Cruising Norway 2010 Notes and Comments

Published 13 years ago, updated 5 years ago


In 2009 we sailed southern Norway from the Swedish border through Oslo to Kristiansand in the southwest. This is the most populated part of the country but, compared to many parts of Europe, the number of sailing boats is still relatively few. There are fjords to explore and many islands along the archipelago coast, with small village communities where the locals all speak English. We wanted to go back for more in 2010.

Norway has magnificent scenery all the way along its deeply indented coastline, with literally hundreds, or possibly thousands of harbours and anchorages to choose from. The navigation is always interesting and can be challenging with many reefs and isolated hazards to avoid. Most of the time you are sailing in sheltered flat water which is protected by an island chain. Not surprisingly, with so much high land, the winds can be fickle so that a good motor is necessary. The summer seems short but the temperatures can be much the same as in the UK in July and August. This year it was still cold in early June but surprisingly warm at up to 25 degrees in September around Trondheim. And of course, you have light all night in mid-summer.

The southwest coast around Bergen has the longest fjords, some at over 100 miles long with very steep mountainous walls. At around 64 degrees north, the coastline is a little more gentle but becomes dramatic again as you go into the Arctic circle – our cruising area for 2011.

Customs procedure

We were pre-warned that if we intended to leave our boat in Norway for the winter, we must obtain permission from the Norwegian customs. Any boat which is “imported” into Norway is subject to a tax of 25% of its value, even though the VAT has already been paid in the country of origin. There have apparently been cases where Norwegians have tried to avoid this tax by pretending to be visiting yachts, with the result that genuine visiting yachts are caught up in this situation.

Immediately after our arrival in Bergen from Shetland in mid-June, we went to the Customs Office to report in as advised, but at first, we got blank looks and there seemed to be no special procedure or formalities for visiting yachts. Other visitors, we were told later, had to fill in forms on arrival – so no consistency there. When we asked about leaving the boat in Norway for the winter we were told by a senior-looking officer that we must apply for permission. Details of the proposed boatyard and dates must be sent in writing, or email, to the appropriate “Toll” area office – western, middle or northern Norway. We sent an email application anyway to the Bergen office without knowing at that time where we intended to lay up. No acknowledgement was ever received to this email.

We had a contact in Trondheim and consulted with him about it. His view at first was that we probably did not really need to get this permission anyway. We then wondered if it had been a bad move to report to the customs in Bergen in the first place. But in conversation with various people, we heard several times about a Swedish boat that had laid up in Norway the previous winter without permission and been charged 201,000kr. There was a court hearing in November 2010 and the Swedish couple lost the case and had to pay costs!

During our cruise up the coast, we decided that Trondheim would be a convenient place to spend the winter so we tried to find a suitable boatyard which could accommodate us. It turned out that there were actually very few options and the one large boatyard in the area which had full facilities was totally booked up. The only place which was offered to us was a small private concrete quay near Trondheim and through our contact, we found someone who had a cradle available and was not using his spot this winter. At the same time, enquiries had been made for us about the question of the customs and the opinion then was that permission would certainly be refused and it could be difficult for us to get permission to lay up in Norway at all! However, maybe it might be possible to arrange commercial “bonded” storage in Trondheim. This would involve the payment of a deposit and would be more expensive.

We had now decided definitely that we must get this permission or get out of Norway for the winter so we sent an email to the Trondheim customs office to apply again. We had nothing to lose so why not try? We specified the time and place to lay up, with a sentence about needing to do some repairs to the boat. In fact, the repairs I had in mind were very minor, or even trivial, but Norwegian customs have a new rule in May 2010 about allowing boats to stay if repairs are needed. In the event, I doubt that this made any difference to the outcome.

Nothing happened for several weeks then we eventually received a reply from customs asking for further information and copies of insurance documents etc. This looked promising and, after further correspondence, eventually in mid-August we got both an email and a letter sent to our home address giving the permission. We are allowed to be in winter storage for exactly one year from the date of entry to Norway (why this rule I do not know!) and we must report to the customs in Bergen within 2 weeks of “re-exporting” the boat from Norway (with the threat of a massive tax charge if we don’t).

It was interesting that when enquiries were made on our behalf by a Norwegian, the customs gave such a negative view. This was confirmed by another helpful Norwegian we met during the summer who also telephoned the Trondheim customs for us. He was amazed at their intransigence. But when we, as bona fide visitors, made our formal application there was no problem. Was this deliberate policy by the customs to give a discouraging story to any Norwegian who might be trying to avoid the punitive 25% tax on imported boats? The letter of permission came from the Bergen office so clearly, the Trondheim official had conferred with the southwest region office. Maybe Bergen customs is more cooperative than Trondheim?

Harbour fees

Although most prices in Norway are very high with average supermarket prices at least 50% higher, harbour fees are generally very reasonable at about 100kr, but fees in main towns are higher at up to 150kr and often less in small harbours. Mains shore power is usually extra and occasionally surprisingly expensive at up to 50kr. Long power leads are a must, with adaptor needed for old-style 2-pin sockets which abound. Honesty boxes for the fees are the norm which seems a good system when visitors are few and far between.


Standards vary but most are fine, sometimes excellent, sometimes hard to find. Showers vary and sometimes less than ideal – we often used our own shower on the boat.

Wifi is often available, often free. Sometimes passcode is required from a local restaurant or the harbour office.

Diesel is easily available in many harbours.

We refilled a butane camping gas bottle with propane at the depot in Trondheim- no problem.

Harbours now increasingly have pontoon berths but often with no proper mooring cleats. Various attachment points are provided such as loops of rope.

Sometimes, especially in the south where the tidal range is very slight, we found our fender board very useful when going alongside old car tyres chained to a jetty. Long lines are required to allow for rising and fall.


Many new bridges have been built in recent years which may not be on the chart – if they are not bang up to date. Bridge height is given in metres, reliably we are told, at the highest high water. We passed under several 16m bridges even though our air draught is only just under 16m – slightly nail-biting but OK.

Harbour information

We used the Imray “Norway” book by Judy Lomax which has a great variety of places to go, especially many anchorages, and Ferie and Fritids-Havner Guide 2003. This copy, which we were lucky to be given, has some useful English information. Later editions are in Norwegian only. There are harbour plans of most of the main places in Norway without depth soundings but this never turned out to be a problem as any significant hazards are shown. We heard the opinion that this publication is only designed for motor boats but we found it very useful. Further north there seem to be fewer harbours shown in “F&F;”. Sometimes we got harbour recommendations from locals. There are other Norwegian publications which we saw in bookshops which are expensive and all in Norwegian – we managed without.

Our thanks to the Noonsite correspondent who sent us this useful report.

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