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A humpback whale regularly spotted in Ireland’s South West has been traced to Norwegian waters in the first confirmed link between our two countries, according to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

Researchers and citizen scientists in the Happywhale collective made the discovery last week as they matched images of #HBIRL43 — first recorded in Ireland in 2015 — with a whale sighted in the waters of the High Arctic in the vicinity of the Svalbard arcipelago.

“This is our first international re-sighting of this individual who was the first humpback recorded this season off the Stag Rocks in West Cork,” IWDG sightings officer Pádraig Whooley says.

“We documented it this spring/summer on four occasions between 27 April and 6 June. This match suggests it travelled a minimum distance of 3,800km over a period of 75 days, a daily average of 50km.

File image of HBIRL43 sighted off off Toe Head in West Cork | Credit: Dan LetticeFile image of HBIRL43 sighted off off Toe Head in West Cork | Credit: Dan Lettice

“This sighting puts it circa 900km further north of the last known position of #HBIRL07 and is our only humpback to be recorded in what we’d term the High Arctic.”

It wasn’t the only remarkable news this week, as Whooley confirms that another Norwegian whale, #NA09849 — which has been sighted regularly off Tromso and Iceland over the last decade — was photographed this past June some 500km west of the Aran Islands.

“We’ve decided that, as this animal was so far offshore and well outside the Irish EEZ in international waters, for now anyway we’d keep it off the Irish catalogue,” he says.

“But it’s another important link to Norway and who knows just how useful these offshore encounters may prove to be in years to come as IWDG continue to unravel the mystery of this most iconic of our whales.”

Published in Marine Wildlife

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) says last Sunday 29 August will stand out as “particularly memorable” for sightings of humpback whales, with the marine wildlife giants spotted at four separate locations.

At Slea Head in Co Kerry, Jimmy Flannery of Dingle Sea Safari and Nick Massett located and identified #HBIRL107 just south of Crow Rock.

Shortly afterwards, Eoin Delaney was sea kayaking off Carraroe in Connemara when he happened upon a humpback feeding in among common dolphins.

“While we can’t get a positive ID on this individual, any humpback sighting record from Galway Bay is an important event,” IWDG sightings officer Pádraig Whooley says.

Map of humpback whale sightings off Ireland on Sunday 29 AugustMap of humpback whale sightings off Ireland on Sunday 29 August | Credit: IWDG

Later on Sunday afternoon, Colin Barnes of Cork Whale Watch was on his second trip of the day when he photographed a third humpback breaching close to the cliffs at Scullane Point. This turned to be a new humpback not previously recorded in any Irish waters, and it has been allocated the ID #HBIRL113.

Slightly further away, a pelagic birding voyage off the Isles of Scilly crossed paths with #HBIRL77, a humpback that’s been documented in Ireland’s West and South West coastal waters every year since it was first recorded in 2016 — most recently off the Blaskets in June.

“These encounters and re-sightings are important, as they help IWDG build a more complete picture that reveals how these humpbacks are using Irish and adjacent waters,” Whooley says.

The sightings officer also appealed for anyone “fortunate enough to have an encounter with this most charismatic of our whales” to get in touch with [email protected] with a photograph of the ventral surface of their tail fluke, which is the most effective way for the IWDG to confirm identity.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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A local community in eastern Co Mayo rallied to attempt to save as many as 13 common dolphins that live-stranded near Blacksod on Friday (13 August).

As Mayo IWDG’s Facebook reports, the family group comprising 13 dolphins — mainly mothers and calves with a large male — stranded at Tarmon Beach with the tide dropping.

Sadly three of the dolphins died before they could be helped, but the rest responded to being cooled with buckets of seawater by local volunteers assisting the area’s Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) members.

As the tide was still dropping for over an hour, it was quickly decided to move the dolphins 2km by road to the slipway at Blacksod where they could be more easily immersed and cared for.

