Responsible sailing in Croatia

Sail on by

We’re not saying that sailors can be shallow, but since they don’t ever have to stop anywhere long, there’s little chance to deep dive into a destination when you’re on a boat. It’s very easy to hop from port to port without much thought about how much you’re impacting, or neglecting, the local community. Whilst sailing leaves a light touch on the environment: no noise or engine pollution, sailors often don’t contribute much to the local kitty. Many of Croatia’s fifty or so marinas are government-run, big, and separate from the nearest town, but lots of Croatia sailing vacations will involve mooring at town quays on islands – and here is where there’s a real chance to interact with the country on a very local level.

What you can do
When you’re moored up right in the center of town, make the most of it: eat at the local restaurant, and buy your next picnic from the local shop. This way, your presence is contributing to people’s livelihoods, and not just to other tourists’ photographs.

Crowding out

In 2017, UNESCO warned that Dubrovnik’s World Heritage status was in danger because of its intolerable overcrowding. You only have to visit in July and August to see that the problem is very real: in the late morning through to the afternoon the numbers within the city walls can swell tenfold thanks to cruise ship traffic. You’ll be borne along the streets on a swell of people, shoulder to shoulder. Sailing vacations often start in Dubrovnik – the harbour is a ten-minute drive away, on the Ombla River, and whilst sailing boats are a thousand times smaller than cruise ships, their visiting crews still add to the crowds.
What you can do
We can’t stress enough how important it is to visit Croatia out of season, and avoid Dubrovnik between 11am and 3pm. You’ll be surprised by the number of crowds who make it out to the islands as well. If a ferry or a cruise ship can get there, they will come. April, May, September and October will be cheaper and quieter. We’d strongly advise against traveling in July and August.

Island waste

Croatia’s islands are oft-visited and admired for their pristine peace. Few people stop to think about where their waste is going when they’re relaxing on a pebbly beach on Korkula. Islands wrestle with waste disposal – it’s a lot trickier to manage than it is on the mainland. Until very recently, lots of rubbish was merely burnt or buried. Many Croatian islands are only at the early stages of recycling; Hvar started offering recycling to its residents in 2018. And it’s not just the land that has a waste problem. Unfortunately, sailors pollute the seas, whether they want to or not. There are often no places to pump out tanks, so sailing vessels empty their tanks directly into the sea. Black water (from the toilets) and grey water (from the sinks) will all go seawards in the end.

What you can do
Some marinas do offer pumping out facilities for your waste, so use these whenever possible. However, most of the time you’ll be at anchor or on town quays where there aren’t the same facilities. There might be water, water all around, but use it sparingly on board, and don’t pump your tanks anywhere near the coast.

Yacht Week

Yacht week started in Croatia in 2006 and has grown ever since into a massive industry, with many imitators. This floating spring break brings a raft of partying twenty-somethings to Croatia’s island bars. So far, so fun, but by 2013 the situation was out of hand. Yacht Week was a fully-mobile, uncontained party machine, often using non-local skippers and up to fifty yachts at once. As it visited island after island, its drunk revellers left litter, let off firecrackers, and left Hvar Town’s residents with a bad taste in their mouth. In 2014, Palmizana resort signed a petition, and the town council of Hvar voted unanimously to ban Yacht Week – though the ban was never enforced, Yacht Week was in disgrace. In 2018, Hvar put up threatening signs, fining tourists up to €700 for drunk and disorderly behaviour. New regulations saw security guards recruited to shepherd Yacht Week revellers off the streets and into the bars on the remoter Pakleni Islands. Now, Yacht Week’s operations have been forcibly reduced to five cruises a month.
What you can do
If you want to sail in Croatia, do it with a responsible, local operator who use local crew – and pay them well – who sail in small flotillas and show you Hvar’s UNESCO sights, not its club nights. If you’re bareboating, ask at the base before you leave about avoiding Yacht Week destinations.

Responsible tourism tips

Observe wildlife from a distance. Your captain will have a strict boat length policy which you must keep to. You might not, however, be able to stop dolphins leaping in your bow wave. Oh well. Use biodegradable sun cream that won’t damage coral, and use lots of it so you don’t get damaged yourself by the sun. Keep all your rubbish on the boat until there are suitable waste disposal facilities. Don’t throw anything overboard, or flush paper down the heads (toilets). Don’t empty your tanks or pump out your bilges within 2NM of the coast. Use eco-friendly detergents and soaps, as unfortunately your grey water tank will get pumped out into the sea. Lots of boats provide bags for collecting any rubbish you see, either in the water or on the beaches. Don’t be part of the problem, be part of the clean up. Don’t attempt to camp on any of the islands you visit. It’s illegal to wild camp in Croatia, so stick to sleeping on your boat – up on deck if you want that camping feeling without the canvas.
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Sergii Gulenok] [Crowding out: Alistair Young] [Yacht week: sailn1]