Sailing and Island Hopping in Croatia

of Michael Gimm Holdensen
13 minutes reading time

Table of contents

If you're dreaming of a sailing trip in a sailboat, cruising from bay to bay and skinny-dipping in the clear azure waters, then a little adventure at sea might be worth adding to your bucket list. And if you don't already have a sailing licence, you might be wondering how to make that dream come true.

We have previously been on self-drive holidays to Croatia and it doesn't compare to a month at sea. Lots of sun, wind, water and quiet moments to yourself. And yet the freedom to seek out the big marinas in the popular cities if life at sea gets a little too quiet (said a dad with 3 girls once... 😀 ).

However, a sailing licence is required to rent a sailboat, but it's also possible to hire a skipper to join you on your trip. In our case, I chose to take a Dayskipper licence while we were living in Spain. But you can take it in many places.

Sail & Power Dayskipper

Sailing licence from the RYA

I had long had a dream of learning to sail, but I've just never got round to doing anything about it. For many reasons, but probably mostly due to time and the fact that sailing in the Danish climate has not been so appealing.

But after we settled in Spain, the opportunity was there and I seized it. I booked a 3-week programme with the company Sail & Power Academy in Estepona and spent 3 weeks on a sailboat. There was one week of intensive theory and two weeks of practical sailing in the Mediterranean. The practical part was done by a guy called Lance, who was hired as a freelancer from the company Gib Sailing school in Gibraltar. I highly recommend him and his father and they offer the same courses as the former.

The school teaches and certifies you based on RYA - Royal Yachting Association's curriculum. It claims to be the most comprehensive and the certificate can be used worldwide. However, in some places you need to apply to get it changed to an ICC certificate. But not in Europe, as far as I know.

What is a Dayskipper?

After 3 weeks I had passed the VHF radio exam and the Competent Crew practical exam, as well as a theory part. Then I got my Day skipper licence and a VHF Radio licence.

With it in hand, it's possible to sail boats up to 15 metres (45 feet) - during the day, with a crew on board - where you're the only one with sailing experience.

As a tourist sailor, you don't need more unless you plan on travelling long distances after dark or sailing even bigger boats. Our boat was 10 metres, which was a nice starter size for the five of us on our trip.

Is it hard to get the proof?

On the programme I completed, the teaching was in English. Here, the theory part is probably the hardest. But the school has an interest in you passing - so as long as you pay attention, it shouldn't be a problem.

There were two Englishmen on the team who failed the theory part (there were 5 of us), but it was "overruled" afterwards in the practical part on the boat.

How do you book a boat for your sailing trip in Croatia?

When it comes to booking a sailing boat in Croatia, there are many options. But mostly if you book early. As with everything else holiday-related, July and August are quite busy.

We had a skipper with us on the first day to give us a lot of tips. He told us that September was his favourite month. There are fewer boats at sea and both the water and the weather are optimal. So maybe worth considering. A skipper costs around 100 Euro per day plus board and lodging if it's for several days.

We booked through a broker called Sailor Globe who have the connections to sailboat (and any other boat) hire companies in Croatia and, for that matter, many other places in the world. They charge for their service, of course, but should also be your guarantee that you get what you pay for.

Whether it was a good idea to use them, I don't really know. Our boat didn't live up to what we paid for. These included a missing autopilot, wind gauge and VHF radio, as well as a leaky sleeping cabin, to name a few of the most important ones. 

At the company ASC Yachting who owned the boat, I had a chat with the owner both during and after our trip. It was a grumpy elderly Croatian gentleman who had little sympathy for my complaint. So I contacted Globe Sailor, our broker, and they started a case with my demand for a refund of a small part of our payment. Globe Sailor said they would help, but in the end, the owner of the boat was probably more important than us. So it stayed that way.

There are big companies down here that are probably doing well, but it's also my feeling that many of them don't care about their customers because Croatia has become so popular and in demand. The customers come by themselves.

Where to sail from in Croatia?

We wanted to sail for a month, so the starting destination wasn't that important to us. We knew that our sailing trip would include a lot of island hopping, but not specifically which islands.

I know that many people fly to Split, where the airport is very close to the marinas in the area. But some also fly to Dubrovnik or Zadar, which are to the south or north of Split.

Our marina was located in Biograd na Moru, which is about 30 min. from Zadar. However, we ended up flying from Copenhagen to Split on the way there and taking the bus the next day to the marina. On the way home, we took a taxi to Zadar airport and flew to Aarhus.

