Travel topics > Transportation > Boat travel > Boating in Finland
Finland is a great boating destination. The "Land of a thousand lakes" has thousands of islands too, in the lakes and in the coastal archipelagos.
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.
Boating is a national pastime in Finland, with a boat to every seven or eight people. This is matched by Norway, Sweden and New Zealand, but otherwise quite unique (e.g. in the Netherlands the figure is one to forty).
The main boating destinations are the Åland Islands and the Archipelago Sea, the archipelago along the south coast, the archipelagos along the west coast, and the lake district.
The lake district covers most of the central and south-east of Finland, with "central" in fact reaching to just about a quarter of Finland's length. Much of it is reachable from the seas through the Saimaa Canal in the south-east. There are other lakes that are popular for boating but where boats must be chartered locally or brought in by road.
Most lakes and archipelagos are labyrinthine, with countless islands and islets, inlets and straits. This provides for varying landscapes and seascapes and many nice surprises, but also means that you must be alert with your navigation – even if most fairways are well marked.
For canoes and kayaks, there are sheltered archipelagos and waterways for relaxed canoeing, less sheltered archipelagos for sea kayaking, and rivers also with challenging white water. In the north many of the destinations are wilderness-like, while elsewhere the routes mostly at least partly are through cultural landscapes, often with old heritage. Some waterways have been developed for paddling tourism, with portage infrastructure and resting spots. In the northern wilderness there may be lean-tos and cottages primarily for hiking fishermen, but suiting also paddlers.
The Baltic Sea
Finland's coast is towards arms of the Baltic Sea: the Gulf of Bothnia in the west divided into the Bothnian Sea, the Quark (Kvarken) and the Bothnian Bay, and the Gulf of Finland in the south. In the south-west the Sea of Åland, the Åland Islands and the Archipelago Sea border to the main basin of the Baltic Sea.
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, with the percentage getting lower the farther one goes from the straits.
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 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 south of Åland, while significant wave height over 4 m occurs regularly also in the Gulf of Finland and the Gulf of Bothnia.
The Baltic is a busy sea, and Finland is not at a quiet corner. Most of Finnish foreign trade is shipped over the Baltic sea, the ferry traffic between Helsinki and Tallinn is intense, and 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. 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 – the inner fairways through the archipelago are more interesting than sailing the open sea.
Most archipelagos are dense enough to provide shelter from the sea, with waves comparable to those of lakes with similar distance to the windward shore.
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, and day temperatures typically are in the range 15–25°C. Water is cool even in July, especially some distance from the shore. 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).
In wintertime the northern parts of Baltic Sea is covered with sea ice, not only the Finnish archipelagoes, but also the open sea off the coasts. In the Bay of Bothnia ice breakers are needed into May.
Weather forecasts for mariners are given for about the same regions as the section division here, but lakes other than Saimaa are excluded, and forecasts are given also for the northern Baltic (i.e. the open sea between Hanko and Sweden) and for the Sea of Åland. Forecasts for the land are seldom relevant, except for the smaller lakes, as winds are much stronger at sea, and can have different patterns. Forecasts are available on the net as text and as map, the text also broadcasted on FM radio (in Finnish and Swedish), VHF and Navtex (check!).
In season, a notice for small craft is given when the forecast wind speed is 11 m/s, gale warning is given for 14 m/s and storm warning for 21 m/s. Warnings are also given e.g. for wave height over 2.5 m and for exceptionally high or low water.
Channels and charts
The main lanes for commercial shipping are of course well marked and sometimes the only option, but the busiest ones are best avoided when there are alternatives. Lesser fairways crisscross through the archipelagos, used by pleasure craft as well as ferries and small freighters. There is a system of well marked main boating fairways, and also separate half-official boating routes (the depths of the latter are not guaranteed but trusted by most boaters). Cardinal marks in blue and white instead of black and yellow are used for some informal routes, mainly the last mile to a harbour. Leading lines are common, usually with lights. By kayak or canoe you should mostly avoid fairways; some paddlers use a pole with a bright flag to be easier to spot from fast motorboats, which are the main threat.
Outside fairways and boating routes you have to use your judgement. The depth figures usually give a good general picture, but not all areas have been covered with modern sounding techniques (for the Archipelago Sea just some 10 %). Where depth figures are deduced from lead line sounding (yes! there may still be some such areas) or traditional echo sounding one should navigate cautiously, as there may well be rocks or reefs between sounding points or sounding lines, at least in shallow water. On the other hand, on routes that have been extensively used, official fairways or not, most rocks should have been found.
