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Coastal Overview for Malin Head to Strangford Lough

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What is the route?
This is the primary coastal description and set of waypoints for the area between Malin Head to Strangford Lough. The detailed coastal description may be used by those planning to come closer inshore or to approach one of the useful passage havens that are listed along the length of the route. The sequence of description is from west to east turning southward or coastal clockwise.

  • • North of the Garvan Islands and inside Inishtrahull

  • • Inside Rathlin Island

  • • Inside the Maidens

  • • Outside Hunter Rock

  • • Outside the Lucifer Bank

  • • Through Donaghadee Sound.

  • • Outside South Rock.
The preceding northwest coast's set of waypoints and coastal description is available by clicking 'Previous', above, and vessels planning on continuing southwards, through the Irish Sea and beyond, can find the following sets of waypoints and coastal descriptions by clicking 'Next'.

Why sail this route?
This is a coastal sequence for cruisers who want to stay in inshore waters to enjoy the coastal scenery that this simply beautiful sailing area has to offer. The inshore route also benefits from the calmer seas that the lee of land offers from the prevailing south westerlies. It is also conveniently close to the many listed passage havens described along the way.

What are the navigational notes?
Please use our integrated Navionics chart to appraise the route. Navionics charts feature in premier plotters from B&G, Raymarine, Magellan and are also available on tablets. Clicking the 'Expand to Fullscreen' icon opens a larger viewing area in a new tab.

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The above plots are not precise and are indicative only.


The Malin Head to Strangford Lough route is to a large part that of the North Channel. This is the strait that separates eastern Ulster from southwestern Scotland and connects the Irish Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. The North Channel is deep and clear, and with the exception of the coast between Strangford Narrows and Belfast Lough, and the Maidens, is moderately steep-to on both shores except in larger bays. To the west of Rathlin Island, the bottom can be uneven.

The principal off-lying Islands and dangers in the Malin Head area are the Garvan Isles, a group of small islets about one mile off the coast near Malin Head. Further out there is Inishtrahull, that itself has off lying dangers such as the Tor Rocks. There is also a narrow ridge of coarse sand called Hempton’s Turbot Bank that should be avoided. It is situated nine miles east of Inishtrahull that has overfalls during bad weather.

To the northeast of Ramore Head the Skerries, another chain of rocky islets, need some attention for vessels planning inshore coastal sailing in this area. The nearby isolated patch of rocks called the Storks, situated just under a mile offshore, should also be noted.

Rathlin Island, located about seven miles east-northeast of Fair Head, has the rocky Shamrock Pinnacle and the Laconia Bank, located to the northwest of the island, and races and overfalls upon its corners. Rathlin Sound, between the island and the mainland, should be avoided in bad weather. Extensive overfalls form over its shallowest parts that present a very real danger to leisure craft.

Progressing south the Maidens, consisting of two two dangerous groups of rocks separated by a navigable passage, lie about five miles to the north of Larne. Hunter Rock lies to the south of the Maidens, between them and the entrance to Lough Foyle.

From Belfast Lough to Strangford Lough the Coast has a host of off lying dangers. The Copeland Islands are surrounded by dangers and attention needs to be paid to the Foreland Spit, Long Rock, Skullmartin Rock, Burial Island, Plough Rock, North and South Rocks and Butter Pladdy. But once past the Copeland Islands, the rest may all be cleared by simply keeping two to three miles offshore.

With any ordinary measure of care and some tidal planning, this route may be safely and easily navigated. It will be found to be a simply beautiful sailing area for leisure vessels bound for or exiting the Irish Sea.


The complete course is 111.59 miles from the waypoint '2½ miles northwest of Malin Head' to '1 mile south of the Strangford Light Float ' tending in a south easterly direction (reciprocal north westerly).

2½ miles northwest of Malin Head, 55° 25.000' N, 007° 25.000' W
Two miles to the northwest of Malin Head the most northerly point of the island of Ireland.

       Next waypoint: 6.00 miles, course 100.79°T (reciprocal 280.79°T)

2 miles south of Inishtrahull Light, 55° 23.870' N, 007° 14.628' W
A 23-metre high Lighthouse, Fl (3) 15s (Red. Vis.), that stands on the west side of the island. This is in Inishtrahull Sound that lies between the Garvan Isles and Inishtrahull.

       Next waypoint: 15.31 miles, course 124.91°T (reciprocal 304.91°T)

¼ mile south of the Foyle Safe Water Bouy, 55° 15.081' N, 006° 52.616' W
Foyle Safe Water Bouy, LFl 10s, is moored about two miles to the northeast of Inishowen Head the principal landmark.

       Next waypoint: 20.42 miles, course 88.41°T (reciprocal 268.41°T)

2½ miles south of Rathlin West Lighthouse, 55° 15.560' N, 006° 16.815' W
Rathlin West is an 18-metre high tower, Fl R 5s (Red. Vis.), standing at the west side of the island, 0.5 mile north of Bull Point that is the western extremity. This is in Rathlin Sound that lies between the Island and the mainland.

       Next waypoint: 2.49 miles, course 120.92°T (reciprocal 300.92°T)

1½ miles southwest of Rue Point, 55° 14.280' N, 006° 13.070' W
Rue Point Lighthouse is an 11 metre high a tower, Fl (2) 5s, standing on Rue Point, the southern extremity of the island. This waypoint avoided the dangerous Slough-na-more race.

       Next waypoint: 3.59 miles, course 94.43°T (reciprocal 274.43°T)

½ mile northeast of Fair Head,, 55° 14.000' N, 006° 6.800' W
The most significant landmark of this coast is the impressive Fair Head, often also called Benmore Head, that represents Ireland’s northeast corner

       Next waypoint: 2.68 miles, course 135.80°T (reciprocal 315.80°T)

¼ mile northeast of Torr Head, 55° 12.080' N, 006° 3.530' W
Torr Head is surmounted by a disused coast-guard watch-house and is an elevation of 67 metres above the sea. A conspicuous radio mast stands one-mile west-northwest of this head.

       Next waypoint: 2.06 miles, course 148.61°T (reciprocal 328.61°T)

¼ mile northeast of Runabay Head, 55° 10.320' N, 006° 1.650' W
Runabay Head is formed by the base of a rugged mountain slope that descends sheer into the sea from a height of 260 metres.

       Next waypoint: 19.84 miles, course 150.50°T (reciprocal 330.50°T)

¼ mile east of North Hunter Cardinal, 54° 53.046' N, 005° 44.680' W
The North Cardinal, VQ, for Hunter rock situated two and a half miles northeast of the entrance Larne Lough. Hunter Rock may be passed on either side and is also marked by and South Cardinal Light buoy, VQ (6) + LFl 10s. Maintain a watchful eye for shipping movements in and out of Larne Harbour in this area.

       Next waypoint: 14.67 miles, course 152.50°T (reciprocal 332.50°T)

Soutwest of Carne Point of Copeland Island, 54° 40.030' N, 005° 32.970' W
Approaching Donaghadee Sound situated between the south side of Copeland Island and the mainland coast. Donaghadee Sound streams achieve 4.5 knots in places so tidal planning is essential and it should not be approached in strong southeasterly conditions.

       Next waypoint: 0.84 miles, course 135.36°T (reciprocal 315.36°T)

Donaghadee Sound - Governor and Deputy Marks, 54° 39.432' N, 005° 31.949' W
Between the Governor Red Can Buoy, Fl R 3s (Sync), off Governor Rocks on the south side, and a Green Can Buoy, Fl G 3s (Sync) on the north or Deputy Reefs side.

       Next waypoint: 0.83 miles, course 149.46°T (reciprocal 329.46°T)

½ mile east of Donaghadee Light, 54° 38.714' N, 005° 31.217' W
The Donaghadee Light, Iso WR 4s, white tower, 16 metres in height stands on the head of the substantial cut stone South Pier.

       Next waypoint: 7.90 miles, course 150.29°T (reciprocal 330.29°T)

¼ mile east of Skulmartin Safe spherical buoy, 54° 31.850' N, 005° 24.470' W
Skulmartin Safe Water Mark, LFl 10s, a red and white spherical buoy moored 1.4 miles east by southeast of Skullmartin Rock that lies nearly a mile out from the shore and is marked by an unlit beacon.

       Next waypoint: 7.39 miles, course 175.93°T (reciprocal 355.93°T)

¼ mile east of South Rock, 54° 24.480' N, 005° 23.570' W
The name is unmistakably written in white letters on each side. Red-hulled structure with a light-tower and white mast on foredeck, Fl(3)R 30s, is stationed one-mile east-by-north of the extensive cluster of rocks it marks.

