Arctic Sailing

How to sail?!

Keep dry, warm and safe.

Do not do anything that feels uncomfortable.

Learn to use and trust your equipment in good weather, so you rely on it in bad weather.

Sail only in good weather – and monitor the weather forecasts closely.


We have initially written this article as our own notes for how to sail in the sea around Nuuk and we have chosen to publish it on our webpage because we have found it to be very difficult to find an adequate guide for how to start sailing without having prior knowledge about the subject.

We arrived in Nuuk March 31st 2010, just before the Easter holidays and we spend the holidays looking at new and used motor boats at the many boat dealers in Nuuk.

April 7th after one week in Nuuk we bought our boat; an Örnvik 650 Weekend from 2006. The boat has 4 sleeping places, 100 hp engine, 120 liter petrol tank, GPS navigation, sonar with fish-finder, rubber boat with a small engine, a tiny camping toilet (in separate room), sink, gas stove and heating system.

The headlines in this article have not yet been ordered into a fancy way and we are still looking into getting some nice pictures to go with the various subjects. If you find parts missing or would like to contribute with more contents or corrections, just write us an email on

Special thanks

Before going on the actual contents of this article we would like to give a special thanks to the following persons.

To Kent Kleinschmidt for providing the majority of the tips in this article, joining our first trip and helping to buy the right boat for us.

To Grønlands Bådcenter, Claus, Erik and Holger for spending time with us and explaining the fundamentals of sailing a motor boat.

To Halie and Henrik Overvad for advice, for showing the good fishing places around the Nuuk fjord system and tips where to sail for nice weekends.

To Janni Lønstrup and Ricko Olsen, for inspiring us to buy a boat in Greenland.

Prepare your trip

Watch the wind directions on the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) website. Especially the page with wind directions around Nuuk is interesting; because of this you get a very good indication of the wind strength and direction in the different parts of the fjord system.

As you can see from the example below there is a bit of wind around the Nuuk harbor, but in the fjords surrounding Nuuk the strength of the wind is much less. At this example the wind is mainly coming from the south and thus finding a place in the fjord where you can be in shelter from some of the tall mountains can give a really nice trip – even though the water just outside Nuuk is a bit bumpy.

Also the Norwegian website has a Hourly forecast for Nuuk, which will give you a general indication of the expected sky, temperature, wind and precipitation in one single view. The website is the joint online weather service from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK).

When you know where to go then plan the route by looking at the sea maps, and see what to be aware of along the way. Google Maps with satellite view proves useful here, as some of the hidden underwater rocks can been seen on some of the new satellite images.

Always let someone know where you are going, the route and when you expect to be back.

Before leaving the harbor

Go aboard, turn on the engine and let it run to be sure everything is OK. Make sure the water from the cooling is going out correctly. An outside engine has a thin stream of water going out from the engine to let you know the cooling system is working; if this water is not coming you cannot trust that the engine is getting cooled correctly and do not leave the harbor. Turn on the heating on ¾ of the power to let it heat up and burn purely before you turn down the temperature. Turn on your GPS and see that it found your position. Turn on the VHF radio and set it for channel 8/16 dual-watch. In general take your time and make sure everything is OK before you take off. It can be a very good idea to make agreement with your partner on board how and when you remove the moorings, so one person can be at the wheel and one fixing the moorings.

[missing picture of the sladrestråle]

Look at the water

You can read the sea by looking at it. The lighter the sea seems the calmer it is. Look at the shore and cliffs. If there are waves splashing up even thought the sea is calm, it is a sign that there may be larger waves further out sea.

Man kan se vindstyrken på bølgerne på afstand og derved undgå at sejle ud i for hårdt vejr. Se denne tabel, fra Færøernes kommando.

Safe sail routes

When you see a red triangle pointing upward facing you, you will behind it find a red triangle pointing downwards. When you see the two tips being in line you are on a path of safe travel. Follow the line and you stay in safe water. These markings are found in the entrance of the harbors and at some places at sea.


When you put out your anchor, make sure you are in a good place without too much waves, wind or strong current. Pay attention to the sea floor – if there is a lot of plants you will get that in to your line and anchor (and thus it will be much heavier to pull up). The best depth for anchoring up is from 6 meters and up to 16. You need to have 6 meters because when the tide water is changing the difference may be more than 4 meter, and if you leave the boat on high water on 4 meters depth, the boat may move a little due to the wind and be on e.g. 3 meters of water, and then you will damage your boat by having it laying on the sea floor when the tide is out.

Be sure to have an anchor watch – some GPS systems can be set to make an alarm if the boat moves away from the anchor place.

The length of the chain (or line) for the anchor must be three times the depth of the water i.e. 6 meters deep water requires an optimal 18 meters of water. This allows the boat to move and to settle and for the anchor to lay on the sea floor. The giving this amount of line will also make the chain of the anchor laying on the sea floor helping to keep the boat where it is suppose to be. If the anchor is not lying it cannot hold the boat!