You need detailed coastal charts (1:50,000) for the archipelagos along most of the coast. Small scale charts can be handy for planning the voyage, but are useless for navigation in many areas. The detailed charts come in two versions: single standard charts (à €20) or as series of a format more handy for small craft (à €47). Most of the relevant inland waterways are covered by chart series like the coastal areas (mostly 1:40,000). For paddlers other maps may be more relevant than charts, although some of the marine information may be useful.
Finnish charts now use EUREF-FIN (in practice equivalent to WGS84) and standard INT A – leave red marks to the left when entering a harbour – with minor deviations. The charts for some lakes may still use the national coordinate system and different symbols and colours. The Mercator projection is used for most charts (scale consistent along latitudes, angles true). The "chart" INT 1 (€20) has complete information on the symbols used etc., in the standard format. It is used by few locals; the chart series include a brief symbol explanation and other useful information (also in English).
See official info: Information on Finnish charts and publication by the Finnish transport agency. Authorized chart reseller is Karttakeskus. The charts and books are available also at e.g. yachting shops and bigger book stores.
Because the fairways crisscross through the archipelagos, instead of leading from the sea to a port, their nominal directions are not always obvious (check the chart). Therefore cardinal marks are used extensively, also large fixed edge marks up to 50m off the fairway (likewise: check the chart). Topmarks are seldom used, despite the symbols used in Finnish charts (colours are not given in the chart itself, you should know them). The edge marks have large radar reflectors, which can be mistaken for topmarks.
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 here, as there are lots of small rocks.
You might also want a book on guest harbours e.g. the semi-official Käyntisatamat-Besökshamnar (one volume on the coast, €23, another on the lakes) or The Great Harbour Book by an Archipelago Sea scout troop (Partiosissit). Käyntisatamat-Besökshamnar is updated yearly and covers all official guest harbours. The sturdier and more thorough Great Harbour Book has five volumes (à ca €65), with about 140 harbours each, including also some natural harbours: Part I in Finnish and English covering the Archipelago Sea, Part II–III in Finnish and Swedish covering Åland and the Gulf of Finland, respectively, Gulf of Bothnia (no number) in Finnish and English, and Part IV (€73) in English and German, with an assortment of harbours covering also the Stockholm region and the Estonian coast. Charts and symbols should be comprehensible regardless of language.
The index of the online Notices to Mariners is in Finnish, while the notices themselves are trilingual.
Listening to VTS can give early warnings on ships approaching narrow passages, after your having got a feel for what place names are relevant, and learnt to recognize them.
Rules for inner waters
Finland has large archipelagos, which means rules for inner waters cover extensive coastal areas. Some of these are good to know also for visiting yachts.
There are specific minimum requirements on equipment, but any sensible yacht skipper should have these. Chartered yachts are equipped to higher standards. Lifejackets are obligatory, as is wearing them when circumstances require. For small boats, check that you have oar or anchor, and pump or bailer. A fire extinguisher is required in many cases.
Small vessels do not always have sidelights and can carry their toplight low. Thus a white light often means a quite fast motorboat (which in theory should have sidelights), 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 and he keeps due watch, he should see you.
Motoring boats with sails set have to use the day shape, regardless of size. Not everybody follows this rule, but you should.
Boats of less than 7 m should if possible give way for vessels over 12 m in fairways. Pleasure craft keep away for professional ones also as a matter of good manners. Neither 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 showing the associated lights or day shapes.
Road ferries have right of way. There is a warning sign at the shore, some of them prompting you to use your whistle. Do so if you think they should be alerted, such as when they are at the shore and might otherwise be starting their journey. Cable ferries have day shapes showing "Not under command" and red lights in a triangle showing the same when you are on their route. The cable may rise to the surface in front of them and to some extent behind, keep clear.
Lights and day shapes are not required in safe anchorages away from traffic.
Among the signal flags, you should know A (diver, be careful and keep clear) and L (stop, shown by police, coast guard etc.).
For waterways with rivers or locks, you should acquaint yourself with the relevant national rules; Finland does not use the CEVNI. These include descriptions of lights at locks and bridges, rules on not obstructing the traffic, and rules on meeting and overtaking.
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, but anchoring close to cottages (which sometimes are hard to see from a distance) is frown upon and using private jetties without permission is forbidden. When coming from abroad, the diversity of marinas and nearby villages and nature may be enough for quite some time.
Official guest harbours are marked on the charts. Some anchorages and jetties (such as those of some authorities) can be used for temporary refuge. Quays for sparse-timetable ferries can be used for loading and unloading, but not in ways disturbing the traffic.
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. Prices for staying overnight (with a normal yacht) at a guest harbour varies from €5 on some of these islands to perhaps €15–40 for marinas with full service. For catamarans and truly big yachts practice varies: some have a uniform price, others have higher prices. Some harbours may not suite the biggest yachts at all. Where electricity is provided (usually not at guest jetties of small islands), it is mainly for charging batteries, not for excess consumption.
