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Entering and exiting Strangford Lough

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What is the route?
These are a set the tidal windows and waypoints to assist in entering, exiting and navigating through Strangford Narrows. The sequence of description is from south to north as follows.

  • • Passes East of Angus Rock

  • • East of Meadow

  • • West of Routen Wheel

  • • West of the Seagen Isolated Danger Marker

The preceding east coast set of waypoints and coastal description is available by clicking 'Previous', above, and vessels planning on continuing southward, beyond Dublin Bay, can find the following set of waypoints and coastal description by click 'Next'.

Why sail this route?
Up until about the 18th century, the main body of the loch was better known by its Irish name Loch Cuan, meaning ‘sea-inlet of bays/havens’ which is entirely fitting. For Strangford Lough provides cruisers with all-weather, all-tide shelter and at least seventy islands, along with many islets called pladdies, bays, coves, inlets and headlands to explore. All of which lie peacefully within a natural Marine Conservation Zone with a handful of pretty County Down villages around its rural shore. It is the finest sheltered sailing area in Ireland and it offers 60 square miles of pure cruising delight to all who come here.

Tidal overview
Today's summary tidal overview for this route as of Wednesday, October 5th at 15:25. Best exit lending itself to northbound passage is at the start of the ebb, best exit leading itself to a southbound passage is at the end of the ebb.

Best Exit (ebb)

(HW Belfast +0140 to -0440)


(Tidal flow )

Ends in 00:07:05

(Wed 09:28 to 15:33)

Best Entry (flood)

(HW Belfast -0420 to +0120)

Starts in 00:29:05

(Wed 15:55 to 21:35)

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 entrance to Strangford Lough overlooked by Kilclief Castle
Image: Michael Harpur

The name 'Strangford' comes from Old Norse Strangr-fjörðr, meaning 'strong sea inlet which refers to The Narrows that link the upper Lough to the sea between the entrance and villages of Strangford and Portaferry. With a maximum Spring Rates attaining 7.6 knots in the Narrows, timing is everything when it comes to entering Strangford Lough.

Trying to enter with any ebb running out of the Lough could have a vessel buffeted by standing waves and stood still in currents that attain 7.5 knots in various parts of the Narrows. As a minimum, all vessels should plan to enter with the flood and leave with the ebb, preferably at slack water. Likewise, and although well marked and lit, local knowledge is required to negotiate the Narrows at night so a first visit should be in daylight. This limits the approach to daylight, at around the turn of the tide which will most likely only happen once in daylight, which all makes advance tidal planning essential.

The narrows leading to Strangford Lough above Kilclief
Image: Michael Harpur

Admiralty Chart 2159 Strangford Narrows or a reliable plotter at the helm should be considered essential. Strangford Lough should be avoided in any strong onshore winds. Heavy breaking seas will be encountered one and a half miles southeast of the entrance. Worst of all is a southeasterly on an ebb or rise where furious standing waves and overfalls will result.


  • • The flood starts in The Narrows at HW Belfast -3½ hours and runs for 6 hours.

  • • The ebb starts in The Narrows at HW Belfast +2½ hours.

  • • 15-minute period of slack water, as the tides reverse, and the streams run at 3 kn ± 1 hour.

East Channel, in-going 5 kn; out-going stream 7.5 kn at springs. Streams are almost simultaneous throughout the narrows and the period of slack water is very short as the tides reverse. The stream runs in line with the Narrows except to the north of Angus Rock where the flood and ebb run north-west and south-east respectively.
Please note

HW Strangford is 1 hr 52 mins after HW Belfast. As Belfast is Dover +0007 the tide books are generally interchangeable.


Best entry time: Between Belfast High Water -0420 and +0120. The best time for newcomers to arrive and make an entry is at the end of the ebb so as to make an entry at slack water or on the young flood before the flow really gets going. This keeps the speed over the ground nearer what a helmsman is accustomed to. The last hour of the flood is best avoided in the event that there is not enough time to complete the passage through the narrows before the tides reverse.

Best exit time - lending itself to southbound vessels : Be south of Angus Rock by Belfast High Water -0440. Normally a boat capable of achieving 5 - 6 knots should leave Strangford, or the Portaferry pontoons, about 30 minutes earlier and take the strong ebb tide down the Narrows. The ‘best exit time’ facilitates a southbound voyage as, upon exiting the Narrows, the flood tide in the Irish Sea will flow southwestward for about 5 hours afterwards.

Good exit time, lending itself to northbound vessels : Be south of Angus Rock by Belfast High Water +0140. This normally means leaving Strangford or the Portaferry pontoon at BHW +0040 and fighting the last of the flood tide down the narrows. This exit time better suits northbound vessels as, upon exiting the Narrows, there is a favourable northward flowing ebb tide in the Irish Sea for about 4 hours. But there cannot be any delay with this exit or it could lead to an encounter with the significant overfalls off the entrance to the narrows. These are created by the ebb tide flowing south-eastward out of the narrows and colliding with the Irish Sea’s north-eastward flow. A way to evade the worst of this is to steer to pass close to Bar Pladdy South Cardinal Mark and out eastwards where the water to the north of the overfalls will be found to be calmer.
Please note

It is essential to check the prevailing weather conditions before exiting. A notably dangerous situation can occur if a vessel exits into any strong onshore winds as it will not be possible to turn back against the tide to regain safe water and a vessel will be pushed out into the overfalls. Heavy breaking seas will be encountered one and a half miles south-east of the entrance in strong onshore winds. Worst of all is a south-easterly on an ebb where furious standing waves and overfalls will result.


