Russia - Profile
- The break-up of the Soviet Union has radically altered the cruising picture in both the Baltic and Black Sea. Unfortunately, while the countries themselves have undergone a profound process of liberalisation, rules affecting the movement of foreign vessels have seen only a limited relaxation compared to the Soviet past. In this respect Russia is the worst culprit and formalities for visiting yachts are just as cumbersome as in the past. Foreign vessels, and their crews, continue to be viewed with a high degree of suspicion and the officials one has to deal with can be just as difficult and unpleasant as their Soviet predecessors. After an initial outburst of interest, the number of cruising boats visiting Russia has levelled off as sailors realise that visiting Russia on their own boat is perhaps not worth all the aggravation.
- Since the beginning of June 2012, it is now permitted for foreign vessels the cruise all of Russia's inland waterways - in theory! The details are still being worked out and all the officals involved informed. No special permit is required but one crew member has to be a Russian speaker. On some sections of waterway a pilot is necessary.
- Even if not always rigidly enforced, many of the restrictions introduced during the Soviet era have remained basically unchanged, so one should not expect the same kind of freedom of movement as is enjoyed by land tourists. Although foreign yachts can now enter Russian coastal waters, obtaining visas and permission for entry remains complicated. An invitation from an authorised body, such as a yacht club, is essential. Russian consulates will issue visas for all those named in the invitation with dates of birth and passport numbers for the period and the ports stated in the invitation. A vessel which takes shelter or stops in a port not specified in the visa can expect difficulties. (There are three Russian ports in the Eastern part of the Gulf of Finland which can be visited by foreign boats. It is enough to specify St.Petersburg in your visa to be able to visit the other two).
- The lack of adequate facilities for visiting boats, unnecessarily complicated and time consuming formalities, difficult officials and the distinct feeling that many Russians regard foreigners as nothing more than a convenient source of cash, should make anyone planning a visit to Russia consider seriously if the effort is really worth it.
- Should the situation improve, from the cruising point of view, Russia has three main areas which can be visited, all very different in their own ways.
- The Black Sea coast is now very much diminished following the independence of Georgia and Ukraine. The Black Sea ports, none of which are recognised Ports of Entry for yachts (they are commercial POE), discourage visits by foreign private yachts by obstructive bureaucracy and extremely high harbour charges. It is advisable to remain well clear of Russian territorial waters in the Black Sea. Since 2014, it is also now advisable to also avoid the Crimea. No foreign yachts have reported visiting here in recent years. What little information there is about these ports can be found in the RCCPF files in publications
- The main attraction on the Baltic coast is the historic city of St Petersburg, built on the banks of the River Neva and considered the most beautiful Russian city. The sea area between St Petersburg and Kronstadt, inside a man-made seawall, is a popular cruising area for Russian sailors. A highly enjoyable detour can now be made into the Finnish Saimaa Canal which gives access to Saimaa Lake, but whose entrance was barred in the past to foreign vessels. These restrictions have now been lifted by the Russian authorities. The Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad has been open to tourists since 1991, a small region of Russia squeezed between Lithuania and Poland and separated from the rest of Russia.
- The Far East is more remote and less accessible to cruising yachts, as several sensitive areas are closed to foreign shipping. Weather considerations would probably deter most cruising yachts from sailing to the Arctic ports, which involves a long detour around the whole of Norway.
- The best facilities for foreign boats is at the St Petersburg Sea Yacht Club. There are two YCs that claim to be the oldest YC in Russia, namely: Sea YC and Central River YC. The Central River YC is the biggest in Russia, it has the easiest access from the sea and is closer to the city centre. Depth limit: Sea YC– 2.5m, Central River YC – 4.0m.
- Yacht building is gathering pace as there is a great demand for cruising boats. Although not up to western standards, repair facilities are good, as local mechanics are used to improvising when spares are not available. The situation regarding marine supplies and spares is gradually improving. Ordering essential spares from abroad and clearing them through customs can take a very long time.
- Provisioning can be quite difficult as the yacht clubs are often out of town. There is usually a good selection of fresh produce which is better quality in the markets than in the large stores. Water is readily available, but the quality is sometimes questionable, so it should be treated; bottled water is widely available. Fuel is difficult to obtain, so it is best to order some via a yacht club or agency. There are two regular floating fuel stations at the River YC (of which one is a very modern one).
The climate varies greatly in this vast country, from the subtropical in the southern republics to Arctic conditions in the northern regions. Conditions along the coasts are less harsh although even in the Baltic, winters can be very cold with freezing temperatures for several months. Summer weather in the Baltic is very pleasant with white nights in June and good sailing breezes. Winters along the Black Sea coast are milder, and the summers are very hot; because the Black Sea is virtually landlocked, the winds alternate between land and sea breezes.
For links to free global weather information, forecast services and extreme weather information see the Noonsite Weather Page.
Foreign vessels are only allowed to visit ports which are listed on the visa or official invitation. Only the most important ports of entry are listed here, although it may be possible to obtain permission to visit other ports as well.
One needs to apply for a double entry business visa to visit both Kaliningrad and St.Petersburg or/and other Russian Ports.
Authorities in Moscow have agreed some relaxation and visiting yachts are now permitted to proceed to the Central River Yacht Cluyb after clearing Customs and Immigration. Yachts are still not permitted to go to other marinas nor elsewhere.