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The Baltic Sea is in many ways good for cruising on small craft. There are many towns worth seeing, an abundance of guest harbours – and large archipelagos with thousands and thousands of islands and islets. The Baltic is also a safe destination, with well organized societies, short distances, no typhoons and no tides. Finland and Sweden in the north have large inland archipelagos in addition to the coastal ones.
In the archipelagos and lakes you do not necessarily need a yacht. Although the coastal archipelagos and the biggest lakes are indeed big enough for any yacht, smaller boats or even a kayak offer a different experience.
Countries and territories
The countries of the Baltic Sea, clockwise from the Danish straits (links to country sections):
- Denmark has the Danish straits, the most usual entryway into the Baltic Sea. The Danish archipelago is a worthy boating destination by itself
- Sweden has great coastal archipelagos, a few bigger coastal islands and also three large lakes accessible via canals
- Finland has the autonomous demilitarized Åland archipelago and the Archipelago Sea of renowned beauty and complexity. The land of the thousand lakes also offers complex inland boating destinations, especially the Saimaa lake system.
- Russia's main attraction is Saint Petersburg, built 1703 as capital of the Russian Empire. Via the Neva you can reach the internal waterways of Russia. There is also the small Kaliningrad Oblast exclave between Poland and Lithuania.
- Estonia has very different look-and-feel from the Swedish and Finnish archipelagos, with bigger islands and sandy shores.
- Germany offers another entrypoint via the Kiel Canal. Its Baltic Coast is a popular tourist destination.
The Baltic Sea is connected to the Atlantic through the Danish straits (Little Belt, Great Belt and Øresund). These are not deep, so the Baltic gets salt water mainly by storms in the right circumstances every few years, while it gets fresh water from a large drainage basin; the water of the Baltic is brackish, with less than one percent salt in the surface water.
In wintertime the north parts of the Baltic are covered with sea ice, as are many bays in the south. In some winters ice covers most of the sea. The yachting season is mainly from May to September. In summer day temperatures are typically 15–25°C. Water is cool even in July, especially some distance from the shore.
The Baltic has no tides. The water level varies by wind and air pressure, with deviations of more than one metre being unusual. Severe storms are also seldom experienced, especially not in spring and summer. Winds are mostly light to moderate, from varying directions with westerly or southwesterly winds most common. Seas are seldom high, as they will develop at most over a day or two, and the swell will soon die out. In rough weather, however, the seas are quite sharp; gales should be taken seriously. Significant wave height of 7 m occurs every few years in parts of the main basin, while individual such seas can occur in e.g. Gulf of Finland and Gulf of Bothnia.
Especially in Finland and Sweden, boating is a national pastime. There is a boat to every seven or eight people in these countries. This is matched by Norway and New Zealand, but otherwise quite unique (e.g. in the Netherlands the figure is one to forty).
The countries around the Baltic Sea are harmonising their charts, and changing depth figures in the process (”Baltic Sea Chart Datum 2000”). In Finland the change is implemented 2021–2026, timetable for other countries may differ. This mainly means a new bedrock-based reference level instead of the average sea level formerly used.
- See also: Nordic history
The Baltic Sea is a young sea. It has changed from fresh water lake to salt water or brackish sea several times during the last 10,000 years. The effects of the Ice Age can be seen at many locations. The post-glacial rebound (see Nordic countries#Understand) is still noticeable in the northern areas, especially in the Kvarken area in the Gulf of Bothnia, a World Heritage Site.
In the Viking Age, Scandinavian seafarers sailed over the Baltic and by the Russian rivers all the way to the Mediterrean and Caspian Sea (in addition to voyages by the Atlantic Ocean).
In the middle ages the German Hanseatic League dominated trade on the Baltic; many of the important ports today were members of the league.
In the late 17th century most of the coast belonged to or was controlled by Sweden.
When steam replaced sail on most trades in the late 19th century, sailships continued to be used in several countries by the Baltic Sea. Germany had cargo carrying schoolships, such as Herzogin Cecilie of Norddeutscher Lloyd Bremen and Passat of the Flying P-Line (now in Travemünde). Gustaf Erikson of Åland was the last major sailing ship shipowner, maintaining a fleet of big sailing ships to the 1940s (Pommern can be seen in Mariehamn). Small wooden sailships for coastal trade endured to the 1950s.
The Baltic Sea remains a very important trade route for the countries by the coasts.
English is the language of the sea, at least of this sea. In most countries announcements for seafarers and yachters are made in English in addition to any local languages. Knowing local languages is useful for getting most out of listening to VTS (noting key locations and figuring out how they are pronounced may help a bit). German, Danish and Swedish are Germanic languages like English, so you should be able to understand fragments of the conversation regardless.
On shore, English is well known in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and by young people also in the other countries. Elder people in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland understand Russian, but may not be eager to use the language. There are also big ethnically Russian populations in the three Baltic countries. German used to be a common foreign language in most of the countries with Baltic coastlines but is increasingly losing ground to English. However, especially in Nordic countries you will have a reasonable chance of encountering people who speak it. While Poland, the Baltic countries and to some extent even Russia used to have big German speaking minorities, most of them have either left or been absorbed into the national culture and hence your chances of encountering native German speakers in those countries are slim.
You can come to the Baltic through the Danish Straits, the Göta Kanal, the Kiel Canal, the central European waterway system (connected to the Atlantic and the Mediterranean) or the Russian waterway system (extending from the White Sea in the north to the Black Sea and Caspian Sea in the south). For most people, chartering a local yacht is still the main option. See below.
