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Practical Guide

Practical Guide – North Coast Sea Kayak Trail


This practical guide has been designed by local experts to help you make the most of your next trip on the North Coast Sea Kayak Trail. The choices offered by this amazing 70 nautical mile trail can sometimes be overwhelming; you have so many places to explore in so little time. This inside knowledge will make your decision making so much easier.

Planning a Trip

Suitable For:

The North Coast Sea Kayak Trail as the name suggests is more suitable for sea kayakers rather than open canoes or general purpose kayaks. Although there is plenty of moderate paddling available, it should be highlighted that due to tide races, overfalls, Atlantic swells and hidden reefs this is a challenging but rewarding trail for experienced paddlers.

The areas around Fair Head, Torr Head and the Rathlin Sound experience overfalls producing tidal rapids and waves dangerous to the inexperienced canoeists. More information on these and other such areas are detailed in this guide.

However not all is lost for inexperienced paddlers wishing to explore this iconic coastline. There are several local operators offering guided trips allowing you to enjoy the surroundings whilst the experts look after the rest.

Best for:

Iconic Sites

By far the best way to view the Giant’s Causeway in its entirety is from the water. A sea kayak allows you the time to take in the basalt columns, Chimneys and Amphitheatre in peace and quiet away from the crowds.

Many visitors to the north coast have crossed the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, but few paddled beneath it. Given the right tidal conditions you’ll be able to do exactly that.

Although these are the well renowned big hitters of tourist brochures you’ll also be taken in by ancient castles, tiny and forgotten fishing piers ands several lively harbours.

Tidal Information:

The Causeway Coast is a blend of rocky shores and headlands interspersed with golden sandy beaches. The tides offshore flood east and the rate increases as it is forced between Ireland and

Scotland with Rathlin Island at the entrance to the Irish Sea.

There are a number of currents and counter currents experienced closer inshore due to a complex shoreline of beaches, bays and headlands. Overfalls and tide races are found at all the headlands with eddies often running between these. Care should be taken when wind is in opposition to tide given that this coast is exposed to the Atlantic swell.

When planning a trip reference should be made to the Irish Coast Pilot, Irish Cruising Club Sailing Directions for the East and North Coasts of Ireland, Admiralty Tidal Stream Atlas NP218 and relevant Admiralty Charts.

The most powerful tides on the Causeway Coast are to be found in vicinity of Torr Head and Fair Head where large overfalls can be expected and conditions are particularly dangerous in conditions of wind against tide. All tide times relate to High Water Belfast.

Entrance to Lough Foyle and Magilligan Point

The south west flood into Lough Foyle begins +0400. The north east ebb begins mid channel -0320, the ebb begins one hour earlier at Magilligan Point. Spring rate can reach 3.5 kts in the entrance. On the north west side of the entrance there is a useful eddy from Warren Point to Moville on both ebb and flood. HW Moville +0350.

Bann Entrance – Barmouth

The flood begins +0225 and the coastal flood stream runs west strongly across the entrance. The ebb can reach 3kn and care should be taken when there is a combination of heavy swell and strong winds. It is best to enter at slack water and the Barmouth should be avoided in strong winds and heavy swell where waves can break across the entire river mouth. HW Coleraine -0430.

Portstewart to Portrush

There is a useful eddy which runs west along this shoreline from Ramore Head towards the Barmouth from -0200 until +0200. A tidal stream runs east through Skerries Sound from -0600 and sets up a useful eddy running west from Curran Point to Reviggerly. The west going stream through Skerries Sound begins at +0100. A strong north west going stream develops either side of Ramore Head from -0500 until +0600. HW Portrush -0440.

Portrush to Ballycastle

Strong localised tide races are found at Runkerry Head, Benbane Head, Bengore Head, Sheep Island, Carrickarede Island and Kenbane Head with Carrickmannon Rock lying offshore. Eddies and counter eddies can be found close to shore in most of the bays which may prove helpful if going against the main tide.

Ballycastle and Rathlin Sound

Detailed tidal information for Rathlin Sound can be found in the Irish Coast Pilot or Cruising Club Sailing Directions for the east and north coasts. In Rathlin Sound the main ebb stream runs west from HW Dover. The flood runs east from -0530 until -0030. There is a useful eddy from Fair Head to Carrickmannon starting from -0500 and lasts for five hours. It is strongest at -0300. An east going eddy from Carrickmannon towards Fair Head begins at +0100 and runs for four hours and is at its strongest at +0300. Sloughnamore the overfall south west of Rue Point is most turbulent from +0130 until +0230. Ballycastle HWS -0445, HWN -0200.

Fair Head and Torr Head

The most powerful tides on the Causeway Coast are to be found in this area and care should be taken especially when there are strong offshore winds coming over Fair Head. Large overfalls are to be expected off Fair Head and Torr Head and are particularily dangerous in conditions of wind against tide. Off Torr Head the south east flood into the Irish Sea begins +0600 and a coastal eddy forms running from Red Bay towards Cushendun from -0200 until -0100. Off Torr Head the NW ebb from the Irish Sea begins at HW Dover and a coastal eddy forms running from Cushendun towards Red Bay from +0300 until +0500.

