Carusel Tours
1 April 2020

Sailing in St. Petersburg. Can you get there by boat?

Sea near Kronstadt
Although St. Petersburg had rich sailing traditions back in the imperial times, when in 1846 the first yacht club was opened in the city, currently it lags seriously behind its EU neighbours. Sailing is getting more and more popular among locals in St. Petersburg now, but most of us prefer other sailing destinations and some people keep their own boats in nearby Finnish or Estonian marinas where they would often go for the weekend.

However, it is possible to get to St. Petersburg by boat and there have been around 100-200 foreign vessels per year visiting our city lately. It might seem like a drop in an ocean compared to tens of thousands of yachts visiting Finland yearly, but if you are an experienced and adventurous sailor, you might appreciate this sort of exclusivity when choosing St. Petersburg as your next sailing destination.

In this article, you will find out the latest information on how to approach St. Petersburg when going by boat from Finland and Estonia, available customs clearance checkpoints and guest harbours.

Navigating to Kronstadt with Fort Alexander in the background
Area near Kronstadt with Fort Alexander I in the background

Navigation in the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland. General information

The navigation season in the Gulf of Finland generally lasts from May until October with most recreational boats sailing from end of May until mid-September. As the Gulf of Finland is shallow, especially closer to the shores, the upper layers of water in it get warm relatively quickly. Gales and fogs are not rare during the navigation season, and the sailors should be prepared to that.

Normally the western winds prevail throughout the Gulf of Finland in the summertime, but recently, probably due to the changes in climate, eastern winds have started to blow more often, which may result in unexpected sand shoals in shallow areas or along the shipping channels around St. Petersburg. Therefore, we advise you to beware of continuous eastern winds.

As the Gulf of Finland is very shallow, many guest harbours have depths of no more than 2.5 – 3 metres, which you need to keep in mind when choosing the right place for anchoring or mooring. On the other hand, tidal variations in the Baltic Sea in general and particularly in the Gulf of Finland are insignificant and can be neglected.

Another important issue is safe sailing when approaching the main ports along the Gulf of Finland, as there is lot of commercial traffic in these zones. The zones that require particular attention are the areas prohibited for the navigation near islands Moshchny and Seskar (mapped on charts), the only passage through the St. Petersburg dam's and the navigation channels from Kronstadt to St. Petersburg.
The passage in the dam is 200 metres wide and 16 metres deep.
Passage in St. Petersburg Dam
Navigation passage in St. Petersburg Dam

In addition to that, foreign vessels cannot anchor near Russian islands along the way, as most of them are included in the military control zone and they cannot be accessed without a special permission from the FSB (Russian Federal Security Service). FSB does not grant permissions to foreign yachtsmen as easily as it does to Russian vessels and it is a lengthy bureaucratic process, that takes from several weeks to one month. The largest of these islands are Gogland (Hogland, Suurssaari) not far from the Finnish port Kotka, Boshoy Tyuters (Tyterskär, Tytärsaari), Seskar (Seiskari) and Moshchny (Lövskär, Lavansaari).
Coastline of Gogland Island
Coastline of Island Gogland
How to approach St. Petersburg from Finland and Estonia

At the moment, the only available Russian Customs Clearance Checkpoint in the Gulf of Finland is situated at Fort Konstantin of the Kronstadt Fortress 15 NM away from St. Petersburg. Customs points at Vyborg and Saimaa Channel are currently officially shut down for the customs clearance of small vessels. Therefore, the foreign yachts that are heading to St. Petersburg will need to sail almost all the way to the city from the moment they have crossed the territorial waters of Russia without making any stops.
If you want to learn more about Kronstadt, see our Kronstadt Tour Description and our Instagram Post about Kronstadt.
Lighthouse in Kronstadt
One of the lighthouses near Kronstadt

The distance between Helsinki and St. Petersburg is 175 NM, between Tallinn and St. Petersburg – 185 NM. If you decide to sail from Helsinki and Tallinn directly to St. Petersburg, you can clear out with the EU Customs and Immigration at the local port authority offices in Helsinki and Tallinn, getting in touch with them prior to your departure in advance.

