Discover the wonders of sailing the Baltic Sea: a complete guide

Discover the wonders of sailing the Baltic Sea: a complete guide

Looking for a yachting paradise that combines beautiful nature and sailing? Look no further than the Baltic Sea! Find out the specifics of this underrated destination.

The Baltic is a unique destination with countless sailing routes and stunning locations to explore, offering new experiences and endless possibilities. It stands out from more typical destinations like Croatia, offering its own advantages and specific considerations to keep in mind. Whether the Baltic is the right fit for you depends on a few factors. Our guide includes recommended routes, must-visit places, potential challenges to be aware of, as well as tips and rules for sailing in this region — everything you need to know when planning your trip to the Baltic Sea.

Geographical delimitation

Our guide won't be focussing on a single country, but rather an entire region. The Baltic Sea encompasses Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, covering a vast area. It is one of the largest brackish seas, and is often considered the edge or arm of the Atlantic. Since it is an inland sea, it has an average depth of only 55 metres, with the deepest point located in the Swedish part measuring 459 metres.

Map of the Baltic Sea

The Baltic Sea is inland.

Why sail the Baltic Sea?

Perhaps you've wondered: why sail in the Baltic when Croatia always has great weather? Here are some reasons why you should consider venturing further north.

Accessibility

The Baltic Sea area is strategically located as it provides easy accessibility to almost all parts of Europe by car, which can lead to significant cost savings on air travel.

Savings 

When it comes to expenses, it's worth noting the significant cost savings for meals and overnight stays in ports around the Baltic Sea. These costs are substantially lower compared to Croatia, making it a more affordable destination.

Fewer people 

If you prefer more freedom and fewer crowds while sailing, the Baltic Sea might be the perfect destination for you. Unlike the popular yachting spot of Croatia, the Baltic Sea remains relatively uncrowded, with fewer boats and less congestion even during high season. This means you can enjoy more flexibility and spontaneity, without having to plan your itinerary too far in advance or worry about making reservations at marinas well ahead of time.

Beautiful nature 

While many Mediterranean countries are known for their arid landscapes in the summer, the Baltic region boasts lush, evergreen nature. What's more, the area has remained largely untouched by human activity, creating a paradise for those who love unspoiled, natural landscapes.

Wind 

Although we cannot guarantee favourable winds throughout your sailing trip, the Baltic Sea region benefits from frequent and consistent winds, providing a great sailing experience. So, you can rest assured that there will almost always be wind to power your vessel.

Weather and climate in the Baltic Sea

Shake off the stereotypical image of the Baltic as a harsh, cold and merely unwelcoming region, where the sea is wild, choppy and the water splashes high. Of course, the Baltic Sea is colder than the Mediterranean, but it's also a few latitudes further north. On the other hand, it is an area where there is very little chance of experiencing windlessness. The winds are favourable for sailors and those who enjoy trimming the sails will find a lot to like here. 

Sailors on discussion forums agree that there is often a so-called mythicization of the Baltic as a bad weather region. You will be surprised to know that in the summer season (July, August) temperatures here very often reach almost 30 degrees. In the high season, you can swim in the sea without any problems.

When to sail the Baltic?

During late May and early June, the Baltic Sea experiences the longest days, providing more time to enjoy the good weather. The summer season from June to August is also a great time to visit. However, for those seeking more adventurous and sporty experiences, the Baltic Sea can still be an attractive option from September onwards, although it may be less suitable for holidaymakers.

Paying and currency

Most sailors agree that they can make do with using euros and credit cards. Where they don't accept euros (machines in marinas) you can pay with a credit card. This means you don't necessarily need to exchange to Swedish, Danish or other kroner. 😊 But sometimes you may find that the shop will change the local currency into euros.

Who would we (not) recommend the Baltic to?

Sailing on the Baltic is suitable for all sailors who:

  • are tempted to try something different from the traditional sailing destinations,
  • enjoy racing the wind,
  • don't enjoy the hot days in southern Europe when it can be impossible to sleep at night and you easily get sunburnt during the day,
  • they're thinking of doing a more advanced skipper course.

On the other hand, we would not recommend sailing in the Baltic Sea:

  • those who like warm waters (Caribbean, Greece, etc.), because the water in the Baltic is a bit colder,
  • families with very young children, babies and toddlers,
  • complete sailing beginners as their first sailing trip after the skipper's course, as it is a more demanding area to navigate and sail.

Getting to the Baltic region

The Baltic region is easily accessible by various means of transportation, with many European destinations accessible through direct flights or transfers, such as Stockholm and Tallinn, respectively. You can also reach most places in the region by car overland, like Szczecin, or by ferry across the sea. In addition, the Baltic Sea countries have good rail services that can be combined with other modes of transport for convenient travel.

What makes the Baltic unique and what to look out for?

