The Portrush Raft Race started with the dreams of ‘two Johns’- John Scott who was closely connected to the Portrush RNLI station and John McNally who owned the Harbour Bar in Portrush. They were inspired by the raft race held by the Oban Lifeboat Ladies Guild to raise funds for their volunteers.
The first raft race was held in Portrush on Saturday 29th May 1982 and 39 rafts were entered for the race. Dunluce School Bushmills boys’ raft ‘Big Berta’ raised the most funds of £600 and had an all-girls raft. The designs ranged from practical to spectacular (one designed as the Quinquireme of Nineveh, complete with galley slaves, a skeleton, shark and albatross.) The winning raft was the conveniently named ‘Portrush Flyer’. Overall, the event proved very popular and widely publicised thanks to its sponsorship by Guinness and raised over £3000.
The Raft Race continues today as a weekend of events and fundraisers for the RNLI services in Portrush, which are vital considering it takes £6,600 for a single lifeboat launch. The weekend includes lifeboat tours, a junior raft race, beach volleyball, kayaking, paddle boarding, music, stalls, games and a display by the RNLI to show how all aspects of the RNLI come together to save a life at sea.
The event is organised by a large team of volunteers who are passionate about the work of the RNLI or are otherwise involved with the local area. The Raft Race Committee are committed to the family-focus of the event and many local businesses and institutions take part in the race. The actual race consists of the participants standing at the water’s age and sprinting up the beach to the promenade to collect their rafts before carrying it back to the water and rafting around the harbour wall to the finishing line by the RNLI lifeboat station. A popular local event, the weekend is focused on both fun and funds as part of a valuable effort to support the important local volunteers.