Tidal Constants

Local HW Times in relation to HW Belfast

Moville +3hr50mins
Londonderry -2hr53mins
Coleraine -4hr03mins
Portrush -4hr33mins
Ballycastle -3hr20mins
Red Bay +0hr06mins


The CanoeNI team has combined their knowledge with that of many local experts to design a variety of canoeing itineraries to allow you make the most of your next short break or day trip to the North Coast Sea Kayak Trail. These are our favourite itineraries however the glory of this 70 nautical mile trail is that they can be mixed and matched to create an almost infinite number of itineraries.

Useful Info

Visitor Information Centres:

Limavady +44(0)28 7776 0650

Coleraine +44(0)28 7034 4723

Portrush +44(0)28 7082 3333

Giant’s Causeway +44(0)28 2073 1855

Ballycastle +44(0)28 2076 2024

Cushendall +44(0)28 2177 1180

Currency: Counties Londonderry and Antrim are in Northern Ireland where pounds Sterling is accepted everywhere.


General Safety

Canoeing is an adventure sport and as such should be treated with respect. If you are new to the sport, it is advisable to join an organized club (link to new page) or take some lessons with a canoeing provider (link to new section), both options will offer expert coaching.

When participating in canoe sport note should be taken of the following safety advice:

  1. Do not canoe without adequate buoyancy in the form of a personal life jacket or buoyancy aid. Canoe buoyancy should be sufficient to keep the canoe afloat if you capsize
  2. It is recommended not to canoe alone – three boats is the minimum required for most rescues
  3. Remember – a canoe may be difficult to see from a larger craft – carry a whistle
  4. You do not need to be able to swim vast distances but you will need the water confidence to deal with a capsized boat and get ashore safely
  5. Wear adequate clothing, prolonged immersion in cold water leads to hypothermia – hypothermia can kill.
  6. Leave details of your journey with a responsible adult and / or the Coastguard
  7. It is recommended that canoeists consult relevant Maps, Charts and Pilot and obtain up to date information on weather and tides before planning a trip on the sea.
  8. Be aware of other water users such as sailing boats, ferries and commercial shipping. Canoeists should make allowance for the limitations and needs of larger craft that are less maneuverable and may be restricted to deep water channels.
  9. Carry adequate basic safety equipment – spare clothes, extra food, warm drink, form of shelter, First Aid kit, means of communication (VHF Radio, mobile phone), flares, torch and whistle.

North Coast Sea Kayak Trail Specific

  1. At busy harbours, canoeists should inform the Harbour Master of their approach
  2. Parts of the North Coast Sea Kayak Trail experience extremely powerful currents and should only be tackled by appropriately experienced canoeists.

Winds and Weather

The Shipping Forecast, Inshore Waters Forecast and Coastal Forecast can all be obtained from the BBC website BBC radio 4 broadcast a shipping forecast four times daily – 0048hrs, 0520hrs, 1201hrs, 1754hrs. Sea area ‘Irish Sea’

Non-emergency contacts

Police non-emergency (Northern Ireland) 0845 600 8000

Belfast Coastguard non-emergency +44 (0)28 9146 3933


In the event of an emergency - Dial 999 or 112 (from all phones, UK and ROI) to contact Coastguard, police and ambulance. Use VHF Radio Channel 16 to contact Coastguard

Harbour contact details

Portstewart Harbour +44(0)28 7034 7234

Portrush Harbour +44(0)28 7082 2307

Portballintrae Harbour +44(0)28 7034 7234

Ballycastle +44(0)28 2076 8225 VHF Ch80

+44(0)78 0350 5084

Rathlin +44(0)28 2076 8225 VHF Ch80

+44(0)78 0350 5084

Maps, charts and pilot Maps required

Maps required

OSNI Discoverer Map Series 1:50,000 Sheet 4 Coleraine

OSNI Discoverer Map Series 1:50,000 Sheet 5 Ballycastle

Other useful maps

OSNI Causeway Coast & Rathlin Island Activity Map 1:25,000

OSNI Glens of Antrim Activity Map 1:25,000

Admiralty Charts required

No: 2798 Lough Foyle to Sanda Island including Rathlin Island

No: 2199 North Channel - Northern Part

Other useful Charts - No: 2499 Lough Foyle

Publications required - UKHO Irish Coast Pilot NP40,

NP218 Tidal Stream Atlas North Coast of Ireland and West Coast

of Scotland

Irish Cruising Club: Sailing Directions East and North Coasts of Ireland

Earning a welcome

Earning a Welcome

1. Please be friendly and polite to local residents and other water users.

2. Drive with care and consideration and park sensibly.

3. Change clothing discreetly, preferably out of public view.

4. Gain permission before going on to private property.

5. Minimise your impact on the natural environment and use recognised access points. There are also many unofficial access points along the coastline, which may be used with the owner’s consent.

6. Be sensitive to wildlife and other users regarding the level of noise you create.

7. Observe wildlife from a distance and be aware of sensitive locations such as nesting birds, wintering flock concentrations, seal haul-outs, cetaceans and basking sharks - see for more information.

8. CAAN supports the principles of Leave No Trace and encourages others to do the same when taking part in outdoor recreation. For more information please visit

9. Keep the numbers in your party consistent with safety, the nature of the water conditions and the impact on your surroundings.

10. Wild camping should be carried out discreetly, in small parties, and for overnight stays only.

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