The Baltic is not the Mediterranean and has its own specific customs and yachting habits. What might surprise you, what differences to expect and what do we consider the main benefits?

Mooring bow to the pier 

This fact can be seen at a glance. In the Baltic, in the vast majority of cases, you dock at the pier with your bow. The stern therefore remains open towards the water. This may seem strange to some, but many Nordic boats do not have a gangway but only steps attached to the bow. However, this type of docking gives you more privacy but the downside is that it's not at all wheelchair accessible for people with less mobility.

Mooring between stakes 

For boaters who have never sailed up north, mooring the boat between wooden stakes will also be a novelty. If you know how to manoeuvre in harbours, you'll have nothing to worry about, it's just unusual.

Wooden stakes in a marina on the Baltic.

Wooden stakes in a marina on the Baltic.

No mooring ropes

Mooring ropes are not a common practice in the Baltic. You will come across the aforementioned wooden stakes, mooring buoys or transverse finger piers. It is also common here to moor boats together in a "raft" style, i.e. sideways to each other. So don't be alarmed if a boat does this to you, although it is customary to ask the owner or skipper for permission beforehand.

Paying at a machine 

In the Baltic ports, you shouldn't expect to encounter marina staff looking to make a quick profit by overcharging you. Instead, mooring fees for the pier are often paid at a machine located on the pier itself.

Save money on marinas 

If you're used to pier rates approaching the price of a luxury hotel in the Adriatic, then forget about it in the Baltics. In the north, marina prices are lower. In Germany specifically, marina prices are similar to those in the Mediterranean, but lower in Poland or Estonia.

Less dense yachting infrastructure 

You have to plan your voyage here more carefully. You certainly won't find a fully equipped marina or buoy in every bay. So be prepared for longer crossings.

More complicated navigation at sea 

In addition to the fact that there are plenty of fairways, channels and therefore cardinal marks and other markings at sea, you may encounter unexpected shoals that are not always marked on charts and plotters. It is therefore important to be vigilant at all times.

Cardinal mark at sea.

The Germans and Swedes are meticulous in their marking.

What preparations to make before sailing on the Baltic Sea?

As the Baltic Sea presents different sailing conditions from those in Croatia, it's important to acquire relevant knowledge and skills before embarking on a sailing trip.

Colreg and brands

Before sailing in the Baltic Sea, it's important for the skipper to have a good understanding of the sea markings, such as cardinal and lateral marks, as well as the Colreg rules, including the rules of the fairway. It's crucial to study terms like "channel" and "divided navigation section" to be prepared for navigating in the Baltic Sea. With a lot of cargo ships and busy shipping lanes and canals, it's important to be aware of the heavy traffic in some areas. While it's important to follow Colreg rules, it's also important to use common sense and stay safe, as a big container ship won't always give way even if you have the right of way. In some situations, it may be better to avoid the ship altogether and sail around it in a big arc.

What can AIS do? 

AIS, or Automatic Identification System, can be a valuable tool when sailing in the Baltic Sea, particularly if you plan to sail after dark. It allows you to track the position and course of large ships in your vicinity, providing valuable information for safe navigation. To ensure that you are able to use this system on your boat, check with the charter company and ask them to demonstrate how to turn it on.

Watch a video 

To get a better idea of what to expect while sailing in the Baltic, check out YouTube videos showing the unique features of the region, such as docking at wooden stakes. These specialties are not commonly encountered by Mediterranean sailors and can provide valuable insight into the specific practices and customs of the Baltic.

Sailing related vocabulary

It's worth noting that there are many regional terms and expressions used in the Baltic that may be unfamiliar to Mediterranean sailors. For instance, "hafenmeister" means "harbourmaster". While you can learn many of these terms on the spot, we suggest reading some yachting forums and familiarizing yourself with the Baltic vocabulary before setting sail.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Although AIS is not mandatory on small boats, any aid that can help prevent a collision is welcome on board. Find out about it in our guide, What is AIS and how does it work?.

Classic marine navigation with chart

It doesn't hurt to brush up on the basics of navigation in classic nautical charts before sailing the Baltic.

What equipment to bring to the Baltic?

When sailing in the Baltic Sea, it's important to be prepared for a range of weather conditions, including hot days and rain as well as sudden winds. Even if the harbor is calm, you may encounter strong winds of up to 30 knots once you're out at sea. To avoid any mishaps, it's essential to have the right equipment on board. Some of the items you shouldn't overlook include:

  • Waterproof sailing jacket and trousers (can I rent if you don't want to buy your own)
  • Thermal underwear
  • Warm socks (we recommend merino wool)
  • 2 hats in case you lose one (which happens unexpectedly often)
  • Sailing gloves
  • Neck warmer
  • Boots
  • Good quality life jacket
  • Harness
  • Headlamp
  • Thermos
  • Sleeping bag
  • Hand cream (the wind dries you out)
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses

The captains are advised to carry a lifeline, which can be installed on the deck of the boat and used by the crew with a harness as they move around.