Natural harbours can be found in some harbour books (see above), by discussions in marinas or by studying the chart combined with trial and error. Make sure you study the anchorage before trusting it to be safe, especially regarding underwater rocks and forecasted winds. A wedge for fastening a line to a crack in the rock can come handy, but mostly you can attach lines to trees and rocks. Locals seldom use dinghies, but jump from the bow to the shore (which can be quite steep, and slippery if wet).
Major marinas can be trusted to have fresh (potable) water, electricity, showers and sauna, usually also wastewater collectors (pumping toilet water to the sea is forbidden). Marine fuel stations have become rarer, but hardly to the point of it being a problem.
Mooring 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 some harbours small and medium size boats are moored between shafts.
Most information to mariners is given in Finnish, Swedish and English. Use any of them in contact with authorities. Along the coasts also harbour masters should have a good command of these, but in the Bay of Bothnia, the easternmost Gulf of Finland and in the lakes, Swedish proficiency can be lacking.
English is sufficient for formal communication, but knowing Finnish or Swedish (depending on area and individuals) may be valuable for informal chat – and for recognizing place names etc.
Qualification and licences
In Finland "sufficient age and skill" – minimum 15 years for bigger boats – is enough for skippering leisure craft up to 24 m (sic!). There is a provision in the law allowing for specific requirements (18 years and documented competence), but it seems not to have been used. You still want to make sure that you indeed have the needed skills, and some documentation may in some cases make bare boat chartering smoother. Voluntary half-official exams are quite popular (at least among city folks).
Children under 15 may skipper boats without engine, or of less than 5.5 m with an engine of at most 20 hp (15 kW), given "sufficient age and skill". This should include any boat available at a cottage you rent. As above, you need to use your judgement about age and skill.
For formerly professional vessels formal qualifications may be needed. If it is your own vessel, what you need at home should suffice.
If anybody is paying for the voyage different rules apply. Do not share costs in a way that suggests somebody is a paying customer. Even one paying for the boat and another for the fuel has been interpreted in that way.
If the boat has a 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.
- See also: Boating on the Baltic Sea
You might want to come with your own yacht, or have friends who are thinking of importing a yacht to Finland.
For Sweden and Estonia, crossing the Sea of Åland, Kvarken or Gulf of Finland can easily be done in a day, given suitable weather. Crossing the Baltic Sea by yacht from Gotland is also common, but requires sailing overnight, possibly with a break in VHF coast radio coverage.
The Baltic Sea is connected to the Atlantic through the Danish straits (Little Belt, Great Belt and Øresund). You can also come through the Kiel Canal south of Denmark or the Göta Canal, by the latter reaching the Baltic just south of the Stockholm Archipelago.
The Russian waterways are connected to Ladoga and Neva, so you can reach the Gulf of Finland via Saint Petersburg, even from the Arctic Sea, the Black Sea or the Caspian Sea. Check needed paperwork. For entry from there (perhaps via Haapasaari) or from Vyborg (probably via Santio), see Gulf of Finland below. There is no entry by the shared rivers.
Also the Central European waterway system (connected to the Atlantic and the Mediterranean) is an option for reaching the Baltic Sea.
Coming from Denmark, Germany or Poland to 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 in Finland.
Although the distance from Kiel to Tornio 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 the Gulf of Bothnia.
Common entry routes to Finnish waters include (from north to south to east) those to or via Vaasa. Eckerö, Mariehamn, Utö (Archipelago Sea, Turku), Hanko, Helsinki (from Tallinn), Haapasaari (Kotka, from Russia) and Santio (from Vyborg). If arriving from outside Schengen, use Mariehamn, Hanko, Helsinki, Haapasaari or Santio. There is also a customs in the Saimaa Canal (at Lake Nuijamaa). For customs and immigration rules, see Finnish Border Guard: Border checks on recreational craft in Finland and Customs: Instructions for leisure craft. If you have pets, check procedures regardless of where you are coming from.
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).
Except Russia, all countries by the Baltic Sea belong to the Schengen Area and the European Union, so normally you would not need to follow customs routes or pass border or customs controls. If you come from Russia or from another non-Schengen country though, you need to visit a border guard station (08:00–22:00) before anybody or anything may leave the vessel. In that case contact the border guard station an hour in advance (VHF: 68 or 16). If you have goods requiring customs clearance, contact customs well in advance, for traffic between Åland and the rest of Finland before you leave port. For the Saimaa Canal special instructions apply.
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).
For most people, chartering a local yacht is still the main option, unless you already have your own yacht in the Baltic, or use the one of a friend. For arriving to the town of your choice before embarking, see that town.
