Exploring Croatia by sea is an amazing experience, here are a few important pointers.
Croatia has everything: a range of sailing opportunities, a crystal clear sea, beautiful pebble and rocky beaches, hidden coves, islands with beautiful landscapes, numerous islets and cliffs, the most beautiful coast, calm waters and a mild climate. In Croatia, whether you’re an amateur or a professional, you have plenty of opportunities to explore the coastline and the islands while sailing.
If you’re an amateur, simply rent a boat with a top quality skipper to teach you how to handle the boat. If you are serious about sailing or want to improve your sailing skills, you can attend a course at one of the many sailing schools. If you think you are professional and have good enough skills to manage sailing on your own, then you can find many charter agencies where you can rent a boat according to your wishes. Or you can join the fleets in the races.
This piece is dedicated to beginners, but experts can also find useful information here.
1. When to go
It’s best to avoid July and August, since these two months are the busiest. July and August in Croatia are peak season months, they can be very crowded, and sometimes very annoying. Marinas and nautical ports are mostly busy and crowded, increasing the berth price by at least 10%, charter agencies are at their peak and have the highest prices attached to their boats. However, the weather conditions are by far the best during July and August.
The sea is at the highest temperature and all the restaurants and bars are open. This may be a minor problem if you decide to sail along the Croatian coast during May, June or September. The weather conditions are not so favourable, and many restaurants and bars are closed. In addition, the sea is at a lower temperature, so it’s not quite as suitable for swimming, especially for those who are not brave enough.
However, Croatia has a mild climate, so the weather in June and September is still very nice. For those who hate the hustle and bustle of the summer, I recommend joining the winter sailing regatta.
2. Where to go
The most popular sailing destinations in Croatia are the southern and central Dalmatian islands. Most tours do return trips from Split or Dubrovnik. For this trip, you’ll need about a week, although most charter companies allow you to stay on board for 8 days.
In Central Dalmatia, there are numerous attractive and well-protected areas to stay. Read more about the 10 most beautiful anchorages in Central Dalmatia here.
The most popular is the island of Hvar, more specifically Hvar town and Stari Grad. Hvar is very popular as the the island for ”hedonists”, as well as an island for families. The town of Milna on the island of Brač is also very popular, the village of Stomorska on the sunny and not so busy island of Šolta also attracts many. The island of Šolta is an ideal place for hiking and cycling and Stomorska on Šolta is a true gourmet mecca with many restaurants offering traditional and very tasty dishes.
Of course, everytime I write about sailing in Central Dalmatia, I must emphasise the untouched island of Vis, the home of the magnificent Blue Cave and Palmižana, part of the beautiful Pakleni islands, located 3 nautical miles from the town of Hvar.
But, if you want to go further, there are numerous islands, islets and reefs to explore. In the northern part of the Adriatic coast, Susak, Rab and Silba are extremely popular.
Susak island is situated near Lošinj and is very famous as an island for kite flyers because it is home to the annual Air and Kite Festival. Susak and Lošinj stand out for their beautiful pebble beaches and cliffs covered in ferns. Rab island is also situated in the Kvarner region and is well known as the island with the most diverse landscape. It boasts a few nice settlements and its beautiful beaches, stunning cliffs and fertile interior land protected from cold winds by mountains are very popular with visitors. The most famous beach is called Veli Mel. Read more about this amazing island here.
Silba is usually remembered as the island with no crowds, no traffic or cars, and… no hotels. It covers an area of 15m2 and has the shape of the number 8. It also lies on the northern part of the Adriatic, a mere 10 minute walk from the harbour of Mul. Can you imagine spending your time in July or August in a popular destination but without the awful traffic jams or summer crowds? Appealing, no?
The emerald island of Mljet is certainly one of the most attractive islands on the Adriatic. It is situated in southern Dalmatia and its most remarkable sight is its national park, established back in 1960. The island boats fresh air, lush nature, and absolute tranquillity. Mljet is usually called the island for romantics, offering authentic village accomodation and a multitude of quiet, relaxing bays.
Of course, there are numerous other destinations in Croatia worth seeing while you’re on the boat. If I write them all here, this piece will probably be endless.
3. Harbours and marinas
Marinas are mostly deployed in the area from Zadar to Vodice, and are a rarity on the islands. Most marinas are open all year round, however there are some which open only during the summer season. The services offered may differ from the basic to the extensive offer, intended to meet the needs of the most demanding sailors.
Twenty Croatian marinas are owed by the ACI Club (a company in the Mediterranean). Sailing from one marina to another in this chain can be a nice experience. Most of the other Croatian marinas are independent marinas, aside from the marinas of Dalmatia and Borik in Sukošan and Zadar, as well as the Tribunj and Kremik marinas in Tribunj and Primošten, which are single ownership marinas.
When sailing in Croatia, an alternative to entering a commercial marina can be mooring in sport or municipal marinas. Usually these marinas have transit piers or transit berths where you can stay overnight. The options for this choice include Marina Veruda in Pula, Marina Vitrenjak in Zadar, the Zenta and Špimut marinas in Split, which don’t differ from the commercial marinas.
