About Rathlin Island Ferry

Our story

Providing excellent ferry crossings for more than 10 years!

Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd (RILF) is a small private company founded in 2008 by directors Ciaran and Mary O’Driscoll, who were awarded the tender contract for the department of Infrastructure’s subsidised ferry route. When Ciaran and Mary started operating the Rathlin service they also operated a ferry service in the most southerly point of Ireland, Cape Clear Island in Cork. It wasn’t long until Ciaran and Mary relocated to the most Northernly point in Ireland to Ballycastle on the Causeway Coast and Glens in Northern Ireland because the fell in love with the area.

The ferry service between Ballycastle and Rathlin Island had until that time been operated by the Scottish ferry company Caledonian MacBrayne / Calmac Ferries Ltd. Calmac operated the Ballycastle – Rathlin Island Ferry service from 1996 to 2008 and only had on ferry in operation which was the MV Canna. MV Canna was then leased to Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd when they took over the service from 2008 until 2017 when it was sold by Calmac.

In 2008 when RIFL took over the route they introduced the purpose built Rathlin Express, a passenger catamaran which completes the journey across the Rathlin Sound in 20 minutes.  Alongside the MV Canna the Rathlin Express brought islanders and visitors a vast improved ferry service which offered more scheduled sailings daily in Winter and Summer seasons and helped improve passenger capacity and reliability.

Then in 2016 the Spirit of Rathlin (SOR) was born! An updated and purpose built cargo and passenger ferry, built by Arklow Marine Services in County Wicklow costing £2.8 million. A further £1 million was also spent improving the harbour to facilitate the new ferry. The Department for Infrastructure who commissioned the new vessel introduced the SOR to the RIFL service in June 2017 providing increased cargo and passenger capacity, improved onboard facilities and an overall more comfortable experience for passengers.

RIFL’s aim is to provide safe, reliable and enjoyable ferry travel between Rathlin Island and Ballycastle. We want to ensure that islanders can travel to and from the island as regular as possible, transport their vehicles, supplies and necessities, transport essential workmen, maintenance and service providers, doctors and visitors. We strive to help them, where possible, to accommodate their needs keeping their essential contact with the mainland and further afield. We know this life line service is essential to their daily lives and it is crucial that island life is as progressive and full as mainland lives.  We encourage visitors to experience island life, whether for a day or more and we believe that Rathlin is our own piece of paradise here in Northern Ireland and that it has so much to offer visitors of any locality or nationality.

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Our Ferries

We have 2 ferries operating between Rathlin Island and Ballycastle. These waters are known as the Rathlin Sound or the Sea of Moyle and many vessels of all shapes and sizes frequent them. Both Ballycastle Harbour and Rathlin Island Harbour are busy ports, especially in summer months  and we often see cruise liners, yachts, tall ships, sail boats, fishing boats, kayaks and even reproduced viking ships. RIFL’S vessels are:

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Rathlin Express (RE)

The Rathlin Express (RE) is a 30T, passenger only ferry designed by Marine Design International and constructed by Arklow Marine Services and can carry 97 passengers during summer months and 38 passengers during winter months. The vessel is an EC Class B passenger ship and was completed and entered into service in 2009 costing £1million. It has an overall length of 17.72 m, depth of 2.22 m and its maximum speed is 20 knts which means it can complete its journey from or to Rathlin Island in just 25 minutes.

In summer months there is uncovered seating on the upper deck and covered with side opening and indoor seating on the lower deck. The RE has one toilet on the lower deck with disabled access and there are no toilet facilities on the upper deck. There are no drink or snack facilities but you are welcome to bring your own and consume onboard. There are timetables, Rathlin Walks brochures and convenience bags on the lower level.

There is no capacity for large items and restricted space for luggage, bicycles, prams and wheelchairs. You are advised to inform Booking Clerk of these when booking ferry travel. The RE departs from Ballycastle from the pontoon on the pier and departs from Rathlin from Pier 1. Boarding the RE in Ballycastle is from Gate 2 and in Rathlin is from the pontoon at Pier 1. Boarding will commence when crew advises.

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Spirit of Rathlin (SOR)

The Spirit of Rathlin (SOR) is a 105T cargo and passenger ferry constructed by Arklow Marine Services and can carry 140 passengers during summer months and 40 passengers during winter months. The vessel is an EU Class C passenger and vehicle ferry and was completed and entered into service in 2017 costing around £2.8million. It has an overall length of 27.3 m, depth of 2.65 m and its maximum speed is 9.5knts meaning it can complete a single trip from or to Rathlin Island in just 40 minutes. 

The SOR has three toilets on the lower deck, one of which has disabled access. There is one toilet on the middle deck and there are no toilet facilities on the upper deck. There is a water fountain located in the lower deck passenger saloon and there are no snack facilities but you are welcome to bring your own and consume onboard. There are timetables, Rathlin Walks brochures and convenience bags on the lower deck. 

In summer months there is uncovered seating on the upper deck, covered with side opening seating on the middle deck and on the lower deck is the saloon with heating, comfortable seating and television. In winter months the upper decks are closed to passengers. You are not permitted on the cargo deck of the ferry during any sailing and vehicle passengers must exit the vehicle during the crossing. There is capacity for vehicles but restrictions apply. See how can I book my vehicle on the ferry?

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Meet Our Team

We have a small team of 22 dedicated and enthusiastic staff, some originating from Rathlin Island and some from Ballycastle, Belfast, South Africa and Zimbabwe. 

Each role in the company is essential to the smooth and safe running of the service and everyone works together to make sure that we provide an enjoyable experience to anyone who travels with us.

We continually maintain and improve our skills and training and all of our team are certified where required. We have completed first aid training, dementia friendly training and welcome host training and we are in the process of completing some language skills which we feel will help us improve our service and the experience for international visitors.