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Sailing in Italy, italian sailing

Sailing in Italy

Italy is home to some of the best sailing grounds in the Mediterranean witnessed by the large number of boats that are kept in the area. The lack of natural harbours and the limited numbers of places in the man-made marinas can make it challenging to find a berth during the summer months. But with careful preparation, a few key words in Italian and a little patience and understanding, the rewards will be well worth it.

For sailors, the amount of wind varies greatly depending on the location and time of year. The islands of Sardinia and Sicily tend to enjoy more wind than the Bay of Naples and the Riviera but, in general, there is a lot less during the summer months than other times of the year and yachts tend to have to motor more here than elsewhere in the Mediterranean. This, and the Italians' love affair with speed, explains the high numbers of motor boats relative to sailing boats in the area. But, when the sun shines, and there is a warm, steady breeze, most yachtsmen would feel that the wait had been worth it. In the meantime, the variety of scenery, the fabulous climate, the beautifully clear water and Italian food and wine certainly go some way to make up for the lack of wind! There are a number of yacht charter centres in the key sailing areas of Italy.

Italian regulations state that skippers wishing to sail more than six miles offshore in Italian waters need to hold an International Certificate of Competence (ICC). They also need to be able to produce the registration document for the boat and a valid insurance certificate. There is no lifeboat service in Italy and emergencies are dealt with by the Guardia Costiera. The telephone number for assistance is: 1530

Sailing in Italy, italian sailing

Although most people refer to the whole sailing area as the Mediterranean, Italian waters are actually divided into several different areas: The Ligurian Sea, The North Tyrrhenian Sea, The Central Tyrrhenian Sea, The South Tyrrhenian Sea, The Sardinian Sea, The Strait of Sardinia, The Strait of Sicily, The North Ionian Sea, The South Ionian Sea, The North Adriatic Sea, The Central Adriatic Sea and The South Adriatic Sea.

The Italian Riviera

The Italian Riviera stretches along most of the coastline of Liguria, either side of the port of Genoa. From part that runs from Genoa to the border with France in the west is called the 'Riviera di Ponente'.

La Spezia

There are plenty of comforable harbours in this area, notably San Remo, Imperia, Loano and Savonna but few anchorages if any.

Entrance to La Spezia

The port of Genoa has several yacht harbours. From here to Cinque Terre and the natural harbour of La Spezia in the east is called the 'Riviera di Levante'. There are a large number of comfortable harbours in this area too, but like most of Italy, it gets very busy in the summer and some effort needs to be made to secure a berth for the night. There are a few anchorages available, notably in Sestri Levante and inside the harbour of La Spezia. In the Golfo Tigullio (Golfo Marconi), the harbours of Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo are very popular with the rich and famous and space is hard to find during the season.

The Tuscan Islands & Argentario

Of all the places to sail in Italian waters, the Tuscan Islands are probably the most appealing and it is propably one of the most popular areas for yacht charter.

Anchorage off Giglio

It has something for everyone. The islands of Capraia, Elba, Giglio and Giannutri are all accessible to yachts and provide a number of attractive harbours and plenty of anchorages, some even secluded in bad weather. On the mainland south of Livorno, the harbours of Cala di Medici, Punta Ala, and on the Argentario promontory: Porto Santo Stefano, Porto Ercole and Cala Galera, are all relatively large and comfortable, and any one of them would provide a fabulous base for exploring the area.

The Pontine Islands

The Pontine islands are a favourite destination for Italian sailors.


They are conveniently placed for both Rome and Naples and with six islands to choose from, there is plenty of variety to enjoy. The two largest Islands: Ponza and Ventotene, have attractive towns to explore. The others: Palmarola, Zannone, Gavi and Santo Stefano are smaller, but provide some very attractive anchorages. Care needs to be taken in bad weather as they are a little exposed.

The Bay of Naples

It is not hard to see the appeal of the Bay of Naples for sailors.

Corricella, Procida

On the northern end, the islands of Ischia and Procida are both very accommodating to yachtsmen with several well equipped marinas and a number of beautiful anchorages suitable in settled weather. In the centre, the famous outline of mount Vesuvius dominates the skyline with a number of marinas lining the coastline around Naples, some more attractive than others! On the southern end, the Island of Capri lies serenely off the Sorrento peninsular. Its harbour is famously expensive, but there is an anchorage to the side of it and a number of spectacular bays suitable for anchoring in settled weather. To the north of the bay, yachts can visit the beautiful Pontine Islands and to the south, the Amalfi coast beckons.

Sorrento Peninsular

This area is renowned for its beauty and is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Italy. On the northern side, the town of Sorrento sits serenely on a hill overlooking the bay of Naples, and on the southern side, the towns of Positano, Ravallo, Amalfi and Salerno gaze southwards, framed by one of the most famous backdrops in the world. From a sailing point of view, its shortcomings are compensated by the extraordinary scenery. Sorrento has marina facilities, as do Amalfi, Maiori and Salerno. Yachts can anchor off the seafront at Positano in settled weather.