The local IWDG team used their new wheeled dolphin stretcher to transport the larger marine wildlife to a horse box, while the juveniles were carried in beach towels.

Once carefully released back into the water, all were seen to swim quickly and without obvious distress, and by 9pm the pod had left the area.

“Tarmon and the surrounding beaches on the east side of the Mullet Peninsula are notorious for common dolphins live-stranding due to the topography of the beaches,” Mayo IWDG said.

“The beaches are large flat expanses so during spring tides especially, the water can level can drop uniformly and recede up to 1km in parts. Common dolphins being an offshore dolphin species often get caught out on such difficult-to-navigate shallow terrain.

“When a dolphin live-strands it puts immense pressure on their bodies. They can become very disorientated and have muscle spasms from the stranding event making it difficult to swim, which is why this group were given recovery time at Blacksod before being released.

“Thanks again to everyone who helped out today; it was so humbling to see everyone work together to get this pod back to the sea.”

Juvenile dolphins cooled down with wet towels and seaweed were given recovery time with their pod before release | Credit: Mayo IWDG/FacebookJuvenile dolphins cooled down with wet towels and seaweed were given recovery time with their pod before release | Credit: Mayo IWDG/Facebook

Elsewhere, the IWDG reports on two separate strandings of Sowerby’s beaked whales in Co Galway. The first was found washed up on Inisbofin at the end of the week while the second was reported yesterday (Saturday 14 August) across the water in Cleggan.

Commenting on the former report, the IWDG said: “Beaked whales are not stranded that frequently but this individual had evidence of rope marks on its body.

“As [they are] an offshore deep-diving species we don’t expect beaked whales to get entangled in fishing gear or interact with offshore activity.

“Maybe these rope marks were not from fishing but some other source. Hard to tell, but without a full post-mortem examination the cause of death will remain speculative.”

Published in Marine Wildlife

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) is backing Limerick sailor Peter Lawlesspending solo, non-stop round-the-world voyage on his Rival 41 yacht Waxwing.

While the charity has sponsored the yacht’s passive self-steering equipment, in return Peter — son of the late solo circumnavigator Pat Lawless — will be testing out the IWDG’s new reporting app for marine wildlife sightings.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, sightings and strandings can be reported on the new app by scientists, researchers, boat operators, wildlife enthusiasts and whale-watchers alike.

And Peter — who sets off from Kilrush on 21 August — aims to take the app into the unknown, potentially recoding sightings and even video updated from parts of the ocean that may have never been visited before.

The IWDG’s chief Simon Berrow recently caught up with Peter on Waxwing as he makes his final preparations for his remarkable unassisted voyage:

Published in Solo Sailing

A recent rare sighting of a blue whale off the west of Ireland is the first in six years, it’s been reported.

Last weekend the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) shared an image of what’s believed to be a blue whale surfacing, as captured by Declan Horan from the the RV Celtic Explorer some 320km west of Slyne Head.

“Although we know from acoustic monitoring during the ObSERVE acoustic project that blue whales occur regularly along the western seaboard during autumn and winter, they are very rarely observed,” the IWDG said.

The Irish Mirror reports that this is the first confirmed sighting of a blue whale in Irish waters in six years — and only the 18th recorded since 2008.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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The remains of a whale washed up on a Co Wexford beach are likely to be those of a minke whale, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) says.

According to The Irish Times, the dead whale was discovered on Blackhall Strand in southwest Wexford yesterday morning, Sunday 13 June.

Going by its description, IWDG sightings officer Pádraig Whooley said it was most likely a minke whale. Wexford County Council said it was appraising the situation, and The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.

Meanwhile, the IWDG has just published a new guide on what to do when encountering a live-stranded whale, dolphin or porpoise.

Along with details on how to assess and care for the animal, Face to Face with a Beached Whale also includes practical information on dealing with other marine wildlife including turtles, seals, otters and seabirds.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) says it has confirmed its first humpback whale match between Ireland’s waters and the Canary Islands.

