Sailing and Windsurfing

Ireland is a fine country in which, or round which, to practise sailing in all its varied forms. Inland there are rivers, lakes and canals. There are harbours and sheltered bays where novices can feel safe, then there is the whole wonderful indented coastline with unlimited possibilities for exploration and finally there are many islands on which to make landfall.

Sailing is the great-grandaddy of Adventure Sports in Ireland - the first club was formed in Cork in the late eighteenth century and the national body, the Irish Sailing Association (ISA) (*) (ex Irish Yachting Association) was formed back in 1945. The ISA covers all branches of the sport, from dinghies up to cruising yachts, as well as windsurfers and power boats. The responsible body in Northern Ireland is RYA Northern Ireland Council (*), and the text below applies in general both sides of the border.

The sport is very popular, and very well organised. There is a big racing element in it - many people will have seen the flocks of white or brown sails outside Dun Laoghaire or Cork harbours in summer. There are well over 100 recognised races each year, most of them for several classes.

But it is also recreational for those who want simply to enjoy themselves on the water, who have an interest in fishing or who, living on the coast, find a boat a handy way to get around. Perhaps the best is to combine the two, by having a boat that belongs in one of the numerous racing classes, though not specifically designed for racing. The classes cover all types of boats from small dinghies though medium sized ones (like the internationally-known Lasers, Dragons) up to cruising yachts.

How to get involved

Getting started is simple; in the Republic there are some 50 clubs and around 100 recognised training establishments (details on the ISA website). Perhaps the best idea is to find your local club to decide whether you want to sail your own small dinghy, or crew on something bigger and then look for the nearest centre which can offer the appropriate training. Please don't pick up a second-hand boat somewhere and go off on your own, or worse, with family or friends. Sailing looks safe and easy on a summer's day in on a calm lake, but a squall can still easily capsize you if you are not prepared.

The training courses lead to qualifications which are recognised by the RYA in Britain and elsewhere, and if you become seriously involved there is the prestigious Yachtmaster qualification which will lead to your being a sought-after crewman on yachts abroad as well as at home.

A Risk Sport

Some words on safety. In a club situation, certainly where there is racing, there will be a power boat in the offing watching for accidents and ready to go to help. A single boat at sea is in a different situation. Legally you must now be wearing a "Flotation Aid", and you should carry flares. You should never go to sea in a single boat without leaving word about where it you are going and when you expect. to get back. Have a chart, or at least a map of where you are going, and needless to say, check the weather report! Mobile phone? Perhaps, but you may not be in range, and they induce a false sense of security. Let us try not to call unnecessarily on the services.of the RNLI, but you can be sure if you need them they will there! It is a lot easier inland, but even there, lakes can be as treacherous as the sea.


Windsurfing deserves a section to itself. No trailer, no launching problem, just throw the board and sail on the roof of the car and go where you want. There is a wonderful feeling of freedom, standing on the board and sailing - once you stop falling off every five minutes! Although the ISA cover it, there is also a national body, the Irish Windsurfing Association (*). A good way to get started is to try it out at one of the Outdoor Pursuits or Adventure Centres which include windsurfing amongst their activities - you'll get good advice on what do next.

Where to Windsurf

The best place to practice windsurfing is off a beach. There are plenty on the Dublin coast, like Malahide, Cork has Oysterhaven, a mecca for windsurfers, but there are innumerable suitable beaches all down the west coast. Of course there are also plenty of lakes which are suitable

A Risk Sport

Safety is important. It is easy to get into trouble. A strange beach, unknown currents, an offshore wind and suddenly you are way out at sea and lying on the windsurfer, trying desperately to paddle back to shore. That's a worst case scenario, but quite a possible one. So don't windsurf alone, do find out if the beach you choose is safe.


Irish Sailing Associatiion:
RYANI Council:
Irish Board Surfing Associatiion:


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