Do I need a marine licence?

Guidance on activities that may require a marine licence.

Applies to England and Northern Ireland


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Use the marine licence interactive assistance tool to find out:

  • If your activity falls within the jurisdiction of the MMO
  • If an exemption may apply (where appropriate)
  • If your activity is suitable for self-service marine licensing (where appropriate)


Many activities that take place in and around the sea require a marine licence. It is your responsibility to find out whether your activity requires a marine licence. This will usually depend on:

  • Where the activity will take place
  • What the activity is
  • How the activity will be carried out


The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 provides that a marine licence is required for certain activities carried out within the UK marine area.

The MMO is responsible for marine licensing in English waters and for Northern Ireland offshore waters.

The MMO is also responsible for marine licensing of some activities in other parts of the world.

Find out more about the MMO’s jurisdiction

Activities that may need a marine licence

There are seven categories of activity that may need a marine licence. Follow the links below to find out more about the activities and the circumstances in which they may need a marine licence:

Licensable activities within the MMO’s jurisdiction are detailed in Part 4 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009


Exemptions provide proportionate regulation of the marine environment. They remove the need for a marine licence for certain activities in certain circumstances.

If you intend to rely on an exemption you must make sure that you meet the relevant qualifying criteria and conditions. You might also need to notify the MMO about your activities.

Enforcement action may be taken if it is later determined that the activity, or the circumstances in which it was carried out, is not consistent with the terms of the relevant exemption.

Use the marine licence interactive assistance tool to check whether an exemption applies or notify the MMO of the intention to carry out an exempt activity.

Find out more about exemptions


The MMO classes a number of activities as low risk because they are sufficiently consistent in nature and extent. Self-service marine licensing provides a mechanism for those seeking to carry out these activities, to obtain a marine licence without being subject to the standard marine licensing process.

Use the marine licence interactive assistance tool to check whether your activity is one that is suitable for self-service marine licensing or to apply for a self-service marine licence.

Find out more about self-service

Standard marine licence

If a proposed activity requires a marine licence and the activity is not one that meets with self-service criteria, a standard marine licence will be required.

You can apply for a standard marine licence online.

Find out more about the standard marine licence process and associated fees.

Other consents

You should note that activities in and around the marine environment may also require additional consents, irrespective of whether they need a marine licence or not.

A wildlife licence may be required if the proposed activity could impact a protected species or habitat. This can include disturbance, injury, killing, collection, damage or destruction of place or structure that is used for shelter or protection and preventing access to such a place or structure. Further information on when a wildlife licence is required can be found here.

A seabed survey licence may be required from the Crown Estate for activities that physically interact with the seabed.

Works taking place partly on land often require planning permission from the local planning authority.

If there is a discharge of some kind or abstractions of water an environmental permit or water abstraction licence from the Environment Agency may be needed.

Sites of Special Scientific interest (SSSI) consent from Natural England may be required for activities taking place within SSSI’s.

Offshore energy generating stations may also require other consents from the MMO and harbour authorities wishing to carryout port developments may require a harbour order.

UK Marine Works Controls:

UK marine works controls

Coverage of key legislation of UK works includes:

Legislation Marine area covered Authority
The Town and Country Planning Act up to lowest local tide limit Local Planning Authority
Land Drainage Act 1991 & Water Resources Industry Act 1991 up to 3 nautical miles offshore Environment Agency
Harbours Act 1964 Up to the extent of the local harbour limit Local Harbour Authority
Marine & Coastal Access Act 2009 Up to 6 nautical miles offshore Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority
Transport and Works Act 1992 (Large Works) up to 12 nautical miles offshore Department for Transport
Electricity act 1989, Energy Act 2004 up to 200 nautical miles offshore OFGEM
Landowner or The Crown Estate Planning Act 2008 up to 200 nautical miles offshore Crown Estate Commissioner
UK Waters Petroleum Act 2008 up to 200 nautical miles offshore Secretary of State
Marine & Coastal Access Act 2009 See ‘MMO Jurisdiction’ Marine Management Organisation
Published 2 October 2014
Last updated 22 April 2020 + show all updates
  1. COVID-19 update

  2. Diving guidance added

  3. New content for burial at sea as fees and process has changed in recent months - linked to new page

  4. Updated to reflect new self-service approach to marine licensing

  5. Included links to the specific guidance around exemptions

  6. edited content to reflect additional exempted activities guidance

  7. Approved list of tracers, conditions and best practice text and PDF added

  8. Link added: Maintenance dredge protocol

  9. Navigational dredging text updated

  10. Information on pontoons and aquaculture added

  11. First published.