Winter Sailing in Croatia: Huge Op, Industry Ready But Adriatic Empty

By 16 November 2022

November 16, 2022 - Last January, a sailor from New Zealand spent 8 days with his boat from Kastela to Lastovo for an unforgettable winter sailing in Croatia experience. He saw one other boat in over a week. A look at why the winter sailing in Croatia opportunity is one that is golden, and with an industry keen to get involved and develop. 

Sometimes one has to be so far out of the comfort zone to notice the very best opportunities... 

Back in March, I received an email invitation requesting a meeting from a Croatian yacht charter booking software company with a global audience inviting me to speak at their conference in November. We met for a coffee, liked each other, and agreed to work together. I was a little distracted by other things at the time and did not really think about exactly what I would present, but I knew it would be good exposure and networking for TCN (just how good I found out at the actual conference), and anyway, it was 8 months away, so there was plenty of time to plan for it. 

Eight months can pass by incredibly quickly if you are not paying attention. 

A few weeks before the conference, I was asked to give the title of my presentation, which was to be Croatia and sailing-related, and informed that I would have a 50-minute keynote slot, which is longer than I have ever spoken in public. I may know a lot about Croatia, but as I don't sail, swim or even like the sun, the panic began to settle in. 

Comfort zones?


I decided to look at my strengths, take advice from my sailing friends at 45 Degrees Sailing, and try and come up with an angle which would be a little different. And so the presentation Croatia, Digital Nomads and Winter Sailing was born

It was an absolute hit at the conference, and my inbox has been busy ever since, with charter companies and other sailing-related businesses keen to discuss the opportunity of winter sailing in Croatia. And the more I talk to people, the more I see that here is another golden opportunity for Croatia which is being totally ignored. 

Croatia and the tourism and sailing stereotype

Let's start in the comfort zone - talking about Croatian tourism. The stereotype is still that Croatian tourism is essentially sun, sea, and summer, and the same is true for sailing the beautiful Adriatic Coast and its thousand-plus islands. The Instagram images of life on the water during a Croatian summer are among the most beautiful on the planet. 

But the stereotype of the Croatian coast in the winter could not be more different. There are hardly any boats in the water, and much of the coast, especially the islands, close down for the winter months. Developing winter tourism in general, never mind winter sailing, is a challenge. 

It was not always that way. When I wrote an article last year asking why Split did not have winter tourism, the discussion got very lively indeed, especially when I published an interview with a British tour rep based in Split back in the 1980s who told wondrous stories of flights all year and Americans flying in to Dalmatia for 6 weeks in January.  You can read the full interview here - Croatian Winter Tourism in 1990: Full of Life! Tour Rep Interview

This led to a TCN initiative, the Split Winter Tourism Roundtable, which brought together the key stakeholders from the public and private sector to explore ways of extending the season and bringing in flights. Read more in Split Winter Tourism Roundtable Meeting Minutes & Action Plan. Progress has been made, and a year later, KLM is now flying 12 months a year to Split from Amsterdam, and the roundtable committee is in discussions with a low-cost airline to bring in an additional 81 flights from London, Paris and Amsterdam either side of the existing flight schedule. Things are starting to move. 

A key finding at the roundtable discussion, however, was that there was little point in putting on flights if everything was closed and there was no content for visitors to enjoy. As such, the second roundtable focused on winter tourism content providers, which is when I first became aware of the winter sailing opportunity, as Nick Hathaway of 45 Degrees Sailing outlined his vision of the winter sailing in Croatia opportunity. 

It was the first time I had heard anyone discuss the winter sailing opportunity, and it was this presentation and concept which was to save my ass for my keynote speech. We will return to Nick below shortly. 

Digital Nomads - the new kids on the block

One gradual but increasingly relevant change in the mix in Croatia and its tourism has been the rise of the digital nomad and remote work culture. Nomads are not interested in 2 weeks on the beach in peak season, but they often come out of season, for longer, in search of community and authentic experiences. They work through the laptop by day from anywhere in the world, and they want to experience different cultures and experiences once they leave their 'office.' And they need a community. 