       Next waypoint: 7.55 miles, course 203.29°T (reciprocal 23.29°T)

1 mile south of the Strangford Light Float , 54° 17.550' N, 005° 28.680' W
The Strangford Lough Marker Light Float approach marker, LFl 10s, is situated a mile and a half to the southeast of Ballyquintin Point. It is on the bearing of 323.7° T of Angus Rock Lighthouse (2.9 miles with the entrance to Strangford Lough) used for entering The Narrows.


Those approaching from the west will find a rugged Atlantic coastline greets them. Malin Head, the north most point of Ireland, terminates at Dunaldragh, the north extremity that is a low seventy metre high rounded hill with a square derelict concrete tower on top. Two prominent radio masts will also be seen standing one mile to the southeast of Dunaldragh. The shoreline here is bold, jagged and fringed by outlying rocks that are steep-to and always visible. With the exception of Scars Rocks, lying about 400 metres west of the headland and a steep-to group always visible; there are no off-lying obstructions in this area. A berth of 300 metres or more clears all dangers here but it gets more challenging once Malin Head is rounded.

Careful advance planning is required as this corner of Ireland has to be treated with the utmost of respect. Here the Atlantic Ocean collides with the runs of the Irish coastal tide amidst two rocky island groups, the Garvan Isles and Inishtrahull.

The Garvan Isles reside about three miles east-northeast of Malin Head and about one mile off the coast. They are a collection of barren islands ranging from 15 to 22 metres in height that are surrounded by sunken rocks and shoals.

The sizable uninhabited island of Inishtrahull is situated three miles northwest of the outermost Garvan Isle and 6½ miles northeast of Malin Head. It is nearly a mile long and is made up of two rounded hills joined by a stretch of low ground. A 23-metre high Lighthouse stands at the west side of the island.

Inishtrahull Lighthouse - Fl (3)15s 59m19M position: 55° 55 25.864’N, 007° 14.628’W

The island has two anchorages Portmore Click to view haven on the northeastern side that is primary anchorage and Portachurry Click to view haven on the southwestern side. The south side of the Inishtrahull is steep-to and clear of danger. However, a dangerous 22-metre high arc of rock called the Tor Rock resides nearly a mile north-northwest of Inishtrahull’s north side that requires attention. Tor Sound leads between this group of rocks and the north side of the island.

There are three approaches to rounding Malin Head; the first, go through Inishtrahull Sound, the second go through Garvan Sound, the third is go offshore of both groups and round the headland to the north of Inishtrahull and the Torr Rocks.

If there is any sea running, bad weather, an adverse tide, or you are in doubt in any way, it is advisable to take the third option that is the safest route. Head out to sea and take the offshore route around the outside of Inishtrahull. Those taking the offshore route should give Inishtrahull, and more importantly the off-lying Torr Rocks, a wide berth of at least three miles.

However, if conditions are good with daylight and the inclination is towards more interesting sailing, the routes through either of the ‘Sounds’ are much shorter options. The first is the Inishtrahull Sound route between the Garvan Isles and Inishtrahull and the latter is the Garvan Sound route between the Garvan Isles and the mainland. It should be noted there is only a mile to be saved by taking the slightly more complex inshore Garvin Sound route. The most appropriate choice of route will depend upon the presiding skipper’s study of Garvan Isles and Sound chart set against the tide expected at the approach timing. Here are some useful notes to observe.

For the three-mile wide Inishtrahull Sound route the key rocks to note are Doherty Rock that reside on the south side of the sound a ¼ of a mile to the northwest of the Garvan Isles. They uncover at three-quarters ebb when they are clearly visible by the breakers. Likewise, Duvglas, the northernmost islet, stands high with an elevation of 17 metres. Once the Garvan Isles are abeam to starboard it is safe to make way towards Glengad Head.

The key rock to locate for the Garvan Sound route is the covered Blind Rock on Garvan Sound’s western approaches. It has 1.8 metres of water over it and is situated 1.1 miles east of Dunaldragh Head and about 900 metres north of the mainland point that exists on the west side of Slievebane Bay.

There are several alignments to avoid Blind Rock. By keeping the Chimney Rock at Carrickaveol Head, approximately 4 miles east by southeast on the mainland coast, just open of the singular 70 metres high Stookaruddan, a bold and loaf-shaped, 1.5 miles closer to the mainland coast, a vessel will pass approximately 400 metres to the north of the Blind Rock. This should represent a 117° T line of bearing to track in. Alternatively, the low Rossnabartan directly in front of the tooth like Lackgolana on about 140° T passes 100 metres to the northeast of Blind Rock. Likewise, an alignment of steering for Rossnabartan with Ireland's North Point directly astern will pass well to the south of Blind Rock.

When Blind Rock has been passed alter course to approaching the low flat-topped Rossnabartan Isle and steer to pass about 200 metres to the northeast of the islet. This avoids a rock with 2 metres of water over it situated 300 metres to the northeast of the islet. A useful transit to avoid this covered rock is to align Lackgolana with a conspicuous roadway, 1000 metres behind on the mainland, passing between houses and down to the cliff edge on 162° T.

Rounding Carnadreelagh Isle provides the option of visiting Slievebane Bay Click to view haven, or Malin where small vessels may stop in moderate conditions with offshore winds. Two conspicuous radio masts stand in the vicinity of a radio station situated 0.4-miles south-southwest of the head of this bay. A vessel may anchor off the pier or tie a stern line to a bollard here. Shallower draft vessels may come alongside.

With Rossnabartan passing abeam, steer to pass at least a couple of hundred metres north of Lackgolana and steer a path to pass close north of Stookaruddan that is steep to and clear of outline dangers.

The single bold rock of Stookaruddan, with a narrow low water boat pass between it and the shore, is passed 1½ miles east from Garvan Sound and the same distance from Carrickaveol Head, itself situated 2¾ miles to the north-west of Glengad Head. Two prominent radio masts and a wind motor stand on the 280-metre high hill of Crockalough one mile to the south-southeast of this islet.

Located 8.3 miles southeast of Malin Head, Glengad Head is a bluff headland with a remarkable hill that rises near its extremity.

From Glengad Head to Inishowen Head, a distance of 10 miles in a south by southeast direction,the coast is characterised by 100 to 200 metre high cliffs that are backed by high inland hills. It is steep-to and free from danger with 20 metres of water a ¼ of a mile off. A berth of 300 metres off the shore clears all dangers in this area.

The area to the south of Glengad Head, locally known as The Rue, sees the coast progressively lower in height for the final 2½ miles south to Culdaff Bay Click to view haven, located between Dunmore Head and Bunnagee Point, where an anchorage may be found. Keep at least three hundred metres off Bunnagee Point to clear Bo Rock that resides immediately northeast of the point. All dangers will be cleared by staying 200 metres or more off the shoreline here.

Three miles to the southeast is Tremone Bay Click to view haven entered between Rubonid Point and Ballymagaraghy Point.

Two miles further along is Kinnagoe Click to view havenand both these bays provide anchorages with beach landings but no facilities in offshore winds. Keep offshore of Kinnagoe Head that extends out with Dungloon cliffs where ‘The Galleon’ sea stack may be seen. Likewise, on the opposite side, or eastern side of the bay, The Dutchman reef extends out 300 metres from the shore here.

Other than that the coast is steep-to and free from danger with 20 metres of water a ¼ of a mile off. A berth of 300 metres off the shore clears all dangers in this area.


Located 10.5 miles southeast of Glengad Head and backed by high hills, the bold, precipitous and considerably indented, Inishowen Head terminates Lough Foyle’s mountainous north shore. The abrupt precipice is free from dangers extending more than 300 metres offshore and it is well marked. Beneath the headland, there are several small and secluded fair-weather and offshore wind anchorages. Immediately to the north is Portkill Click to view haven , south Portnocker Click to view haven and further south near the lighthouse White Bay Click to view haven .

Inishowen Head marks the entrance to the extensive Lough Foyle estuary. Approximately thirteen miles long from east to west, and about 6½ miles wide is for the greater part occupied by sandbanks and mud banks. It provides several secure anchorages for leisure craft and is accessible at all states of the tide. The north shore of the lough is mountainous, terminating to seaward in the abrupt precipice of Inishowen Head. The coast progressively rises inland to the peaks of the mountain range that form the west side of the lough. The principal peak in the vicinity is the 326 metres Crocknasmug, that rises 1½ to the west of Inishowen Head. Slieve Snaght (Irish for Snow Mountain), near the middle of the Inishowen peninsula, attains an elevation of 615 metres.

The southeast shore is low and sandy and backed by the rocky precipices of the 170 metres Mount Benevenagh. Macgilligan Point, with a Martello tower and several low buildings at its extremity, terminates this low district. This forms the south point of entrance to the lough where a lighted beacon stands 0.2-mile north-northwest of the tower. At night the loom of the bright lights of a prison, situated 1.2 miles south-southeast of Magilligan Point, can be seen for many miles to seaward.

