Sailing in Croatia, the hottest destination in Europe! Tours, yacht charters, costs, winds, regattas, learning to sail – it is all here!

Sailing in Croatia – welcome aboard!

It is the land of over 1,000 islands, endless bays and beaches, and some of the cleanest waters in the world. All served up beneath trademark blue skies. No wonder sailing in Croatia is one of the hottest things to do in Europe right now.

Sailing tourism has exploded in recent years, as more people discover the wondrous joys of navigating the Adriatic coast. There are also many more sailing opportuinties, tours, regattas and other ways to enjoy life on the Adriatic. So come on board, and let’s discover them.

Is sailing in Croatia for everyone?

Before we set sail, a big thanks to Tash Pericic of Sinbadsan Sailing, for all her help with the sailing content in this article.

So, is sailing for everyone? A pasttime which has a reputation for elitism has become much more mainstream in recent years. Customer service has also improved and costs have come down. More and more people are adding sailing in Croatia as at least a small part of the holiday experience, from half-day tours to something longer.

Sailing holidays for families are increasing in popularity, and the confined space and open seas seem to combine to offer unforgettable family holidays. Here is an overview of various family sailing experiences on the Adriatic coast.

What types of sailing are available?

There are more than 3,000 boats available for charter on the Croatian market. Finding out which is the right one for you will depend on what kind of sailing experience and type of boat you are looking for. Yacht charter can be broken down into the following sections:

Bareboating

If you are an experienced sailor and are looking to charter a boat with your own crew, there are plenty of options. You will need to demonstrate that you have a valid licence and VHS licence (you can find the list of accepted licences here). To give an indication of price, expect to pay in the region of 2-5,000 euro for a 7-day charter, depending on the time of year.

Crewed yacht charter

If you do not have licenced sailing experience, the option of crewed yacht charter will allow you to sail the Adriatic with an experienced local crew, allowing you to relax and take in one of the great sailing destinations in Europe. In addition to the rental price price mentioned above, expect to pay in the region of 100-150 euro per day per crew member.

Gulets

There has been a significant rise in popularity of the gulet in recent years. A gulet is a Turkish-made boat for 4-6 passengers, with a focus on luxury and style. They are especially popular for family tourism, as well as groups of friends. Expect the experience to set you back in the region of 12-40,000 euro per week, depending on the season.

Cabin charters and cruisers

If you want the sailing in Croatia experience but are on a budger, cabin charters and mini-cruisers are for you. A great way to meet young people on the high seas if you are travelling solo, these are especially popular with Kiwis and Aussies looking to party. Not all of them are party boats, but do your research if you are looking to have a more tranquil sailing holiday.

Flotillas

One huge growth area in sailing tourism in recent years has been flotillas. Companies such as The Yacht Week organised groups of boats on pre-set itineraries, brining groups of young millennials together for a week of sun, sea and lots of other stuff.

These flotillas are extremely well marketed and popular, but they have caused lots of controversy. Although the money they bring is rarely refused, they are not popular with the traditional sailing community. Several destinations have tried to resist the party culture that these flotillas bring, so far without much success.

Sailing regions – Istria and Kvarner

With over a thousand islands and more than 1,770 km of coastline, there is a sailing experience for everyone in Croatia. The Adriatic Coast can be split into five main regions: Istria and Kvarner, the Kornati Islands, the Sibenik archipelago, Central Dalmatia, and Dubrovnik and southern Dalmatia.

The sailing tends to increase in popularity the further south you sail, but each region has its own charms and attractions. Istria and Kvarner enjoy a much more Italian influence, as well as a plethora of unspoiled islands.

Sailing gems not to miss include the islands of Krk, Rab, Losinj and Cres, while Opatija and a string of Istrian coastal towns are also worth checking out.

Sailing the Kornati Islands

For many, the Kornati Islands are the pinnacle of the Croatian sailing experience. While the islands can appear a little barren at first sight, especially after the more lush Dalmatian islands to the south, it does not take long for sailors to fall in love with this outstanding region.

Kornati has its own national park and some 150 of those 1000-plus islands Their magic has been left on visitors over the centuries, including George Bernard Shaw, who had this to say:

On the last day of Creation, God desired to crown his work and thus created the Kornati islands out of tears, stars and breath.”

Uninhabited islands will somehow have local family restaurants in idyllic bays. None more so than Festa on Zut, which produced one of my all-time favourite dining experiences in Croatia earlier this year.

