How do you plan a sailing route to get the most out of your voyage? Let’s take a look at all the factors to consider when choosing a route. Follow our guidelines and you’ll be rewarded with a perfect boating holiday that the whole crew will remember for years to come.
Before you begin planning the route
The choice of destination is crucial to a successful voyage. That’s how you determine all the options available to you when planning the route. A sailors’s initial step should therefore be to research the destinations with regard to the experience of the crew, the weather and the voyage dates.
If you don't do this, you could easily end up heading to Italy in August, when the whole country is on vacation and spending the trip packed like sardines. Likewise, in the Aegean the Meltemi winds blow during July and August, which could turn your sailing vacation into a bit of a nightmare.
YACHTING.COM TIP: If you're not a seasoned sea dog yet, try sailing in an area where conditions are beginner-friendly. We recommend the first route in our article — Where to sail in Croatia: find the best sailing route for you or the southern or northern Ionian Sea in Greece.
Follow these 10 yachting commandments before booking your boat
Before booking your boat, it’s good to ask yourself some questions and choose the destination and route accordingly. This ensures you take away with you only wonderful shared memories and plans of where to go next.
1. What are the expectations of each crew member?
If you want an active, adrenaline-fuelled sailing holiday, you’ll be fired up by a different destination to someone planning a relaxing cruise with a group of friends.
Is it a diverse crew? It's conceivable that you'll have adventurers on board who want to sail from morning to night with the motto "the bigger the wind and waves, the better," as well as those who wish to bathe in deserted bays, snorkel, hunt for shells, and spend evenings at anchor far from civilization. Maybe you’ll even have friends who just want to spend all day moored in harbours, going to restaurants, bars and discos.
In these cases it's obviously very difficult to reconcile everyone’s expectations. The ideal solution is to meet up before you book the boat and try to reach a compromise which will appeal to everyone, no matter how impossible it seems.
2. What yachting infrastructure and sailing conditions do I need?
An experienced sailor will prefer a place with more challenging conditions and a strong wind, but they won't mind bad weather or insufficient infrastructure. Beginners appreciate an abundance of safe harbours, high-quality services, and predictable weather.
That’s why you should also research the yachting infrastructure when making your choice. If you’re used to Croatia’s extensive network of moorings and harbours, then you might be caught off guard in Greece. Look up potential anchorages en route and plan your voyage around them (such as choosing an island with a mooring sheltered from various sides).
3. What do you want to experience during the voyage?
Do you want to fully immerse yourself in sailing or do you want to combine it with other activities? Diving enthusiasts will be enamoured with a location teeming with life beneath the waves, others will be charmed by places jam-packed with historical monuments or captivating natural scenery. Choose your ideal location according to the interests and needs of the crew, so there’s something for everyone.
4. How many nautical miles do we want to cover?
You can sail 80 or 400 NM in a week. The first promises comfortable, relaxing sailing of two hours a day. For the rest of the day you can have your fill of swimming, snorkelling, romance and rest.
The longer distance would require 10 hours of sailing a day, long crossings motoring or under the sails. You’ll likely experience some great yachting, see plenty of places and have many experiences, unfortunately including seasickness and struggling to sleep at night on choppy seas. In a fore cabin, it can be as difficult as trying to fall asleep in a washing machine.
During the planning, you might bump heads with yachting beginners. When they look at the map, they imagine that in one week they’ll cover all the Croatian islands from north to south and back again.
It’s good to remind them that novice sailors must listen to their captain, who has a clear idea of what can be achieved in a week. A little explanation can help. Average sailing speed is 5 to 7 kn (depending on the size of the sails), which is 9 to 13 km/h. It’s 340 NM from Dubrovnik to Biograd and back, which is approximately 70 hours of motor sailing time (6 days of almost 12 hours’ sailing every day). Probably nobody’s idea of fun.
Check out popular sailing destinations:
YACHTING.COM TIP: During the preparation and planning you can use the hugely popular Navionics boat navigation app. For other handy yachting apps are that are well worth downloading, take a look at our 10 best smartphone apps for sailors.
5. Will you be sailing with kids?
Families with children value stable weather and calm, warm sea and deserted, sandy bays accessible only by sea. Choose the route so that you can have adequate stops along the way. Daily sailing trips should be kept short, so the kids don’t get bored. Sailing in calm weather is ideal so mums don’t have to worry about the kids’ safety.