Images of a fluke and dorsal fin captured by Alex Brenner at Valle Gran Rey on La Gomera were, with the help of Nick Massett, compared with those of a humpback photographed by IWDG member Simon Duggan at Baltimore in early December 2012.

“On matching the images we can confirm that this is indeed the same individual #HBIRL21, whom we’ve not recorded in Irish waters over the interim nine years,” the IWDG says.

The development marks an important new connection between Ireland and the Spanish island chain off north-west Africa, following earlier links confirmed with key humpback whale breeding grounds off Cape Verde further south.

Published in Marine Wildlife

A new marine mammal reporting “app” promises to “elevate” recording of whales, dolphins and porpoises in these waters.

Sightings and strandings can be reported on the new “app” by scientists, researchers, boat operators, wildlife enthusiasts and whale watchers, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group says.

The technology can take the observer logically through the steps necessary for the reporting of both sightings (casual and effort) and strandings (live and dead), the NGO says.

Earlier this week, it was confirmed that over 2,000 people had signed an online petition calling for legal protection for basking sharks in these waters.

The petition was aimed at encouraging TDs to support The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2021 tabled last week by Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore.

The bill may make it illegal for anyone to intentionally or recklessly injure, disturb or harass the second-largest fish in the world’s oceans.

Basking sharks are an endangered species, but don’t enjoy the same protection in law as whales, dolphins, porpoise and seals in Irish waters.

IWDG co-ordinator Dr Simon Berrow says: Ireland and its coastal communities have “historically benefited from basking shark fisheries and today we have a duty to provide protection for this highly mobile species when they occupy Irish territorial waters."

The new biological recording tool for cetaceans is being rolled out to coincide with National Biodiversity week.

The IWDG Reporting App has been developed by Compass Informatics and funded by LEADER through the Clare Local Development Company (CLDC).

It will be available to download from today on the App store for iPhones, and the Google Play store for Android.

The Reporting App also links to the iwdg.ie website which offers “seamless browsing of the IWDG’s sightings and stranding datasets with online mapping”.

Published in Marine Wildlife
Tagged under

More than 2,000 people have already signed an online petition in support of legal protection for basking sharks in Irish waters.

The appeal was started by Simon Berrow of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group to encourage TDs to support The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2021 tabled last week by Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, the bill would make it illegal for anyone to intentionally or recklessly injure, disturb or harass the second-largest fish in the world’s oceans.

While basking sharks are an endangered species, they are currently not afforded the same protections in law as whales, dolphins, porpoise and seals in Irish waters.

Berrow says: "Ireland and our coastal communities have historically benefited from basking shark fisheries and today we have a duty to provide protection for this highly mobile species when they occupy Irish territorial waters."

He adds: "Adding the species to Schedule Five of the Wildlife Act (1976) as amended is the simplest method to provide protection for the species in Irish territorial waters."

Find the petition at MyUplift HERE.

Published in Sharks
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Offshore renewables must not be pursued at the cost of Ireland’s biodiversity, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

According to The Irish Times, members of the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change heard statements from various environmental and conservation groups who explained how Ireland’s waters and coastal areas are under threat from the effects of climate change as well as pollution and invasive species.

Ellen MacMahon of the Sustainable Water Network noted the important role of wind energy in decarbonising the Irish economy.

But she added that “marine protected areas are often overlooked in the role they can play in addressing the twin climate and biodiversity emergencies”.

Her comments were echoed by Dr Simon Berrow of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, who said offshore wind farms “cannot be considered in isolation” from their immediate environments and urged that such green energy projects are “not at further cost to Ireland’s already depleted marine habitats and species”.

The Irish Times has much more on the story HERE.

Published in Environment
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The Irish Coast Guard

The Irish Coast Guard is Ireland's fourth 'Blue Light' service (along with An Garda Síochána, the Ambulance Service and the Fire Service). It provides a nationwide maritime emergency organisation as well as a variety of services to shipping and other government agencies.