The entrance, between Macgilligan Point and the Inishowen shore, is a ½ mile wide and has a depth of 18 metres of water. Greencastle, a modern fortress, built near the ruins of the ancient castle, is on the shore opposite to Macgilligan Point and its Martello Tower. The main shipping channel resides between the Tuns Bank on the east and the Donegal’s Inishowen shore on the west.

This is called the North Channel and it is deep, steep-to on both sides. ¾ of a mile wide it is very well marked by lighted beacons and buoys all the way through the Lough to Londonderry.

The Tuns Bank extends for about three miles in a north-easterly direction from the Macgilligan shore. Its highest part dries near the south edge, which is steep-to on the west side, and it runs nearly parallel to the opposite Inishowen shore, maintaining a distance of just over ½ a mile off. You can expect to see breakers on the bank upon approach to help make its location visible and its seaward extremity is marked by a lighted Tuns buoy located approximately a mile east of Inishowen Head.

There are two available options to approach and exit Lough Foyle. Option one is the northern approach into the aforementioned North Channel to pass between the Inishowen shoreline and the Tuns Bank. A second option is an alternate approach via a South Channel that resides between the Tuns Bank and the southern shoreline to the north of Macgilligan shore.

The North Channel is the main shipping channel and is the most direct, with an average width of more than ½ a mile, has 15 to 18 metres of water at the entrance, and steep-to on both sides. The channel leads through Lough Foyle, following the northwest shoreline and is the only one leading to the entrance of the River Foyle and hence to the port of Londonderry where the Foyle Pontoon Click to view haven is available for leisure craft.

Inishowen Head provides the principal landmark. A lighted approach buoy is moored about two miles to the northeast of the head.

Lough Foyle Buoy - L Fl 10s position: 55° 15.322’N, 006° 52.616’W

The Tuns Buoy will be found next approximately a mile east of Inishowen Head.

Tuns Buoy - F1 R 3 position: 55° 14.004’N, 006° 53.440’W

Likewise the 23 metres high Inishowen Lighthouse will also be clearly visible standing on Dunagree Point. It is situated ½ a mile southwest of Inishowen Head upon Dunagree Point.

Inishowen Lighthouse - Fl (2) WRG 10s2 8m 18/14M position: 55° 13.556’N, 006° 55.749’W

Locally known as Shrove or Stroove Lighthouse it is a substantial white tower with two black bands. Inishowen Lighthouse provides a sectored light support for the commercial channel as follows Fl (2) WRG 10s W18M, W211° to 249°, R14M 249° to 360°, G14M from 197 to 211°.
Please note

There is a smaller disused lighthouse that is white with one black band situated close northeast of Inishowen Lighthouse and about midway along the rocky Dunagree Point.

Continuing south in this channel leads past anchorages in Cornashamma Bay Click to view haven and underneath Warren Point 1.4 miles southwest of Dunagree Point.

A light is shown from an 8 metre high green and white round tower (visible 232°-061°), standing on Warren Point.

Warren Point - Fl.W 1.5s 11m4M position: 55° 12.600´N, 006° 57.100´W

This is situated 1¼ miles to the southwest, on the north side of the entrance, a round white tower F1 1.5s 8m 4M with a green abutment. The anchorage of Silver Strand Click to view haven will be passed before Lough Foyle is then entered between Macgilligan point and the Inishowen shore. On the north shore, an old fort, a castle in ruins, a white tower, and a church tower all stand near the coast in the vicinity of Greencastle, one mile southwest of Warren Point. On the south side, Magilligan Point has a red pile structure light beacon off the point.

Magilligan Point - Q.R. 7m 4M position: 55° 11.700´N, 006° 58.000´W

The fishing port of Greencastle Click to view haven will be found immediately inside the entrance on the Inishowen shoreline. Likewise it is possible to anchor at Magilligan Point Click to view haven.

The South Channel, locally known as the back strand, resides between the Tuns Bank and the Macgilligan shore. It has a least depth of 3.4 metres upon approach, is about 400 metres wide at its narrowest part and, although unmarked, it is straightforward. Utilising this channel avoids rounding the Tuns Buoy on the outside so that a vessel entering and exiting Lough Foyle for or from Portrush or the River Bann can save two or three miles of sailing.

The South Channel may be addressed by coming inshore and approaching along the coast at a distance off of about 600 metres. ½ a mile before Magilligan, come closer inshore to a distance off of 400 metres, to make way through the final cut between the beach and the south side of the Tuns Bank. Once Magilligan point is abeam you are safe to head out into North Channel or vice versa.
Please note

If using the South Channel on an ebb tide be attentive to navigation as it sets strongly across the channel towards the unmarked southeast edge of Tuns Bank.

From the entrance of Lough Foyle to Sheep Island, upon the western side of Rathlin Sound, the coast is composed of a rugged broken shore, on which the black basaltic rocks are the predominant feature. There are some outlying rocks, but no hidden dangers beyond 200 metres. The whole area is subject to heavy surf, which makes landing difficult, even in the finest of weather.

From Lough Foyle to the River Bann the coast is composed of rocky precipices rising to Mount Benevenagh’s 396 metre summit a short distance inland. By contrast here the entire coastline is fronted by a sandy beach with high sand ridges in backdrop four miles east from Magilligan Point. Then, for a further two miles, rocky cliffs extend up to the entrance to the River Bann.

Notably, upon the cliff edge, just over a mile west before the entrance, a conspicuous classical temple will be seen. This is the Mussenden Temple that is a white tower approximately five metres in height. A prominent ruined castle and a radio mast stand close south and 0.8-miles east-southeast, respectively, of the temple. With the exception of the aforementioned Tuns Bank, extending three miles northeast from Magilligan Point at the Foyle entrance, this passage is clear of any danger save for the shoaling beach. A berth of at least 400 metres will keep a vessel well clear of this.

Barmouth where the River Bann enters the Atlantic
Image: Castlerock Golf Course

The River Bann entrance, known as the Barmouth, is between stone training walls that project 400 metres north from the beaches. The east pierhead has a 4.5 metre high white conical concrete tower Fl R 5s 6m 2M whilst the west pierhead has a green metal post, Fl G 5s 3m 2M.

Barmouth East Pierhead - Fl R 5s 6m 2M position: 55° 10.323'N, 006°46.338' W

Additional leading lights situated upon the west bank of the river mouth to support the entrance to the River Bann’s Click to view haven wide range of berthing opportunities.

Two miles northeast the low shoreline leads to Portstewart Point marked by a
light. A prominent radio mast stands a ½ mile south-southeast of the light on a red square concrete hut - visible 040° to 220° T.

Portstewart Point - Oc.R. 10s 21m 5M position: 55° 11.300´N, 006° 43.200´ W

Here the level sandy beach backed by a range of sand-hills rises to a rocky coast that turns north. Portstewart Point has two rocks in its immediate vicinity that should be noted. The nine-metre high Black Rock, 100 metres northeast of Portstewart Point, and a half-tide rock called Lausons Rock, 150 metres out from Black Rock. By keeping at least ½ a mile offshore the passage will be clear of all dangers. There is a small harbour close south of Portstewart Point used by leisure craft and small fishing boats. Several buildings line the waterfront and are prominent from seaward. A conspicuous convent stands a third of a mile south of the harbour.
Please note

During the second half of both flood and ebb tides a back-eddy runs along the coast between Ramore Head and the River Bann that may prove useful.

Closer in Portrush Bay shoals gradually inwards towards the strand. Upon the Bay’s west side lies Rock Doo, 200 metres out from the shore drying to 1.2 metres, and about 200 metres further to the west of it is The Moat, a half-tide rock. By keeping ½ a mile offshore, vessels approaching from the west will be clear of all dangers. There are no dangers in the bay to the western side of Ramore Head.

From Portstewart Point, a rocky shoreline leads north by northeast to 2.5 miles


Situated on the western side of Ramore Head Portrush Harbour Click to view haven is a significant harbour on one of the principal headlands of this coastline.

To the north of Ramore Head is the Skerries Island group and there are two options available to proceed east, through Skerries Sound or pass outside or north of The Skerries.

Coastal cruisers will find ample water through Skerries Sound, between Ramore Head and the southwest end of the chain. It has a 180-metre wide navigable fairway with depths of over 11 metres and the tide, although they may be disturbed on either side of the Skerries, sets fair through the Sound that is free from outlying island dangers. The Skerries Sound route makes for an interesting passage and is a broadly adopted approach. However in poor weather or visibility, and without the benefit of an experienced local boatman aboard, it would be best to avoid the unnecessary narrow channel and pass outside the Skerries.