While George Bernard Shaw had his opinion about Kornati, so did a Croatian TCN colleague, observations no less worthy. Learn more about sailing the Kornati islands.

The Sibenik archipelago by boat

A little further south lies the city of Sibenik, the only place in Croatia with two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It also has some fabulous islands which protect it from the open seas, ideal territory for sailors to explore.

With 249 islands and islets, as well as access to Skradin and Krka National Park, there is no shortage of challenges. Bareboaters should pay special attention to their charts, due to the sandbanks, underwater reefs and shifting depths. Recommended islands to check out include Prvic, Zirje and Zlarin, all of which have great sailing facilities.

Central Dalmatia, a sailing hot spot

Arguably the top sailing destination in Croatia, Central Dalmatia seemingly has it all. Many charters start and end in Split, taking in the incredible islands of Hvar, Brac, Solta and Vis en route, as well as stopping at mainland destinations such as Makarska.

The Pakleni Islands, a group of emerald jewels, in front of Hvar Town, only add to the incredible itineraries. And don’t miss the amazing Blue Cave on Bisevo, just off Vis. Interested in a sample 7-day sailing itinerary in Central Dalmatia? It looks something like this.

Sailing in Dubrovnik and southern Dalmatia

Southern Dalmatia means Dubrovnik, the Pearl of the Adriatic. But it also means Korcula, Mljet, the Peljesac Peninsula and the Elaphiti islands. It is a GORGEOUS place to sail, and don’t forget that you can also continue to Porto Montenegro and Lustica Bay over in Montenegro.

One very popular way to get to know Dalmatia by sea is on a 7-day itinerary from Split to Dubrovnik or vice versa. Many tourists fly into one city and out of the other, and sailing between the two is an ideal way to travel. Here is how they do it with And Adventure charters, for example, combinging it with a little kayaking along the way.

Sailing in Croatia: when is the best time of year?

The sailing season in Croatia runs from May until October, though most choose to sail in high-season – July and August. There are a few things to consider when you decide when to come sailing in Croatia.

The climate in Croatia is Mediterranean and thus summer is characterised by hot, sunny days, balmy evenings and warm seas. The average temperature in July and August sit around 27°C (80°F) and the sea is almost the same at an average of 24°C (76°F). Note, that while the average temperature may be 27°C, it is not uncommon for August temperatures to soar to and remain at 35°C+. Choosing peak-season to sail in Croatia is the obvious choice for most, gorgeous summer weather and all restaurants, bars and activities in full swing. But, with Croatia’s increase in popularity, choosing to sail Croatia in peak-season is also choosing to compete with crowds.

Temperatures in the ‘shoulder season’ (May, September, October) average 20°C (68°F) and 18°C (65°F) in the sea. Every year, the tourist and sailing season expands as more people discover the joy in being away from crowds. While the weather may be cooler and some restaurants and businesses closed, sailing the shoulder season has its advantages; fewer crowds, great sailing and cheaper marina prices being some of them. Charter prices are also drastically cheaper in the shoulder season, anything from 20 – 50% cheaper than high-season – especially if you book early.

Depending on your reasons for coming sailing in Croatia, unless you want guaranteed summer weather, crowds and nightlife – you may want to consider sailing in the shoulder season.

The winds of Croatia

(With thanks to Tash)

If you are coming sailing in Croatia, it is wise to familiarise yourself with the local winds. Particularly those that bareboat these waters for the first time. Having spoken to many professional local skippers and charter companies, they all profess that the majority of incidents that occur at sea are related to the skipper underestimating the weather. The weather in Dalmatia is glorious for the most part, however, it can be temperamental and have the propensity to change dramatically.

Even if you are chartering with a crew, it is still interesting to know a little about the winds as much of the Dalmatian way of life (and conversation) revolves around the weather.  Here are a few common summer winds to pay attention to.

Maestral (Mistral) NW

Maestral is loved by leisure sailors and is known as the sailor’s friend. It is a thermal wind, which picks up around noon and collapses in the late afternoon around 5 pm. So, it is perfect wind for some afternoon sailing before finding a spot in a harbour or bay.

Though rare, Maestral can, on occasions reach gale force, creating high “dead waves” which makes for unpleasant navigation. It can particularly reach great strength in the Brač or Pelješac Peninsula as it funnels through the channels – this is one of the reasons these areas are famous for windsurfing.