Pleasure craft arriving to or departing for a Schengen country from another one may do so without calling at a border crossing point and without being subjected to border controls other than random checks. So if you come from a port on the Baltic Sea, except for Russia, you mostly do not have to go through border formalities. See e.g. information on border checks on pleasure craft by the Finnish border guard. Arriving with a dog, a weapon or other special goods, check the procedures in advance.
Except Russia and the UK, all the countries around the Baltic are members of the European Union and the Schengen agreement. You should be allowed to entry the waters of any of these where you want to (with exceptions of military areas and the like) and land without customs or immigration controls, if coming from another of these countries. Check with the individual countries before entry, though: there may be special circumstances, and you should have the paperwork ready in case of random checks. For Russia, and coming from Russia, you have to do all normal formalities. Note that Ireland, although in EU, is not part of the Schengen area, while Iceland and Norway, although in Schengen, are not members of EU. Coming from those, check immigration and customs formalities, respectively. Åland has a special tax status within EU, which may have significance if you bring more than tax free amounts of certain goods (checks are unlikely but possible). Coloured (less taxed) diesel is allowed only in the main tanks, and only if bought in the right countries (keep the receipt, even if only traces of the fuel are left).
In addition to the documents you would need on land borders, you may need documentation about your boat and your qualifications as skipper. You may need the original registration document, an insurance policy and the radio licence of the radioman and the boat, and a crew list signed by the skipper (in several copies, especially if going to Russia).
For EU boats, proof of paid VAT (or proof of construction before 1987) may be needed. If you import a boat to EU you normally have to pay VAT and tariffs. To avoid this as a tourist there is "temporary import" available for non-EU residents, for at most 18 months, winter breaks not counted if registered by the book. Normally the temporary import is implicit, but the customs can demand your making the paperwork, and in that case you need to have documentation about ownership, registration, residency and time of entering EU. If the boat is staying more than 18 months, it is not leaving with you, an EU resident will use the boat, there will be works other than regular maintenance or there are other special circumstances, check the exact rules.
The winter break regulation should allow you to sail in your yacht, leave it at a yard and return home, return to sail the next season, and so on for several years, given that you handle the paperwork correctly.
You can rent a yacht in many coastal towns, or you might already have your own yacht in the Baltic. If you have friends who are thinking of importing a yacht, you might be able to come by sailing it to them. For arriving to the town of your choice before embarking, see that town.
Generally the qualification you need for a yacht at home should be enough for skippering it in the Baltic. Documentation may be needed. For bare boat chartering also the rules of the flag country apply. Documented competence may of course make bare boat chartering of a big yacht easier whether formally required or not.
The main document about competence as skipper of pleasure craft is the International Certificate for Operators of Pleasure Craft ("ICC"), which is valid for sailing or motor vessels up to a stated size, for either inland or coastal waters. It is officially recognized by Finland, Germany, Lithuania and Poland, but in practice also elsewhere. On inland waters other than in Finland or Sweden you may need the ICC with a mark for inland waters (signifying knowledge of the CEVNI regulations). If you need it for the Baltic Sea you should have the coastal waters mark.
Skippering a normal yacht requires no formal qualification in e.g. Denmark, Finland and Sweden, with Danish flag for yachts under 15m that are not "speedboats", in Finland "sufficient age and skills" [minimum 15 years] up to 24 m. Voluntary half-official exams are quite common. In Estonia you need documented competence according to your flag state rules. Check requirements for other countries.
If the boat has marine VHF radio, a licence for the boat (including a call sign, and MMSI number if applicable) and one for the operator (normally Short Range Certificate, SRC, covering also DSC) is needed.
The Danish sounds
- See also: #Boating in Denmark
There are three sounds between Jutland, the main Danish islands and Sweden, from west to east: The Little Belt, the Great Belt and Øresund, all connecting the North Sea to the Baltic Sea via Skagerak, Kattegat and the Danish and German archipelago. There are huge bridges over all of them. Note currents and keep away from the heavy traffic.
- See also: #Vänern and Vättern
The Göta canal goes through picturesque landscapes of Sweden, from Gothenburg to Söderköping, via Sweden's biggest lakes Vänern and Vättern, connecting Skagerrak and Kattegat to the central parts of the Baltic Sea, somewhat south of the Stockholm Archipelago. An important industrial transport route throughout the 19th century, it is now used mainly by leisure craft.
The Kiel Canal (known in German as the Nord-Ostsee-Kanal, "North-Sea–Baltic-Sea-Canal") is one of the busiest waterways in the world, connecting the North Sea to the southern Baltic Sea. You enter via the mouth of Elbe, at Brunsbüttel. The eastern end is in Kiel.
Central European waterways
Rivers and canal systems connect the Baltic Sea with the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterrean Sea. The CEVNI rules apply, with special regulations in the Kiel Canal and on the biggest rivers.
Vikings used the Russian waterways to get to the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. Parts of these routes can still be used. Check possible need for special permits, which may be difficult to get.
The White Sea–Baltic Canal connects the Arctic Ocean to the Baltic Sea, via Lake Onega, Lake Ladoga and Saint Petersburg, mostly by rivers and lakes.
Lake Onega is also connected to Volga, so coming from the Caspian Sea through Russia is still possible.