Those taking the inshore route should examine their charts carefully and will observe the Skerries reside one mile from the shore and are formed from a chain of low rocky islets. The small chain extends for 1½ miles in a west to east direction. Carr Rocks mark the western end of the Skerries group. Situated 400 metres northeast by north of Ramore Head they uncover at half-tide and are always visible by the break upon them. Across Broad Sound is the 17 metres high Little Skerrie and then the 6 meters high Winkle Island immediately to northeast. The smaller rocks here are awash and in northwest gales the spray flies over them all. Adjoining the 10 meters high Castle Island, Large Skerrie, at the eastern end of the group, is the biggest islet, being about 200 metres across and 25 metres in height. The five metres high Black Rock marks the easternmost end of the chain and should be given a wide berth if there is any swell on, for the sea often breaks heavily to some distance around it. Vessels can obtain sheltered anchorage, during the summer, within Skerries Roadstead that lies to the south of Little Skerrie.

The Stork Rocks provides a charted eastbound line-of-bearing of 083.5°(T), or 263.5°(T) westbound reciprocal, that leads through the middle of entire Skerries Sound and it resides to the south of the island group. This is situated 2½ miles from Ramore Head on the eastern entrance to Skerries Sound. The Storks are marked by a red conical metal beacon, ball topmark, 11 metres in height.

Stork Rocks – Unlit Beacon position: 55° 13.245’N, 006° 35.408’W

It is the point-of-entry however that is the Sound’s narrowest point, between ‘Carr Rocks’ and ‘Ramore Head’ and this requires specific attention. Here the sound is 200 metres wide, although clear of danger with depths 14 metres of water through the middle, attention needs to be paid to two dangerous sunken rocks on either side.
Please note

At this narrow passage a heavy sea with strong tidal currents and overfalls are often encountered especially at the western end.

The first is a reef on the south side, off the mainland, called Reviggerly. This is a shelving rock that extends 50 metres into the sound from the east part of Ramore Head.

Opposite, on the north side of the sound, are sunken rocks just less than 100 metres to the southwest of the 5 metre high Carr Rock. The latter sunken rocks are the particular concern as the bay’s east going tide sets strongly towards Ramore Head, across the entrance of Skerrie Sound and onto these covered rocks.

The safest option, travelling either way, is to tend to the southern side of the sound or Reviggerly. Here the reliably visible partially exposed portion of the reef, exposed to a height of one metre is more visible, particularly so as it resides off the steep-to Ramore Head.

Once the sound is entered it is simply a matter of tracking along the Storks Beacon 083.5° T, or 263.5° T westbound reciprocal, eastbound line-of-bearing with plenty of water on each side. This is situated 2½ miles from Ramore Head on the eastern entrance to Skerries Sound. The Storks are marked by a red conical metal beacon, ball topmark, 11 metres in height. With the exception of the Stork Rocks, the eastern area between The Skerries and the shore is free from danger.

On closer approach The Storks will be found to be awash at high water and the sea breaks heavily over it in any swell here. The north side is steep-to with 13 metres and more depth and keeping 200 metres north clears all dangers. However, the south and east side has foul ground that extends out 300 metres. Further south, between the foul ground and the shore, there is a clear channel with up to 11 metres of water for those who would prefer close coastal cruising and there is plenty to be seen ashore.

Along the coast to the south, for the first ¾ of a mile from Portrush, is a range of sand hills followed by White Rocks Beach to the south of the Storks. Here the powerful dumping waves can be seen carving the coastal limestone into caves and huge sea sculptures with interesting names such as the ‘Elephant Rock’ and the ‘Lions Claw’. South by southwest of The Storks, at the end of the limestone cliffs, stands the magnificent ruins of Dunluce Castle.

Perched on the summit of a rocky outcrop and overhanging the sea this prominent castle is approached by a narrow causeway over a stone bridge. Underneath the castle is a particularly beautiful cavern. From here it is mainly black traprock cliffs heading east to Portballintrae where a little creek, at the west end of Bushmills Bay empties itself into the Atlantic.

Four miles east of Ramore Head is the shallow cove of Portballintrae Click to view haven that affords shelter to leisure craft. It can be easily identified by a prominent row of houses standing at the head of the bay.

East of Portballintrae the shore falls back into Bushmills Bay. Here the shoreline is broken by three miles of Bushfoot Strand’s sand hills that is named after the River Bush that flows into the Atlantic at the southwest corner alongside Portballintrae. At Bushmills Bay eastern extremity is Runkerry Point, where a small slip exists below Runkerry House.

Make note of an off-lying rock off Runkerry Point called the Mile Stone. Great Stooken, will be seen as a prominent high rocky cliff that resides between Runkerry Point and the world famous Giants Causeway.

The Giants Causeway resides close northeast of Great Stooken and 1½ miles to the west of Bengore Head. The coast in its vicinity is composed of stratified cliffs of columnar basalt. They rise almost perpendicularly from the sea to the height of 120 metres and present a remarkably bold appearance. A low platform of columnar basalt, projects into the sea out to about 200 metres from the base of the cliffs. The shore round the heads is free from outlying dangers, and steep-to. ½ a mile off the heads there are 45 metres of water that on occasions can have overfalls.
Please note

From seaward this all blends into what appears to be a highly unattractive iron-bound shoreline fringed by heavy surf. Yet this is one of the most beautiful sections of the entire Northern Ireland coastline and the Giants Causeway is one of the most popular natural tourist attractions in the world.

One mile east of the Giants Causeway is Benbane Head the northern extremity of this coast. The coast is steep here and remarkably bold in appearance with columnar basalt cliffs rising almost perpendicularly from the sea to a height of 120 metres. A conspicuous radio mast stands 2.7 miles to the south of Benbane Head. The small boat harbour of Dunseverick (otherwise known as Millport) resides 1.7 miles to the southeast of Benbane Head.
Please note

A formidable tide race exists off this headland and it is recommended that a vessel keeps at least two miles offshore of Benbane Head to avoid it.

White Park Bay is 2½ miles to the east Benbane Head and 1½ miles to the west of Sheep Island. The soundings in White Park Bay decrease gradually to the shore. ½ a mile out there is 20 metres over a sandy bottom. In front of the bay there is a sandbank with 6.6 metres of water, and 3.4 metres between it and the shore. Keep outside the 10 metres contour on the east side of the bay as there are several covered rocks that reach out 300 metres from the bay’s eastern extremity – further out than the visible straggler Long Gilbert.

In north-west gales, or when the swell is much up, the sea breaks on the bays sandbank. The bay is typically subject to a heavy swell and there is always a surf upon the beach. In calms or light winds it offers a convenient if exposed place to stop for a tide.

Five miles from Benbane Head and a ½ mile southwest of Sheep Island is Ballintoy Point. On closer approach, Ballintoy Point is surmounted by a white church with a conspicuous 16 metres high tower. The very small harbour of Ballintoy Click to view haven resides upon the east side of the point.

Ballintoy Harbour
Image: Tourism Ireland

A key offshore rock called Rock-on-Stewart with 1.6 metres of cover at LWS resides 400 metres to the northeast of Ballintoy Point. It is situated approximately 700 metres to the west of Sheep Island and 1000 metres north-northeast of the Ballintoy Church. Rock-on-Stewart breaks continuously in rough condition and may also be seen to break in settled weather. There is also a series of straggling drying rocks between Rock-on-Stewart and the shore. All of these may be cleared by keeping Fair Head well open of the rocks north of Sheep Island.
Please note

Caution is required if passing this area in northwest gales, or when a big swell is running. The sea breaks over a large sandbank called the Ballintoy Bank centred a mile to the northwest of the point and in heavy conditions, a vessel should head out to deeper water.


Continuing east Sheep Island will be found ½ a mile east northeast at the west end of Rathlin Sound. Sheep Island is a highly distinctive precipitous basaltic rock island. From the north, it conspicuously stands out from the white cliffs of Larry Bane Head that is located just over ½ a mile to the south of the island plus a similar distance east-southeast of Ballintoy Point. It is recommended that a vessel keeps at least 300 metres off the island to avoid detached rocks on its northern and eastern sides. A reef extends from the island towards the shore with 1.6 metres of cover and Larry Bane Head has rocks that extend 30 metres offshore plus further exposed and covered rocks enclosing Larry Bane Bay.

For the 7½ miles from Sheep Island to Fair Head, the coast that forms the south shore of Rathlin Sound, is composed principally of basaltic cliffs, alternating with white limestone.

Carrick-a-Rede, a rocky islet situated 0.7 of a mile east of Larry Bane Head and 1½ miles to the westward of Kinbane Head, is connected with the adjacent cliffs of the mainland by a suspension bridge thrown across the narrow strait. Originally for the convenience of the people engaged in the salmon fishery, it is now a tourist attraction. Here the cliffs attain the height of 140 metres and expose the white limestone underlying the trap.