You can charter a yacht or a smaller boat in many of the bigger towns along the coast and in inland archipelagos. You may want to check what documents about your qualifications the company wants (most trust you unless they have reason not to), 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. In the lakes typical boat size is smaller, and you might not need (or want) a proper yacht. Open and semi-open boats are offered also by the coasts, usually targeted at recreational fishermen.
"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.
Rowboats, sailing dinghies, canoes and kayaks can be good options at many destinations.
There are many towns and cities worth seeing, most mentioned in the sections below. 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 from north to south to east.
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. There are archipelagos only along some parts of the coast.
- Inland entity: Northern Ostrobothnia
- Harbor map @ guestharbours.fi - Set G, Bothnian Bay; 46 harbors
- The Finnish chart series G covers the Finnish coast of the Bothnian Bay.
- Tornio (Torneå) at the border to Sweden, the oldest town in Finnish Lapland, with charter from 1621. You might want to cross the border, the archipelago continues off Haparanda.
- Oulu (Uleåborg), a university town at the mouth of Oulujoki, the biggest city in northern Finland. 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) 
Other destinations include
- Bothnian Bay National Park (Metsähallitus description), off Kemi and Tornio and more or less reachable by boat only
- Hailuoto, an island off Oulu
- Rahja archipelago near Kalajoki, with glacial rebound featuring like in Kvarken. Best explored by canoe or dinghy, as most of the area is shallow and rocky. Boating route with depth 0.8–1, sailing yachts mostly confined to the outer parts.
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).
Navigating unmarked waters is difficult, as there are lots of rocks on the shallow seabed. The ice can move rocks in shallow water, so outside fairways (where new rocks will be dealt with in the spring) charts cannot be totally accurate. There are well marked fairways, though, and boating channels have been made deeper the last years to accommodate growing depths of modern yachts. Some destinations are still unreachable with 2m keels. Be wary about variations in sea level.
Circumnavigating the Bothnian Sea counterclockwise, options for crossing to Sweden include the route via Norrskär to Järnäs or Norrbyskär (smaller vessels; lighthouses in sight all way and mobile phones mostly working); the northern route around Replot or from Jakobstad towards Byviken in Holmö off Umeå; and going more or less directly to Höga kusten near Örnsköldsvik, from Fäliskär to Skeppsmalen, Trysunda or Ulvön.
- Inland entity: Ostrobothnia
- Harbour map @ guestharbours.fi - Set F, Kvarken lists 51 harbors
- The Finnish chart series F covers the Finnish part of the Kvarken Archipelago.
- 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.
Coast of Bothnian Sea
The coast of the Bothnian Sea (Selkämeri, Bottenhavet) has several nice small towns with long seafaring traditions. There are archipelagos along most of the coast, but there are some gaps between them.
- Inland entities Ostrobothnia and Satakunta
- Harbour map @ guestharbours.fi - Set E, Bothnian lists 22 guest harbors.
- The Finnish chart series E covers the Finnish coast of the Bothnian Sea.
- Vaasa (Vasa)
- Kristinestad (Kristiinankaupunki)
- Pori (Björneborg) 61°37,0’N, 21°26,4’E hosts the Pori Jazz festival on 9-17th July
- Rauma (Raumo) 61˚8,85'N 21˚28,145'E 
The 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 the east. Thanks to the autonomy and small population, there are much less summer cottages in Åland than in Sweden or Finland proper.
- 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).
- The Finnish chart series C covers the Åland islands.
- There is a border crossing point in Mariehamn, which can be used if e.g. coming directly from Kaliningrad.
Coming from Sweden, across the Sea of Åland, the main points of entry are Eckerö and the capital Mariehamn. Mariehamn is the natural choice if coming from the south and aiming for the Archipelago Sea (unless steering directly via Utö). Eckerö can be a good stopover also if otherwise sailing along Åland's west coast.
Mariehamn is the capital of the Åland islands, with half their population. There are two marinas in Mariehamn, west and east of the town, with the fairway forking soon after entering the archipelago, make your choice in time. Both are large and popular.
Most people cruise the southern and eastern archipelago. You can follow the main fairway from Mariehamn to mainland Finland via Utö. Föglö and Sottunga are along the route, as well as many smaller interesting islands. Kökar is in the far south-east, but probably worth a visit. You can also take the inner route via Lumparn and either join the main fairway (check the bridge) or continue to the north-east via Bomarsund (with a great fortress destroyed in the Crimean War; check the bridge) or Prästö sundet. Continue via Vårdö and Brändö, perhaps ending up in Iniö or Houtskär in the Archipelago Sea.
