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Starting Boating

Starting Boating

Starting boating on the inland waterways is a new challenge many people take on each year for adventure and for fun. This section is intended to make the introduction as easy as possible and to provide you with the basic information you need to get started.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Owning your own boat on the inland waterways gifts a special freedom to the owner. With no restrictions of tides, free public mooring and great services provided at multiple locations, the opportunities to get out on the water for fun with friends and family are limited only by the weather and your own availability. ​

Visit the Waterways Ireland Webshop to order a Starter Pack containing;

The webshop also holds the guides and charts to use in journey planning. There is a charge for the guides and charts.

Here are the responses to some Starter Frequently Asked Questions


Beginning your Voyage

You need to get permission from Waterways Ireland before bringing your boat onto the inland navigable waterways. Two craft management systems are in operation;
1) A Permit System operates on the Grand Canal, Royal Canal and Barrow Navigation.
2) A Registration System operates on the Shannon Navigation, Shannon-Erne Waterway and Erne System.

Waterways Ireland does not have a registration scheme on the Lower Bann.


Permits on Barrow Navigation, Grand Canal and Royal Canal

Boats on the Barrow Navigation, Grand Canal and Royal Canal must display a valid permit. There are three types of permits available, depending on your boating requirements.

Combined Mooring and Passage Permit

Holders are permitted to pass through locks and to moor at the same Public Mooring for up to five days in any calendar month. Permits are issued on the basis of a completed application form, are subject to certain conditions and cost €126. Permits take the form of a window sticker which must be shown on the permitted craft at all times.

Extended Mooring Permit

This grants a boat owner the right to leave their boat in one location for longer than five days. This permit enables the holder to moor on navigation property in a specific position allocated by Waterways Ireland for a period of up to one year. Only holders of a valid Combined Mooring and Passage Permit will be able to apply for the Extended Mooring Permit. The Extended Mooring Licence costs €152 per annum.

Visitor Permit

Boats entering the Canal System and staying under 31 days can apply on entry for a free permit. This permit can only be used once every calendar year. Boats intending to stay more than the 31 days must apply in advance for the Combined Mooring and Passage Permit and if intending to stay one location longer than five days will also need an Extended Mooring Permit as above.

View here for further information regarding permits.

Further information on permits and application forms are available online at or locally from the lock-keepers and from the following Waterways Ireland locations:

Assistant Inspector of Navigation +353 (0)57 935 2300

Eastern Regional Office Floor 2 Block C Ashtowngate, Navan Road Dublin 15 +353 (0)1 868 0148


Boat Registration on Erne System, Shannon-Erne Waterway and Shannon Navigation

All craft with an engine capacity in excess of 10bhp on the Erne System and 15bhp on the Shannon Navigation and the Shannon Erne Waterway must be registered with the Waterways Ireland Inspectorate.

Registration is free and you can register by visiting or by contacting the Inspectorate to request an application form.

Upon registering, you will be provided with a registration number that must be displayed in a prominent position on your boat. You need to inform Inspectorate immediately of any change in ownership.

A system of mutual recognition is in place, so boats registered on the Erne System, the Shannon Navigation or the Shannon-Erne Waterway do not need to re-register when moving between these waterways.


Public Mooring Time Limit

The time limit for mooring at or in the vicinity of a Public Mooring on the Erne System is 48 hours with craft able to return after an absence of four hours. If you wish to stay in a location longer than the limit please contact the Lough Erne Warden or seek a private mooring.

On the Shannon Navigation and the ShannonErne Waterway the mooring limit is five consecutive days or a total of seven days in any one month during the period 1 April to 31 October.


Rules of the Waterways

Bye-laws Bye-laws are the rules guiding how the waterways should be used. Waterways Ireland, through its Inspectorate, has responsibility for enforcing these navigational bye-laws. Six of the navigations have bye-laws while the Lower Bann has a voluntary code. Further information can be found on


The Inspectorate of Navigation is responsible for enforcing the navigational bye-laws, maintaining a register of vessels and carrying out inspections of Waterways Ireland harbours and jetties to ensure that they are used and kept in a safe and responsible manner.

The Inspectorate is authorised to board craft, ask for and receive accurate information, impose fines, manage harbour moorings and order the removal of vessels from the navigations.

The Inspectorate frequently patrol the waterways by road and water, monitoring general boating practices. Any irresponsible behaviour or poor boatmanship is immediately brought to the attention of the owner of the craft. Craft speeding within speed restriction areas are similarly dealt with.