Surmounted by the ruins of a castle Kinbane Head is located 2.3 miles east-southeast of Larry Bane Head. A conspicuous radio mast stands 1 mile to the southwest of the head. A reef extends from Kinbane Head one-third of the distance across to the Carrickmannanon Rock.

The small but dangerous Carrickmannanon Rock, uncovered on last quarter ebb, is located ½ a mile east by north from Kinbane Head the nearest point of the shore. Its outer side is steep-to and the rock is visible as it nearly always breaks and dries 0.3 of a metre. With local knowledge, vessels can pass inside Carrickmannanon Rock along the coast, but no stranger should ever attempt this. The tidal streams of Rathlin Sound rip past Carrickmannanon creating an eddy under its lee. This sets strongly back towards the rock and draws a vessel back upon it. Likewise, between the rock and the headland heavy overfalls can be expected at various points of the tide. Great caution is therefore necessary when navigating in this vicinity. A sight line of Bengore Head open of Ballintoy Point on 275° T passes more than 800 metres north of Carrickmannanon.

From here the Bay falls south into Ballycastle Bay. Located between Kinbane Head and Fair Head it faces Rathlin Island on the opposite side. Rising to the south on the mainland is the rounded 514 meters high Knocklayd summit that may be readily identified from seaward. On the shoreline at the head of a bay, 2.7 miles north of Knocklayd and 3.5 miles west-southwest of Fair Head, is Ballycastle Click to view haven harbour and marina with the town resides in a valley to the west of the pier. During fine weather, temporary anchorage can also be had within the bay. All dangers will be cleared by keeping at least six hundred metres offshore or outside the 10-metre contour.

To the north Rathlin Island lies with its western extremity located 7.2 miles east by northeast of Benbane Head. The ‘L’ shaped island is surrounded by precipitous cliffs presenting a similar appearance and structure to its opposing mainland shoreline. The island is composed of a 140 metres high table-land with the southern portion, extending about 2.5 miles in a southwest by south direction, broken into hummocks, gradually declining in height towards Rue Point on its southern end. This is a low rocky extremity situated 2¼ miles north by west from Fair Head.

Rathlin Island has a lighthouse on all three points of the island. Rathlin West is an 18-metre high tower, standing at the west side of the island, a ½ mile north of Bull Point that is the western extremity.

Rathlin West (The Bull) - Lighthouse Fl R 5s 62m 22M position: 55° 18.052’N, 006° 16.815’W

Rathlin East is a prominent 27-metre high tower standing at the northeastern end of the island.

Rathlin East (Altacarry Head) - Lighthouse Fl (4) 20s 74m 26M position: 55° 18.111’N, 006° 10.313’W

Rue Point Lighthouse is an 11 metre high a tower, standing on Rue Point, the southern extremity of the island.

Rue Point - Lighthouse Fl (2) 5s 16m 14M position: 55° 15.533’N, 006° 11.474’W

Care must be taken to avoid a dangerous wreck of the Drake that lies within the bay and is marked by a lighted South Cardinal Pillar Buoy located in the bight of the bay.

'Drake' Wreck - South Cardinal Q (6) +LFI 15s position: 55° 17.093’N, 006° 12.488W

The shores of Rathlin are clear of hidden dangers beyond the distance of 400 metres. On the western portion of the north coast, there is more than 150 metres of water a distance of 400 metres out from the shoreline. Off Altacarry Head, at the northeast corner, there is a tide-race that must be avoided by small vessels. Mac Donnel Race extends from about 0.5 to 1 mile off the headland and is fully formed about 1 hour after the tidal current setting E begins and continues until it ends. Likewise about one mile southwest of Rue Point, the southern corner, there is a dangerous race called Slough-na-more.

The little port of Church Bay Click to view haven is located in the bight formed southwest shores of Rathlin Island, between Bull Point and Rue Point.

Between Rathlin Island and the mainland coast is Rathlin Sound. With the exception of Carrickmannanon, off Kinbane Head, Rathlin Sound is clear of dangers. The water in the fairway is deep, with from 50 to 80 metres over a bottom of the rocky and coarse ground. In gales, the overfalls of Slough-na-more breaks heavily making it dangerous to leisure craft. On the island side, there is a bank of coarse sand, extending out from The Rue, nearly four miles to the west, with from 25 to 35 meters of water over it. Its southern edge is marked by a ripple occasioned by the meeting of the ebb stream with the eddy from Bull Point. The tides are rapid here as they approach from the Irish Sea. In their passage over the uneven bottom to the west of Rathlin Island cause great overfalls, which may prove challenging to small vessels. With a good sailing wind, there is no danger in the navigation of the sound. In light winds, a reliable motor is necessary to avoid being caught in the Sound’s eddies or overfalls.


The most significant landmark of this coast is the impressive Fair Head, often also called Benmore Head, that represents Ireland’s northeast corner. The mountain range bordering the coast terminates here in a flat top 190-metre high headland that extends out horizontally. A perpendicular cliff rounds the edge of Fair Head dropping down straight for 90 metres to an abrupt slope of boulders. This then descends at an almost uniform 30-degree angle to the water's edge. A deserted works of a colliery can be seen near this head. The surrounding waters are steep-to all-around with from 15 to 35 metres of water to be found a distance of 200 metres from the rocks.

Fair and Torr headlands form the northeast extremity of Ireland, and the nearest approach to the opposite coast of Scotland, which is of the same mountainous character.Between Tor Head and the Mull of Kintyre, the North Channel is just 11 miles wide, 140 metres deep and clear of hidden dangers.

From Fair head to Park Head, a distance of 18 miles, the coast presents a remarkably bold outline, being composed for the most part of rugged mountain slopes, of a more or less precipitous character, that push almost vertically out to the coast. They are composed of white limestone overlaid with black basaltic rocks. This stretch of coast is free from outlying dangers. During offshore winds a good anchorage can be obtained within Murlough Bay Click to view haven and on either side of Torr Head Click to view haven.
Please note

The mixture limestone overlaid with black basaltic rocks is a remarkable feature of this coast. The limestone was formed about 140 million years ago from the skeletal remains of fish. This was deposited when the area was submerged in a warm tropical sea.

Three miles southeast of Fair Head, and approximately five miles North of Cushendun, the aforementioned Torr Head is the next significant headland. Torr Head is surmounted by a disused coast-guard watch-house and is an elevation of 67 metres above the sea. A conspicuous radio mast stands one-mile west-northwest of this head.

On closer approach, Runabay Head, otherwise known as Carnaneigh, will be conspicuous just over two miles to the north of Cushendun Bay. It is formed by the base of a rugged mountain slope that descends sheer into the sea from a height of 260 metres.

Torr Head
Image: Tourism Ireland

Two miles to the south, and four miles south of Torr Head, Cushendun Bay is entered with its small village of Cushendun Click to view haven . Although small and exposed to east winds, during fine weather a vessel may stop a tide here and anchor off the village.
Please note

Cushendun Bay is obstructed by a wreck with 4.2 metres of cover over it that lies about a ⅓ of a mile north of the southern entrance point.

Three miles south is the extensive and picturesque Red Bay where a very good anchorage with a sandy bottom may be found in most any part of the bay. It is however exposed to north-east and east winds. The village of Cushendall Click to view haven resides on the north side of the bay and vessels anchor here immediately offshore.

About a mile to the south of the village is a small pier Gleanariff Click to view haven capable of sheltering several vessels moored in two metres at low water, but it is subject to a heavy swell in easterly winds. Yachts tend to lie off the pier head where the depths decrease gradually to the shore. The hills at the back of Red Bay rise to upwards of 330 metres and are intersected by picturesque valleys running far into the interior.
Please note

Southwest winds blow with great violence down the valleys coming off in heavy squalls in Red Bay. Vessels working their way into Red Bay should be prepared for these squalls. It should also be noted a fish farm lies about 1.2 miles east of the pier.

The south entrance point of Red Bay is the highly conspicuous Garron Point. It is a bold precipitous headland that rises abruptly to a height of 230 metres close to the shore, and 396 metres a short distance inland. A conspicuous college stands ½ a mile south of the point and is situated at the foot of some hills that rise abruptly to heights of over 230 metres.

Effectively only separated by a slight projecting curve of the coast called Straidkilly Point Carnlough Bay may be considered part of Glenarm Bay. At the north end of the bay a village is fronted by the breakwaters of the small Carnlough Click to view haven harbour. Black Rock resides off Straidkilly Point and it is always visible above water. Hills rise behind the village to heights in excess of 300 metres within a distance of a mile inland. The 430 metres high Collin Top, the highest peak, stands 3.7 miles west of the village.
Please note

Those hugging the coast whilst entering or exiting Carnlough to the north should note the position of Seal Rock residing 500 metres south of Hunters Point and approximately 150 metres offshore ½ a mile northeast of the harbour.