We would have driven to Croatia, but we hadn't yet got our car and had to fly. The journey by plane took about 2 hours.

How much does it cost to hire a sailboat in Croatia?

We paid 5,700 Euro to rent a sailboat for 4 weeks. To this we added tourist tax of 94 Euro, "Transit Log" (cleaning of the boat, linen, etc.) of 140 Euro, and a 1,000 Euro deposit. More expensive boats have a higher deposit. We also used about 90 litres of fuel in the 4 weeks. This isn't really that much considering that it can be difficult to sail with sails much of the time due to lack of wind.

Our sailboat was a 32 foot (10 metre) Bavaria from 2004with 2 sleeping cabins and 2 berths in the living room. There wasn't much space, but it had all the essentials and was a great beginner's boat. Especially when you also choose to visit smaller marinas on the route, where there is not so much space to manoeuvre.

Even though, as mentioned before, there was some equipment on the boat that didn't work, we still made it work.

Catamaran vs Monohull - Which type of boat to choose?

I took the RYA Dayskipper certificate on a catamaran and we sailed in Croatia in a Monohull (classic sailboat). So I have a bit of experience from both.

There are pros and cons to both and I'm having a hard time deciding which one I'd prefer next time. It probably depends on who and how many people are going on the trip.

catamaran sejlbåd

Catamaran - Floating holiday home

Advantages

  • Doesn't tilt much from side to side.
  • 2 motors make it easy to steer without sails, especially in the marina.
  • Lots of space. A bit like a small holiday home on the sea.
  • Large sleeping cabins in the side/bottom of the boat.

Disadvantages

  • Difficult to "luff" (turn the boat upwind) when the sail is up.
  • Lack of feel for the wind load on the mainsail (and mast), as the boat doesn't heel over when it's windy.
  • Doesn't really look like a boat, but more like a large raft/houseboat.
  • Typically twice the width of a Monohull, which also makes the price about twice as expensive in a marina.
  • Harder to turn on the rudder than a Monohull.
  • Should the boat capsize in a storm, it will remain upright, as it doesn't have a large heavy keel like a Monuhull.
  • More expensive than a Monohull to rent.

Monohull klassisk sejlbåd

Monohull - Classic sailboat

Advantages

  • Designed to take advantage of wind conditions.
  • Easy to turn, both with and without a motor.
  • Aesthetically compared to a Catamaran.
  • Cheaper than a Catamaran.

Disadvantages

  • If you're already struggling with wind and waves, it can be uncomfortable to speed up too much, as speed often means that the boat will lean to one side.
  • A monohull has only one engine and it can be difficult to moor in a marina if there's a crosswind, as the bow (front end of the boat) can easily slide to one side. However, some boats have bow thrusters at the front to help keep the boat in place.
  • Space is often more limited on a Monohull as other things are prioritised.

My instructor told me that the Catamaran was often the boat of choice if you wanted to take the missus on a trip and primarily sail from one marina to another, without too much swell.

There's definitely something to that, but the catamarans we've seen have been pretty cool. Especially if you're sailing with someone other than your family, it's pretty handy to have a little extra space.

Catamarans typically also have front and rear sunbathing areas, an outdoor dining area, a large kitchen with fridge and freezer, and much more.

Essential equipment for your trip

Now, we're probably a little more travelled than most. And after 2 years of travelling, we can also manage with very little when we travel around. This trip wasn't much different and we didn't pack more than we could fit in our hand luggage. Of the most important equipment, we can mention swimwear, snorkelling gear and our quick-dry towels.

However, the most essential for your sailing journey are some apps that make travelling a little easier and safer. Here they are:

  • Navionics. A Google maps pendant for navigation at sea. We used it to create routes and see the distance between A and B, as well as the depth of the different places we sailed. It does everything you need and you can get the first 14 days for free. We ended up buying it afterwards as I couldn't do without it.
  • Navily. A free app where other sailors share their experiences with marinas, bays or various places where they have anchored. When you click on a place on the map you think you want to go, you can see how a bay is protected from wind and waves over the next few days. It's pretty handy and helped us quite a lot.
  • Windy. A free weather forecasting app with a focus on wind. It shows quite accurately how the wind is expected to develop during the day/week.

Is it difficult to sail in Croatia?

Before we booked the boat, I had spent a lot of time researching which country we should go sailing in as beginners. Many people recommend Croatia as there are so many different islands to sail around (over 1000). This means it's almost always possible to find a place to shelter from the wind if the weather gets too rough. Even though there are actually quite a few boats sailing in the area.

