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Marine licensing

The marine licensing system under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 has been in force since 6 April 2011.

We are responsible for most marine licensing in English inshore and offshore waters and for Welsh and Northern Ireland offshore waters. The Secretary of State is the licensing authority for oil and gas-related activities and administers marine licences through the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Marine Scotland is the licensing authority for Scottish inshore and offshore waters. Natural Resources Wales and the Department of Environment Northern Ireland are the licensing authority for Welsh and Irish inshore waters respectively.

In addition to marine licensing requirements some activities may also require consents issued by other regulatory authorities such as the Environment Agency, Natural England and local planning authorities. The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) will try to advise and signpost applicants in this regard. You can call us on 0300 123 1032 or you can email

Licensable activities

A marine licence is only required for activities involving a deposit or removal of a substance or object in the UK marine area, as defined in section 42 of the act. Broadly, this is the area below the mean high water springs mark and in any tidal river to the extent of the tidal influence. In some cases a marine licence will be required for activities outside UK waters. For example, where the activity takes place from a British vessel or where the vessel was loaded in UK waters. Section 66 of the act lists the types of activity that are licensable.

You are likely to need a marine licence if you are depositing or removing any substance or object either in the sea, on or under the sea bed from a vehicle, vessel, aircraft, marine or land-based structure or floating container. Any form of marine dredging is also licensable. You will only need a licence for those activities listed in section 66 of the act.

Common marine activities include:

Even where an activity is in principle licensable, there are exemptions meaning that you may not need a marine licence. The main exemptions are:

  • fishing operations
  • shellfish cultivation and propagation
  • navigational dredging of up to 500 cubic metres of material no more than 3 times in a 12-month period and in a previously dredged area
  • constricting moorings, pontoons (less than 30 square metres) and aids to navigation
  • depositing and removing temporary (less than 28 days) markers
  • taking sediment samples of less than 1 cubic metre
  • removing accidental deposits (such as items lost overboard)
  • maintenance activities carried out by harbour authorities and, in the case of flood, drainage or coastal protection works, the Environment Agency

Exempted activities are listed in the Marine Licensing (Exempted Activities) Order 2011 (as amended). In most cases the exemptions have important conditions attached to them. If you are carrying out an exempted activity you will need to ensure that you are aware of those conditions and have complied with them.

In some cases it may not be easy to be sure whether a particular activity requires a marine licence or not. The MMO is committed to making the marine licensing process as straightforward as possible and encourages applicants to engage with us as early as possible to talk about whether planned activities require a marine licence or an exemptions notification and whether other consents may be required. You can call us on 0300 123 1032 or you can email

The MMO will act in accordance with government policy statements and guidance when considering a marine licence application and with the principles of sustainable development, namely:

  • achieving a sustainable marine economy
  • ensuring a strong, healthy and just society
  • living within environmental limits
  • promoting good governance
  • using sound science responsibly.

We will also follow the principles of better regulation and aim to be transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted in our actions.

We are currently creating a system of marine plans which will provide a framework for marine licensing decisions. The first marine plans are being created for the English East Inshore and East Offshore areas. We expect to adopt these in 2013.

Applications for a marine licence will be subject to assessment under the Habitats Regulations and Water Framework Directive and may be subject to an environmental impact assessment.

Other consents

In addition to a marine licence, a project may require other consents either from us or from other bodies. For example, a harbour order or consent under section 36 of the Electricity Act.

Contact information

Marine Licensing Team
Marine Management Organisation
Lancaster House
Hampshire Court
Newcastle upon Tyne

Tel: 0300 123 1032
Fax: 0191 376 2681
Email: marine.consents@

Submit a licence enquiry