Glenarm Bay, immediately to the northward of Park Head, affords good anchorage with westerly and north-westerly winds but is exposed to south-easterly winds. In the south part of the bay, adjacent to the mouth of a stream, a village is fronted by a small harbour that includes Glenarm Marina Click to view haven .

The 137 metres high Park Head, a nearly vertical headland, is very prominent. A conspicuous television mast will be seen 1½ miles west of the headland. Peaks Point, its northeastern coastal extremity, has a conspicuous white building.

The eight miles of the coast from Park Head to Larne is backed by a rocky mountain range of trap rocks, attaining a height of 380 metres, that terminate at Park Head. The shoreline as far as Larne is clear of off lying dangers with good depths of up to 10 metres close in.

3½ miles to the north of Larne is Ballygalley Head. It is located 5.2 miles south-southeast of Peaks Point and 3.5 north-northwest of Larne. Ballygalley Head is an 89 metres high round knuckle with a steep cliff with a base fringed by craggy basaltic rocks. Inshore, the highest of several peaks in this vicinity, the 383 metre high Robin Young Hill will be seen to rise 2.7 miles west-southwest of Ballygalley Head. Closer in, standing on the rocks at the base of the cliffs that form the head, the ruins of the ancient castle of Ballygally will be seen. A new castle stands 0.6-mile west-southwest of the headland at the head of the small bay. During offshore winds, a good anchorage can be obtained within Ballygalley Bay on the northern side of the headland.

The Maidens reside 4 miles east-northeast from Ballygalley Head, 4.5 miles from Larne, and may be passed on either side. Steep-to all round they consist of two clusters of rocks called the West and East Maiden, separated from each other by a deep and wide sound.

The north cluster consists of three small rocks that are disposed in the form of a triangle. The western Russell’s Rock is 1.00 metre above high water, the eastern Highlandman Rock covers one hour before high water, and the southern or Allen Rock covers at high water. Rocky ledges extend both to the northward and southeast of the Allen rock whilst the others are steep-to. A Highland Rock Beacon shows their position.
Please note

It is advised to keep clear of these rocks as with the exception of the unlit Highland Rock beacon they are difficult to identify particularly near high water.

Highlandman (Highland Rock) – Unlit 1.5 m position: 54°57.286'N, 005°43.935'W

The southern cluster has the highest rocks of the group, 7.3 and 9.1 metres high. These are distinguished by two lighthouses, only one of which is active. The lighthouse on East Maiden, a white tower and black band on the East Maiden, is the active lighthouse.

East Maiden Lighthouse - Fl (3) 20s 29m 24M position: 54° 55.748’N, 005° 43.709’W

The area surrounding the eastern lighthouse is foul for 200 metres to the north, and a reef extends for more than ½ a mile in a southwest by south direction. Portions of this reef uncover at low water and its southern extreme is marked by Lough Mouth Bushes. This is a rock that never covers and is a metre above high water. The reef is steep-to and a short distance of 400 metres to the eastward of it will have 50 metres of water, and at the same distance to the southwest of it 24 metres of water. The remains of an older lighthouse, taken out of service in 1903, is highly conspicuous on West Maiden. This rock’s surrounding area is clear of danger.

2½ miles northeast of the entrance Larne Lough is the 0.8 metre Hunter Rock. Hunter Rock is steep-to all round, with from 14 to 25 metres within 200 metres, and a clear channel between it and the shore that provides as much as 38 metres of water. Hunter Rock may be passed on either side and is well-marked by North and South Cardinal Light buoys.

North Hunter - VQ position: 54° 53.046’N, 005 45.114’W

South Hunter - VQ (6) + LFl 10s position: 54° 52.691’N, 005 45.284’W

This shoal is the only other danger in this vicinity.

Just over three miles south-southeast of Ballygalley Head, is the entrance to Larne Lough or Lough Larne . The very busy port of Larne, a major terminal for vehicle and passenger ferries, lies near the entrance and the town stands on its western side. In the approach to the Lough, the cliffs on the west side rise inland are high mountainous peaks. Prominent amongst these, 4.8 miles west of Sandy Point, stands the 471 metres high Agnew Hill. Chaine Tower, a tall grey tower with conical top standing on the outer end of the short pier of Sandy Point marks the western side of the entrance to Larne Lough.

Chaine Tower – Lighthouse Iso WR 5s 23m 16/12M position: 54° 51.270’N, 005° 47.878’W

Approximately 700 metres east-southeast of Chaine Tower is Ferris Point a disused lighthouse with its square white watch tower and surrounding white walls upon the opposite, eastern, side. A notable tower stands on Barr Point, ½ a mile northeast of Ferris Point. ½ a mile south of Ferris Point stands the red brick Ballylumford Power Station with three 126 metres high concrete chimneys.

The Lough is entered between Sandy Point and Ferris Point, 0.3 of a mile to the southeast, where Sandy Point sectored light (grey tower White 230°-240°, Red - shore, obscured - 230°) supports night access. Several lit channel markers lead into the entrance.
Please note

Leisure craft should take care not to impede commercial traffic approaching Larne. There are as many as eight thousand ship movements a year here, twenty four hours a day. Most ships head directly to Scotland by passing south of the Maidens. Occasionally vessels, that are awaiting berthing space in Larne, do pass to the north and then inside the Maidens.

Inside the Lough presents a large surface at high water that is mostly shallow and obstructed in its inner reaches by extensive flats. Nevertheless Larne Harbour Click to view haven and the Lough provide several anchoring opportunities for leisure craft with excellent shelter. Outside the bay there are also anchoring opportunities in Ferris Bay Click to view haven and Brown’s Bay Click to view haven the northern most part of Islandmagee. This is the thumb of land that encloses the Lough.


Give Skernaghan Point, the northernmost point of Islandmagee, a berth of 500 metres to avoid a rocky outcrop that stretches out northward from it. Located 1.1 miles east-northeast of the entrance to Larne Lough Skernaghan Point will be seen 15 to 31 metre high precipitous cliffs. A prominent 37-metre high radio mast stands 1.2 miles southeast of the point.

Upon rounding Skernaghan Point, continue southeast alongside Islandmagee’s three miles of precipitous cliffs, ranging in height from 15 to 31 metres, is the Isle of Muck with the little harbour of Portmuck Click to view haven on the Islandmagee coastline.

The Isle of Muck is 37 metres high and is a bare, green island presenting perpendicular sea-facing cliffs to the east. The island is attached to the shore by a narrow neck of shingle beach. Round the eastern seaward side of the island and keep at least a hundred metres off the north-most point.
Please note

The Isle of Muck is attached to the shore by a narrow neck of shingle beach that exposes at low water. It is possible to achieve up to two metres at high water springs over the narrow connecting ridge and pass between the islet and Islandmagee shore. However one would need to be paying attention to tides and timing plus a vessel's draft to be certain of the requisite depth. Hence we recommend that the island is rounded on the outside.

South of the Isle of Muck to Black Head the coast of Islandmagee presents a steep perpendicular cliff, composed of black basaltic rocks, that at The Gobbins is 45 metres high, with deep water close in to Black Head.

Located five miles south-southeast of Isle of Muck Black Head marks the northern extremity of Belfast Lough. It is bordered by an almost vertical cliff with a rounded knuckle on its summit. The prominent 128 metres high Muldersleigh Hill, rises ½ a mile west northwest of the head. The conspicuous white 16-metre high tower that is Blackhead Lighthouse stands on the head.

Blackhead Lighthouse - Fl 3s 45m 27M position: 54° 46.016’N, 005° 41.338’W

South of Black Head the entrance to Belfast Lough opens 6.75 miles wide between the headland and Orlock Point on the south. The Lough is twelve miles long with the port of Belfast Click to view haven at its head. The shores are backed by lofty hills, over 300 metres high, that rise inland to the west and southwest. It's navigable area is free of dangers with an average depth of 11 metres.

Between Black Head and Carrickfergus the coast of Belfast Lough presents itself as a vertical black basaltic rock cliff face. 1½ miles inside Belfast Lough to the south-southwest of Black Head are the 90 metres high white limestone cliffs White Head. Immediately northeast is the town of White Head Click to view haven with a fair weather anchorage.

Three lit jetties associated with Kilroot Power Station, along with a conspicuous 198-metre high chimney, will be encountered southwest of Whit Head. The first is the Cloghan Jetty located two miles southwest of Black Head off Cloghan Point. This jetty extends out from the shore for more than ½ a mile and is lit at the end Fl G 3s 2M. Beyond the pierhead, a green buoy resides ½ a mile off the pier head.