If you go north of the main islands you will be quite alone, although there are villages also here. There may be blank areas in the chart. One skerry of special interest for many from Finland is Väderskär, featuring as Stormskäret in the very popular film series Stormskärs Maja. The author of the books, mostly based on real life events, lived in nearby Simskäla. Have a guide from Simskäla tell about the life on the skerry. After these islands of Vårdö either head southward or continue towards Kumlinge, perhaps then to the Archipelago Sea via Brändö.
There are many other routes, just study the charts, or check what destination on shore you are interested in.
Archipelago Sea (Skärgårdshavet, Saaristomeri) is a scenic and serene classic, a wonderful place for small craft cruising. On 8,300 km2 (3,200 sq mi) it has more than 18,000 islands and islets, totaling 2,000 km2 (770 sq mi). 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.
- Harbour map @ guestharbours.fi - Set D, Archipelago of Turku lists 91 harbors. The Great Harbour Book of Partiosissit has a volume on the Archipelago Sea with 140 harbours (including some natural ones). See also visitsaaristo.net.
- Inland entity: Finland Proper.
- The Finnish chart series D covers most of the Archipelago Sea.
- There are 900 nautical miles of official fairways and boating routes in the Archipelago Sea. Partiosissit has a book on 2,000 more nautical miles of unofficial routes. And you are of course free to find your own, with due caution.
- Archipelago VTS uses VHF channel 71.
Although fairways are well marked and there is a lot of navigable water outside them, foreigners used to more open waters will probably have quite a challenge in adjusting their navigation techniques, before being able to fully enjoy the experience. Going down under to check the chart is not the way to navigate here.
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.
The permanently inhabited islands, at least the remote ones, tend to have some kind of guest harbour and service for boaters. For electricity, waste bins and showers you should head for the bigger ones, but sauna, freshly smoked fish, handicraft or a nature trail may be available anywhere. You should definitively visit some of these minor islands. Utö, (Korpo-)Jurmo and (Nagu-)Nötö are classics not to miss if nearby, while countless others are nice as well.
Main islands of the archipelago include those of Kustavi, Velkua, Merimasku, Rymättylä, Iniö, Houtskär, Korpo, Nagu, Pargas and Kimitoön. Smaller noteworthy islands include Utö, Jurmo and Nötö in the outer archipelago on the route from the open sea toward Turku, Gullkrona and Örö farther east, the lighthouse skerry Bengtskär off Kimitoön, and the lush former leper hospital island Själö close to Nagu Kyrkbacken.
Main ports in the Archipelago Sea from north to south towards east:
- 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 is a solid sailing destination and known as one of the most beautiful and bustling guest marinas in Finland. The President of the Republic of Finland has his summerplace Kultaranta within sight and the Moomin World theme park is a hit with the kids. Naantali features a luxurious spa hotel and 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.
- Nagu Kyrkbacken, a village with the biggest marina in the region, between Naantali and Turku to the north and the outer archipelago to the south.
- Pargas, a town immediately south of Turku, to the east from Airisto; the town itself is on the route from Helsinki to Airisto, but accessible only by long sounds.
- Kasnäs and Dalsbruk in Kimitoön are villages at the main fairway eastwards to Hanko and Helsinki.
Gulf of Finland
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. The ferry traffic between the capitals of Finland and Estonia, Helsinki and Tallinn, is frequent, as is freighter traffic through the gulf.
There is an archipelago along much of the northern coast, giving shelter from the sea unless you choose an outer route. The outer archipelago is hard to navigate, so seeking shelter only when the sea gets rough is not necessarily easy. The archipelago 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.
On sunny summer's days there is often a fresh sea breeze in the afternoon, and corresponding light land breeze in the night.
Coming from Saint Petersburg or Vyborg, the nearest border control points in Finland are Santio for the inner fairway and Haapasaari off Kotka for the off shore route. There are also border control stations in e.g. Helsinki, Hanko and Mariehamn. You have to visit a border control point also on your way to Russia, even if on your way to Saimaa.
- 1 Santio border guard station (at the inner route from Vyborg Bay), ☏ . 08:00–22:00. With marine VHF, use channel 68 or 16.
- 2 Haapasaari (Aspö) (off Kotka), ☏ . 08:00–22:00. With marine VHF, use channel 68 or 16. The island is a local cruising destination, with a guest harbour. You can seize the chance to explore the island, buy fuel etc.
The Western Gulf of Finland starts at Hanko, with Hanko peninsula the border between the gulf and the Archipelago Sea. It ends at the capitals Helsinki and Tallinn. The archipelago and coast of West Uusimaa is traditionally Swedish speaking.
