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How to become a Balaton sailor?


  • Michaletzky Luca

09/09/2014 2.00am

Apple fröccs in the middle of Lake Balaton or a yacht race? Speeding or enjoying the pleasant sway of the water? Want a ship? Need somewhere to dock it? Want to get some training under your belt? Where to start? What kind of documents to obtain? How much does it cost? Where can you dock? Which are the coolest harbours? Find all the answers below.

Sailing without documents

Anyone is free to venture into the water on a small sailboat with no keel. You don’t need any documents or licences – you can rent boats like these at a lot of beaches, and even sign up with an instructor if you want to learn the ropes real quick. The simplest monohull boats, like the Laser or the Pirate, are easy to get moving, and are perfect for getting the feel of the wind. You can also drive a catamaran without documents, you’ll only need an instructor or some experience. Get ready for a real adventure with water splashing everywhere and the wind in your face. If you feel like giving catamarans a go, visit Viharsarok in Balatonföldvár on the southern shore, or head to the northern side looking for Katamarán CatRec in Alsóörs. In any case, if you are curious about the theory of sailing, you can join a course like this four-day one in Balatonfüred.

Photo: Sebestyén Blanka - We Love Balaton

But I want to know how to sail a “real” boat

Outings with friends or family can be more comfortable on a boat that has a cabin and a heavier keel, which is not easily tipped over and has a fridge. If you only have occasional gatherings or company teambuilding trips in mind, you can rent a boat with or without a helmsman around the bigger harbours.

However, if you are up for more regular water adventures, or if you decide to buy a floating holiday home instead of one on land, more substantial preparations are needed. First you’ll need to obtain a certificate of competence for the operation of pleasure craft. After learning the theory by heart, which consists of shipping law and other pieces of important theoretical information (weather, mandatory accessories, shipbuilding), you’ll have to sit for a written exam. For this part you won’t need to be by the water, so you can take the exam in the wintertime, too. You’ll find courses you can sign up for in bigger cities. The location of the practical training, however, is fixed: you will be familiarized with the basics of ship operation and you will be required to take a practical exam at the end. You can space out your training over the course of several weekends, but in some places you can pick up the theory and the practice as well, even over a single week. The full cost of the training and the exam will come in under HUF 200,000.

Where do I get a ship and where do I put it?

The next step is deciding to buy a ship of your own. With the help of the internet this is easy as pie: on the forums of sailing sites you will have no trouble finding threads about buying and selling ships (,, but walking into a harbour you’ll bump into boats for sale, too. Buy a Pirate for HUF 300,000, a catamaran or a smaller used tour boat for around HUF 500,000. You’ll have to spend as much as HUF 1-2 million on a similarly sized racing boat like a Scholtz22 or a Sudár. A ship spacious enough to qualify for holiday home status, for example the Bavaria, goes for HUF 10-15 million, and you are looking at roughly HUF 20-30 million if you are contemplating buying a bigger racing sailboat such as the Nautic 330 second-hand. The sky is the limit, of course, when it comes to both ships and equipment. Your ship will need a registration card called a certificate of registry. For further information on how to obtain it, contact the National Transport Authority.

Once you have a boat, the only thing left to do is get a “parking spot”. You’ll need to rent dock space, through handy websites such as this one, or through sailing forums. During the season your ship will be on water, and during the wintertime it will be taken out with the help of a crane and placed on a trailer. Winter storage will generally be arranged by the harbour, but a smaller ship or a collapsible catamaran can be easily stored in the garden of your holiday home.

Can I sail into any harbour?

If you have a certificate of registry, a boat and docking space, it is time to set sail on the Balaton. You can do a single centre tour, dock at another harbour for the night, and even sleep under the stars. The first option, that is returning to the original harbour, is the easiest. Be sure to always check the weather and wind forecasts so that you won’t get stranded out on the water at night because you’ve picked a destination that is too far away or because the wind dies down all of a sudden. Being caught in an unexpected storm can land you in an even more unpleasant situation. To find out more, check out Windguru (also available in app form), Időkép or MET Balaton.

