Main Crossings Ballycastle - Rathlin
Ballycastle - Rathlin
Northern Ireland - Rathlin Island
Crossing Time:
45 Minutes
Regular Ship:


1996: Bruernish
1997: Bruernish / Canna
1998 -2008: Canna
Additional Ships:
Raasay on overhaul relief cover
 Terminal Facilities:
Ballycastle: Slipway located in the main harbour adjacent to the berth for the now ceased Ballycastle - Campbeltown crossing

Rathlin: Main overnight berth for the vessel is located here. Loading takes place via the slipway, for cars (islanders' vehicles only) and foot passengers

 Route History:
Initially the car ferry service from Ballycastle in Northern Ireland to Rathlin was operated by CalMac under charter to the Northern Ireland Office. The Bruernish ventured south across the North Channel and took up the service in December 1996. In the event the route was to pass into CalMac's sphere of operations the following April.

Although Bruernish had the capability of carrying up to 6 cars across on each sailing, this facility was restricted to vehicles of islanders only, as on Iona in the Western Isles. As a result the service was to remain a mainly passenger orientated service.

The Bruernish remained on the Irish crossing for only a few months. April 22nd 1997 saw the new Rathlin ferry arrive in the form of her sister Canna, herself recently replaced on the Scalpay crossing by Rhum.

Canna in her last CalMac role

Canna at Ballycastle

From April 1997 the Canna remained the dedicated Rathlin vessel and barring spells on the Clyde or at Corpach for annual overhaul, she has not deviated from this crossing. On spells off duty she is usually relieved by one of her sisters, either the Bruernish or, from 2006 onwards the last of her type, Raasay.

The initial contract for the Rathlin service was for five years, however given the success of the service, this was recently extended. The success can be put down to mainly marketing efforts by CalMac. Leaflets were produced with the sole aim of publicising the small island, and coupled with special day sail prices, the tourists soon took up the offers available.

Things changed in the way this route was run when CalMac (as it had been known) was split into two parts; one part owning the vessels and piers etc, known as Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (or CMAL for short) and the other part chartering the ferries from CMAL and actually running the services, known officially as CalMac Ferries Ltd although most people wouldn't know the difference as the vessel liveries were unchanged. Rathlin was a special case though and another operating company, known officially as Rathlin Ferries Ltd was set up and Canna was chartered in the same way but to Rathlin Ferries and not CalMac (confused yet?) Nothing actually changed in the day to day service the island received, although in 2007 there was a hint of what was to come when the new Explore brochure was published - Rathlin rather ominously did not appear in the timetables for summer 2008...

When the route went out to tender CalMac (or rather Rathlin Ferries) were undercut by an alternative operator in the charge of a Ciaran O'Driscoll and lost the contract to run the service beyond June 2008. Due to the failure of O'Driscoll's boat to be granted its passenger certificate in time, Canna sailed under the Rathlin Ferries banner until the end of June, before her charter was transferred to the new company from 1st July. And so it was that on that date, CalMac's association with running the Ballycastle - Rathlin service ended and along with it so did Canna's role in the CalMac fleet, for the time being at least.

All material on this site Ships of CalMac 2001 - 2017, unless otherwise stated.
Join us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Join us on Flickr View us on YouTube SoC AIS SoC Forum Site NOT linked to Official Company
This site is NOT connected to the Official Company Site -
Contact Us
Read our Privacy Policy