You can charter a yacht in most of the bigger towns along the coast and in inland archipelagos. You may want to check what documents about your qualifications the company wants, and whether there are restrictions on use of the vessel. If the boat has marine VHF radio, you need an operator's licence.
Crewed chartering is considered expensive. Usually full service charter is offered for a day trip, while bare boat chartering is the norm for longer journeys. You might get a skipper for your one-week charter by asking, but unless you ask for (and pay) full service, you should not assume he will wash your dishes.
Prices for bare boat coastal yacht charter in Finland can be expected to be in the €1000–5000 range for a week, depending on boat, season etcetera. These boats usually have toilet, cooking facilities and 4–8 berths. Typical yachts and prices vary between countries and waterways, as does quality of equipment and service. Take your time to choose. If you have only little time, local offers should suffice.
"Handy size" is good. Not being able to enter that otherwise ideal anchorage because of draft or having to choose another route because of a bridge is a shame. This is more important in some waters than in others.
The Baltic is a busy sea. There are many important cruise ferry and roro routes. Most of Finnish foreign trade is shipped over the Baltic sea, as is a large amount of that of the other countries. Saint Petersburg is one of the most important ports of Russia. Oil transport from Russian ports through the Gulf of Finland to EU is comparable to Persian Gulf intensity. All this means that you will want to avoid the main shipping lanes. As a coastal cruising yacht you do not have to use the separation systems and should usually avoid them. There are also a lot of yachts – but plenty of room to be alone.
Although the distance from Kiel to Haparanda is well over 750 nautical miles, one is never more than about 75 miles – a day's sailing – from the nearest coast. There are however areas out of VHF/DSC reach from coast stations, both in the main basin and in Gulf of Bothnia.
Going from Denmark, Germany or Poland to Stockholm, the Archipelago Sea or Helsinki, you probably want to reserve at least a week either way, which leaves a little time to spend also on the shore. In addition you need time to spend at the main destination. The Swedish coast is quite different from the coasts of Poland and the Baltic states (as are the countries), make your choice. If circumnavigating the main basin, going counterclockwise has the advantage of less probability of having to sail upwind off the less sheltered coasts in the east and south.
As explained above, there should be no routine border controls other than in certain circumstances, except for Russia and at initial entry. It seems arrival has still to be reported at least in Poland.
For Kaliningrad Oblast, check customs facilities near the previous and next port on your route.
With a weapon, a dog or other special goods, check the rules for individual countries.
Markings follow the international INT A standard (leave red marks at left when entering a harbour) with minor deviations. The "chart" INT 1 for each country has complete information on the symbols used etc., in the standard format.
You need detailed coastal charts (1:50,000, sometimes more) for the Finnish and Swedish archipelagos. Small scale charts can be handy for planning the voyage, but are useless for navigation in many areas.
Electronic charts can be used, but should normally not be the only ones: pleasure craft generally lack necessary electronic backup systems and have too small displays – essential details may be hidden when zooming out. The latter is especially important in Finnish and Swedish waters, with lots of small rocks.
Notices to Mariners are generally available online, bilingual with English. The notices include notifications of damaged navigational aids, firing exercises, updates to charts etc. For some countries temporary warnings are also listed separately. These are also mostly broadcast as Navtex messages.
Rules for inner waters
For the river and canal systems of Germany, Poland and Russia, acquaint yourself with the CEVNI rules and check local regulations.
Finland and Sweden
Finland and Sweden have large archipelagos, which means rules for inner waters cover extensive coastal areas. Some of these are good to know also for visiting yachts.
Small vessels are not required to have sidelights and can carry their toplight low. Thus a white light often means a quite fast motorboat, with the driver possibly obstructing the light at some courses. Do not rely on him keeping a steady course. Luckily the nights are often light and, regardless, if your lights are in order, he should see you. In Sweden lights have to be used from dusk to dawn instead of from sunset to sunrise, saving you an hour worth of electricity.
In Finland motoring boats with sails set have to use the day shape. In Sweden no day shapes need to be used by small enough vessels.
In Sweden boats without sidelights should keep away from bigger vessels in fairways. In Finland boats of less than 7m should if possible give way for vessels over 12m in fairways. Pleasure craft keep away for professional ones also as a matter of good manners. None of these rules apply when vessels are close enough for COLREG obligations to dictate behaviour, but freighters, ferries and other commercial craft are usually unable to stop or safely give way, as they are confined to the fairway regardless of not having the associated lights or day shapes.
Lights and day shapes are not required in safe anchorages away from traffic.
Among the signal flags, you should know A (diver, keep away) and L (stop, shown by police, coast guard etc.).
Mooring, at least in the north, is mostly with the bow towards the shore or quay and a buoy (or the anchor) behind the stern. Local yachts often have arrangements for easy passage to shore from the bow and a rod with a hook and latch for easy fastening to the buoy. In Denmark, with crowded marinas, it is customary to moor side by side and walk over the yachts in between to get to the quay. Have a light foot, especially if returning late.
There are many towns and cities worth seeing. See Baltic Sea ferries and Cruising the Baltic Sea for some of them, some more in the country sections below, and the country articles for the rest. Besides these there are islands and archipelagos yacht cruisers should know and some villages worth mentioning here. Small towns and villages, even natural harbours, may be nice to visit as variation or even instead of the biggest cities.
Below the coasts and archipelagos are described country by country clockwise from the Danish Straits.