YACHTING.COM TIP: For more tips on how to kit yourself out and what gear to wear for sailing, even in colder destinations, check out our guide — How to choose sailing clothing: what to wear.

Sailing jacket

It takes special sailing clothes for Balt.

Must-see Baltic destinations

What places must not be missed in any case?

Copenhagen (Denmark) 

If you've never visited this Danish gem, it's a must on your voyage. Anchoring in the heart of the city is a treat, and a stroll around the harbour in the early evening or a photo with Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid is a must-do activity.

Bornholm Island (Denmark) 

If you're sailing in the Baltic, this island should be high on your list. It's a popular destination for yachters and offers beautiful sandy beaches, including Dueodde Beach, which is considered the sunniest spot in Denmark. The island is also great for cycling, kayaking, windsurfing, diving, and even rock climbing. Anchor your boat in Hammerhavn, Ronne, or Svaneke and explore all that the island has to offer.

Ronne on Bornholm

The small town of Ronne on the island of Bornholm is picturesque.

The islets of Christiansø and Frederiksø (Denmark)

Connected by a swinging bridge, these small islands are mostly inhabited by local fishermen and artists. With their remote location, they offer a unique charm and a chance to experience a peaceful getaway.

Marstal (Denmark) 

If you're looking for a relaxing spot to park your boat, Marstal marina is a great option. The town boasts a beautiful maritime museum, and there's also a nearby beach where you can go for a swim in the sea. It's the perfect place to unwind and recharge.

Marina Kåseberga (Sweden) 

Most sailors agree that Kåseberga marina is a particularly beautiful spot. Visitors should pay berthing fees at the local shop, and be careful of the shallow boat launching rails when entering. Not far from the marina is Ales Stenar, an old stone resembling the more famous Stonehenge. Here you can tap mystical energy.

Malmö (Sweden) 

Malmö, the third largest city in Sweden after Stockholm and Gothenburg, was highly industrialized until the end of the millennium. Today, while it still has many historical buildings, it is a city of contrasts, with modern skyscrapers popping up alongside traditional architecture. Walking in the city centre, with its little houses by the canal, can make you feel like you've entered another world.

Malmö (Sweden) is amazing.

Malmö is amazing.

Stralsund (Germany) 

This is a former Hanseatic city with a maritime museum, numerous historical buildings and restaurants. It is well worth a visit.

Marina Kołobrzeg (Poland) 

This modern marina offers a full range of yachting infrastructure, including berthing facilities and supplies, making it a convenient stopover for sailors.

Świnoujście (also Svinoústí or Ústí nad Svinou) 

Świnoujście is not only a strategic location for shipping, but also a spa town. In addition to being home to the tallest lighthouse in Poland, the town's charming atmosphere is sure to win you over.

YACHTING.COM TIP:  We have written a specific itinerary for you in our article — Sailing the untamed Baltic: get inspired by our route.

Boats available on the Baltic

Opting for a smaller sailboat when renting on the Baltic is advisable as it allows for easier access to the marinas and navigating under bridges. The shallower draft is also beneficial due to the frequent shoals in the region. While the rental market offers a variety of sailboat options, Bavaria, Hanse, Dufour, and Sun Odyssey tend to dominate the charter industry in the Baltic Sea.

We recommend the Bavaria 32 Cruiser, Linnea or the larger Bavaria 40 Cruiser, Ester. Also very popular are the Dufour 375 Grand Large, Smilla or the Sun Odyssey 439, Bowmore.

What food to sample on the Baltic Sea?

To truly appreciate the beauty of the Baltic region, it is essential to indulge in its delectable cuisine. The local seafood is a must-try, boasting of its freshness and distinctive aroma. Smoked fish is a specialty that should not be missed, with a variety of fish, from small sardines to large ones, being prepared in the smoker. Another local delicacy to try is the pickled fish, which can be enjoyed in a fresh baguette or paired with calamari tripe soup. To complete the meal, wash it down with a refreshing Tuborg beer.

Additional activities to sailing in the Baltic

In addition to sailing, the Baltic offers a variety of water and land-based activities. For instance, Rügen boasts numerous kitesurfing spots, while the coast of Poland is renowned for its high-quality cycle paths. Sightseers can explore the many lighthouses dotting the coast, while fishing enthusiasts can try their luck in the Baltic's waters. While the fishing may not be as bountiful as in Norway, it's still possible to reel in some good catches. Be sure to check for necessary permits before casting your line. With plenty of things to see and do, there's no chance of getting bored.

Kitesurfer in the Baltic Sea

You need a wetsuit for water sports, but fans of kitesurfing, windsurfing or kayaking will have fun here.

Would you like a boat on the Baltic? Let me know.

FAQs: All about the Baltic Sea