Check the boat is setting correctly. If it is rolling from side to side or directly moving, you may have to replace the anchor or put our more line. You can check if the boat is drifting by watching a point on the shore for some time, be aware that until the boat settles with the anchor it will be moving for some minutes.

Put out the anchor gently; do not be in a hurry. Wear gloves so you can manage to hold the line and be in control of what happens. Good anti-slip gloves are available e.g. in Brugsen or Stark. When you have put out enough line, secure the anchor line firmly and watch that it is not slipping before you leave the anchor.

Tip: When putting out the anchor go backwards with the boat to see that the line gets tight and the anchor is hooked sufficiently at the bottom.

When taking up the anchor, help each other. One person must be at the anchor place ready to pull up the anchor and the other at the helm in the boat. As the line of the anchor is longer than the water depth the boat is away from the anchor, which makes it very heavy to pull up by arm strength alone, because you have to pull the whole weight of the boat until it is over the anchor – and until then it will actually not move away from the sea floor. The person in front at the anchor can signal the one at the helm to move the boat slowly forward, and to put the engine in neutral when getting closer to the anchor. Without collaboration it is a very hard job to do. Use thick rubber gloves or other anti slipping gloves when pulling up the anchor. The weight of the anchor plus the freezing cold water makes the job even harder.

It may happen that the anchor gets stuck under a rock or in another way. If that is so, then give it a few meters of line and tie it up firmly. Then use the engine of the boat to pull the anchor in different directions to see if you can make it to come lose that way. Do not give up too fast.

Floating anchor

If you stop your engine at sea (or your engine fails and stops itself), the boat will automatically lay so it is in parallel with the waves, rolling from side to side and with high waves this can be feeling very unpleasant, but not necessarily dangerous unless too close to shore or if you have to be outside on the boat. It feels much more comfortable and to be in control having the boat direction facing the waves making the tip rocking up and down. This happens when you use a normal anchor, but on deep waters you can gain the same effect by floating anchor instead. Besides the comfort it will also keep you from floating too fast towards the shore.

A real dedicated floating anchor can be bought, but many of them are of poor quality. If you do not have one you can use alternatives as a strong bucket on a rope can be used (the handle might break though – if it does the boat will start rolling from side to side again). You may also use a bunch of ropes tied together and put out, or some clothes, etc.

Keeping a safe distance to the shore whenever possible gives you better time to put out a floating anchor if your engine should break down. If you are too close to the shore you risk drifting on to rocks etc. and perhaps panicking before you have time to putting out an anchor. Be aware that engine failures often happen in bad weather, e.g. because the old dirt from petrol in the tank is shaken up and goes into the engine, and blocks it. If you hear any sign that your engine is not in good condition when going and the weather get bad, seek a natural emergency harbor instead of trying to make it all the way home.

Distance from the shore

Keep a good distance from the shore whenever possible (note that it is not always possible due to hidden rocks or other circumstances). If you sail close to the shore you have very little time to react if something happens. E.g. if the engine stops, you need to put out the floating anchor, and perhaps get on warm clothes if you need to go into the rubber boat. Being close to the shore can in emergencies mean that the boat will drift on to the rocks on the shore and get damaged before you are able to leave the boat.

Help in general

At sea you help each other. Always offer to help if you can and do not ask for money unless you have to.

Rubber boats

Always put on the engine; always. You never know if you will need it later!

If it is gets windy the wind can easily move the rubber boat much faster away from shore or the boat than you can ever row. Even a tiny 2.5 hp engine can produce ten times as much power as one man rowing.

Always bring the oars in case the engine should break.

When taking the rubber boat on land, make sure it gets high up, so the tide does not get near. And always tie it firmly to a rock with a rope, so the wind does not blow it away.

Putting the rubber boat in the water and getting in and out in a secure way… missing.

[picture of rubber boat with good moorings]


You can sometimes see the current of the sea on the surface. And you can definitely feel it when sailing in it or across it. It is okay to sail there and it can at times be more to sail around the areas with too much turbulence. Some places are better to sail than others – you will know as you get around.


The tide vary much especially around new or full Moon. Get a tide water table. You can find the table for Nuuk at the Danish Maritime Safety Administration website.

Example of the tide table for June 14th 2010.

Man over board

The risk of a person falling overboard exists even though it has to be noted that with proper care and only sailing in good weather, and staying inside the cabin if bad weather should surprise one on the way.

If a person is falling overboard you must not expect or demand this person to swim to the boat or your rescue. It is your job to sail to the person so he can climb up the ladder on the back side of the boat (after you turned off the engine). Sail to the person so the person is on the side of the boat. You may not sail into the person and you may not be too far away from the person. Being in the sea fully dressed makes it almist impossible to swim and it takes a huge effort to just stay floating. There is only one way that you can sail safely to a man over board in the sea – and that is practicing, many times. Floating lumps of ice is good practice or if needed put out a piece of wood that you can practice on. How fast can you turn the boat around? Practice, practice, practice. It may save lives.

