s raining or foggy?

Have we mentioned that Shetland’s weather is changeable? If it’s a bit rainy (or sunny) in the morning, there’s no guarantee it will stay that way. Early morning fog, for example, often burns off quickly, or is patchy. Same with the rain. But what doesn’t change is the scenery and the animals: wind? the birds just love a stiff breeze; rain? the seals don’t care — they’re always wet! a bit of fog? the caves and archways won’t run away when we sneak up to them in the mist! And it never rains underwater!

We advise you not to wait for ‘a sunny day’ for 4 reasons: if it’s sunny at 9am, it could change by 10am (or, if it’s a bit rainy, vice versa); if you’re only here for a visit, it might not be sunny until the day you leave (hopefully not, but you never know!); if you wait too long to book, we might be fully booked for the tour you want to take (we only take 8 guests); and wouldn’t you rather save the ‘sunny day’ for an amble around the town or country? On a rainy day, the two best options are: a visit to the museum; or a boat tour, sitting inside a warm and cosy cabin...watching seals ignoring the rain and watching starfish under all that water. Trust us, if the weather’s too poor with wind, rain or fog for our guests to fully enjoy all the wildlife and scenery Shetland has to offer, we won’t go out. But we won’t let a bit of moisture dampen our spirits. Don’t let it dampen yours!


Questions about Disabilities & Special Needs…

What about mobility difficulties? And can you take wheelchairs?

We regret that our boat cannot accommodate fixed wheelchairs. The Galathea’s companionways (entrances) are rather narrow and there is a step up to the aft deck and three steps down to the saloon. If, however, you are able to walk short distances and handle a few steps with assistance, and if your wheelchair folds, we are more than happy to help you to the most comfortable, stable and secure seating on board. Our large windows allow great views while sitting as well as standing, and we are happy to provide ‘table service’ when you would like a drink or a biscuit.

photos of companionways
Enter via our aft deck
or our port side

We always assist guests who have any sort of mobility difficulties — just let us know beforehand, so we’re aware of them. If you have concerns about boarding or moving around our boat, contact us to discuss them. Or stop by the Galathea to have a chat and test out our steps and companionways. If we’re not out on a tour, we’re usually on the boat in the Small Boat Harbour.

Will I be able to sit down?

Absolutely! We limit our daytime tours to 8 people, so there’s always space for everyone to sit. We have comfortable seating inside the cabin and we also have seating on the aft deck. You’re welcome to wander in and out of the saloon (the main cabin) and the aft (back) deck whenever you’d like; and most of our more mobile guests do move about throughout the tour. But you can sit in one spot the entire time, if it suits you. If you need any special considerations, such as for mobility difficulties, just let us know beforehand and we can ensure your comfort.

What disabilities & special needs do you cater for?

In addition to mobility difficulties, addressed above, we can cater for a range of special needs. If, for example, you’re hearing impaired, just let us know and we’ll make sure that you get one of the seats closest to us and that whenever either of us is speaking, we face you directly (Robbi will even ensure that Alan trims his mustache if you lip–read!). If you’re visually impaired, we can ensure that the explanations and comments about what we’re seeing outside are as descriptive and pictorial as possible. If you have cognitive difficulties, we can ensure that Robbi spends extra time relaying information in an appropriate way, whether more slowly, more simply, or with repetition. If you have a condition such as epilepsy, we can request our other passengers to refrain from using the flash on their cameras in the saloon.

We can’t cover every need in a general question, so if you have any special needs, let us know what they are and the best way to address them, and we’ll ensure that you have the best experience possible on one of our tours.


Questions about Facilities…

Is there a toilet on board?

We live aboard the Galathea, so you can be sure we have a good range of ‘facilities’, including a toilet. You needn’t worry about how much coffee or tea you drink during a tour! There are also public toilets across the street from the Albert Dock, near where we board our guests, so you can make yourself comfortable before boarding.

Do you have catering facilities?

There are quite a few compromises we must make when living on a boat. Fortunately, preparing a decent meal is not one of them. We have a full galley on the Galathea, with a refrigerator; oven; 3–ring gas hob; microwave; and glasses/plates/tableware. Contact us for details if you would like to arrange catering for your tour. We have a REHIS food hygiene certificate.

Can I bring my own food or drink?

We provide coffee (freshly percolated, not instant!); a range of teas; hot chocolate; hot or cold squash (diluting juice); ginger biscuits; and peppermints. So, you’ll never go hungry or die of thirst on a tour. But if you’d like to bring some food or drink, you’re welcome to, especially if you have any special dietary requirements for health or religious reasons, such as lactose–free/gluten–free, kosher/halal, etc. food or drink. Please be sensitive to our other guests, however. If you bring a full 3–course meal, it might make others jealous! On a more serious note, please do not bring peanuts or other nuts aboard. We never know what another guest’s allergies might be. We do not allow alcohol on our daytime tours. If you’re unsure about any food or drink, or would like to arrange any special food or drink, contact us to discuss it.


You’ll find lots more information on our other web pages.
Feel free to contact us if you have any further questions or concerns.



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