The purpose of the Irish Coast Guard is to promote safety and security standards, and by doing so, prevent as far as possible, the loss of life at sea, and on inland waters, mountains and caves, and to provide effective emergency response services and to safeguard the quality of the marine environment.

The Irish Coast Guard has responsibility for Ireland's system of marine communications, surveillance and emergency management in Ireland's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and certain inland waterways.

It is responsible for the response to, and co-ordination of, maritime accidents which require search and rescue and counter-pollution and ship casualty operations. It also has responsibility for vessel traffic monitoring.

Operations in respect of maritime security, illegal drug trafficking, illegal migration and fisheries enforcement are co-ordinated by other bodies within the Irish Government.

On average, each year, the Irish Coast Guard is expected to:

  • handle 3,000 marine emergencies
  • assist 4,500 people and save about 200 lives
  • task Coast Guard helicopters on missions

The Coast Guard has been around in some form in Ireland since 1908.

Coast Guard helicopters

The Irish Coast Guard has contracted five medium-lift Sikorsky Search and Rescue helicopters deployed at bases in Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo.

The helicopters are designated wheels up from initial notification in 15 minutes during daylight hours and 45 minutes at night. One aircraft is fitted and its crew trained for under slung cargo operations up to 3000kgs and is available on short notice based at Waterford.

These aircraft respond to emergencies at sea, inland waterways, offshore islands and mountains of Ireland (32 counties).

They can also be used for assistance in flooding, major inland emergencies, intra-hospital transfers, pollution, and aerial surveillance during daylight hours, lifting and passenger operations and other operations as authorised by the Coast Guard within appropriate regulations.

Irish Coastguard FAQs

The Irish Coast Guard provides nationwide maritime emergency response, while also promoting safety and security standards. It aims to prevent the loss of life at sea, on inland waters, on mountains and in caves; and to safeguard the quality of the marine environment.

The main role of the Irish Coast Guard is to rescue people from danger at sea or on land, to organise immediate medical transport and to assist boats and ships within the country's jurisdiction. It has three marine rescue centres in Dublin, Malin Head, Co Donegal, and Valentia Island, Co Kerry. The Dublin National Maritime Operations centre provides marine search and rescue responses and coordinates the response to marine casualty incidents with the Irish exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Yes, effectively, it is the fourth "blue light" service. The Marine Rescue Sub-Centre (MRSC) Valentia is the contact point for the coastal area between Ballycotton, Co Cork and Clifden, Co Galway. At the same time, the MRSC Malin Head covers the area between Clifden and Lough Foyle. Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) Dublin covers Carlingford Lough, Co Louth to Ballycotton, Co Cork. Each MRCC/MRSC also broadcasts maritime safety information on VHF and MF radio, including navigational and gale warnings, shipping forecasts, local inshore forecasts, strong wind warnings and small craft warnings.

The Irish Coast Guard handles about 3,000 marine emergencies annually, and assists 4,500 people - saving an estimated 200 lives, according to the Department of Transport. In 2016, Irish Coast Guard helicopters completed 1,000 missions in a single year for the first time.

Yes, Irish Coast Guard helicopters evacuate medical patients from offshore islands to hospital on average about 100 times a year. In September 2017, the Department of Health announced that search and rescue pilots who work 24-hour duties would not be expected to perform any inter-hospital patient transfers. The Air Corps flies the Emergency Aeromedical Service, established in 2012 and using an AW139 twin-engine helicopter. Known by its call sign "Air Corps 112", it airlifted its 3,000th patient in autumn 2020.

The Irish Coast Guard works closely with the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which is responsible for the Northern Irish coast.

The Irish Coast Guard is a State-funded service, with both paid management personnel and volunteers, and is under the auspices of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. It is allocated approximately 74 million euro annually in funding, some 85 per cent of which pays for a helicopter contract that costs 60 million euro annually. The overall funding figure is "variable", an Oireachtas committee was told in 2019. Other significant expenditure items include volunteer training exercises, equipment, maintenance, renewal, and information technology.