On longer trips you might be able to dock at other harbours, but we recommend that you find out in advance which harbours can accommodate guests. Major harbours – such as the ones operated by the Balaton Shipping Co., aka Bahart – will most likely have guest spots, but it cannot hurt to call ahead – especially during high season – to make sure that there is a vacant spot waiting for you. Adhere to the harbour rules and regulations, do not occupy dock space belonging to someone else, and don’t park your boat where it blocks the slipway – that is pretty heavily frowned upon. Once you’ve reached the harbour, find the harbour master. Docking for the afternoon will cost you a couple of thousand forints, whereas an overnight stay is around HUF 10,000-25,000. If you plan on making regular trips, it is worth renting dock space at one of the Bahart harbours or at a harbour that is a member of Kikötőlánc (Harbour Chain). This way you’ll be eligible for free docking at partner harbours.

It is possible to spend the night in open water, but you’ll have to keep a few strict conditions in mind. You’ll have to anchor your boat, attach a black ball to the mast, and display the lights in line with the relevant regulations. It is a good idea to stop at a less busy location, lest an absent-minded sailor drag you away in the night while you are sound asleep.

I want to enter a race, where can I sign up?

The easiest way to start competing is to join a nearby sailing club. In order to participate in official competitions you’ll have to obtain a blue book, for which you’ll need a stamp from the Hungarian Yachting Association, a sports physical and insurance for your boat. Furthermore, you’ll have to familiarize yourself with the rules of racing, but sailing clubs will help you out with that. You won’t need your own boat to compete. You can sign up to be a crew member for a single race or even the whole season. Some experience is useful, but it all depends on the type of the ship – even enthusiastic amateurs can come in handy, say, in balancing the boat. Find available spots for captain and crew here and here.

Photo: Sebestyén Blanka - We Love Balaton

Which are the coolest harbours?

Yacht racing at the Balaton is concentrated in just a few towns: the most events and races are organized by harbours in these communities, so local clubs attract the highest number of contestants. Sun-kissed sailors donning sport sunglasses are in abundance at any of these locations. The biggest of these towns is Balatonfüred, where you’ll find regularly competing ships at the newly restored Balatonfüred Yacht Club (BYC) and the Hajógyári Harbour. The BYC has many successful child and youth athletes among its ranks, so if you have ambitious plans for your kids, sign them up there or at the Tihany Sailing Club (THE). The tranquil and beautiful Hajógyári Harbour offers guest spots and dock space for rent, it is a member of the above mentioned Kikötőlánc, and you’ll find most of the swiftest boats here: the Black Jack catamaran, the Gemini Ventilo 28 catamaran, the Raffica and the Principessa libera as well as their crews, of course.

Local Füred joints where you can bump into sailors include Sekli Pizzeria, the Karolina and the Hatlépcsős. Simply look for guests wearing team T-shirts and flip-flops and the characteristic inverse panda. Kenese Marina Port is the headquarters of eleven-time Kékszalag winner Farkas Litkey and his crew. The beautiful and elegant harbour hosts a lot of races and race boats. If you find yourself in the area, grab some breakfast at Katica Bakery.

One of the largest around Lake Balaton, the main harbour in Balatonföldvár is “The Harbour” on the southern shore. Even though only a few races are organized in the western part of the lake, Spari, aka the Spartacus Sailing Club, is renowned for its strict regimen in preparing a good number of tough small craft sailors for various events. During the season Földvár has plenty to offer in terms of culture as well: for example, this is where you’ll find Kultkikötő. Sailors frequent Marina Gyros & Hamburger. Whether you spend the day at a race or an exhibition, Pub-Lik is just the place to round off the evening either way. BL Bavaria Yacht Club in Balatonlelle is the answer if you are looking for rentable dock space or an apartment, and it is the perfect location for admiring the spectacular northern shore or the first foiling catamaran of the Balaton called RSM DTM. Depending on the time of your visit, you may come across elephants bathing in the lake or an oldtimer expo. Phoenix Marina in Keszthely accommodates countless sailing boats in the western corner of the Balaton, such as the two-masted catamaran called Fifty-fifty, which in 2012 won the Blue Ribbon by completing the yacht race in record time. This is a rare bird indeed, so definitely check it out if you are nearby.

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