- Inland entity: West Uusimaa (Västra Nyland)
- Harbour map @ guestharbours.fi - Set B, Parainen (Pargas) - Helsinki lists 70 guest marinas from Pargas to Helsinki
- Western Gulf of Finland is covered by Finnish chart series B, which overlaps with the Archipelago Sea series.
There is a large archipelago east (as well as west) of the Hanko peninsula, off Raseborg, with the Ekenäs Archipelago National Park. Ingå, Siuntio (Sjundeå) and Kirkkonummi (Kyrkslätt) follow, with some exposed waters at the Porkkala peninsula. After Porkkala you reach Espoo (Esbo) and Helsinki (Helsingfors).
The traffic between Helsinki and Tallinn is lively, with more than twenty ferry departures daily in each direction and Tallinn a popular yacht destination as well, at a distance of less than 50 nautical miles.
The Finnish coast of Eastern Gulf of Finland stretches from Helsinki to the Russian border.
- Inland: East Uusimaa and Kymenlaakso.
- Harbour map @ guestharbours.fi - Set A Virojoki - Helsinki lists 58 guest marinas east of Helsinki
- Eastern Gulf of Finland is covered by Finnish chart series A, which extends to Vyborg in Russia.
3 Gulf of Finland National Park is in the outer archipelago off Kotka, from Pyhtää to Virolahti. This – beside the Gulf of Bothnia and Bothnian Bay national parks – is probably your best chance to acquaint yourself to the varying features of the outer archipelago, with bare rocky islets washed by the open sea and islands groups with flora and microfauna varying with the degree of shelter above as well as below the water, some parts even calm and lush.
As the park is in the outer archipelago, care should be taken with the weather. Most of the harbours are usable and safe only as long as the weather stays calm. On Ulko-Tammio, which has a sheltered harbour, an open wilderness hut and tour boats at some occasions, there is a guide in peak season. Tours of 1 hr, 1 km. Like on the other islands of the park, the terrain is difficult, challenging unless you are moderately fit. There are excursion harbors suitable for a keelboat in calm weather on a few more islands. These also have services such as tent areas, dry toilets, campfire sites and nature trails. There are two inhabited larger islands with ferry connection and nature information huts, in the park area but not part of the park proper: Kaunissaari (Fagerö; with shop, restaurant, café, camping ground and accommodation) and Haapasaari (Aspö; with customs, shop, fuel and post office services).
- Sipoo (Sibbo) archipelago is nice. Seize the chance to make some of your grocery shopping aboard m/s Christina.
- Porvoo (Borgå) is a renowned destination with a well preserved old town by the Porvoo river's mouth.
- Loviisa (Lovisa) is a mellow laid back town with an interesting island fort south of it.
- Kotka is an old port and marina city. The apex of Kotka summer is the Kotkan Meripäivät(.com) in the end of July
- Hamina (Fredrikshamn) has the Hamina Tattoo in the start of August 
- Virolahti (Vederlax) is where Finland ends.
- Pyhtää (Pyttis)
Pyttis, Kotka, Hamina, Virolahti and Miehikkälä market their travel offerings together.
Via the Saimaa Canal (Saimaan kanava, Saima kanal; 43 km) you can access the scenic Saimaa lake system. This requires briefly passing through Russia since the Gulf of Finland end of the locks is in Russia. See Saimaa Canal instructions.
No Russian visa is required to pass if you use the inner fairway, via Santio, and do not stop over at Vyborg, but there are requirements on the craft, master and documents. You have to clear with Finnish customs before leaving Finland, and customs routes have to be used (see #Gulf of Finland above). A marine VHF radio is needed if you do not want a pilot between the Vihrevoi island and the Brusnitchnoe lock. (USD30 in 2010). The Finnish chart series A and S cover the coastal route from Helsinki to Vyborg and onwards to and through the canal, respectively.
Sailboats must travel by engine in the canal, or else be towed without setting sails.
While in Russian waters and in the canal section on Russian territory deviating from the fairway is not allowed and landing is strictly forbidden. Staying overnight (in the boat) is allowed only at specific places. If you plan to visit Russian ports, see also Boating on the Baltic Sea#Boating in Russia.
The Finnish lakes
Most of the waterways described here are 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. There are also other kinds of lakes, but those are relevant mostly if you rent a cottage at their shore. 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.
Many lakes are large, but if you want to explore the navigable waterways of e.g. Saimaa, Päijänne, Näsijärvi or Längelmävesi from end to end you will also need to go through locks (or carry your canoe past them). Boaters intending to go through locks or along streams should acquaint themselves with the rules for the inner waterways, see above. Many locks are self-service, but they are quite easy to use.
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 – and off the navigable waterways there are many possibilities for whitewater sports.