Boating in Denmark
The western and northern shores have tides. Tidal currents are significant in the Danish straits, although also unrelated variations in the sea levels affect the currents. In the Baltic Sea proper, tides are of little importance.
The route to the Baltic Sea goes either through Limfjord in northern Jutland to Kattegat, through Skagerrak around Skagen (the tip of Jutland) to Kattegat or through the Kiel Canal directly to the Baltic Sea. Approaching the southern part of Kattegat you choose which of the straits to use. A variation is to come by the Kiel Canal or Limfjorden and continue via Kattegat to Göta Kanal in Sweden.
Limfjord is 100 nautical miles long, quite different from the Norwegian fjords: shallow, with no mountains. The western part is labyrinthic, partly lakelike, while the eastern part resembles a river.
Also going directly via the Kiel Canal to Baltic Sea proper you will pass by Lolland and Falster.
The main straits are busy with freighter traffic. Remember to avoid the traffic separation scheme clearways and the deep water routes. Use inshore traffic zones and fairways for smaller vessels instead.
The main coast radio, responsible for emergency traffic, is Lyngby Radio, MMSI 002 191 000. If you call 112 and tell you are in a maritime emergency, your call will be transferred to Lyngby Radio.
Denmark has good facilities for yachts, but harbours tend to be crowded. Finding a place for a catamaran can be difficult.
- Funen and Surrounding Islands
- Lolland-Falster (including Møn and small islands)
- Bornholm off Swedish Scania
Boating in Sweden
Sweden has a long coastline, and together with Finland and Norway possibly the highest number of leisure boats per capita worldwide. Cruising on small craft is a national pastime, at least when weather allows.
Most of Sweden's largest lakes are connected to the sea by canals; especially Göta kanal. These canals used to be the backbone of Sweden's transport infrastructure; today they are mostly used by leisure craft.
Sjöfartsverket publishes the Swedish charts. For navigating the archipelagos, the archipelago charts (usually 1:50,000) are needed. For the coast and big lakes charts are available also as series in a format suitable for small craft, with the most demanding passages (also) in bigger scale. Symbols and practices are not explained in the charts, so INT 1 can be a good investment. A shorter version is available online.
Due to the nature of the waterways in the archipelagos, the "direction" of a fairway is not always obvious; use the chart to check how to interpret lateral marks. Because of this problem cardinal marks are used extensively (with colours given as letters in the chart). Top marks are seldom used. In early spring some marks may be missing or off their position because of ice movements in the winter. Sector lights are common.
Swedish Notices to Mariners are available online.
Svenska Kryssarklubben publishes Gästhamnsguiden with information about some 420 guest harbours and some natural harbours (online and in print). Svenska gästhamnar has information on all (?) 590 guest harbours.
Most Swedish provinces are coastal, and even those that are landlocked, are dotted by lakes, so an exhaustive list of leisure craft destination would include most of the country. Nevertheless, some classical boating destinations are
- Stockholm archipelago
- Bohuslän archipelago on the west coast, i.e. by Skagerrak
- Gotland off the east coast
- Göta canal
The archipelago that starts at Landsort south of Stockholm continues with only minor gaps all the way to Saint Petersburg in the end of Gulf of Finland, some 400 nautical miles away.
Depending on destination and preferences, a yacht with berths and cooking facilities, a day cruiser, a small motor boat, a rowing boat or a canoe or kayak may be the right vessel. There are lots of guest harbours, but the right to access allows you to use also the endless supply of natural harbours and uninhabited shoreline in the archipelagos, at least if you get out of the busiest areas (but do not disturb nesting birds).
There are a few archipelagos in southern Sweden, including those at Bohuslän, Gothenburg and Karlskrona, while most of it has a quite smooth shoreline. The entry to Göta canal is by the river Göta älv, with its mouth in Gothenburg.
- Large islands by the Swedish coast
- Gotland; the Gotland runt regatta around the island is one of the big sailing events on the Baltic. Visby has a busy marina. It was a hub for shipping on the Baltic Sea in the Middle Ages and has preserved much of its historic centre. Gotland's position is still strategic, a popular destination and common waypoint on journeys to Finland and Estonia.
- See also: Stockholm Archipelago
There is a large archipelago starting more or less with Öja (Landsort) some 50 nautical miles north of Gotland and extending to Arholma in Norrtälje. The main leisure craft fairway south to north, from Landsort via Kanholmsfjärden, Husaröleden and Blidösund to Arholma, has a length of more than 80 nautical miles. The archipelago has some 24,000 islands and islets on an area of 1,700 km².
The Baltic Sea end of the Göta canal is nearby to the south (in Söderköping). The southern entry to Lake Mälaren is through Södertälje canal, with Södertälje in a long narrow bay of the southern Stockholm archipelago. The other entry to Mälaren is through Stockholm itself.
The Åland islands and the Archipelago Sea in Finland are close by: the passage over the Sea of Åland from the north end of the Stockholm archipelago is short enough for nearly any vessel on the right day. Thus these three archipelagos could be seen as one destination, in fact continuing along the Gulf of Finland all the way to Saint Petersburg.
The archipelagos share many characteristics. There are myriads of tiny islets, interspersed with bigger islands with villages or even towns. The nature is varied, with harsh rocky islands in the outer archipelago and lush vegetation in the sheltered parts of the bigger ones. There are lots of summer cottages, yachts, tour boats and marinas. Stockholm Archipelago is by far the busiest, but even here there are many areas with little traffic.