Finnish border control points on islands Haapasaari and Santio are the closest to the Russian Border. Alternatively, you can clear out with the EU Customs and Immigration there. The distance from Haapasaari to St. Petersburg is 95 NM, from Santio - 85 NM.

If you head to St. Petersburg from Estonia, you will still need to enter the shipping lane south east of Gogland Island, therefore it makes no sense to go further to the east than the Estonian port of Vergi (115 NM to Kronstadt, 130 NM to St. Petersburg). For instance, if you use the harbour of Narva Jõesuu on the border with Russia for the EU Customs Clearance, you will still have to turn west and head back north to enter this shipping division lane, which will eventually double your distance to Fort Konstantin in Kronstadt. For this reason, most vessels sailing from Estonia clear out in Tallinn or Vergi.
Gulf of Finland Navigation Map
Map of the eastern part of the gulf of Finland with restricted areas

You can find the charts, distances and the general information about sailing to St. Petersburg in the pilot book Baltic Sea and Approaches, Edition of 2017, available for sale and in Google Books. This book, created by the Royal Cruising Club, is really useful and by far it is the only sailing pilot book for the Gulf of Finland, but please keep in mind that currently there have been some major changes in the border control procedures and now the Russian customs clearance in Vyborg or Saimaa Channel is NOT permitted. It means that once you enter the Russian territorial waters, you will need to sail all the way to Fort Konstantin in Kronstadt for border control and therefore you are not allowed to make use of the marinas on the coast between Vyborg and St. Petersburg, described in this book.
Approach Map for Fort Konstantin in Kronstadt
Approach to Fort Konstantin. Map uploaded from the website of St. Petersburg Border Control

Approaching Border Checkpoint at Fort Konstantin in Kronstadt.

Once you enter the territorial waters of Russia, you will need to get in touch with the local coastguard on VHF Channel 6 using the call sign GRANIT (pronounces as "g-r-a-n-ee-t" with the accent on the second syllable) and inform them about your destination port and the name of your boat.

You will then sail along the big ship channel marked on maps (beware of restricted areas) and once you approach Kronstadt, you will need to contact the traffic controller at VHF Channels 9 or 16 stating the name of your vessel and the destination – Fort Konstantin for customs clearance and border control. We advise you first contact them by VHF channel 9 or by mobile around 4-10 hours prior to your arrival. You do not need to ask for a pilot to guide your boat through the passage in the dam as you are allowed to enter Fort Konstantin on your own, but keep in mind that this passage is also used by big cruise ships and commercial vessels, most of them tend to cross it either in the morning or after 5 pm in the evening.
St. Petersburg Dam and Ring Road in the Gulf of Finland
Aerial view of St. Petersburg Dam and Ring Road

You can find the necessary information, harbour maps and copies of documents that need to be filled in for the customs clearance at the website of Fort Konstantin Border Checkpoint, however it is better to contact them directly to double check that this information is up to date. The border control usually does not take more than 1 hour, during which the local customs officers will enter you boat and film it on camera. After border control, you can stay at Fort Konstantin, where they have guest berths, water, electricity, showers and washing machines (see the rates here).

The nearest shops are in Kronstadt, which is accessible by bus or taxi (10-minutes ride). Central St. Petersburg is 30 km away through the northern part of the picturesque ring way built on the dam going above the Gulf of Finland, from Kronstadt you can get there by taxi or by bus and then metro, the ride will take you approximately one hour by taxi and 1.5 hours by public transport. If you follow the ring way along the dam to the south, in 20-35 minutes you will get to the former royal residences along the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland - beautiful Oranienbaum and Peterhof with its marvellous fountains.