The island of Sardinia offers some of the best sailing in the world and has safe harbours more or less evenly spaced around the whole coast.

Costa Smerelda, Sardinia

The east side is more protected, and offers some spectacular beaches with white sand and clear water. It is a very popular holiday destination and the 'Costa Smerelda', in the north east of the island, is very much a playground for the rich and famous. Harbours like Porto Cervo will let you stay for next to nothing out of season, but come the summer, they would be charging you hundreds, if not thousands of euros per night - if they would let you in at all! The western side of Sardinia is more rugged and more open to the Maestrale (Mistral). When it blows, great care must be taken by small yachts as the seas build alarmingly and there are few safe harbours to run to. The Strait of Bonifacio, between Sardinia and Corsica, is a scary place to be in a full Maestrale. Further down the western side, there are some delightful sailing areas between the Island of San Pietro and Capo Teulada, the southernmost point of Sardinia.

The Aeolian Islands

Named after the God of Wind, Aeolus, the Aeolian Islands have a reputation for enjoying a little too much of it!

Vulcano, Aeolian Islands

However, most of the time they are delighful and they provide some of the most secure anchorages available in the Tyrrhenian. There are eight in all, the last being little more than a rock, jutting out of the sea. Visitors can anchor off the island of Stromboli, who's active volcano occasionally provides a spectacular lightshow. The neighbouring island of Vulcano also has an active volcano, and here visitors can enjoy hot springs in the bay and volcanic mud baths ashore. The islands of Lipari and Salina are larger and have attractive towns with well established marinas. On the mainland, the attractive harbour of Tropea makes a good stopping off point when on passage to or from the Aeolian Islands.


Sicily is an attractive cruising ground, particularly along the northern and eastern coasts.

Egadi Islands, Sicily

It has a number of well established marinas although they can be very expensive in the summer months. Some of the larger, yacht charter companies have bases here. There are anchorages at Cefalu and either side of Palermo. At the western end, San Vito lo Capo also has a comfortable marina and anchorage, which can be very useful in a Maestrale. Off the western end of Sicily lie the Egadi Islands, which provide some spectacularly clear water and secure anchorages. There is a marina at Favignana. The cities of Trapani and Marsala are attractive destinations, but further round to the south the facilities diminish somewhat. The area is slowly being developed but some care should be taken when on passage in this area. The eastern side of Sicily has some beautiful cities and interesting sailing destinations, in particular: Siracusa, Catania and Taormina are well worth a visit. The marina at Riposto provides ring-side seats for any firework shows that Mount Etna chooses to put on! A trip through the Straits of Messina is made more interesting by the presence of whirlpools at certain states of the tide! Although not dangerous to cruising yachts, they look a little threatening and can affect the sterring at times.

The Ionian

The Ionian coast makes up the 'Instep' of the Italian 'Boot'. There are few harbours suitable for yachts but there are marinas at Crotone, Taranto and Gallipoli. At Sibari, there is an inland development of holiday homes and a large number of marina berths.

South Adriatic

The heel of Italy stetches from the port of Otranto up to the Gargano Peninsular.

Otranto, Puglia

This area is probably the most interesting in the Italian Adriatic, as the coastline becomes very flat and the sea very shallow inshore as you travel north. Also, from here it is only a day's sail to the island of Corfu and the fabulous sailing waters of Greece. The Tremeti Islands, off the northern coast of the Gargano Peninsular are very beautiful and totally unspoilt.

Tremeti Islands

There are no marina facilities there and it is only safe to anchor in settled weather. The harbours of Otranto, Vieste, Bari, Brindisi and Manfredonia all have marina facilities.

Central Adriatic

There is little of interest for the cruising yachtsman in this area of the Adriatic.

Pescara, Abruzzo

There are a few notable harbours such as: San Giorgio, San Benedetto del Tronto, Pescara and Ortona but most of the cruising interest is either further north or to the south.

North Adriatic

The coastline of the north Adriatic is flatter and less interesting than other areas of Italy, mainly made up of mile after mile of sandy beaches.


However, there are many interesting places to visit such as: Venice, Trieste, Ravenna and Rimini. The proximity to the northern coastline and islands of Croatia make this area popular for cruising.

Useful terms:

The bow - la prua
The stern - la poppa
The mast - l'albero
The hull - il scafo
The sails - le vele
The engine - il motore
The weather forecast - il previsione del tempo
The tiller - il timone
The rope - la cima
To moor up - ormeggiare
To book a berth - prenotare un posto
Length - la lunghezza
Beam - la larghezza
Draft - il pescaggio
One day - un giorno
One week - una settimana
One month - un mese
Forward - in avanti
Reverse - retromarcia

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