Navigation is demanding, because of the relatively shallow waters and the many rocks and islets, but fairways are well marked and charts reliable at least in the busier areas. Once one is acquainted with the challenge, the archipelago offers nice sailing with constantly changing views. Many people cruise here for weeks every summer, still finding new places to visit.
- Öja – the lighthouse of Landsort marks the southern tip of the Stockholm archipelago
- Utö – an outer-archipelago idyllic island with a closed-down silver mine, and remnants from the mining industry. Do not confuse with Utö in Finland, across the sea.
- Sandön – the largest island in the outer archipelago, with the town Sandhamn known for its summer nightlife and base for the royal yacht club, an important sailing destination.
- Furusund — an island where Astrid Lindgren, August Strindberg and many other writers and painters spent their summers. Norröra and Söderöra are in the same region, off Norrtälje.
- Väddö kanal – a long narrow passage between Väddö and the mainland, with canal passages, small lakes and wetlands, and corresponding countryside landscapes and wildlife. The northern end is near Grisslehamn, with Eckerö across the Sea of Åland.
If crossing the Sea of Åland to Finland, note change of timezone and currency. Though the passage is short, with southerly or northerly winds the seas can be rough indeed. Depending on your vessel, you might want to have some extra days to wait for (the very common) westerly winds.
Lake Mälaren, accessible via Stockholm and the Södertälje canal, has a complex archipelago with thousands of islands and islets, somewhat resembling the Finnish lake systems. It is third in area of the Swedish lakes. Ekerö is a municipality of islands, containing the Drottningholm Palace, as well as Viking-Age city Birka.
Vänern and Vättern
Göta Kanal gives access to the two biggest lakes of Sweden, Vänern and Vättern.
Swedish coast of Gulf of Bothnia
Höga kusten ("the high coast") in the north part of the Bothnian Sea is a world heritage site together with the Finnish Kvarken archipelago. It is a popular destination for Swedish (and Ostrobothnian) yachters, which means there are facilities along all the coast. On the Swedish side the sea is often deep even close to the shore.
As the Gulf of Bothnia is sheltered by the Scandinavian mountains, winds are mostly quite light, especially in the (light) night.
If circumnavigating the Bothnian Sea, going counterclockwise may be the better option, because of coastal currents of 0,2–0,3 knots, giving a bonus of 50 nautical miles compared to going clockwise.
Boating in Finland
- Main article: Boating in Finland
As Finland is at high latitude, the sailing season is quite short. The peak season is from Midsummer in late June to when schools start in mid August. This is the time when most Finns have their summer holidays. It is often nice May to September in the south, but in spring and autumn you should be sure to dress adequately and check what marinas are open. Also fog is more common than in the summer.
Late autumn and early spring can be nice also – if you like being alone and know what you are doing. There are people heading out as soon as the ice leaves (usually in April in the south), but be very careful if there may still be some ice floating around or marks missing or moved by the ice. Likewise some are out until December, but then having to cope with a snowstorm is quite possible. Storms are much more common in autumn than in spring and summer. In spring, temperatures at sea are lower than inland, as the water is still cold (and the other way round in autumn).
There is an abundance of marinas and lesser guest harbours. Many locals mainly use natural harbours when not in need of electricity, sauna, washing machines and the like. Mooring in natural harbours is generally allowed. When coming from abroad, the diversity of marinas and nearby villages and nature may be enough for quite some time.
Especially in the Archipelago Sea, where tourism is an important income, most inhabited islands have a jetty for visiting yachts and provide some service, such as selling fish or handicraft or providing sauna.
Finnish coast of Bothnian Bay
Bothnian Bay (Perämeri, Bottenviken) up north is where Sweden and Finland meet. Spring comes late up here, with restrictions on freighter traffic still in effect (ice class IA required) in middle May a typical year.
- Inland entity: Northern Ostrobothnia
- Harbor map @ guestharbours.fi - Set G, Bothnian Bay 46 harbors
- Coastal cities:
- Tornio (Torneå) at the border to Sweden, the oldest town in Finnish Lapland, with charter from 1621.
- Oulu (Uleåborg), a university town at the mouth of Oulujoki, the biggest city in northern Finland and the fourth biggest metropolitan area in the country by population. Guest harbour in the heart of the city. Oulu is the city where Jarkko Oikarinen wrote the first irc server and client in August 1988.
- Raahe (Brahestad) 64°41 15` and 24°27 60` 
The Kvarken Archipelago (Merenkurkku, Kvarken) is an UNESCO world heritage site and naturally very beautiful. Postglacial rebound (nearly a centimetre a year) causes the shallow seabed to rise, uncovering pristine new land every year. The land forms (seen as islands, capes, rock deposits and reefs) were created by the ice age glacier.
Because of the northern latitude, there are no dark nights in most of the summer: dusk becomes dawn and the sun rises again. The skies are also often clear; the area is one with most sun hours in Finland. The water is clean, and as it is shallow it becomes quite warm (18–21°C south of Vaasa).
- Inland entity: Ostrobothnia
- Harbour map @ guestharbours.fi - Set F, Kvarken lists 51 harbors
- Coastal cities:
- Kokkola (Karleby), which had one of the largest merchant fleets in Finland during the 18th century and was a major producer of tar and ships. Large well preserved wooden old town.
- Jakobstad (Pietarsaari), home to the Nautor Swan, nearby Larsmo is home to Baltic Yachts.