It can be very difficult getting up with wet clothes on.

Keep a sleeping back in the boat in case someone should fall into the water. When coming up get all (everything!) the wet clothes off and put the person into the sleeping back and turn up the heating.

Alcohol does not give a person warm. It is a false feeling that cools down the body. If possible give something warm to drink instead.

The magnetism of Mother Sea

The sea has a magnetic effect on all loose belongings. Be sure to have keys, cell phones, money and other loose belongings in zipped or very deep pockets. If you forget just once, Mother Sea will collect it.

It is possible to buy a small key ring device that will inflate a balloon in contact with water, so if you should ever drop your keys into the sea it possible to pick them up.

At some times mother sea can also make you fall into the water. Therefore when ever you are on the boat always hold on to something with one hand. Do not rely on you ability to balance even in good weather.

Wind and disturbances in the fjords

The mountains get quite hot during the summer, and the climate in Nuuk is very different from the one inside the fjords. From midday and in the afternoon there can early afternoon the hot air inside the fjords are rising up sucking in cold air from the open waters. This is a very powerful phenomenon which creates fjord-waves that can be up to 2 meters high on a warm day. Especially in the Ameralik fjord these waves can be very uncomfortable.

You can avoid sailing in these conditions (and you should as it may ruin a very nice day trip). The advice is simple! Leave the port early, so you are at your destination latest around 11 and remember to calculate time for taking pictures, watching the animals etc. When going home leave your destination around 20; at this time the air has settled and the sea is normally very calm in the evenings and at night. It is easy sailing at night in the summer because almost does not get dark.

Be comfortable

Be comfortable and get good experiences, sail only when the weather is nice. Many good experiences will let you pass through the less good ones without being afraid or de-motivated. Sailing a lot will make you end up getting caught on the way home in bad weather some time. Take it as an experience.

Tying the boat in the harbor

Start with the middle. Make the heaviest person stand on the boat tip to force it down so the line gets as short as possible and thus the boat cannot be banged on the wood of the bridge. Tie the lines from the end of the boat firmly as far away from the boat as possible to make the boat stable.

This can be a challenge in hard weather. Help each other.


When traveling at high speeds on deep water sometimes the sonar can to tell you there is only 1 meter deep. This can be a false positive if the sea map clearly states e.g. 100 meters deep water. It occurs because the sonar waves are not reflected from the sea floor to the ship before it has been passed already.


Scan straight down – not in the front or back like in the parking sensors of the cars.


You can easily smell the difference between gasoline and diesel. Diesel will foam when you fill it, so do it slowly and take a break. Be careful not to spill fuel in the water – keep the opening of the fuel handle pointing upwards until you need to tank.

Water container

Be aware that if it is filled during heavy frost you may break the container and pipes, so if heavy frost is coming up, empty it as much as possible so there is room for the ice to expand in the tank.


You must learn to trust your navigation equipment in hard weather. The only way to do this is to use it a lot and experiment with it in good weather. Log the safe tracks in good weather, and use them in bad weather to follow them home.

You may also want to follow the trace of other ships that knows the local area. Be aware if you do this and there is a long distance between the ships, if the ship in the front takes a large and long bend, the natural reaction for the following ship is to follow the straight line towards the ship in the front. This can be dangerous if the reason for the bend is to avoid hidden rocks under the water. This is especially if traveling at night, where only the lights of the ships are visible.

Sea Maps

A * is rocks you can see during low water

A X is a rock you cannot see at all times

Markings of safe passage

^ means sail around on the outer way… (outer means away from the land)

# means sail around on the inner way (close to the main land)


You may want to read this section first? Sorry, this text is all about safety, so there is no way around. You have to read the whole thing. Przepraszam!

VHS radio

Listen to channel 16 at all times. You may use dual watch to scan channel 8 (internal ship communication for privates) and 16 at the same time to follow any news, like if someone observes a polar bear you will definitely hear it on channel 8.

Write down the message you need to broadcast in case of emergencies. You will properly never use it and thus you will have no practice in using it – but should you be in a situation it will be difficult to remember, so write it down.

A good VHF guide can be found on this website:


Wind from North will fill up the fjords with icebergs.

White ice is the compressed ice. If you want for drinks pick up a small piece floating using a fishing net.

Be aware of the clear ice, this is the dangerous part. It can be huge and have only a very, very little part above the water surface and can be literally impossible to see. You do not wish to sail into such piece of ice!

Change of oil in the engine

Engine oil must be changed for each 100 hours of sailing.

Godthåb Bådforening

When joining the boat club Godthåb Bådforening you will get a small book (in Danish and Greenlandic) describing some of the natural emergency harbors, a few safety guidelines and a simple map showing the most important hidden rocks.