Children appreciate activities off the boat as well. Choose a location where kids will be able to explore islands, deserted fortresses and lighthouses, cool down with an ice cream or have fun with their water toys. If the kids are older, it’s important to find interesting places for snorkelling and exploring. See also our kid-friendly sailing itinerary.
YACHTING.COM TIP: If you are sailing with children, do not forget the main principles of safe sailing. Choose appropriate safety features, adjust the route and choose the boat with the whole family in mind. You can find out how in our article: Sailing with kids: how to keep all of you safe and happy.
6. When are you sailing? What will the weather conditions be like?
Choose your destination according to the dates you're going to ensure your safety at sea. If you choose well, it can take your sailing holiday to a whole new level and save yourself a lot of worry. Consider the expected weather and wind conditions carefully when making your choice.
- Is it high season in your chosen destination? Be prepared for crowded marinas and higher prices. However, in the autumn you can sail for cheaper and will be able to see more. Take a look at our article on 5 reasons to set sail in autumn. And if you want to find out which autumn sailing destinations to choose for pleasant weather and favourable winds, check out — Autumn sailing: top destinations, rental boats and tips.
- Are there commonly unfavourable winds on your chosen dates in your preferred destination? If so, it would be better to select another date, especially if you’re relatively inexperienced.
- Are you travelling with children? Do you love to swim? Be sure to research air and water temperature as well.
- Do you like exploring inland and want to experience some real sailing? Set off in spring. Outside of peak season, you’ll enjoy great sailing and lower prices.
7. What size boat do I want and what is its draught?
Choose the places you want to visit with the size and draught of the boat in mind. If you love small fishing harbours, then you won’t get into this kind of harbour with a catamaran or 57-foot boat. Even a racing boat with a 2.7-metre draught might not be the right choice. This mainly concerns old harbours in Greece, Spain, France, Turkey and Italy.
What else is worth thinking about when planning your sailing route?
8. Sailing off the beaten track
In every sailing region, there are standard routes that most boats follow, taking in the most interesting and beautiful places. When you do these routes you’ll be enthralled, but in high season there’ll be boats everywhere, loads of people, full harbours and moorings and busy restaurants.
If you head off the beaten sailing path, you’ll have a chance of uncovering small bays with neither people nor boats even in high season. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever be completely alone, but it will still be a big difference compared to the main yachting ‘draws’.
9. Location accessibility
A deserted paradise on earth where you can moor the yacht of your dreams will remain just a dream if you can’t fly there or get there by car.
10. Validity of captain’s licence
It’s the exclusive right of every country to decide whether it wants to accept a licence. Charter companies often decide on the basis of experience and habit. You should therefore also check whether your licence is valid in your chosen country or contact us. If you don't have a licence already, check out our comparison of international certifications. You can even take the prestigious RYA sailing course with us.
Don’t be afraid to change route and improvise
Don’t set the route in stone, so you can leave room to improvise and be flexible depending on the weather. It’s also good to factor in some extra time and a "lazy day".
Route planning does not end with setting sail. At sea, you always have to adapt to the weather and wind direction. If your planned route does not work with the weather forecast, just change it.
It doesn’t make sense to fight against strong winds for hours, when half the crew are seasick and when you could use the tailwind to sail comfortably to another beautiful spot. In short, wind direction is the most important deciding factor in regard to the route.
For example, you’re planning to sail south from Šibenik to Hvar and Vis. However, a strong Jugo is forecast for the first half of the week followed by a weaker Bora. If you keep to the original plan, you’ll be struggling against strong winds and waves in the first half of the week and again in the second half. The crew — unless they’re a bunch of yachting "freaks" — will definitely not thank you.
However, if you change plans and sail in the direction of Kornati and Dugi Otok, then you’ll sail on a tailwind the first half of the week and your change of tack will be swift and comfortable. In the second half of the week when the wind reverses direction, you’ll be sailing back again comfortably downwind. The crew will be happy, especially when they hear stories from other crews who didn’t change course.
Are you in the planning stages and need advice? We’re happy to help you choose a destination and route, so that it fulfills all of your requirements and expectations. We will even help you pick the most suitable boat. With many years of yachting experience, we know the best spots with all their beauty and challenges.