Northern Ireland's rivers, loughs and waterways are places for leisure and sport. Sometimes they've inspired works of art, music and literature. Find out more about what you can do on waterways and how to stay safe when you visit.
Find waterways near you
Find your nearest waterway and which water sports and activities you can do there. Surfing is popular at Portrush and Portstewart. You can arrange boat hire on Lough Erne. There is water skiing on Lower River Bann and many water-based activities on Lough Erne.
Enjoying Lough Erne and the Lower Bann
Lough Erne and the Lower Bann have extensive, signposted canoe trails. From Killadeas, Enniskillen and Lisnaskea you can go on guided boat trips to Devenish Island, Crom Estate or tour the Upper and Lower Lough Erne.
Find out about where you can fish in Northern Ireland, and the angling licences and permits you need.
Waterways, rivers and loughs are places to enjoy whether you're an angler, canoeist, diver or prefer quiet walks by the water. But you should always keep safe around water:
- don’t climb on barriers and fences - they're there to protect you from serious injury and accidents
- obey ‘danger’ signs - reservoirs and treatment works can be dangerous places, so stay away when warned
- stay away from trenches and open manholes - they are dirty, deep and contain dangerous gases
Check the water safety guide from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RSPA).
Tips for being on or near waterways
For your safety, follow the advice of any signage on the site. Use the contact details, if given, to understand access, fishing, boating and other rights.
Rivers, as well as the adjoining land, belong to the landowner. Even if a right of way is beside a river, this does not give you the right to fish. Sometimes the owner may lease the fishing rights to a club, whose members may have exclusive access to the waterside.
Canal towpaths are legally part of the canal. The towpath beside a canal is usually available for public use on foot, and sometimes by bicycle. Some towpaths are public rights of way, but you should follow byelaws or restrictions on towpaths and be especially careful at locks.
Natural lakes and their shores may not always be open to the public. Any right of access to the land surrounding the lake does not necessarily give you right of access to the water, or rights to swim, fish or launch a boat.
Reservoirs and their surrounding land belong to water companies, Waterways Ireland or private industries. There are no general public rights, but there may be some lenient access to their shores.
Nature and wildlife
Wetland areas are wide ranging and enjoyed by people who love wildlife. From ponds and rivers to reedbeds and bogs, they are home to a huge variety of plants and animals. If you are lucky you can see a wide variety of fish and birds.
To find out more about the wildlife in rivers and wetlands, visit Ulster Wildlife website. More information on birds (who make their homes by rivers, lakes and wetlands) can be found on the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) website.
Water users warned about invasive species
The advice given here is for anyone using boats - or other crafts such as canoes, kayaks or cruisers.
To help stop the introduction and spread of invasive species water users should:
- clean and disinfect boats and equipment before and after use
- be careful when moving boats and equipment between waterways
Killer Shrimp (Dikerogammarus villosus), which comes from the Ponto-Caspian region of Eastern Europe, has spread across Western Europe through a series of connected waterways. The arrival of this invasive species in Britain has increased the risk for it to spread to the island of Ireland raising concerns amongst experts in Northern Ireland.
Killer Shrimp is larger and far more aggressive than native shrimp species. If it arrives in Northern Ireland, it could threaten a wide diversity of native aquatic insect species. It has caused significant impacts to biodiversity in the areas it has invaded in Europe and is considered a high risk species.
All anglers and boat owners travelling to and from Britain should take extra precautions to stop this and other harmful species from arriving in Northern Ireland.
To help to stop their spread, all water should be drained from boats equipment and kit before leaving any waterway. Boats and equipment should be disinfected between each use. This will help keep Killer Shrimp and other aquatic invasive species out of Ireland.
If this or another high risk invasive species arrived in a waterway in Northern Ireland, it could spread very rapidly. It is a priority to stop the arrival of this species.