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Practical Guide

Practical Guide – Strangford Lough Canoe Trail


This practical guide has been designed by local experts to help you make the most of your next trip on the Strangford Lough Canoe Trail. The 80 square nautical mile lough is a paddler’s paradise offering so much to choose from it can sometimes be overwhelming; you have so many places to explore in so little time. This inside knowledge will hopefully make your decision making much easier.

Planning a Trip

Suitable For:

The Strangford Lough Canoe Trail is suitable for canoeists of all abilities, its just a matter of knowing where (and where not) to go.

For those less experienced the western side of the lough between Whiterock and Killyleagh is perfect, the group of islands known as the ‘basket of eggs’ offer a myriad of channels and routes to explore. The south west area around Delamont Country Park and Salt Island also offer sheltered waters for paddling.

Mention of ‘The Narrows’ always brings a sharp intake of breath from even the most experienced paddlers. The fast flowing tidal waters include the Routen Wheel, a series of whirlpools, boils and swirling water, which is caused by pinnacles of rock on the seabed. Although fine close to high and low tides, outside these times it is best avoided.

Best for:


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.

Direction of Flow:

Strangford Lough is tidal therefore it is recommended to have a working knowledge of tides before embarking on a trip.

The Strangford Lough Canoe Trail indicates the tidal constant, relevant to high water at Belfast Harbour. This can be combined with tide tables to allow you calculate the state and flow of tide for each access point.


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 Strangford Canoe Trail. These are our favourite itineraries, however the glory of this sea lough is that these can be mixed and matched to create an almost infinite number of itineraries.

Useful Info

Portaferry Visitor Information Centre (Seasonal): +44(0)28 4272 9882
Newtownards Visitor Information Centre: +44(0)28 9182 6846
Downpatrick Visitor Information Centre: +44 (0)28 4461 2233
Police non-emergency: 101

Currency: Strangford Lough is in Northern Ireland. Pounds Sterling (GBP) are accepted everywhere in Northern Ireland.



A range of self catering, B&Bs and hotels are available along the trail. For a full list of accommodation providers, please visit or


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 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:

  • 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
  • It is recommended not to canoe alone – three boats is the minimum required for most rescues
  • Remember – a canoe may be difficult to see from a larger craft – carry a whistle
  • 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
  • Carry and know how to use a map and compass
  • Wear adequate clothing, prolonged immersion in cold water leads to hypothermia – hypothermia can kill.
  • Leave details of your journey with a responsible adult

Strangford Lough Specific

  • ‘The Narrows’ has extremely powerful tidal currents which should only be tackled by appropriately experienced canoeists
  • A ferry operates across ‘The Narrows’ between Strangford and Portaferry every 15 minutes.
  • Be aware of the limitations and needs of larger craft that are restricted to deep water channels
  • The lough is a major recreational area and you should be aware of other users, especially sailing bots when they are competing in races

Emergency Telephone Numbers

Both the Coastguard and Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) cover Upper and Lower Lough Erne. In the unlikely event of an Emergency use the following numbers:

Police and Ambulance

999 (all phones) or 112 (all phones)

Coast Guard

999 (all phones) or VHF channel 16

Note that mobile phone reception is unreliable in many areas.

Earning a welcome

Have respect for locals:

  • Be friendly and polite to local residents.
  • Drive slowly with care and consideration and park sensibly without causing obstruction.
  • Be as quiet as possible.
  • Get changed discreetly out of public view.
  • Get permission before going on to private property.
  • Avoid wildlife disturbance and environmental damage - only go ashore at recognised landing places.
  • Be considerate to other water users.
  • Follow the Leave No Trace Principles.

Have respect for anglers:

  • Keep well clear of anglers fishing from banks and boats.
  • Keep clear of shallow gravel areas of rivers where salmon and trout may spawn - especially during November, December and January.


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