Cloghan Jetty – Starboard buoy Q G position: 54° 44.121’N, 005° 41.599’W

Next is the 350 metres long Salt Jetty off Kilroot, with a light Oc G 10s on its outer end. 0.75M W of the jetty is a 198-metre high chimney marked by red vertical lights.

Finally, there is the Kilroot Jetty unloading berth marked by 2 FG (vert) 6m 2M lights.

Don’t come inshore in the area between Kilroot and Carrickfergus Click to view haven harbour and marina as a drying shoal extends up to ½ a mile out from the shore. Carrickfergus Castle, sitting on a rocky promontory overlooking the seafront, immediately east of the harbour will be highly conspicuous on the north shore.

Belfast Lough’s central marker is the Fairway Light buoy, L Fl 10s, situated in the middle of the lough between Carrickfergus and Grey Point on the opposite shore.

Fairway Light buoy - L Fl 10s position: 54° 41.710' N, 005° 46.225' W

(Eastern Approaches)

Vessels approaching Belfast Lough from the east will find the Copeland Islands of moderate elevation, distinguished by a lighthouse on the westernmost Mew Island situated 2.7 miles northeast of Orlock Point.

Those approaching from the east and outside Copeland Islands should leave Mew Island well to port. Mew Island Lighthouse presents a light from a conspicuous 37-metre high tower that stands at the northeast end of the island.
Please note

The ‘Northern Race’ and ‘Ram Race’ that occur at various stages of the tide to the east of Mew and Copeland Islands are highly uncomfortable in strong conditions and should be avoided.

Mew Island Lighthouse - Fl (4) 30s 37m 24M position: 54° 41.923’N, 005° 30.824’W

Once past Mew, proceed past Lighthouse Island that resides close west of Mew Island and is surmounted by a disused light tower and several prominent buildings.

Continue into Belfast Lough’s open navigable waters to the aforementioned Fairway Light buoy, L Fl 10s, situated in the middle of the Lough. A central path is free of dangers and has plenty of depth all the way up to and beyond the Fairway Light buoy.
Please note

In rough weather it is advisable not to approach these islands within depths of less than 30 metres.

(Copeland Islands Approach)

The coastal area between Belfast Lough and Strangford Lough, a distance of 23 miles, is that of the Ards Peninsula. This is the thumb of land that separates Strangford Lough from the sea and it has almost an island feel owing to its remoteness by road. The coastline characteristic is that of a low rocky shore that is skirted by dangerous reefs and backed by a succession of low undulating hills. The Lough’s southern shore is comparatively low and unremarkable except at Grey Point, a bluff 23 metre high point, with Helen’s Bay Click to view haven immediately to the east.

Bangor’s harbour walls plus the towns dominating steeples will be highly visible north of Bangor Bay Click to view haven. Keep a watch out for Club Racing Buoys, whilst crossing Ballyholme Bay Click to view haven, the bay immediately east of Bangor Bay, and give Ballymacormick Point ½ a mile clearance before entering Groomsport Bay Click to view haven where Groomsport’s church spire will be visible.

The southern entrance to Belfast is marked by Orlock Point. A prominent coastguard station, with a flagstaff, stands on the point itself and ½ a mile to the southeast a conspicuous water tower will be seen. Shoals, part of which dry, and foul ground extend up to about 0.8 miles to the northwest of Orlock Point and are marked on their seaward side by the South Briggs lighted buoy.

South Briggs - Red Can Buoy Fl (2) R 10s position: 54° 41.182’N, 005° 35.732’W

The run from the Fairway Light buoy to the South Briggs buoy is straightforward across Belfast Lough’s open navigable waters that have ample depth and are free of dangers.

The Copeland Islands, consisting of three islands, Lighthouse, Mew and Copeland Island, lie off the southern side of the entrance to Belfast Lough. The nearest and largest island of the group is the immediate Copeland Island, 1.7 miles east of Orlock Point, that faces the mainland shore across Donaghadee Sound. The island is fronted by rocks, shoals, and foul ground. The western side of the island hosts the anchorages of Chapel Bay Click to view haven and Port Dandy Click to view haven .

The two options available to pass this group is either; go well outside the Copelands group, or go through Donaghadee Sound that resides between the mainland and the islands.

Those taking the outside route, out and around the Copeland Islands, should pass well clear of Mew Island.
Please note

The ‘Northern Race’ and ‘Ram Race’ that occur at various stages of the tide to the east of Mew and Copeland Islands may be highly uncomfortable in strong conditions and should be avoided.

There is an additional Copeland Sound option for those who want to round Copeland Island and then cut in between the islands. This leads between the northeast side of Copeland Island and the south sides of Lighthouse Island and Mew Island. This channel is navigable but its eastern side is almost entirely obstructed by unmarked shoals over which strong tidal currents set and cause heavy overfalls. It should only attempt with the benefit of local knowledge and be entirely avoided by a stranger to the area.

The normal leisure craft route, making their way along this coast in and out of Belfast Lough, is Donaghadee Sound provided tidal streams are favourable. The Sound is on the south side of Copeland Island off the mainland coast. A fairway channel, that has charted depths of no less than 6 metres, leads through the sound and is marked by lighted buoys. The tidal currents in this sound sets almost in the direction of the channel.

Pass the South Briggs Red Can Buoy well to starboard as it marks a dangerous reef that extends from the shore. Likewise, the area north of Orlock Point should be avoided out to a distance of at least 250 metres to avoid off-lying dangers. From here take the shipping channel through the middle of Donaghadee Sound passing between the mainland and Copeland Island by aligning upon the Foreland Red Can Buoy off Foreland Point.

Foreland Red Can Buoy - Fl R 6s position: 54° 39.640’N, 005° 32.307’W

Located two miles southeast of Orlock Point, Foreland Point is fronted by rocks and shoals that are marked by a beacon. A shallow spit, called the Foreland Spit, extends north for about 0.4 miles from the point terminating to the south of the Foreland Buoy.

Although at the northern entry point the sound is almost a mile wide, between Copeland Island and the mainland to the southwest, foul ground called the Magic Rocks extend nearly half way from Copeland Island’s southwest side. Then Deputy Reef, marked by a red buoy, is situated nearly in the middle of the southern fairway. These contract the channel through the sound to a ¼ of a mile in width. This, however, is well marked for vessels entering and exiting Belfast Lough by the buoyed shipping channel. Pass the Foreland Buoy to starboard and then between the Deputy and Governor buoys.
Please note

Donaghadee Sound streams achieve 4.5 knots in places so tidal planning is essential and great care should be taken during the passage. Only vessels that can achieve speeds in excess of 10 knots should enter against the tidal flows and beware of heavy rips, with overfalls at times, in the constriction close northeast of the Foreland Spit beacon

Deputy Green Can Buoy - Fl G 2s position: 54° 39.513’N, 005° 31.944’W

Governor Red Can Buoy - Fl R 3s position: 54° 39.360’N, 005° 31.991’W

The small Donaghadee Harbour Click to view haven, lies 0.7 miles southeast of Foreland Point and will be clearly identified ashore by its substantial cut stone piers. The Donaghadee Light (white tower, 16 metres in height sectored Red 326°-shore, White-326°) stands on the head of South Pier.

Donaghadee Harbour - Iso.W.R. 4s 17m W.18/R.14M position: 54° 38.7´ N, 005° 31.8´ W
Those who venture inshore here should note the position of the Wee Scotchman Rocks. This is a sunken ledge with less than 2 metres in places that extends 300 metres east-northeast from the Donaghadee Light off the South Pier. Copelands Marina Click to view haven resides 600 metres south of the Donaghadee Harbour.


From Donaghadee to Millisle the coast’s off-lying rocks do not extend more than a half a mile off shore, and are steep-to, with 13 metres close outside them. From Millisle to the southward as far as Ballyferris Point, located 4.2 miles south-southeast of Donaghadee outlying rocks extend to the distance of nearly ¾ of a mile off; some of these uncover, on others, there are from 1.8 to 3.6 metres at low water. Noteworthy amongst these are the outer edges of Craiganadam, Selk Rocks, Barge Rocks and Shaws Rocks. The coastline here is largely made up of shingle and sand beaches.

From Ballyferris Point and Ballywalter the coast sees the commencement of a series of rocks that run along the shore for a distance of nearly two miles and are barely covered at high tides.

It commences with The Reef, at the northern end, and terminates in Long Rock at the southern end. The outer edge of this rock group run in a north by northwest direction from the Long Rock, and are steep-to a ⅓ of a mile where 12 metres of water can be found.