A little planning is still required and sometimes you need to book a few days in advance. Especially if you want to stay in a specific marina.

What do you do when only one person has a "driver's licence"?

If you remember what it was like when you got your licence and had to drive a car by yourself for the first time... I think it's a bit the same here.

For the same reason, we had a skipper with us on the first day. Both for my sake, but also to reassure the family and give everyone time to see, hear and experience some of the tasks on a sailboat.

Distribution of roles

None of our children have tried sailing before. Rie and I were in Spain on a tiny Regatta boat for a couple of weekends, but otherwise it's just me who has done a bit of sailing. 

Of course, this makes the circumstances on a sailboat a little vulnerable, as someone has to be able to take over where I can't.

Therefore, it was also important that Rie and the children were given tasks and responsibilities as soon as possible, while we talked about the things we did on the boat.

Carla

As the smallest person on the boat, Carla was tasked with closing all the cupboards and drawers before sailing to a new location.

Emma

At first, Emma didn't show much interest, but little by little, she was given more responsibility. On the last part of the trip, she was co-responsible for dropping and retrieving the anchor.

Emma was also in charge of our little "dinghy" (motorised rubber boat), which we towed behind the sailboat.

Liva and Rie

Helped with most things. The only thing they weren't too keen on was being behind the wheel, so that part was mostly left to me.

In addition to the practicalities of the boat, daily life is a bit like at home. On the boat, there is also cooking and washing up to be done, and our children also have a role to play here. Especially when it comes to washing up.

Safety and security

It goes without saying that especially when there are children on board, you need to keep safety in mind.
In the beginning, the children also wore life jackets, but gradually we started to lose them.

We didn't experience much wind or big waves, so the agreement was that if Carla was out while we were sailing, she would sit with us.

Our agreement was that if someone fell in, Rie would jump in immediately and I would steer the boat to them. Fortunately, that didn't happen.

Where do you go when you want to be alone?

There's not much space on a small boat like the one we were on. Still, it worked pretty well most of the time. We swam and snorkelled a lot and we could sunbathe in several places on the boat. We also brought a SUP board for some activity when we were anchored. 

In between we were on land, where we went for walks in the different cities we visited. 

So overall, I don't think it's been a challenge for us, but we've also gotten used to being together all the time.

Waterfalls at KRKA National Park.

Where is the best place to sail in Croatia?

Back home, we had put a number of points on our Google maps list of places we wanted to go during our sailing trip. This gave us an idea of which way we wanted to go. Some places are significantly more popular than others, so it's all about what the purpose of the trip is. Do you want to see the same things as everyone else? Or is it the tranquillity of a bay while anchored that appeals? Maybe a cosy little marina in a small town or docking at a small restaurant and sleeping there for the night. Anything is possible, but there's quite a difference between how much it costs and how much you're on your own.   

Is it cheap to sail in Croatia?

Croatia is the first place we have travelled on our own. But we have been to Croatia twice before and it is my impression that prices have increased a lot in general. You also have to be careful as Croatians are unfortunately not all equally honest and many try to make a lot of money from tourists.

We have been cheated on several occasions where we didn't ask the price first. For example, at a fruit and veg "market" where Rie bought 8 pieces of fruit and veg and had to pay 35 Euro. Or when we landed at Split airport and travelled 5 km by taxi - for 40 Euro! So a good advice is to ask the price first, as many things are way too expensive.

When sailing, there are also a number of things to be aware of. Anchoring is free, but buoys typically cost something and the price can vary quite a bit.

The marinas are a chapter in themselves. Some of them are huge and have a lot of facilities and others are smaller, but usually have the bare essentials. Prices can range from around 50 Euro to 150 Euro per day for a berth for a 10 metre boat like ours, while larger boats are more expensive. We went to the marina about every 4 days to fill up with water, drop off rubbish, charge the boat's batteries, bathe (with soap) and shop. But otherwise, we mainly anchored, which, in addition to being free, was also the most comfortable. Marinas are typically noisier, more mosquitoes and quite hot!

På sejltur med The Gimms

Would we do it again?

We all agree that the trip has been awesome. It has been something different than we have previously experienced and for some members of the family, 4 weeks has also been too long. But 1 to 2 weeks - definitely yes!

It could easily be with someone else and we have also talked about trying a catamaran next time. We've also talked about how it would be great to explore the Ionian Islands in Greece, a little further south.

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