- Vaasa (Vasa), the main town of Ostrobothnia. Good service for yachts. The main Kvarken archipelago is in the surroundings, out to Fäliskär, Norrskär and Valsörarna.
Finnish coast of Bothnian Sea
- Bothnian Sea (Selkämeri, Bottenhavet)
- Inland entity Satakunta
- Harbour map @ guestharbours.fi - Set E, Bothnian lists 22 guest harbors.
- Coastal cities:
- Other destinations:
- Bothnian Sea National Park covers a long stretch of archipelago along nearly all the Bothnian Sea coast. Some of the islands have services, and a couple of lighthouses and a former coastal fort can be visited.
Åland is an autonomic demilitarized island group with tight connections to both Finland and Sweden, on the route to Stockholm if coming from east.
- Harbour map @ guestharbours.fi - Set C, Åland islands lists 30 harbors. The Great Harbour Book has a volume on Åland with 140 harbours (including natural harbours).
Coming from Sweden, across the Sea of Åland, the main points of entry are Eckerö and the capital Mariehamn (with two marinas, choose in time). Most people cruise the southern and eastern archipelago, north of the main islands you will be quite alone, although there are villages also here. Thanks to the autonomy and small population, there are much less summer cottages in Åland than in Sweden or Finland proper.
Archipelago Sea (Skärgårdshavet, Saaristomeri) is a scenic and serene classic. It is explorable also with bicycle and car because of the network of small ferries connecting the bigger islands, but with boat all of it is in reach.
- Harbour map @ guestharbours.fi - Set D, Archipelago of Turku lists 91 harbors. The Great Harbour Book has a volume on the Archipelago Sea with 140 harbours (including some natural harbours). See also visitsaaristo.net.
- Inland entity: Finland Proper.
- Coastal cities:
- Uusikaupunki, the main town of the Vakka-Suomi region, an important ship building and shipping centre in the 19th century. Empire style wooden old town.
- Naantali. The President of the Republic of Finland has his summerplace Kesäranta within sight, the Muumimaa Moomin Troll Theme Park is a hit with the kids, and there is a wooden old town with shops, cafés, exhibitions and restaurants. Not accessible with height over 16.5 m. With mast over 11 m, check which route to use.
- Turku, former capital and the main city in the region, at the mouth of the Aurajoki river.
- Pargas, in the archipelago, with bridge connection to the mainland.
The archipelago is a wonderful place for small craft cruising. Mostly the waters are open enough for relaxed sailing, but the landscape is constantly changing. There are myriads of islands to land on when you feel like, and guest harbours not too far away.
Most waters are sheltered, so with some care and checking weather forecasts you might get along with any vessel. For longer journeys a yacht with cooking and sleeping facilities is nice – and the most common choice – but if you did not come with one, also a smaller vessel, even a kayak, can be a good choice. Regardless of craft there are always new places to explore.
Gulf of Finland, Finnish coast
The Gulf of Finland stretches from Hanko to Saint Petersburg, a distance of some 220 nautical miles, while the distance across it easily can be covered in a day
There is an archipelago along much of the northern coast, giving shelter from the sea unless you choose an outer route. It is similar to the Archipelago Sea, but much more narrow; you will see the horizon every now and then even keeping to the inner fairways. The route from Helsinki via Hanko to the Archipelago Sea and back is used by countless yachts from the Helsinki regions, so the fairways and marinas are quite busy. There are several nice towns along the coast.
- Inland entity: Uusimaa
- Harbour map @ guestharbours.fi - Set B, Parainen (Pargas) - Helsinki lists 70 guest marinas from Pargas to Helsinki
- Harbour map @ guestharbours.fi - Set A Virojoki - Helsinki lists 58 guest marinas east of Helsinki
- Coastal cities
- Hanko, on a peninsula reaching out into the open sea. Former spa town and Finland's first winter harbour.
- Helsinki, Finland's capital.
- Porvoo(.fi) is a renowned destination with a well preserved old town by the Porvoo river's mouth.
- Kotka is an old port and marina city. The apex of Kotka summer is the Kotkan Meripäivät(.com) in the end of July
- Other destinations
- Gulf of Finland National Park
The Finnish lakes
There are many waterways consisting of at least partly labyrinthic archipelagos, with islands, capes, bays and narrows, in addition to the more or less open bodies of water. There are always things to explore off your channel, if you have the time. Lake shores and islands are popular for summer cottages, private or rentable, but there is so much shore that much of it is left alone.
Depending on intended routes, smaller craft than by the coast can be handy. On many lakes day sailors are common. Staying overnight in a tent or a hotel instead of in the boat is often a serious option – as is renting a cottage and using a small rowing or motor boat, sailing dinghy or canoe to explore the surroundings. That said, many of the lakes are large enough for comfortable sailing with proper yachts. Bridges and power lines restrict mast height. The lower the mast the better, but height over 12 m will seriously restrict your options. On the main shipping routes of Saimaa the limit is much higher (24m?).
Of the lake systems, only Saimaa is directly accessible from the sea by yacht (by the Saimaa Canal). For the other lakes you mostly have to charter a yacht or smaller boat locally.
Lake Saimaa is fifth largest in Europe, 1,147 to 4,377 km² depending on what is counted (443 to 1690 sq mi), with some 14,000 islands. The connected navigable waterways, also with big lakes, reach from Lappeenranta, where the canal ends, all the way to Mikkeli (South Savonia), Iisalmi (North Savonia) and Nurmes (North Karelia).