The Irish Coast Guard has four search and rescue helicopter bases at Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo, run on a contract worth 50 million euro annually with an additional 10 million euro in costs by CHC Ireland. It provides five medium-lift Sikorsky S-92 helicopters and trained crew. The 44 Irish Coast Guard coastal units with 1,000 volunteers are classed as onshore search units, with 23 of the 44 units having rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) and 17 units having cliff rescue capability. The Irish Coast Guard has 60 buildings in total around the coast, and units have search vehicles fitted with blue lights, all-terrain vehicles or quads, first aid equipment, generators and area lighting, search equipment, marine radios, pyrotechnics and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and Community Rescue Boats Ireland also provide lifeboats and crews to assist in search and rescue. The Irish Coast Guard works closely with the Garda Siochána, National Ambulance Service, Naval Service and Air Corps, Civil Defence, while fishing vessels, ships and other craft at sea offer assistance in search operations.

The helicopters are designated as airborne from initial notification in 15 minutes during daylight hours, and 45 minutes at night. The aircraft respond to emergencies at sea, on inland waterways, offshore islands and mountains and cover the 32 counties. They can also assist in flooding, major inland emergencies, intra-hospital transfers, pollution, and can transport offshore firefighters and ambulance teams. The Irish Coast Guard volunteers units are expected to achieve a 90 per cent response time of departing from the station house in ten minutes from notification during daylight and 20 minutes at night. They are also expected to achieve a 90 per cent response time to the scene of the incident in less than 60 minutes from notification by day and 75 minutes at night, subject to geographical limitations.

Units are managed by an officer-in-charge (three stripes on the uniform) and a deputy officer in charge (two stripes). Each team is trained in search skills, first aid, setting up helicopter landing sites and a range of maritime skills, while certain units are also trained in cliff rescue.

Volunteers receive an allowance for time spent on exercises and call-outs. What is the difference between the Irish Coast Guard and the RNLI? The RNLI is a registered charity which has been saving lives at sea since 1824, and runs a 24/7 volunteer lifeboat service around the British and Irish coasts. It is a declared asset of the British Maritime and Coast Guard Agency and the Irish Coast Guard. Community Rescue Boats Ireland is a community rescue network of volunteers under the auspices of Water Safety Ireland.

No, it does not charge for rescue and nor do the RNLI or Community Rescue Boats Ireland.

The marine rescue centres maintain 19 VHF voice and DSC radio sites around the Irish coastline and a digital paging system. There are two VHF repeater test sites, four MF radio sites and two NAVTEX transmitter sites. Does Ireland have a national search and rescue plan? The first national search and rescue plan was published in July, 2019. It establishes the national framework for the overall development, deployment and improvement of search and rescue services within the Irish Search and Rescue Region and to meet domestic and international commitments. The purpose of the national search and rescue plan is to promote a planned and nationally coordinated search and rescue response to persons in distress at sea, in the air or on land.

Yes, the Irish Coast Guard is responsible for responding to spills of oil and other hazardous substances with the Irish pollution responsibility zone, along with providing an effective response to marine casualties and monitoring or intervening in marine salvage operations. It provides and maintains a 24-hour marine pollution notification at the three marine rescue centres. It coordinates exercises and tests of national and local pollution response plans.

The first Irish Coast Guard volunteer to die on duty was Caitriona Lucas, a highly trained member of the Doolin Coast Guard unit, while assisting in a search for a missing man by the Kilkee unit in September 2016. Six months later, four Irish Coast Guard helicopter crew – Dara Fitzpatrick, Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith -died when their Sikorsky S-92 struck Blackrock island off the Mayo coast on March 14, 2017. The Dublin-based Rescue 116 crew were providing "top cover" or communications for a medical emergency off the west coast and had been approaching Blacksod to refuel. Up until the five fatalities, the Irish Coast Guard recorded that more than a million "man hours" had been spent on more than 30,000 rescue missions since 1991.

