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Start your boating adventure

Owning a boat on the inland waterways is a great adventure. It offers a sense of freedom and excitement that is difficult to match. This page sets out what you need to know to enjoy boating on Ireland’s inland waterways safely and responsibly. You can also find this information in our Voyages and Visits brochure, which is regularly updated.

Getting started

Waterways Ireland oversees 1,000km of navigable waterways, each with its own history and regulations. Expect variations in registration, lock dimensions, rules, operations, and facilities. It’s important to consider these differences before starting your journey. Find out more about the bye-laws, speed limits, bridges, locks and slipways of each waterway below.

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Rules of the waterways

Rules of the waterways

The Inspectorate of Navigation enforces navigational bye-laws, registers vessels and inspects Waterways Ireland harbours and jetties. The Inspectorate has authority to board craft, impose fines, manage moorings, and order vessel removal. They patrol roads and waterways for safety and compliance.

Vessel permits and registration

You need to get permission from Waterways Ireland before bringing your boat onto the inland waterways. There are two systems in operation: Vessel Permits and Registration. Please note that there is no system in place on the Lower Bann. 

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  • Vessel Permits

    A Permit System operates on the Grand Canal, Royal Canal and Barrow Navigation.

    Get a permit
  • Vessel Registration

    A Registration System operates on the Shannon Navigation, Shannon-Erne Waterway and Erne System.

    Register a vessel

Operating locks

To navigate locks east of Lock 12 on the Royal or Grand Canals, or to use the Newcomen Lifting Bridge, contact the Waterways Ireland Eastern Regional Office beforehand on +353 1 868 0148. 

Lock 12

Please provide a minimum of two days' notice and note that only two boats per day are allowed. Movements in or out of the city are organised beforehand to take place as a single movement in one day, ensuring safe passage with valid permits.

Newcomen Lifting Bridge

Please provide two weeks' notice, and note that a minimum of two boats needing access must be present for the lift to proceed. 

Canal locks

All locks on the Royal Canal, Grand Canal, and Barrow Navigation are operated manually. Make sure you have a lock key, enough crew, and sturdy ropes for your boat. Lock keys cost €25 and are available from multiple offices across Ireland. Contact +353 1 868 0148 for more information and to arrange collection from a regional depot. 

Other locks

Smart cards operate locks on the Shannon-Erne Waterway and Shannon Navigation. They are also used to gain access to the service blocks and use the facilities and pump-outs.  

Vessel storage and maintenance

Hire a dry dock for maintenance, repairs or inspection, or book your winter mooring.

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  • Dry docks

    We have a number of dry dock facilities available to hire for boat maintenance, repairs or inspections.

    Book a dry dock
  • Winter Mooring

    Available on the Shannon Navigation and Shannon-Erne Waterway from November 1st to March 31st.

    Book winter mooring

Safety and assistance

We strongly advise you to follow safety recommendations on the water. You can find official guidelines for different activities on the following websites: 

Age restrictions on operating of powered craft

In the Republic of Ireland, you must be over 16 to operate a personal watercraft or fast power craft, and over 12 to operate most pleasure crafts. The owner of the craft is responsible for ensuring compliance. 

Lifejackets and Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

Wear lifejackets or PFDs when entering or leaving locks, anchoring, coming alongside or departing jetties and quaysides, or when a vessel is towed. The Republic of Ireland has legal requirements regarding the wearing of PFDs. Make sure to read the guidelines

Sailing Activity

Large numbers of sailing dinghies are present around Lough Derg, Lough Ree and Lower Lough Erne between late June and August. Their courses are marked with yellow buoys. Proceed at slow speed and exercise due caution, following the rules of navigation. 


Canoes and rowing vessels are present throughout the waterways, and especially around Athlone, Carrick-on-Shannon, Coleraine, Enniskillen and Limerick. Proceed at slow speed and reduce your wash to a minimum. Be prepared to give way in any traffic situation. 

Smart Cards

Smart cards are used to operate the locks on the Shannon-Erne Waterway and the Shannon Navigation. They are also used to access the service blocks and use the facilities and pump-outs. Cards are available in either 10 units or 20 units. There is a card reader in each service block where you can check the number of units remaining on your card.

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