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Practical Guide

Practical Guide – South East Coast Canoe Trail


This practical guide has been designed by local experts to help you make the most of your next trip on the South East Coast Canoe Trail. The choices offered by this amazing 50 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 south east coast of Northern Ireland is, in general, a straightforward area for the sea kayaker to enjoy. Along the coastline there are two main areas of more demanding water, namely Strangford Narrows and the mouth of Carlingford Lough, where the waters of these impressive sea loughs meet the Irish Sea. As such, the trail has a great deal to offer sea canoeists of all abilities; a mixture of sheltered paddling within the loughs and along gentle stretches of coastline, contrasted with tide races and overfalls at the lough entrances to challenge even the most experienced paddler.

Best for:

Wildlife Sightings

Strangford Lough is designated as Northern Ireland’s first Marine Nature Reserve, Strangford Lough is internationally renowned for its abundance and diversity of habitats and species. Over 2000 marine animal and plant species have been found, most unique to this area. Look out for seals, Arctic Terns, Irish Hares, porpoises and much more.

Mountain backdrop

Most of the trail is in view of either the Moune Mountains (Northern Ireland) or the Cooley Mountains (Republic Of Ireland), together they create an impressive backdrop for the paddle.

Rough Camping

There are three rough camping sites positioned close to the start, mid-point and finish of the trail. These are Salt Island, Murlough Nature Reserve and Ballagan Point. The sites are suitable for overnight camping only and there are no facilities available.

Tidal Information

All tidal information is given in relation to High Water (HW) Belfast, except in the case of Carlingford Lough, where it is given in relation to High Water Dublin.

Tide tables are available free of charge from the following locations:

Belfast tide tables - Port of Belfast,

Dublin tide tables - Irish Sailing Association, also provides tidal information with a free

6 day tide prediction service for all UK standard and secondary ports.

Tidal Streams

Outside of Strangford and Carlingford Loughs, tidal streams along this section of coastline are weak, following the coast in both directions, but may reach a rate of 1 knot (Springs) off salient points. In general terms these are as follows:

-0545 HW Belfast NE/E stream runs

+0030 HW Belfast W/SW stream runs

Within the entrances to Strangford and Carlingford Loughs, tidal streams are strong and complex - canoeists must consult the Admiralty Chart and Pilot for detailed tidal information. However, in general terms the timings and rates are as follows:

Strangford Narrows

Tidal streams begin nearly simultaneously throughout the length of the Narrows as follows

-0330 HW Belfast In-going 5-7.5 Knots (Springs)

+0230 HW Belfast Out-going 5-7.5 Knots (Springs)

Carlingford Entrance

-0530 HW Dublin In-going 2.5-5 Knots (Springs)

-0010 HW Dublin Out-going 2.5-5 Knots (Springs)

The streams decrease gradually further up Carlingford Lough to a maximum rate of 1 knot near its head.

At the Newry River close to Narrow Water Castle, ingoing and outgoing streams can reach rates of 2.5 knots (springs)

Tidal Constants

Local HW times in relation to HW Belfast:

Strangford Quay +1hr 52 mins

Strangford Bar +0hr 16 mins

Ardglass +0Hr 23 mins

Newcastle, Dundrum Bay +0Hr 30 mins

Carlingford Bar +0Hr 24 mins

Warrenpoint +0hr 30 mins


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 South East Coast Canoe Trail. These are our favourite itineraries however the glory of this 50 nautical mile trail is that they can be mixed and matched to create an almost infinite number of itineraries.

Useful Info

Visitor Information Centres:

Downpatrick +44(0)28 4461 2233

Newcastle +44(0)28 4372 2222

Kilkeel +44(0)28 4176 2525

Newry +44(0)28 3031 3172

Carlingford +353 (0) 4293 73033


Currency: County Down is in Northern Ireland where pounds Sterling are accepted everywhere in Northern Ireland. The southern shores of Carlingford Lough are in the Republic of Ireland where Euros are accepted.


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 organised club or take some lessons with a canoeing provider, 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.

South East Coast Specific

1. At busy harbours, canoesits should inform the Harbour master of their approach

2. Parts of Carlingford and Strangford Loughs experience extremely powerful currents and should only be tackled by appropriately experienced canoeists.

3. Carlingford Lough is an important shellfish fishery - primarily mussels and oysters. In places, oysters are cultivated in cages on trestles along the shore. These are submerged at high water and should not be disturbed. Watch out for mussel boats manoeuvring - they will turn sharply when fishing.

4. The Carlingford Ferry operates between Greencastle (departs on the hour) and Greenore (departs on the half hour) on Carlingford Lough. Timetable 

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) 101

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

Strangford Harbour - +44(0)28 4488 1637

Ardglass Harbour - +44(0)28 4484 1291/+ 44(0)7990 648274

Kilkeel Harbour - +44(0)28 4176 2287/ +44(0)77 0257 3879

Port of Greenore +353(0)42 937 3170

Warrenpoint Harbour +44(0)28 4175 2878

The Harbour Office can be contacted on VHF Channel 12 for each location above.

Maps, charts and pilot Maps required

OSNI Discoverer Map Series 1:50,000 Sheet 21 Strangford Lough

OSNI Discoverer Map Series 1:50,000 Sheet 29 The Mournes

OSI Discovery Series 1:50,000 Sheet 36 Armagh, Down, Louth, Meath, Monaghan

Other useful maps

OSNI Strangford Lough Activity Map 1:25,000

OSNI The Mournes Activity Map 1:25,000

Admiralty Charts required

No: 2159 Strangford Narrows

No: 44 Nose of Howth to Ballyquinton Point

No: 2800 Carlingford Lough

Other useful Charts - No: 2156 Strangford Lough

Publications required - UKHO Irish Coast Pilot NP40

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 and seal haul-outs.

8. Outdoor Recreation NI 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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