Several investigations were initiated into each incident. The Marine Casualty Investigation Board was critical of the Irish Coast Guard in its final report into the death of Caitriona Lucas, while a separate Health and Safety Authority investigation has been completed, but not published. The Air Accident Investigation Unit final report into the Rescue 116 helicopter crash has not yet been published.

The Irish Coast Guard in its present form dates back to 1991, when the Irish Marine Emergency Service was formed after a campaign initiated by Dr Joan McGinley to improve air/sea rescue services on the west Irish coast. Before Irish independence, the British Admiralty was responsible for a Coast Guard (formerly the Water Guard or Preventative Boat Service) dating back to 1809. The West Coast Search and Rescue Action Committee was initiated with a public meeting in Killybegs, Co Donegal, in 1988 and the group was so effective that a Government report was commissioned, which recommended setting up a new division of the Department of the Marine to run the Marine Rescue Co-Ordination Centre (MRCC), then based at Shannon, along with the existing coast radio service, and coast and cliff rescue. A medium-range helicopter base was established at Shannon within two years. Initially, the base was served by the Air Corps.

The first director of what was then IMES was Capt Liam Kirwan, who had spent 20 years at sea and latterly worked with the Marine Survey Office. Capt Kirwan transformed a poorly funded voluntary coast and cliff rescue service into a trained network of cliff and sea rescue units – largely voluntary, but with paid management. The MRCC was relocated from Shannon to an IMES headquarters at the then Department of the Marine (now Department of Transport) in Leeson Lane, Dublin. The coast radio stations at Valentia, Co Kerry, and Malin Head, Co Donegal, became marine rescue-sub-centres.

The current director is Chris Reynolds, who has been in place since August 2007 and was formerly with the Naval Service. He has been seconded to the head of mission with the EUCAP Somalia - which has a mandate to enhance Somalia's maritime civilian law enforcement capacity – since January 2019.

  • Achill, Co. Mayo
  • Ardmore, Co. Waterford
  • Arklow, Co. Wicklow
  • Ballybunion, Co. Kerry
  • Ballycotton, Co. Cork
  • Ballyglass, Co. Mayo
  • Bonmahon, Co. Waterford
  • Bunbeg, Co. Donegal
  • Carnsore, Co. Wexford
  • Castlefreake, Co. Cork
  • Castletownbere, Co. Cork
  • Cleggan, Co. Galway
  • Clogherhead, Co. Louth
  • Costelloe Bay, Co. Galway
  • Courtown, Co. Wexford
  • Crosshaven, Co. Cork
  • Curracloe, Co. Wexford
  • Dingle, Co. Kerry
  • Doolin, Co. Clare
  • Drogheda, Co. Louth
  • Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
  • Dunmore East, Co. Waterford
  • Fethard, Co. Wexford
  • Glandore, Co. Cork
  • Glenderry, Co. Kerry
  • Goleen, Co. Cork
  • Greencastle, Co. Donegal
  • Greenore, Co. Louth
  • Greystones, Co. Wicklow
  • Guileen, Co. Cork
  • Howth, Co. Dublin
  • Kilkee, Co. Clare
  • Killala, Co. Mayo
  • Killybegs, Co. Donegal
  • Kilmore Quay, Co. Wexford
  • Knightstown, Co. Kerry
  • Mulroy, Co. Donegal
  • North Aran, Co. Galway
  • Old Head Of Kinsale, Co. Cork
  • Oysterhaven, Co. Cork
  • Rosslare, Co. Wexford
  • Seven Heads, Co. Cork
  • Skerries, Co. Dublin Summercove, Co. Cork
  • Toe Head, Co. Cork
  • Tory Island, Co. Donegal
  • Tramore, Co. Waterford
  • Waterville, Co. Kerry
  • Westport, Co. Mayo
  • Wicklow
  • Youghal, Co. Cork

Sources: Department of Transport © Afloat 2020

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