Sailing in Croatia

Croatia’s long and varied coastline and goods winds make sailing in Croatia a must for both keen yachtsmen and those more interested in the attractions ashore. There’s a huge range of bareboat yachts, flotilla holidays, skippered charters and crewed charters available.

The Croatian coast is strewn with islands large and small, some quite well populated, others deserted. So there’s a huge range of places to visit, from vibrant cities to tiny hamlets. There are some fantastic historic towns to explore, from the Italian influenced architecture of the north, to the Roman Diocletian’s Palace in Split and the fortifications of Dubrovnik.

Map of Croatia’s Sailing Areas

About Croatia

After several quiet years following the 91-95 war, sailing in Croatia is very much back in business. The area seems to be awash with yachts, it’s popularity aided by the fact that it’s relatively easy to get to for many Europeans (it’s quite driveable from Germany for example). Charter rates are very competitive compared to Greece and Turkey and flights from the UK are cheaper too.

Makarska: The town at the foot of the mountains

Makarska: The town at the foot of the mountains

Fortunately, there is quite a lot of coastline, so it doesn’t feel as busy as you might expect. Until that is you reach the marina in the evening, when you realise how many fellow yachstmen you’ve been sharing the waters with!

Whilst some islands are connected by bridges to the mainland, most rely on ferries. So although there are well developed tourist centres, your yacht provides a great opportunity to get away from the masses.

The richness of the environment has been recognised by the creation of a number of national parks. Whilst the controls implicit in these do not affect yachtsmen greatly, they have ensured the landscape is preserved and free of excessive or damaging development.

Saplunara: The unspoilt sandy beach makes it a pleasant bay for anchoring

Saplunara: The unspoilt sandy beach makes it a pleasant bay for anchoring

Though the Croatians themselves may not overwhelm you with the warmth of their greeting (they were recently described on one forum as “like Yorkshiremen with tans”), they’re not as dour under the skin as they may at first appear.

Restaurants offer good variety of food and with the exception of some establishments in the marinas, you don’t walk away feeling you’ve been fleeced just because you arrived on a yacht.

The cuisine varies across the regions. On the Dalmatian coast it’s a mixture of Mediterranean dishes with plenty of fish on offer, and meat heavy dishes drawing on Central European traditions. Further north, the Italian influence is noticeable with plenty of pasta options.

Being a little further north than Greece and Turkey, Croatia is not as swelteringly hot in high season, with the cooler climate making the surroundings much greener. The season is a little shorter than in southern Greece and Turkey as by October there’s an increased risk of rain and it’s markedly cooler (as one wag said, similar to a British summer day)!

Croatia Moorings

Hvar: The centre of the old town

Hvar: The centre of the old town

To accommodate all the yacht charters, numerous marinas have opened up over the years, including some large ones such as Sukosan (1200 berths). Many are owned by ACI (Adriatic Croatia International), a government sponsored operation who in recent times have imposed large price increases. Needless to say, the independents have happily followed suit!

For those used to the low or non existent mooring charges in Greece and Turkey, the marina prices can be a shock. Expect to pay around £70 a night for a 12m (39 foot) yacht in high season. In fairness though there are plenty of places in the western Med where you will pay the same or more.  And of course it’s not obligatory to use them – there are other options.

Korcula: The east end of the island from the Peljesac peninsula, with Korcula town centre

Korcula: The east end of the island from the Peljesac peninsula, with Korcula town centre

There are still traditional harbours, and mooring buoys are put out in summer, though in slightly lesser numbers than previously as the government tries to clamp down on unlicensed facilities. You will still have to pay in harbours and on most buoys (though a few buoys are linked to shore side restaurants and are free if you eat there) but fees are lower than in the marinas. Typically expect to pay around £40 for a 12m yacht in high season. So those on a budget may want to go out of high season when charges are lower.

For those who want to park up for free, there is plenty of anchoring space too, once the masses have all headed in to port for the night. However, if you anchor in an area of mooring buoys fees can be charged. Elsewhere you shouldn’t have to pay, though you may come across the odd local entrepreneur trying his luck!

Sailing in Croatia

Don’t write off the sailing in Croatia just because there are mooring fees. You can expect some excellent sailing with a huge choice of bareboat yachts and a handful of flotillas.

Vrboska: The town, with yachts on the quay left, and the Church (fort) of St Mary centre right

Vrboska: The town, with yachts on the quay left, and the Church (fort) of St Mary centre right

I wouldn’t describe it as the best place for complete novices as winds can be a little stronger and less predictable than say the Ionian or Saronic in Greece, but it’s well within the sailing capabilities of a reasonable Day Skipper.

Wind strengths of F2-5 are typical but the onset of the Bora (or one of several other winds that affect the area) can push these up to F6 and sometimes stronger.

Katabatic winds add to the entertainment as gusts come down of the hills.  These are short lived and often visible ahead as disturbances on the water. If you don’t spot them, you can have an entertaining few minutes! Watch for other yachts ahead and if you see them suddenly heel, pop a reef in quickly. Once through, look out for anyone else who’s less astute – I’ve seen a couple of spectacular broaches where skippers weren’t paying attention!

Splitska: The village and harbour at night. You can moor side to on the quay

Splitska: The village annd harbour at night. You can moor side to on the quay

One final decider may be your qualifications. The authorities issue a list of recognised skippers certificates which includes the ICC, and RYA Day Skipper (and higher) practical qualifications. Rather bizarrely, it also includes the RYA Theory qualifications, so (in theory) you don’t actually have to have ever been on a yacht! Don’t expect the charter companies to fall for it though!

You must however have one of the recognised tickets – experience alone counts for nothing. The authorities do check and anyone found short risks having a skipper imposed (if available and at your cost), fines, or termination of your trip. If you find any charter agent or holiday company telling you it won’t be a problem then beware; they’re playing fast and loose with your holiday.

Sailing Holidays in Croatia

Bareboat charterers will find a huge number of yachts available, from a large number of bases. There are few companies operating from multiple locations so one way charters, though possible, are not as common as in some other places. However, with so many islands, it’s easy to plan a circular route and return to your start point without seeing the same place twice.

Primosten: The walled village on the "island" with yachts at anchor and in the harbour

Primosten: The walled village on the “island” with yachts at anchor and in the harbour

If you are looking for a skippered charter then most bareboat charter companies will provide these but most use local skippers, some of whom in my experience are not the most charismatic types. Their language skills may also be limited. However, I’ve never come across any issues with their competence.

The increasing hurdles put up by the powers that be in recent years mean that there are far fewer flotilla holidays in Croatia than a few years ago and currently only two RYA sailing schools. Flotilla sailors still have a choice of a number of routes and a couple of different operators, mostly sailing various parts of the Dalmatian coast, the northern parts of the country being a little harder to get to for Brits.

Skradin: The town and busy north west quays, with yachts anchored off

Skradin: The town and busy north west quays, with yachts anchored off

If cabin charter is your thing, the sailing in Croatia is pretty much swept up by the local style vessels (not dissimilar to Turkish gulets) and I don’t know anyone currently offering regular yacht based cabin charters.

So you’re looking for a bareboat charter, flotilla holiday or skippered charter, and you like your sailing civilised but with the opportunity to get away from the tourist crowds, sail Croatia. With the excellent marinas, there’s no need to go without a shower and those that need can even do their hair!

There are plenty of shops and facilities in the many small towns and the coast and islands have been spared the over development prevalent in some other parts of the Med. The excellent sailing, stunning scenery, and in high season, temperatures that are more amenable to the average Brit than elsewhere, it’s worth having to shell out for a few mooring fees.