Northern Approach Vessels approaching from the north will find Bangor Marina an ideal tide wait location. The best time to depart the marina is about two hours before low water. This enables a vessel to pick up on an early starting back-eddy in Donaghadee Sound and then to continue with the benefit of the southerly flood tide that commences at HW Belfast / Dover +0500 hours. Departing at this time provides about nine hours of a fair tide for the 25-mile passage to the Strangford Lough fairway buoy.

This should provide most boats with ample time to pass a couple of miles outside the off laying rocks and islands and arrive in time to pick up a favourable tide at the Narrows. Good waypoints would be the buoys of Donaghadee Sound, Skullmartin Light, South Light, Butter Pladdy Cardinal and then to the first of our sequence but do not cut the corner at Ballyquintin Point as the dangerous Quintin Rocks extend out a ¼ of a mile from the point. This route can be found in the Northeastern Ireland Coastal Description Malin Head to Strangford Lough Route location. Those who would like some coastal pilotage can choose to pass inside the South Rock, and then pass close east of the Butter Pladdy East Cardinal.

Southern Approach Vessels approaching from the south will find routeing information in the Easter Ireland Coastal Description Strangford Lough to Dublin Bay Route location. Optimised tidal for the passage are covered in the Bangor to Dublin, either way, with 12 hours of favourable tide Route location.

Those arriving at an inconvenient time will find Ardglass Harbour (Phennick Cove Marina) Click to view haven, 5 miles south-westward of the entrance, offers the ideal tide wait location to perfectly time an approach.


The East Channel is the principal approach to Strangford Lough. It passes in approximately midway between the entrances Killard and Ballyquintin points, then to the east of Angus Rock Lighthouse before taking a central path after passing Kilclief Castle on the western shore.
Please note

There is an alternate approach via the West Channel that leads over the bar to the west of Angus Rock between the rocks connecting Killard Point and The Potts rocks. It has a least charted depth of 3.9 metres and is narrowed to about 200 metres at one point by two sunken rocks that are unmarked. Small craft can use this channel to avoid the strength of the tidal current in East Channel as it is possible to enter during the tail end of the out-going stream and make some headway west of Angus Rock before the stream has finished. It is important to note that low water in the West Channel occurs about 1.30 hours before the ebb stops and the in-going stream flows strongly towards Tail of Angus so keep well westward of it where there is ample water after entering.


The complete course is 6.15 miles from the waypoint 'Strangford Narrows Approach' to 'Strangford Lough' tending in a north north westerly direction (reciprocal south south easterly).

Strangford Narrows Approach, 54° 18.615' N, 005° 30.000' W
This is just over a ½ mile east of St. Patrick’s Rocks, that is located 600 metres to the south-east of Killard Point. It is on the bearing of 323.7° T of Angus Rock Lighthouse, south and about midway of a line drawn between the Bar Pladdy South Cardinal light and Strangford Safewater buoy.

       Next waypoint: 1.06 miles, course 324.14°T (reciprocal 144.14°T)

East Channel, 54° 19.470' N, 005° 31.060' W
This aligns the 341°T leading light beacon off Dogtail Point, front; Oc(4)G.10s, 2 metres high red beacon, and Gowland Rocks, rear; Oc(2)G.10s 5 metres high white stone beacon, green top, to pass Angus Rock Lighthouse about 300 metres to port. It is 'Track A' on Admiralty 2159.

       Next waypoint: 0.83 miles, course 341.03°T (reciprocal 161.03°T)

Meadows Shoal, 54° 20.250' N, 005° 31.520' W
This is when Kilclief Castle will be seen on the western shore, bearing 260°T, and the vessel will be north of Meadows. The course now turns slightly westward, 'Track B' Admiralty 2159, on the line of bearing of 330° T of the Salt Rock Light beacon an 8 metre white stone, with a red top Fl. R.3s.

       Next waypoint: 0.78 miles, course 330.13°T (reciprocal 150.13°T)

Cross Roads, 54° 20.930' N, 005° 32.190' W
This is between Cross Roads and Dogtail Point. The course now turns slightly northward, 'Track C' Admiralty 2159, 343° T up the centre, passing west of Gowland Beacon, Routen Wheel and the Seagen.

       Next waypoint: 1.47 miles, course 342.77°T (reciprocal 162.77°T)

Strangford Harbour, 54° 22.335' N, 005° 32.938' W
This is where Admiralty 2159 'Track C' crosses the alignment of 256°T of the Strangford leading lights.

