One of the best things about sailing in Finland is that you can anchor or land quite freely. A safe harbor or a beautiful lunch stop is often no further away than the nearest island or shore (and they are always close at hand). Anchoring is however not permitted everywhere and this guide to anchoring restrictions in Finland will help you avoid those places were you should not drop your hook. Your most important tool in selecting a good anchorage and avoiding restricted areas are good charts. With the exception of natural reserves, other navigational information can be found on the Finnish paper charts. If you use electronic charts, make sure they include all the important information, “It was not on my charts” is not a valid excuse for not following the rules.
The right to anchor (and land) is defined by what is called “Every man’s right“. The every man’s right gives people the right to move freely across the waters and through nature and to temporarily stay overnight, also on privately owned land. You are also allowed to pick berries and mushrooms. With this great right also comes great responsibility to leave the places you visit intact. You are not allowed to use open fire, litter, cut down trees or collect especially protected flowers and other plants nor camp for an extended period of time. Both the rights as well as the restrictions of the every man’s right also apply to foreign visitors. More information on the every man’s right on this website by the Ministry of the Environment (direct link to leaflet here).
No anchoring on or close to private plots
The main challenge nowadays with anchoring (and landing) in Finland is the large number of summer cottages along the coasts. The law in Finland is quite clear, you cannot anchor (or land) too close to private houses, cottages or saunas nor use private jetties or buoys (should be obvious). The problem is that “too close” is not precisely defined, the lawmakers have trusted the good judgement of the boaters on this one. One of the key reason people (rightly) at times disagree with boaters as to a proper distance is the Finnish love of saunas. In the archipelago pretty much every plot has at least one sauna. The expectation in Finland is that you can take a swim from your sauna in privacy meaning you can do it naked and without spectators.
The simplest rule is to avoid anchoring in direct sight of a building. In the inner archipelago this can at times be hard. If you are in sight of a building or beach, the next polite rule of course is: “If in doubt, move a bit further away”. A simple test you could take I would call the “naked sailor test”. If you feel OK about standing stark naked on the deck of your boat when someone is standing down by the beach on a plot that you can see, then you are probably OK. If you are not comfortable, people of the beach will most likely also feel that their rightful privacy is being invaded.
A few gotchas on selecting a good anchorage. While the authentic archipelago building style is all about prominently red houses very close to the waterline, modern zoning rules forbid building houses close to the shore. In the archipelago, many people leave their yards in a very natural state without telltale “garden” or other signs of habitation. So before you land, take a second look, is there a house lurking in the woods? The lack of a jetty is not enough of a sign, the jetty might be a bit further away from the house. Finnish paper charts show buildings (small black squares) but the building information is at times outdated. Again, if you use electronic charts, make sure the chart shows also buildings. Because houses are so well hidden, satellite imagery is not a reliable way to spot buildings!
An other sensitive case are small islands. Small here meaning islands with just one house and perhaps a couple of hundred meters across. While landing on the back side of such an island technically is quite OK (you are out of sight), people are sometimes quite uncomfortable about visitors landing on such islands. Many times also all sides of small islands are in active use, the house could be on one side, the sauna on an other side and the beach and jetty on jet another side. Personally I stay away from these.
In case you’re looking for a jetty or dock to land, it is also good to know the “reverse” logic of signage on private jetties and docks in Finland. “Reverse” logic here means that private jetties in general have no signs. “No landing” or “No trespassing” signs are not really part of the Finnish archipelago culture, boaters are expected to understand how to behave. So in general no sign means “private, stay away”. If the jetty has a sign, landing is often permitted – at least for someone, not necessarily you – so check the text before you tie up.
Other restrictions on anchoring
Military and restricted areas
There are 19 restricted military areas around the Finnish coast. They are all clearly marked on Finnish paper charts and you can also find a map of the areas from this webpage of the Finnish Navy. You can pass through restricted areas following marked channels and you can moor and anchor at official harbors. You cannot anchor anywhere else and should keep at least 100 meters away from any shores unless a marked channel passes closer by. The islands within the restricted areas typically have big yellow signs at regular intervals along the shores, but the rules apply even when no signs are shown. Note that also diving, sonar work and other “unusual” activities are not permitted within the restricted areas.
Cables and pipes
There is a huge number of electric and telephone cables and water pipes criss-crossing the archipelago. These are clearly marked on the Finnish paper charts. You must not anchor in the vicinity of these. See map above for examples.
There are over 10’000 NM miles of marked navigational channels in Finland. A few channels are marked with fairways (see map above). Anchoring on these fairways is not permitted. Most of the channels however are only marked with a center line in which case it is not obvious where you can anchor. Again there is no absolute measure, you need to use your common sense. One simple rule of thumb is to stay outside the “imaginary fairway” defined by the channel markers, boaters will use the full width of the fairway. In particular sailors will often venture far outside this area when beating into the wind so wherever you can expect a tacking boat to sail, you should also avoid. Small bays, behind headlands etc are typically good places.
The nature and environment of the Finnish archipelago and lakes are fortunately very well protected. The best thing is that most of the reserve are still quite open for visitors but there are some restrictions, mainly to protect breeding grounds seals and bird nesting. On the protected islands you will find small signs on the shore indicating the restrictions on landing. For nature reserves the color coding on the Finnish charts is a bit illogical, they are marked in green. In this case green does not mean “OK”, it means “No entry”.
Only very few protected areas are indicated on the charts and landing restrictions are not uniform, different locations are protected for shorter and longer periods during the year, mostly spring to late summer.
If you want to plan ahead, the Finnish excursionmap online service (found at www.retkikartta.fi/?lang=en) shows the restrictions that apply to all protected areas. You need to open the tab “Map layers” and then under that tab enable “Protected areas and hiking destinations“. When this layer is enabled, the protected islands will show up in red on the map (see image below). When you click on a specific location, a pop-up window will show when a restrictions is in place (in the example below you cannot land on the island between April 1 and July 31, the Finnish word “kielletty” means forbidden).
The Åland islands independently administer their natural reserves, you can find a map of the restricted areas around the Åland islands here.
There are a number of areas with specific restrictions on anchoring and diving for various reasons. These are all clearly marked on the Finnish paper charts.
The Åland islands
The Åland islands also have the “Every man’s right” but with a somewhat stricter interpretation that on the Finnish mainland. Boaters are mainly impacted by the recommendation to stay overnight only in marinas and guest harbors. Note also that all scuba diving requires a permission. For more information on the every man’s right in the Åland island, check the Visit Åland site.
Anchoring in an emergency
Most of the anchoring rules can be overridden in a real emergency and you can seek emergency shelter also in areas which would otherwise be restricted. However this only applies to real emergencies, some explanations that I have heard are not. Some examples of non-emergencies are: “We just came over from XX and needed a place to sleep”, “The kids were getting hungry and we needed to have a lunch break”, “The weather looks a bit rough, so we decided to anchor here”. Also remember that if you are in a real emergency, the first thing to do is to contact the Coast guard, either on VHF channel 16 or on the phone +358 294 1000 or 112.