However, most foreign yachtsmen head to St. Petersburg yacht clubs after the border control in Kronstadt in order to be closer to the city. Read about the only city guest harbour open in the current season below.
Guest Harbour at Fort Konstantin, Kronstadt
Guest Harbour at Fort Konstantin, photo from their website in Russian

How to get through the Customs Clearance at Fort Konstantin

For the customs clearance, you will need to have at hand originals and copies of the following documents:

- Passports with valid Russian visas or electronic visas, depending on your country of residence, unless your country of residence does not require visas to entry Russia.

- arrival-departure crew lists

- filled-in customs declaration

- yacht registration documents

- skipper's license

Read about current Russian visa requirements in our article.
For the full list of documents and number of copies click here

Central River Yacht Club in St. Petersburg
Aerial view of Central River Yacht Club, photo from their group VK

Central River Yacht Club in St. Petersburg

At the moment, the Krestovski Yacht Club and Sea Yacht clubs are closed for visitors because of land disputes and renovation works.

Therefore, if you sail to St. Petersburg, you have no other option than staying in the only yacht club available for guest vessels at the moment – the Central River Yacht Club. It is situated around 15 NM to the south east from Kronstadt. For the approach instructions see The Baltic Sea and Approaches pilot book or contact the yacht club directly.

Beware of hydrofoils (fast speed boats travelling between St. Petesburg and Peterhof) and other motor vehicles on the way to and from St. Petersburg! The sea lane that they use will intersect with your lane marked with buoys as you approach St. Petersburg. They may travel fast, often violating the speed regulations, so it is better to keep track of them. The Central River Yacht Club is situated on the bank of Malaya Nevka River, where the counter current is quite strong, so keep that in mind when mooring.

The yacht club's website at the moment is only in Russian, but you can get in touch with them via the contact form on their website (currently under construction, here is the link to their website) or by phone to find out the rates and book a berth (we recommend to do that in advance as they are very slow in replying).

Among the available facilities are water, showers, electricity. The water should be boiled before drinking or, alternatively, you can buy bottled water. The city centre is very close but the nearest metro station is around 40 min walk through the bridge to the Krestovsky Island on the opposite side of the river bank. Alternatively, you can take a trolleybus that goes straight to Nevsky Avenue (main street of the city) or call a taxi.

Take a look at our tours ideas to get a better idea of what the city can offer you!
St. Petersburg during regatta
Can you sail through the Neva River and reach inland waterways of Russia?

Yes, you can, as travelling through the inland waterways of Russia was permitted in 2012, but in fact many local authorities still do not know how to deal with it.

If you decide to venture on this journey, we recommend you to read a book by J. Vallentine and M. Maters first, who crossed Russia all the way from the north to the south on their boat several years ago, or see their blog for many wonderful insights.

You can cross the Neva River, the main river of St. Petersburg that connects Lake Ladoga (the largest in Europe) with the Gulf of Finland, either without a mast during the day time or with a mast at night. For the night crossing you will have to use the service of a pilot who will guide you through the drawn bridges along the Neva River for a fee (around 25 000 RUB). For the day crossing you will need to get the permission from the local authorities and you won't have to hire a pilot, but taking a mast down in order to be able to sail under the bridges along the Neva River might not be the easiest option either. Besides, a Russian-speaking crew member is a must, as well as a Russian river radio station, a lot of patience and a keen interest in the Russian culture!

Text Alexandra Lyukina

Below is the photo by A. Golovdinov taken on the Night of the Scarlet Sails.
St. Petersburg Brigantine on Night of the Scarlet Sails ( photo A. Golovdinov)
A few words from the author.

You might wonder why this post appears in our Carusel Art Travel Blog. Apart from being one half of Carusel Tours I also have a longstanding passion for sailing and I noticed that very few people have access to any information about sailing in St. Petersburg and it is hardly available in English. That is why I did my best to write here about all the relevant news and recommendations for those of you who are interested in getting to St. Petersburg by boat or simply want to know more about sailing in Russia.
In our future posts, I will be writing about international and local regattas taking place in St. Petersburg and in the meantime, do not hesitate to drop me a line if you have any questions or need some advice!
Vyborg Islands Sailing
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