For further information on navigating and boat queries, contact the inspectorate on the following numbers:

Inspector of Navigation

+353 (0)90 6494232

Assistant Inspector of Navigation

+353 (0)57 935 2300

Lough Erne Warden

+44 (0) 28 6632 2836


Wash and the Speed Limits

You are asked to consider the wash of your boat and its effect on others. All enginepowered boats create a wave of water, known as a wash, which flows outwards from the boat as it moves forward. Look behind you frequently to check the effect that your wash is having on other users. You are advised to reduce your speed in narrow channels to prevent bank erosion, damage to reed beds and destruction of birds’ nests among bank habitats. Slow down where boats are moored, when approaching quays, jetties or locks or where water activities are taking place.

On the waterways speed limits are:

• 5 knots on specific sections of the Erne

• 6 km/h on the canals and lateral canals

• 11 km/h on the river sections of the Barrow

• 5 km/h in channel stretches on the Shannon-Erne Waterway

Speed limits/no wash areas are also in place on other sections of the waterways and are monitored by the Inspectorate.
Marine Notices Marine Notices are issued by the Inspectorate to draw the attention of boat users to navigational issues such as high water levels, navigation works and closures, and to highlight potential areas of danger. They also remind boat users of their obligations and responsibilities under the Navigation Byelaws. Marine Notices are published on our website 

If you would like to receive Marine Notices by email, please send a request to

Maintenance Works

Maintenance works on the waterways are, where possible, carried out during the winter months i.e. 1 November to 17 March. Before travelling you are advised to contact the Inspectorate or visit


Operating Locks and Accessing Services

Canal Locks All the locks on the Royal Canal, Grand Canal and Barrow Navigation are operated manually. Please ensure that you have a lock key to operate the lock, adequate crew to manage your boat, and good stop ropes and mooring ropes. Lock keys at a cost of €25 can be purchased from the following:

Eastern Regional Office

+353 (0)1 868 0148

Grand Canal Dock Superintendent at Ringsend

+353 (0)87 258 4713

Grand Canal Depot, Tullamore

+353 (0)57 935 2300

Lock-keeper at Lowtown

+353 (0)87 245 6531

Lock-keeper at Shannon Harbour

+353 (0)87 245 6587

Lock-keeper at Monasterevin

+353 (0)87 247 3093

Barrow Navigation

Lock-keeper at Fenniscourt +353 (0)87 951 6333

Royal Canal Locks

17 – 40 +353 (0)87 618 2104

Locks 41 – 46 +353 (0)87 915 1400


Smart Cards

Smart cards are used to operate the locks on the Shannon-Erne Waterway and the Shannon Navigation. They are also used to gain access to the service blocks and to 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 to enable users to check the number of units remaining on the smart cards.


Rules of the Waterway 

There are rules guiding how the waterways should be used. Called Bye-laws, they are separate pieces of legislation often drawn up when the navigation was built to enable commercial business to take place. Each waterway has its own set of rules apart from the Lower Bann which has no Bye-laws, and where a code of practice is in place.

The Waterways Ireland Inspectorate enforce the Bye-laws but are also a good source of information in planning trips and ensuring you remain compliant.​

The main areas to familiarise yourself with are informally described in the Good Boating Guide​. View the full formal legal documents; 'the Bye-laws' here:



Fees & Charges

Waterways Ireland offers a free at the point of access service and facilities for the majority of users during the boating season. Where a waterway has legislation in place – normally from a commercial era when the waterways was built, those fees are still in place and are charged.

Moorings (Erne System 48hrs)Y 
Moorings (Shannon, Shannon-Erne Waterway, 5 days High Season)Y 
Visitor Permit (Under 30 days Barrow Navigation, Grand & Royal Canals)Y 
Moorings, (Shannon, Shannon-Erne Waterway Winter Mooring) €12.70 per month paid in advance for the season
Combined Mooring & Passage Permit €126 for 12 months
Extended Mooring Permit (plus €250 deposit). Combined Mooring & Passage Permit must also be held €152 for 12 months 
Dry Docks (plus €250 deposit) €13.90 per day 
Extended Serviced Moorings 12 months  €1250​
Lock Passages Erne System Lock is normally open
Lock Passages Shannon-Erne Waterway 1 Smart Card Unit *
Lock Passages Shannon Navigation 2 Smart Card Units *
​Lock Passages Lower Bann1 Smart Card Unit *

​*Smart cards operate the locks and services on the Lower Bann, Shannon Navigation and Shannon-Erne ​Waterway​ you can find a full list of retailers by clicking here.


Joining a Group

Groups such as the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland run rally's for their members whereby they take new boaters out on group excursions. In 2012 for example a group of boaters including many first timers, went though Ardnascrusha power station locks and through Limerick City and out to sea as part of convoy of boats. Many other clubs and associations organise similar trips where the experienced lead the inexperienced in canoes, row boats, sail boats etc. These can last from ½ day to multiple day trips. Find a group near you using our 'See and Do' guide here.


Further Information​


1. Understanding Boat Permits and Registration

2. Understanding the Mooring Rules

3. ​Services

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