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. Some canal routes have 5.5 m bridges (check for routes you intend to use), and dead-end passages may have even less free height. On the main shipping routes of Saimaa the limit is much higher (24 m?).
Of the lake systems, only Saimaa is directly accessible from the sea by yacht. For the other lakes you mostly have to charter a yacht or smaller boat locally.
Saimaa lake system
Lake Saimaa is very large: 1,150 to 4,400 km² depending on what is counted (440 to 1690 square miles), fifth largest in Europe, with some 14,000 islands. It is situated in the administrative districts South Savonia and South Karelia. The connected navigable waterways, also with big lakes, reach all the way to Mikkeli (South Savonia; with high mast to Ristiina 15 km earlier), Iisalmi (North Savonia; 12 m height restriction near Kuopio) and Nurmes (North Karelia; 10.5 or 12 m height restriction in Pielisjoki, Joensuu, some 250 km from the Saimaa Canal).
Chart series L, M, V and R cover most of the connected waters. Chart 921 provides an overview.
The nature of Saimaa is astonishingly beautiful.
Cities of Saimaa include
- Joensuu (visitkarelia.fi) in North Karelia has locks for passing into Lake Pielinen, with Koli National Park, Lieksa and Nurmes. Mast height restricted at the locks. Joensuu hosts the
- 1 Ilosaarirock. The Ilosaarirock Festival is an annual rock festival held in Joensuu on the second weekend of July. Founded in 1971, Ilosaarirock is the second oldest rock festival in Finland still active, and one of the oldest in Europe. Ilosaarirock gathers about 21,000 daily visitors and has been sold out in advance every year since 1998.
- Lappeenranta South Karelia, where you enter if coming by the Saimaa Canal, is home to Finnish fast foods atomi, vety and vetyatomi which are filled pies.
- Imatra is also part of South Karelia
- Savonlinna(.fi) in South Savonia hosts the annual Savonlinna Opera festival from July 8 to August 6 (.fi)
- Mikkeli (.fi) is an old city of historical significance located also in South Savonia
- Varkaus(.fi) in Savonia
Cities and other destinations:
- by Konnevesi: Southern Konnevesi National Park
- by Keitele: Äänekoski (with Kapeenkoski rapids by the Keitele canal), Viitasaari
- by Päijänne: Jyväskylä, Padasjoki with Päijänne National Park, Leivonmäki National Park, Asikkala
- by Vesijärvi: Lahti, Asikkala
- by Ruotsalainen and Konnivesi: Heinola
- by Kymijoki: Jaala, Iitti, Kouvola
There are several waterways connected to these lakes, often much of the distance by lakes big and small.
- Päijänne itself is a large lake: 1,100 square kilometres (420 sq mi) plus 330 square kilometres (130 sq mi) of islands, 2,800 km (1,700 mi) of shoreline, 120 km (75 mi) end to end. The canal through an isthmus in Vääksy of Asikkala provides access to Vesijärvi and thus to Lahti, See below for connections to the north and the east.
- Keitele is 500 km², 85 km end to end.
- Vesijärvi is 110 km², 23 km end to end.
- The Saarijärvi Route is 80 km (Kyyjärvi–Karstula–Pylkönmäki–Saarijärvi) has nice landscapes and 22 reasonably easy rapids (I–II+ at normal water levels). There are several connected lakes providing options for sidetrips. 54 km (34 mi) of the route is on mostly narrow lakes, 28 km (17 mi) on rivers. There are marked rest spots and other services. The rapids are being restored (as of 2015), so don't trust old maps, but study the rapids yourself, unless you have a guide taking that responsibility. You can continue on the Route of Seven Lakes (35 km), with mostly easy canoeing in beautiful and varied landscapes. The PDF on the Saarijärvi routes [dead link] is mainly in Finnish, but legend for maps and contact information is also in English. There are a few short portages, with carts.
- The Viitasaari Route (Keitele–Leppävesi–Päijänne) has canals and locks.
- The Rautalammi Route (Pielavesi–Keitele–Rautalampi–Konnevesi–Leppävesi) is proposed as a "national water route" because of its landscapes, partly desolate, partly with parish villages and cultural landscapes. Southern Konnevesi National Park in Konnevesi. The Keitele Canal provides access to Päijänne. Some routes in the lake and river system are suitable for boats as well as canoes, some have whitewater legs. The bridges on the routes have 5.5 m height. There was a "rubber wheel canal" to provide a connection to Saimaa, near Kuopio – you could try your luck finding transport businesses willing to take your boat across.