There are also large lakes farther north, the largest ones being Oulujärvi in Kainuu, and Inarijärvi. Both have national "hiking areas", with service for boaters and day trip hikers. Inarijärvi, with an area of 1,040 km2 (400 sq mi) and some 3,000 islands, in sparsely populated northern Lapland, also includes part of Vätsäri wilderness area.
Boating in Russia
As Russia is not a Schengen country, you need to go through border formalities and probably get a visa. You don't need a visa, though, for the Saimaa Canal, unless you are going to set foot in Russia. Check procedures in advance.
You need to clear at a border station when leaving the last Schengen country. If crossing the border directly from Finnish waters to Russian waters, there are two border stations, Santio for the inner route and Haapasaari off Kotka for the outer route. On the latter, contact Russian authorities on Sommers (Russian: Соммерс, Finnish: Someri; 5 M after the border), on VHF channel 16. See also Boating in Finland#Gulf of Finland.
Using the main offshore fairway with traffic separation systems, you will arrive in Russia directly from international waters, 10 M west-southwest of Gogland (Гогланд, Suursaari, Hogland).
- Island of Gogland (Suursaari of Finland before the war) is in the middle of the eastern Gulf of Finland and is classified as "border area" and therefore there is a lot of red tape for foreigners to get here. The island is known for its beauty and used to be a vivid destination for domestic holidaymakers before the WWII.
- Kronstadt is a city and military seaport on Kotlin Island
- Saint Petersburg in the Neva delta, a huge city, the former capital, with splendid history and cultural traditions, as well as modern city life.
- Ladoga, the largest lake in Europe (17,700 km²), is just some 40 nautical miles upstream the peacefully flowing Neva river.
- Kaliningrad is an exclave south of Lithuania, see Boating in Kaliningrad Oblast below.
Boating in Estonia
Estonia has some great boating destinations especially The West Estonian archipelago with widely different looking sights than the archipelagos of Finland and Sweden.
The yachting tradition was largely interrupted by the Soviet rule. Facilities have been built since the independence and are good in many locations, but guest harbours are fewer than along the Finnish coast and standards vary.
The coast is not like the archipelagos in Finland, but largely sandy beaches. The waters are shallow and rocky; keeping to the fairways is usually necessary when sailing near the coast.
Estonian north coast
- The River Narva marks the Estonian-Russian border in East Estonia
- Lahemaa National Park by the coast in North Estonia
- Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, has many guest marinas. Tallinn was a strong trading port in the Hanseatic League in the medieval times. This was partially due to the extreme ease of sailing safely into and from the port of Tallinn on most winds as practically the whole Bay of Tallinn is deep and practically free of natural hazards on the approach, save a few exceptions easily avoided with modern charts. Tallinn is considerably more expensive than the rest of the country.
- In the Old Town Marina at N 59°26,32' E 24°45,32' the medieval Old Town is only 15 minute walk away. The entrance to the Old Town Marina is actually through the same entrance in the wave breaker as the huge commercial ferries enter the busy passenger ports. There is a fish restaurant in the guest marina area and various competitively priced and well stocked stores, hotels and restaurants in the immediate vincinity.
- Pirita on the western bank of River Pirita features 2 guest marinas. The Pirita Sailing and Recreation Centre was the home harbour of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games sailing events and is bustling with life in the summertime. Pirita is a larger complex with a very popular sandy beach, a hotel displaying the brash architectural aesthetics of the soviet of that era and some restaurants, pine forest walks and pop-up food wending in summertime. There is a very impressive ruin and a lovely botanical gardens just nearby.
- Laulasmaa is a small coastal village in North Estonia with nearby Lohusalu Marina N 59°23,2' E 24°12,6
- Paldiski used to be a highly closed military base in the soviet times.
- Nõva is a small coastal village in North Estonia
- Osmussaare is the last island before reaching the Western Estonian archipelago. It is mostly in natural state.
Estonian archipelago and western coast
Hiiumaa and Saaremaa are the biggest islands of the West Estonian islands and hit destinations also for domestic holiday makers. Both offer sights of scenic beauty with vast unpassable juniper forests, meadows and leaf forests and important age old lighthouses. The history of these islands is interesting and the wood building style is a thing to see. Both islands are connected to the mainland with around the year service by small ferries and have various many good guest marinas. The water is shallow, so you mainly have to keep to the fairways, and navigate accurately at entry from the sea.
- Haapsalu is an old spa city famous for its mud bath treatments and castle ruins. Grand Holm MarinaN58°57.50' E23°31.61'
- Hiiumaa is renowned for its natural beauty and also important lighthouses (the Kõpu lighthouse is from 1531, third in age of active lighthouses worldwide). Vormsi is a smaller island between Hiiumaa and mainland.
- Saaremaa has populated history of 8,000 years and the island's main city is Kuressaare located on the south shore of the island. In the west is the scenic Vilsandi National Park with a small island of the same name..
- Muhu is an island between Saaremaa and the main land. Lounaranna Sadam guest harbour N58°32.458' E23°19.163 on the southern shore of Muhu.
- The Muhu straight between Hiiumaa and Vormsi and between Muhu and the continental Estonia is shallow with water depth rarely exceeding 10m anywhere but is a safe fairway to the Bay of Riga even for deeper swimming vessels. Naturally with calm seas the swimming water gets very warm in the waters of Muhu.