Berth prices in such marinas are similar to those offered by commercial marinas and they’re usually well-equipped, offering a wide range of services to vessels, as well as fuel stations. The only difference is the smaller number of sanitary facilities in sport and municipal marinas.
During the summer, it’s also possible to berth your boat in small harbours and in fishing clubs.
Small harbours and fishing clubs in Croatia are located in Gruž in Dubrovnik Orsan in Makarska-Arbun, in Rijeka’s Žurkovo and the Delfin fishing club and in the port of Veruda. Usually, the prices of berth places in these ports and fishing clubs are thirty percent of the cost of berthing in a commercial marina. For many sailing enthusiasts, berthing in a small local harbour can be a unique experience. The small local harbours are usually more charming than major marinas.
There are many waterfronts on the Adriatic, the most popular being those of Cavtat, Korčula, Hvar and the Old Town on the island of Hvar, Vis, Komiža, Trogir, Primošten, Šibenik, Zlarin and Dugi Otok. Such marinas are usually equipped with everything you need for a very safe and comfortable stay, and the prices are usually lower than those offered by commercial marinas.
When sailing into a Croatian marina, it’s good custom to announce yourself on channel 17 so that the marina can be ready for your arrival and you can be given a hand with docking and berthing. During the peak season, it is advisable to announce yourself in advance, so the marina can book the berth for your boat.
4. Where to rent your sailing boat
The best way to tackle sailing in Croatia is to book a skippered boat. I recommend booking a skippered boat even if you consider yourself to be professional. With the help of a skipper, you can improve your sailing skills and also enjoy free time.
Your skipper can recommend and adjust routes depending on the weather, give you useful tips and lead you to the best restaurants, bars, and beaches. In addition, you might want to consider booking a yacht with a hostess who can help you with housework, including cooking and cleaning.
Sailors with a lot of experience have an option to book ”bareboat” charters. Keep in mind that you’ll need full certification such as ICC (International Certification of Competence) for that. If you are browsing the internet you will find numerous charter companies offering such a service based in Croatia. In my experience in general, all charter companies in Croatia provide high quality service. Most often, the best charter companies are based in Croatian marinas.
What I think you should keep in mind is that the best option is to choose a charter company with chartering as its core business rather than travel agencies or companies which provide a range of tourist services, merely including chartering. Prices depend on the boat design, length, and the services offered, but generally different charter companies have pretty similar prices for similar services.
5. Sojourn tax
The sojourn fee tax is the income of the Croatian Tourist Board used for the improvement, development, and promotion of the Republic of Croatia as tourist country. Sojourn tax must be payed by the owners of private vessels and their guests and by the guests on board commercial vessels.
Much to the dismay of many, 2018 brought with it a change to the sojourn tax fee, seeing it increase 9 times compared to 2017. The increase is naturally particularly unfavourable for those sailors who keep their boats in Croatia on an annual basis. That’s why many sailors plan to move their boats to neighbouring Slovenia or Montenegro.
The new sojourn tax fee for yachts and private boats is calculated according to the length of each individual vessel as well as the length of stay of each vessel (5 periods: up to 8 days, up to 15 days, up to 30 days, up to 90 days and up to 1 year). The highest increases are for vessels staying on an annual basis. For example, mega yachts over 20m have to pay a massive 14,500,00 kuna instead of the previous much more agreeable 1,700,00 kuna.
Tourists who book yachts through charter companies have to pay their sojourn tax fee(s) to the chosen charter company.
The owners of the private vessels pay their sojourn tax fee themselves on a lump sum basis. A private vessel is defined as any vessel over 5m length with built-in beds, used for rest, recreation or cruising and does not fall into the category of a nautical tourism vessel charter yacht.
The lump sum of the sojourn tax is payable upon entry into the Republic of Croatia, or, if the vessel is already in Croatia, before departing from the marina or harbour, in the harbor master’s office. In the case of both commercial and private vessels, crews on board are exempt from paying sojourn tax. Guests on commercial boats, as well as on the private boats, must pay a sojourn tax. Get a closer look into sojourn tax fee and how it all works by clicking here.
6. Joining the Yacht Week in Croatia
You may have heard about the Yacht Week. Well, Croatia is home to this famous floating festival which attracts a great many sailboats. This mega fleet usually involves more than twenty sailboats, sometimes even more than forty. This is an opportunity to experience partying in Croatia while exploring the amazing Croatian coastline, with its pristine nature and historic towns.
However, not all that glitters is gold, and residents argue that the Yacht Week in Croatia is certainly not a representation of Croatian tourism, and locals are concerned about the safety of skippers who are not familiar with local waters. In addition, some harbour towns simply refuse to provide berth places to this crowd.
Finally, don’t forget to take your documents along with your boat’s documents. As far as clothing is concerned, I recommend that you keep things simple and take only what you are sure you will need, as you will spend most of your time in a bathing suit. Be sure to protect your skin from the sun, which can often be even more harsh out at sea.
Enjoy your sailing journey in Croatia, stay safe and mirno more!