Ballywalter village stretches along the shore within the bay to the South of Long Rock. The pier of Ballywalter Click to view haven is situated two miles south of Ballyferris Point. At the head of the breakwater, there is a steel column with a sectored light showing Green 240°-267°, White -277°, Red - 314°.

Ballywalter - Fl.W.R.G. 1.5s 4m 9M position: 54° 32.7´N, 005° 28.800´W

¾ of a mile to the south by east of Long Rock resides Skullmartin Rock and the town stretches along the shore within the Skullmartin Rock. The rock lies nearly a mile out from the shore, is steep-to on its north and east sides, dries to 1.2 metres and is covered at half-tide. Between Skullmartin and the shore, on the southwest side, there is Little Skullmartin reef extending from the shore towards the rock, in an east-northeast direction. A narrow inshore passage does reside between them with from 5 to 7 metres of water. However, the passage inside it is very foul and only people well acquainted with the coast should venture inside Skullmartin Rock. Skullmartin is marked by a conspicuous red 11 metres high mast with cage and flag topmark.

Skullmartin Beacon – Unlit position: 54° 32.327’N, 005° 27.154’W

A further red and white Skullmartin Safe Water spherical buoy is moored 1.4 miles east by southeast.

Skullmartin Safe Water Buoy - LFl 10s buoy position: 54° 31.848’N, 005° 24.910’W

South of Skullmartin is Ballyhalbert Bay Click to view haven that is a clean open.

Three miles south by southeast of Skullmartin Rock and 400 metres east of Burr Point is Burial Island, the easternmost point of Ireland. The visible island is the highest part of a reef of rocks that extends nearly half a mile in a north/south direction and is about 400 metres wide. The northern portion of the reef is just awash at high water. The small spot to which the name of Burial Island applies is on the inner edge of the reef, near to its southern end. It has an elevation of 8 metres above high water springs when it appears very small. On its north and east sides, the reef is steep-to, and clear from danger. A rocky shoal extends a mile to the southward of it, with patches of 2.7 and 3.4 metres of water on it.

A channel exists between Burial Island and Ballyhalbert Point, narrowed by a spit of gravel extending from the latter to about 100 metres in width, and it carries a depth of 2 metres at low water. However, passing outside, keeping at least 600 metres east of the island, would be the preferred path to proceed north past Ballyhalbert Bay.

1½ miles to the south of Burial Island and one-third of a mile from the shore lay the McCammon Rocks. These cover at high water but depths of 12 metres will be found just 300 metres eastward.

Two miles south of Burial Island is the busy fishing harbour Portavogie Click to view haven. Portavogie town stands mainly on its north side of it protective breakwaters. Upon the South Pier there is a sectored light in a square masonry tower that shows Green shore-258°, White -275°, Red -348°.

Portavogie Harbour – Iso.W.R.G. 5s 9m 10-8M position: 54° 27.400´N, 005° 26.100´W

More than ½ a mile from the shoreline resides Plough Rock that covers at half flood and dries to 3 metres but has almost twenty metres of water as little as 300 metres distance to the east of it. The Plough Rock marker buoy resides 300 metres to the northeast, ½ mile east-southeast of the harbour entrance, also marking the southern edge of the Portavogie white light sector.

Plough Rock - Fl R 3s position: 54° 27.389’N, 005° 25.104’W

1½ miles to the south by east of Plough Rock is a significant cluster of rocks called the North Rocks. North Rocks, with its breeding Grey Seals, is an irregular bank of rocks and gravel that only cover on spring tides. It extends nearly ¾ of a mile in an east and west direction. A narrow spit of gravel, called the Kirkistown Spit, extends from North Rock to Ringboy Point on the mainland and this spit forms the northern boundary of Cloghy Bay. A red painted stone pillar beacon stands, 12 metres above high water on the eastern end of North Rocks, about 150 metres inside from the eastern drying edge. This makes the rock identifiable in most conditions.

North Rock Beacon – Unlit position: 54° 25.638’N, 005° 24.970’W

Vessels can anchor in a northeast wind, in a depth of 7.3 metres, over coarse sand, west-southwest of the beacon on the North Rock.

Three miles to the southeast is the next key marker the South Rock Light Float that marks the South Rock cluster.

South Rock Light Float - Fl (3) R 30s 12m 20M position: 54° 24.478’N, 005° 21.993’W

The name is unmistakably written in white letters on each side. The red-hulled structure with a light-tower and white mast on the foredeck is stationed one-mile east-by-north of the extensive cluster of rocks it marks.

South Rock is part of an extensive group of covered rocks that are barely covered at high water. Some rocks appear at low water, others never uncover, however, the tide always creates a rippling over the bank, and in strong breezes, there is a heavy breaking sea on it. Amidst the cluster is the primary South Rock that is the largest of the rocks and dangers. This is always uncovered and easily identified as it hosts an old and now disused Lighthouse.

South Rock - (Disused Lighthouse) position: 54° 23.948’N, 005° 25.148’W

Vessels with a deeper draft should also note that approximately midway between North and South Rocks is The Breast, a rocky shoal with 2.1 metres of cover.

The next key marker is the Butter Pladdy east cardinal that resides two miles to the southwest. This is situated one mile southeast of Kearney Point on the mainland and 800 metres east of the cluster it marks.

Butter Pladdy – East Cardinal Q (3) 10s position: 54° 22.453’N, 005° 25.741’W

The Butter Pladdy is a 400 metres wide cluster of rocks that range in depths from 1.8 to 4 metres of water. The east cardinal is placed to the east of the shoal as a guide to vessels taking the offshore route along this coast. This is the best approach as on the north side of Butter Pladdy, approximately 200 metres from the centre and clearly marked Admiralty Chart 2156, there is a wreck of a steel ship that only uncovers at low water. Unless at low water, where the wreck is clearly visible, this complicates an inshore passage up the western side of Butter Pladdy’ making the offshore the preferred approach.

Vessels with a deeper draft should also note that approximately midway between Butter Pladdy and South Rocks is the Crooked Pladdy, with 2.1 metres and deep water all around. If passing inshore to the west of South Rock, often advantageous in clear weather when running against a foul tide, make note of the position of Privateer Rock, also with 2.1m over it, ½ a mile north by northwest of Crooked Pladdy.

The low shelving Kearney Point is foul out to a distance of 400 metres all round. The ruins of a windmill will be seen upon it and a village a little to the northward.
From Kearney Point, the shore runs 3 miles in a south-westerly direction to Ballyquintin Point the northern side of the entrance to Strangford Lough.

On the north shore of the entrance to Strangford Lough is Ballyquintin Point that marks the southern extremity of the Ards Peninsula. It is low and shelving, but further back, the Ballywhite Hills above Portaferry, are high and conspicuous, attaining an elevation of 99 metres. Tara Hill, with a prominent old fort on its summit, stands 1.5 miles to the north of the point. Bar Pladdy South Cardinal 400 metres to starboard, off Ballyquintin Point.

Bar Pladdy - South Cardinal Q (6) +L Fl. 15s position: 54° 19.344’N, 005° 30.501’W

The Strangford Lough Marker Light Float approach marker is situated 1½ miles to the southeast of Ballyquintin Point.

Strangford Light Float - LFl 10s position: 54° 18.626’N, 005° 28.689’W

The highly attractive sailing destination of Strangford Lough is entered between Ballyquintin Point and Killard Point 1.2 miles to the southwest. In the middle of the entrance is Angus Rock, about ½ a mile long and 200 metres wide, of which the greater part uncovers at low water. Upon it stands the Angus Rock Lighthouse, a white tower with a red top.

Angus Rock - Lighthouse Fl. R. 5s 15m 6M position: 54° 19.843’N, 005° 31.520’W

The Narrows lead north-northwest for five miles into Strangford Lough and several sheltered anchorages are available for cruising vessels, at all stages of tide, in various parts of the entrance and the wider Lough itself. The tidal window for an approach, or exit, along with its waypoints and pilotage, are separately covered in the Route Entering and exiting Strangford Lough Route location.

Vessels continuing south may avail of the Southbound Route location Strangford Lough to Dublin Bay Description also available in ‘Routes’.
What is the best sailing time?
May to September is the traditional Irish Sailing season with June July offering the best weather. June and July’s statistical incidence of strong winds are however two days of winds up to force seven. As such, depending on personal sailing preferences, a vessel may expect to be held-up or enjoy robust sailing conditions. Ireland is not subject to persistent fog. Statistically complete days of persistent fog occur less than once in a decade.

Are there any security concerns?
Never been a security issue known to have occurred sailing off the Irish coast.

With thanks to:
inyourfootsteps.com research. Photography with thanks to Joyce and Mervyn Norris of Trean House Farmhouse Bed & Breakfast.

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