- Matsalu National Park is situated 30 miles south of Haapsalu on the mainland coast.
- Pärnu is renowned sunbathing city by the north of Bay of Riga, at the mouth of Pärnu river and on the Via Baltica.
- Kihnu is the largest island in the Gulf of Riga
- Kabli is a small coastal town 10 km (6.2 mi) north of the border to Latvia
- Ruhnu is a small island in the middle of the Gulf of Riga
To the west is the Irbe Strait towards south-western Latvia and onwards and to the southern end of the Bay of Riga is the Latvian capital Riga
Boating in Latvia
The main rivers flowing into the gulf are Daugava, Lielupe, Gauja, and Salaca.
For Latvians, yachting is for the very well off, and regular marinas are very few and still in their infancy (2019).
- Kuiviži, small town in the Bay of Riga, at the mouth of the Krišupe; Kapteiņu osta
- Riga, the capital city of Latvia; the City Yacht Club is right across the old town on the Daugava river
- Jūrmala, Marina Jurmala is on the Lielupe river.
- Ventspils on the west coast, Ventspils Marina
- Pāvilosta, small town on the west coast, at the mouth of the Saka; Pāvilosta Marina
It might be possible to arrange something with the authorities of other ports.
Boating in Lithuania
Main cities and towns on the coast are
The river Neman has been connected to Don via the Dnieper–Bug Canal (allowing shipping to the Black Sea), but some of the canal is in disrepair. A river cruise to Belarus may still be possible.
Boating in Kaliningrad Oblast
As Russia is not part of the Schengen area, you have to go through border formalities and probably need a visa. Check requirements beforehand.
Boating in Poland
Biggest polish city on the Baltic Sea coast is Gdansk, a city famous for its dockyards instrumental in formation of the Solidarność labor solidarity movement in 1980 which became a reactive catalyst towards the collapse of the soviet system. The Gulf of Gdansk is also one of the main yachting areas, the other being around Szczecin in the estuary of the river Oder (Odra).
Call the authorities when approaching a port. Although Poland is part of Schengen, some formalities may be needed. Similarly when leaving a port.
Weather reports on MF and VHF in English and Polish. Also Swedish Navtex weather reports can be used.
Boating in Germany
The Baltic Sea Coast of Germany is a vacation region located in the northern federal states of Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The eastern part of it is known as the German Riviera. Besides the obvious draw of a beach destination, many of the old towns in this area bear witness to the former wealth of Hanseatic cities and are well worth a visit.
- German NtM (Nachrichten für Seefahrer, bilingual in German and English) are available through BSH. Subscription may be needed for the full text.
During the long winter nights the Northerners developed a taste for strong drinks. So when civilisation made its mark during the 19th century, there were national rules introduced in order to rule in these bad habits. Even today you will find sales heavily regulated in the otherwise modern countries of Finland and Sweden. You can only buy liqueur, wine and strong beer from some stores – and do not expect to find one in every little harbour town. Load up while you can. Keep receipts for possible customs checks. Import for personal use (including as gifts) inside the EU tax union is free. Åland and Russia are outside of it; if you travel via either, free-import amounts may be tiny.
That said, do not open the bottles at sea or before leaving port. A situation where you need all your skills unimpaired can develop quickly.
Water at sea is cold. Life jackets are necessary even when the shore is near. Keep your clothes on to stay warm longer.
Although there are no hurricanes, you should respect the sea. Waves are generally steeper than in the ocean. Thunderstorms will quickly create gale force winds. There are weather forecasts available on NavTex, marin VHF, FM radio and Internet, and at bigger marinas. Use forecasts for mariners, as weather on land can be quite different.
With speedboats, use the dead man's switch. To get back into a boat without stairs or swimming platform, you can use the outboard motor (provided it is off). Small boats are best entered at the stern, as they will not capsize easily that way. Keeping to the boat in emergencies is nearly always the best option – it often stays afloat even if holed and both helps you float and is more easy to find, while it is easy to underestimate the difficulties in reaching the shore – and getting up on a slippery rocky shore even when there.
Disposal of garbage in the Baltic Sea is forbidden, with varying degrees of control. Septic tanks emptying is provided for free in many guest harbours, at least in Finland and Sweden.
There are GMDSS A2 areas in the Baltic Sea, but you can easily choose your route such that you mostly or always are in the GMDSS A1 areas, with coast station VHF/DSC coverage. In some countries, e.g. Germany and Sweden, there are coast radio stations that connect calls to and from the public telephone network.
In the Nordic countries and Estonia the VHF channels L1 and L2 (155.500 and 155.525 MHz) are available for communication between leisure craft. In Finland (and Norway, Iceland) also L3 (155.650 MHz) is available. L2 can be tried also as calling frequency.
Where leisure craft are allowed to use channel 16 and the normal ship-to-ship frequencies, keep use of these channels strict. If available and legal in the area, use L1–L3.
Mobile phones work well in most guest harbours and often near the coast, but ordinary base stations have a maximal reach of 35 kilometres (less than 20 nautical miles), even when in line of sight, so at sea they are of limited use. The archipelagos are mostly covered, but expect some areas without coverage.
Recycling points in the guest harbours by the coasts are usually maintained by the association Håll skärgården ren. To use them, you are expected to pay the membership fee. Otherwise mostly bring it in and bring it out (for small amounts, ask your conscience). If in doubt, ask the harbour staff.