Bura NNE – ENE

Bura is one of Croatia’s infamous winds and phenomenon. It is a cold NE wind that cascades down the mountains and blows out across the sea, gaining power as it does. Bura is more of a menace in winter, reaching speeds of 200 km plus in some regions but it can still occur in summer and is something to pay attention to, particularly as Bura is a wind that can go from 0 – 100 in the blink of an eye.

Burin is an offset of Bura and occurs at night. Another thermal wind, caused by the land cooling faster than the sea, it has a tendency to blow through the night and is characteristic of stable weather patterns – Maestral blowing during the day, Burin at night. While it doesn’t have the gusto of Bura, it does have the potential to blow with strength in certain areas. Pay attention to the wind reports and anchor/moor safely overnight.

Jugo SE

Jugo (Scirocco) is a SE wind, less common in peak summer seasons but becoming more frequent at the end of the season. It is a cyclonal wind that is accompanied by grey skies, rainfall, big waves and strong wind. As it is a low-pressure wind, it is often associated with lethargy and a ‘cloudy mind’. Anchoring or mooring is best on the Northern side of islands for protection.

Tramontana N

Tramontana is a N to NW wind, common along the Adriatic and often signals that extreme weather conditions are on their way; rain, storms and even Bura are known to follow Tramontana. Avoid anchoring on the open west side of any of the islands; thankfully, sailing in Croatia, you are never far from a good anchorage or harbour.

Pulenat W

Pulenat is a westerly wind that occurs when a cyclone moves along the coast to the East and the winds shift from SE – W. This wind isn’t a common occurrence and typically only blows for a couple of hours but can still make a mess of the sea in that time.

For the best information on local winds when sailing in Croatia, be sure to check windy.com daily and meteo.hr is the weather site used by most local sailors.

Visiting the national parks of Croatia by boat

Did you know that 10% of Croatia is allocated to the 8 national and 11 nature parks? Such a green and pleasant land. And the good news is that many of these parks are located on islands and the coast, and so they are very accessible for sailors.

To learn more about the nature and national parks of Croatia, check out the Total Croatia guide. In addition, Total Croatia Sailing also produced some sailing guides for Kornati National Park, Brijuni, and Krka National Park.

UNESCO heritage and sailing

Croatia has some incredible UNESCO heritage. Did you know, for example, that Hvar has more UNESCO heritage than any island in the world? Croatia currently has 11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in all, and the good news for sailors is that the vast majority of them are on the coast and islands.

Not only that, but Croatia also has a wealth of intangible UNESCO heritage to explore, including the Mediterranean diet of Brac and Hvar. For a complete list and guide to all the UNESCO heritage at your disposal, visit the Total Croatia UNESCO page.

Keeping active while sailing in Croatia

While sailing may be enough for some, there are SO many other things to try while on holiday on the Adriatic. Each island offers something unique, and local agencies are geared up the needs of sailors.

Combine your sea adventures with other activities on the water. Windsurfing off Bol or Orebic, kitesurfing, sea kayaking, free diving and scuba diving. Alternatively hit the islands and choose from hiking, cycling and climbing.

Croatian gourmet delights for the sailor

When the late, great Anthony Bourdain stumbled across Croatia back in 2012, he was stunned. This is world class food, this is world class wine, this is world class cheese, he said.

He was not wrong.

Croatian food is outstanding. It is based on family recipes handed down by grandmothers, the freshest available produce. And olive oil.

The gourmet experience for sailors in Croatia is especially enticing. Sail around an uninhabited island, and your luncheon expectations will sink. And they your skipper will guide you into an idyllic bay with a half-ruined fisherman’s cottage on the water. From there, you will eat perhaps the best lamb of your life. Learn more about the gourmet delights of this incredible country with the Total Croatia food introduction.

Wine and sailing in Croatia

One of the great Croatian journeys of discovery on the Adriatic is wine. Croatia boasts more than 130 indigenous varieties, and many of these are peculiar to one individual island. The wine and sailing experience is thus unique from island to island. A true wine connoisseur’s delight! TCN featured an article with an overview of the indigenous wine varieties of the islands.

There are plenty of wineries to explore both on the islands and the mainland. It is also possible to enjoy onboard tastings. For a complete overview of the Croatian wine experience, learn more with the Total Croatia wine guide.

