Ireland information: travel by water

The River Shannon, County Westmeath

If you’re planning on travelling by boat, barge or ferry in Ireland, here’s what you need to know about passenger services, accessibility and boat rental.

Dingle Harbour, County Kerry
Dingle Harbour, County Kerry

Along with numerous islands, Ireland is home to various rivers, lakes and canals, many with potential to be experienced by boat or barge. The content below will provide essential information for those interested travelling by water in Ireland, as well as links to official agencies.

Visiting our islands by ferry or boat

Most of Ireland’s islands can be reached by ferry with numerous ferry companies providing local services. Many crossings will be subject to weather conditions, so keep an eye on local weather reports via Met Éireann (Republic of Ireland) and the Met Office (Northern Ireland).

In some cases, ferry companies will only operate seasonally, normally peak season (June to August approximately). Travel time from the mainland to islands is rarely more than an hour and generally a good deal shorter. Always check sailing times in advance.

Access for people with disabilities

Disabled access is available on most ferries but in some cases the pier/harbour itself may pose problems for those in wheelchairs or with limited mobility. In some instances, such as with the Blasket Island ferry, access to the island will include transfer from a dinghy, whereby the passenger and the wheelchair etc will need to be transferred from boat to dinghy.

Should this be the case, do contact the ferry company as, in some instances, carriers run pleasure tours that travel around the island and give passengers the opportunity to get close to dolphins and seals.

Devinish Island, Lough Erne, County Fermanagh
Devinish Island, Lough Erne, County Fermanagh


What you need to know: You don’t need a licence to operate a cruiser or a barge. Neither is experienced required, although it is considered useful. You'll get full training, with teaching sessions for your whole team including a test trip with a tutor. Post training, if you're manning the craft, you'll be provided with navigational charts and a captain’s handbook.

Prepare for your trip: Groups are advised to stock up on provisions in advance of any journey, check the weather and the opening schedule of lock and bridges. Make sure everyone in your party understands how to access and wear their lifejacket (lifejackets must be worn by passengers under 16). Also ensure that all passengers remain on the upper deck when passing through locks and follow the instructions of the lockkeepers and Waterway Rangers. Access to lock-keeper and emergency numbers is also essential.

If you don't want to skipper your own craft, there are companies available who will provide a captain along with the boat rental.

Keen on sailing? Dip into Ireland's sail-friendly port towns.

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