Cruising the waterways of Ireland is a unique form of holiday that presents an opportunity to see different parts of Ireland only accessible by boat. A cruise makes for a wonderful, relaxing, get-away break. The waterways are dedicated to boating and fishing, and no commercial traffic mars the clean water. It is a splendid way to enjoy the unspoiled countryside immersed in its heritage, at a very leisurely pace.
There are almost 300 miles of navigable waters on the Shannon-Erne Waterway. This water system is a connection of rivers and lakes, and a short canal. They form a continuous navigable stretch of water. It is the longest natural waterway in Europe. The Shannon-Erne Waterway flows from the town of Belleek, in County Fermanagh on the northwest coast of Northern Ireland to the Shannon estuary, at Killaloe in County Clare in the Republic of Ireland. The waterways are made up of The Erne Lakes and River System, the Shannon-Erne Link, the North Shannon, and the South Shannon. On the Shannon-Erne Waterway, there are six locks, and 16 automated electric locks.
Cruising is open to anyone over the age of 18 and in good health. You don't need to be registered as a captain of your own ship. A license is not required. You do not have to have experience. All of the fundamentals can be taught in a relatively short period of time, which can occur when you arrive to pick up your cruiser. You can take a one way cruise, starting at one point and ending at another, or a round trip cruise starting and ending at the same point.
In planning your cruise, there are a few items to consider:
- amount of time you have for your holiday
- time of year you want to travel
- number in your group
- are you flying into Ireland?
- Belfast Airport, Dublin Airport, or Shannon Airport
- are you taking a ferry from the UK or the continent?
Once this information is determined, you can choose from a variety of cruise itineraries and companies from which to hire your cruiser.
Most of the cruise companies offer a pick up service from Dublin and Shannon Airports. This would eliminate the need for car rental and a one way cruise could be advantageous. With this option you could explore more of the surrounding areas and enjoy more of the waterway. If you take the car ferry from the UK or continental Europe, a round trip cruise may be better. Utilizing this option you have the opportunity to explore more in depth the area of your travel.
The waterways are segmented into four sections. The River Erne and Erne Lakes flow northwesterly from Cavan to Lough Erne in Enniskillen. This area features forests, islands, excellent coarse fishing, wildlife sanctuaries, and monastic ruins.
The Shannon-Erne Link consists of lakes, an open river, and canalized parts of the river. This area has the 16 electric locks through 37 miles of waterways.
The North Shannon is the upper part of the Shannon and the lower part of the Shannon-Erne Link. The main town in this area is Carrick-on-Shannon and a very popular mooring point. This area features excellent fishing and an abundance of birdlife. There are four locks with lockkeepers.
The South Shannon includes Lough Derg and many bays and inlets. This area features Clonmacnois, a renowned monastic site. There is one lock and lockkeeper.
The basic configuration of the cruisers is:
- the aft-cockpit cruiser
- the center-cockpit cruiser
- the forward-drive cruiser
- the flybridge-style cruiser with dual helms
From two to ten people can be accommodated on the various cruisers. Some offer more amenities than others. Rentals usually take place from Saturday to Saturday, or a 7-day rental. Many companies do offer shorter rental periods for a 'short-break' holiday. It is advisable to book your cruise as early as possible, especially if planning your holiday for July or August.
Rental prices vary from economical to high, but are comparable to spending a week in a major city hotel. Usually a 25% deposit is required when booking your reservation Additional costs would include, but are not limited to, a refundable damage security deposit, or a non-refundable damage waiver fee, fuel, mooring fees (many are free), cancellation insurance, insurance for personal loss, theft or damage to personal possessions, provisions for on-board, and an electronic 'smartcard' for the Shannon-Erne Link. Many of the cruise companies can provide a market or shop for you to purchase your provisions, and they can be delivered to your cruiser prior to departure time. If you have your car, parking usually is available at the cruiser base.
One of the advantages of cruising the waterways of Ireland is traveling at your own pace. A cruise is one of the most relaxing and unhurried types of holiday you can experience.
For those who chose NOT to be the 'captain of their own ship', there are passenger cruisers available. You can still enjoy the tranquil waterways by combining them with sightseeing tours.