- Kemijoki is the outlet river of Päijänne. Connecting Päijänne to the sea by Kymijoki was envisioned already in the early 1800s, but except for timber floating the project has never been realised. There are navigable sections, though. From Päijänne, the canal Kalkkisten kanava leads to Ruotsalainen with Heinola in the far end. On the other side of the centre is Konnivesi (connected by the rapids Jyrängönkoski), a 50-km² lake with 300 islands, one of which, Vasikkasaari is a recreation island. From there the 5.5 km Kimola Canal (opened for boat traffic in 2020: depth 1.8 m, height 4.8 m) bypasses 30 km of the river, with a few hydroelectric plants, and leads through a 70-m tunnel to Pyhäjärvi (one more by that name) by Jaala. 9 km after the canal, a boating route forks off, leading 17 km upstream the bypassed section, in Iitti. Hiidensaari at the fork has a guest jetty, recreation facilities, a nature reserve, a prehistoric hill fort, and archeologic findings. The boating route continues 14 km downstream. Don't continue down Tuhonvirta ("Flow of Doom") to Kuusankoski. You are now in Kouvola, the main guest marina is at Virtakivi, another marina in Hirvelä a bit to the east. Downstream the river is probably accessible by canoe, except where there are hydroelectric plants, and at some sections with trailerable boats. The last section of the Pyhtää fork has a manual lock, which allows boating up from the sea to the Pyhtää parish village.
East and south of Tampere.
- 100 km south over Pyhäjärvi to Lempäälä (where canal depth 1.8 m, height 5.5 m) and further over Vanajavesi to Hämeenlinna, 30 km more as boating route to Leppäkoski.
- Another route forks off from Vanajavesi to Roine and connecting waters, via Valkeakoski (canal depth 1.8 m, height 5.0 m) and Kangasala 85 km to Längelmäki. On the way fairways fork off to Pälkäne (12 km) and Orivesi (6.5 km), and 1.2-m boating routes continue from Pälkäne, 15 km to Aitoo and 22 km to Hauho, and some more 0.8-m routes.
North of Tampere, on the Ähtäri route, fairways reach via Ruovesi and Tarjanne to Toisvesi, i.e. from Tampere via Ruovesi and Virrat to Sulkava 130 km away, perhaps for a week of boating. Individual lakes are nice by themselves, with many islands and bays; the water route seems to be navigable for boats with draught max 1.8 and height max 7 m. Ähtärinjärvi, above a number of rapids, has 1.5-m fairways, 40 km from end to end.
On the Keuruu route, the fairways from Tampere reach Mänttä-Vilppula, and upstream the hydroelectric dams, boating routes (0.8 m) from Mänttä go to Kolho 14 km away and Keuruu 27 km away, over Keuruunselkä.
Lake Inarijärvi (Inari Sámi: Aanaarjävri), is the third largest lake in Finland, with an area of 1,040 km2 (400 sq mi) and some 3,000 islands, in sparsely populated northern Lapland. You can be alone for days or even weeks in the labyrinthine archipelagos. The lake is popular primarily among fishermen and wilderness kayakers. The season is late and short, with ice into June.
Commercial services can be had mainly in Inari, but infrastructure such as jetties, cooking shelters and wilderness huts is provided here and there by Inari National Hiking Area and Vätsäri Wilderness Area, together covering most of the lake. Ivalo is 12 km from the lake, up the Ivalojoki river (itself a nice downstream canoeing route). The village Nellim in the south-east may also have some services. Other settlements by the lake are tiny.
There is an Inarijärvi boating map: Inarijärven veneilykartta, chart no 480.
Although much of Inarijärvi is sheltered archipelagos, there are also large open areas, and the force of possible gales should not be underestimated.
For emergencies at sea in Finland (or anything that might develop into one) contact the maritime rescue centre (MRCC Turku for most of the coast and sea, MRSC Helsinki for Gulf of Finland), VHF 70/16 or phone +358 294-1000 (shared number). The general emergency number 112 can also be used, they will send the coast guard (responsible for distress at sea) or the lifeboat institution to help you if needed, but often have a pretty obscure picture of the conditions in the archipelago, so be prepared for some frustration. For lakes, use 112 except on the main fairways of Saimaa, where Saimaa VTS may be better, depending on the kind of emergency. The lifeboat institution listens to VHF 16 on most big lakes in season.
Mobile phones mostly work in the lakes and archipelagos, but expect lack of coverage here and there. Many marinas have Wi-Fi.
VHF can be used to contact authorities, major marinas and many yachts. Primary channels between leisure craft are L1–L3 (155.500, 155.525 and 155.650 MHz), 77 and 72. The latter ones can also be used for communication with ships. L1 and L2 are available in the Nordic countries and Estonia, so can be used in communication with leisure craft from there.
Channel 16 can be used for calling up any vessel. Some leisure craft may listen also to L2 (former calling channel for leisure craft).