What do you have to do if you want to put a boat on the inland waterways or Ireland?

We can’t answer for every lake and river in Ireland, but we cover below the main cruising waterways in areas where IWAI has branches.  This page deals with registration or licensing of the boat itself — there is no requirement for the skipper to hold a licence — and we have a separate page giving the charges to be paid (where appropriate).

Before we start, here are three important points:

  1. on some waterways, registration does not necessarily entitle you to moor your boat wherever you like: you may need to make separate provision for a space in a marina. Our links page lists some marinas
  2. the waterways listed here were set up as navigations by different organisations many years ago, and each of them had its own separate set of bye-laws or other regulations. Seven of them, north and south of the border, are now controlled by Waterways Ireland and it is now working on consolidation of the various regulations and bye-laws, to produce a consistent set applicable on all its waterways
  3. on some waterways, notably the Shannon and the Lower Bann, there is a legal distinction between a “boat” and a “vessel”, and each has a different definition.

Additionally, be aware that there are national regulations and potentially local or water-specific bye-laws.  This page does not list all of these – however we have listed some.  It is your responsibility as a boat owner to be aware of the regulations that apply. 

For starters check out the Merchant Shipping (pleasure craft) (lifejackets and operation) (safety) Regulations 2004.  These regulations contain national provisions governing the safe use of personal watercraft, fast power craft and other mechanically propelled pleasure craft. These include provisions relating to age restrictions, the carriage and use of lifejackets and restrictions on the use of alcohol and drugs.

See also our guide to choosing a lifejacket.



Lower Bann (i.e. from L Neagh at Toome to Coleraine Harbour Commissioners at The Cutts): a boat becomes a vessel once it has more than 10hp. Boats do not need to be registered; vessels do.

Registration (free) is from local district councils, using the same numbering system as on the Erne, so boats can be used on the Erne without further formalities. This also allows them to operate on the Shannon.

Upper Bann as for Erne, but system not yet implemented.

Barrow, Barrow Line, Grand Canal and Royal Canal

No distinction between boats and vessels: permit is required for everything that floats, even if it doesn’t use locks. Boats have two options for using these waters. The first option is an annual licence covering both passage and moorings: this covers all fees, including locks, for all those waterways. Alternatively, you can pay a monthly mooring fee plus a small charge per lock: the total due has to be paid in advance for the entire length of the journey. It is not clear whether the charge is in practice levied on vessels that don’t use locks. Canal permits are available from Waterways Ireland at Ashtowngate, Ringsend, Lowtown, Tullamore and Shannon Harbour. Note that one permit covers all these waters.

For the Royal and Grand Canal, the Canal Act 1986, Canal Act 1986 Bye-Laws 1988, The Merchant Shipping (Mechanically Propelled Pleasure Craft) (Safety) Regulations, 2001apply.


Navigation authority is the Corrib Navigation Trustees. No registration or fees, but a distinct shortage of moorings means that only boats that can be launched and recovered (with suitable precautions against the spread of zebra mussels) are likely to be suitable.


As for Bann above, but registration number is issued by the Warden at Portora, near Enniskillen. The one lock, at Portora, is free. Register with The Warden’s Office, Castle Lane, Portora, Enniskillen BT74 5GH, tel (028) 6632 2836.  Alternatively, download the appropriate registration form from Waterways Ireland.  Shannon registration is accepted on the Erne and vice versa.

Grand Canal

See Barrow.

Lagan Navigation

As for Erne, but not yet implemented.

Lough Neagh

Belongs to the Shaftesbury estate. No registration required. No navigation authority except in the vicinity of certain harbours. No charges.

Newry Canal

As for Erne, but not yet implemented.

Royal Canal

See Barrow.


A vessel that is not a boat (i.e. is not open or has an engine over 15hp) must be registered and must comply with the bye-laws. There is no charge. Register with The Inspector of Navigation, The Docks, Athlone, Co Westmeath. Tel +353 (0)9064 94232 . Alternatively, download the appropriate registration form from Waterways Ireland.  If you buy a registered boat, you have to return the registration “disc” and re-register the boat. If a boat is registered on another inland waterways register, it is deemed to be registered on the Shannon: that covers, for example, boats from the Erne or from the English canals. There is a charge for passing through locks and fixed bridges. Boats (as opposed to vessels) do not need to be registered.

The following acts are relevant:

Shannon navigation Act 1990

Shannon Navigation Bye-Laws 1992

Shannon Navigation (construction of vessels) Bye- Laws 1992

Merchant Shipping (pleasure craft) (lifejackets and operation) (safety) Regulations 2004

Additional town and county bye-laws may also apply.

A boat should comply with the SHANNON NAVIGATION (CONSTRUCTION OF VESSELS) BYE-LAWS, 1992.  This a straightforward piece of legislation covering such things as requirements for Anchors, mooring lines and fenders,  Life saving equipment, engines and fuel tanks, Fire extinguishers and Cooking and heating appliances.

Shannon-Erne Waterway

No separate registration: boats should be registered for either Shannon or Erne. Smart card used to operate locks.


No registration, no navigation authority (except in Wexford Harbour), no charges.


On the Shannon, the Erne and the Shannon-Erne Waterway, a boat-owner must have a place to keep a boat. For most people, that means a place in a private marina.

For short visits, boats are allowed to stay at public harbours: up to three days at a time, and five days in a month, at any particular harbour. It is sometimes possible to leave a boat at a public harbour over the winter. There is a charge. Contact the Inspector of Navigation. If there is space, boats are usually allowed to stay for short periods at the harbours of the hire firms (except on changeover days), but they may be charged: IBRA members charge a fee per night, generally reduced for IWAI members (there was formerly an agreed charge of €5 for IWAI members, but some IBRA members no longer honour this). Some private marinas allow short-term stays by prior arrangement; they may make whatever charge they wish.