       Next waypoint: 0.29 miles, course 342.63°T (reciprocal 162.63°T)

Church Point, 54° 22.607' N, 005° 33.084' W
This is abreast of Church Point and 1½ miles south-westward from Portaferry Marina. The route now turns north-westward, on Admiralty 2156 Track D, for a distance of 1¾ miles, on 306° T, into Strangford Lough.

       Next waypoint: 1.72 miles, course 306.02°T (reciprocal 126.02°T)

Strangford Lough, 54° 23.620' N, 005° 35.478' W
The is in the southeast corner of Strangford Lough, ½ a mile westward of Ballyhenry Island.


From the 'Approach to Strangford Narrows' waypoint steer for Angus Rock Lighthouse, a white tower with a red top, on a bearing of 323.7 °T located in mid-channel and 1 mile north of the entrance's western Killard Point.

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

The Angus Rock tower with Kilclief in the backdrop
Image: MS Drone Films External link

The route passes ½ a mile to the northeast of St. Patrick's Rocks, close east Killard Point. It is a rock that dries to 3.1 metres which is marked by a red unlit beacon.

St Patrick's Rocks - Red Beacon position: 54° 18.584’N, 005° 30.937’W

The Angus Rock tower with the obelisk beacon standing on Tail of Angus.
Image: MS Drone Films External link

Then it passes about 400 metres to the southwest of the Bar Pladdy South Cardinal ½ a mile south of the entrance's eastern Ballyquintin Point.

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

At about ½ a mile from the lighthouse, when the north end of Portaferry town comes open to the west of Bankmore Hill, located at Rue Point, you will have arrived in the East Channel.

From the 'East Channel' waypoint the course turns slightly eastwards taking a north by north-west direction to leave Angus Rock to port.

Align the Gowland Rocks and Dogtail point beacons on 341° T. The front leading light beacon off Dogtail Point; Oc(4)G.10s is 2 metres high red beacon and the rear Gowland Rocks Oc(2)G.10s, is 5 metres high white stone beacon, green top.

Take this new bearing and leave Angus Rock Lighthouse, 300 metres to port. Only the crest of the rock shows but a drying ledge extends ½ a mile southward and 300 metres to the north of the light tower.

Pladdy Lug, marked by a large pile beacon made up of glazed white tiles stands, will be seen opposite on the eastern shore off Ballyquintin Point, is passed 500 metres to starboard. The area within Pladdy Lug is foul with rocks and drying reefs, as is the case with both shorelines from the entrance up to Rue Point.

Pladdy Lug – position: 54° 19.826’N, 005° 30.812’W

Continue on this track until Kilclief Castle, a conspicuous square castle about ¾ of a mile away on the western shore, bears 260° to safely clear Meadows Shoal to port. This is an area with 2.3 metres CD of cover at its shallowest southern end.
Please note

Prepare for the flood to run north-westward north of Angus Rock carrying the vessel across the Meadows Shoal.

Kilclief Castle standing conspicuous on the western shore
Image: Michael Harpur

From the Meadows Shoal waypoint onward, a mid-channel route is free of obstruction so you may enjoy the ride. The helmsman should be mindful that The Narrows’ rocky and uneven bottom can cause eddies and overfalls to occur throughout the channel, particularly when heavy weather collides with the full run of the tide.

The southern half of The Narrows as seen from Cross Roads
Image: Michael Harpur

The most important area to be aware of is the Routen Wheel approximately 500 metres south of Rue Point. The two respective stone beacons of Salt Rock and Gowland Island, locally known as the pepper pots, mark the southern approaches to the whirlpool which is about 200 metres above and on the east side of the fairway. It is here that the outgoing tidal stream attains its fastest rate of 7.5 knots at springs. It can be seen in a series of whirlpools, boils and swirling waters, which are caused by a ledge extension from the point and pinnacles of rock on the seabed.

Southbound vessel passing the two respective stone beacons of Gowland Island and
Salt Rock

Image: Michael Harpur

It is one of the features that make The Narrows an extraordinary sailing and boat handling experience and one that leisure boaters should take due caution when approaching. As it lies to the east of The Narrow’s mid-channel route it is easily evaded.

The Routen Wheel situated ⅔ of a mile above Cross Roads
Image: Michael Harpur

The site of the Seagen Marine Tidal Generator, located in the centre of The Narrows about ⅓ of a mile southwest of Strangford, carries Isolated Danger markings. Admiralty Track C passes its western side but it may be passed on either side.

It should also be noted that the constricted part of the channel, just above the ‘Routen Wheel’ and immediately south of Rue Point, is where the outgoing tidal stream attains its fastest rate of 7.5 kn at springs. Above Strangford Harbour Click to view haven and Portaferry Click to view haven, the streams begin to slacken and largely dissipate once the Lough opens up.
What is the best sailing time?
Sailing season is May to September, with June and July offering some of the best weather. Nevertheless, the incidence of gales in June and July are on average two days of winds each month of winds up to force seven. So you may be either held up or having a blast depending on your sailing preferences. Ireland is not subject to persistent fog – statistically, complete days of persistent fog occur less than once in a decade.

With thanks to:
With thanks to the invaluable help of Brian Lennon, Skerries Sailing Club. Images with thanks to Zoomer1973 and David Doyle.

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