Learning to sail

For some, the appeal of sailing in Croatia is doing it themselves, minus the crew. What if you have a skipper’s license but don’t quite have the experience or confidence to bareboat? Learning to sail in Croatia is an option. Can you learn to sail in one day? No, not if you want to have the necessary skills and confidence to bareboat, anchor, dock and deal with precarious weather situations. There are a number of sailing schools in Croatia which offer 5 – 7-day courses.

In 2017 we attended a course with Ultra Sailing School who are one of the most well-established companies in Split. The course covered everything from ‘anatomy’ of the boat, sailing manoeuvres, safety, emergency manoeuvres (man overboard etc.), anchoring and docking. A basic 6-day course costs between 500 – 700€. Nava boats also offer a 4-day skipper training on their elite racing performance X-Yachts, this is more for people looking to fine-tune their skipper skills. The course costs 450€ per person, plus 850€ per cabin (as stay aboard overnight).

If you want to put your sailing skills to the test, Croatia has a number of competitive, friendly and even charter regattas. The Hanse Cup Adriatic is a fantastic charter regatta open to all, so everyone has the opportunity to experience the camaraderie and thrill of racing.

Chartering with crew for first-timers

Technically, if you charter a boat with crew, you don’t need to know anything about boats as your crew is there to take care of you. This is especially the case with luxury boats, whose crew are there for your every want and need. However, if you are chartering a smaller sailing yacht or are joining a flotilla with only a skipper, it is advisable that you learn some basics. The skipper or crew will no doubt teach you as the week progresses but it would be helpful to learn some basic knots and terminology before boarding.

If there is only one experienced crew member aboard, then the skipper will enlist help when it comes to docking and anchoring; this is especially important in bad weather. If you could do three things to step aboard prepared, it would be: learn how to tie fenders, a bowline and cleat hitch, and learn basic lingo so you know what a cleat and fender are. Thankfully, the wonders of the internet and YouTube make it super-simple these days.

What is included in a charter?

When you charter a bareboat, the company you charter with should do a complete run-through of the vessel, to note whether everything is aboard, working and to agree on damages already present. When it comes to bareboats, like the name, they are typically chartered bare – except for linen, any extras need to be requested. If you charter with crew, then the skipper is responsible for the check-in procedure.

On mini-cruisers and cabin charter, half-board (breakfast and lunch) is normally included and drinks are done over a bar tab system. On a private or luxury charter, guests have the option of paying for full or half-board and drinks in advance. Every boat varies slightly as to what is provided: water-sports equipment, toiletries, beach towels… if your yacht has a jet ski, they are typically charged extra per hour (up to 150€ per hour). So, pay attention to the fine print of your cruise or charter to be sure what is included. Remember to pack chargers, toiletries, likes of fishing and diving licenses if you wish to do so, and drivers license if you intend to rent scooters or quads.

Tipping in Croatia – the sailing expectations

Ah, tipping. The eternal question, and one of the most-searched questions on TCN – how much to tip in Croatia? A Total Croatia guide, including sailing.

The marinas and key ports in Croatia

There are dozens of marinas and key ports along the Croatian coast. Some are in private ownership, while the largest number are run by ACI Marina, a State enterprise.

Total Croatia Sailing has provided some introductory information on each marina and key port. This includes introductory information, amenities and facilities, prices and contact details. Click here to access the TCS marina information, and here for the key ports.

Yacht supply in Croatia

Many of the islands you will sail to will have very rudimentary supply services. Supermarkets are plentiful on the bigger islands, but a tiny shop with the most basic supplies is what you can expect on the smaller ones.

Keeping your boat stocked with essential supplies ensures a happy holiday. Here are some thoughts on yacht supply in Croatia.

Gas and fuel stations

Looking to refuel the boat along the Adriatic coast? Here is a list of the gas and fuel stations where you can fill the tanks.

Weather in Croatia

Keeping tabs on the winds of Croatia described above is essential for any sailor in Croatia, as is monitoring the weather in general. Here is the Total Croatia guide to weather in Croatia.

Regattas in Croatia

There are more regattas in Croatia than days of the year. Some 378, according to the Croatian Sailing Association. The CSA has published a list of all the regatta names, dates and locations (sadly only in Croatian, but Google Translate is your friend).

You can learn more about sailing in Croatia on the dedicated TCN sailing portal, as well as the TCN sailing news section.