Last year, 5 digital nomads took part in the World Championship of Olive Picking in Postira on Brac. They had a wonderful time, raving at the authentic experience. A week later, the James Bond movie was shown in a vineyard outside Zagreb, with guests sitting on straw bales with blankets, eating roast chestnuts and drinking young Portugiesac wine. While talking about that opportunity with the regional tourist board director, she suggested I go truffle hunting in Turopolje, just outside Zagreb. 

And then it hit me - Croatia was the capital of authentic (and often unique) experiences, all over the country, 365 days of the year. 

Rather than focusing solely on the beach and the summer, why not work with this emerging trend of remote worker staying longer, often out of season, looking for community?

The concept of CROMADS was born, a platform that focused on presenting Croatia's authentic experiences through the eyes of digital nomads to digital nomads, with five key pillars: natural Croatia, adrenaline Croatia, traditional Croatia, gourmet Croatia, and 5-star Croatia.

I first presented the CROMADS concept at Digital Nomad Week, based in Bali, last year.  

If we could show just how alive the Dalmatian coast actually was, and how many things there were to do (even locals would be surprised), then that community could be built, and the season extended, especially if we had success with the flights. 

In order to show that there was life, we started to build experience videos. Looking for a community in the winter - check out the weekly Nomad Table in Split each Friday.

Nothing to do during the winter on Dalmatian islands? I persuaded Nick and his family to give up a weekend in early November and spend it on Hvar in the rain. 

They were very dubious, but came back ecstatic - the Peskafondo squid and big game fishing championship was among their best experiences during their time here. Check it out below.

In just two videos, the perception of Dalmatia in winter is changed. Imagine a whole platform documenting all the opportunities and experiences. Croatia, your safe, authentic, lifestyle destination.

Winter sailing in Croatia - meet Nick


Somewhat ahead of me in the winter tourism opportunity, especially related to sailing, was Nick Hathaway, a Kiwi in Kastela and Trogir, who has been running his own luxury sailing charter business for six years. Unlike the majority of the industry, he sails (and swims) 12 months a year. He cannot believe how fantastic life is winter sailing in Croatia. One of the best and most diverse places in the world for sailing, he has the entire Adriatic to himself.


Back in January, in order to showcase the opportunity, he took his cameras and his drone and set sail from Kastela to Lastovov and back via a number of islands, documenting the beauty and the different sailing conditions. 

He saw one other boat on the water in 8 days. 

I am not a sailor as I mentioned earlier, but Nick is passionate about winter sailing in Croatia because it offers all sorts of sailing conditions, and with so many islands to choose from, one can almost select the type of sailing you would like to do when looking at the weather. Heading out into the water in New Zealand exposes you immediately to the open sea. 

The Royal Yachting Academy has about 100 centres for courses to train skippers. According to Nick, some 85% are in the UK, and the well-heeled wannabe sailors of Kensington are happy to drive three hours to UK sailing courses, where they return with a certificate after a week. 

Travel just a little bit longer to Split, and spend a week where, in addition to the certificate, you come home with a spectacular experience and a lifetime of memories. 

Pioneers such as Nick know where the magic lies, and which restaurants will open - it truly has the potential to be a stunning hidden gem in the sailing calendar, and at a time when almost all boats are out of the water.

Just how many boats are out of the water Nick explained in his latest video on winter sailing, including footage of a week-long flotilla he ran along the Dalmatian coast and islands last month.  

They had the Adriatic pretty much all to themselves.

Tourism used to work well in winter in Croatia, and little has changed since then, except that the offer has improved immensely. Winter flight baby steps are being taken, there is a new community of remote workers looking for activities, and many more would come if we could show people the magic we have here. With a little investment, more restaurants and other service providers could be persuaded to be open to grow this initiative. All the ingredients are there, apart from organisation and implementation.

Conference reaction to the winter sailing in Croatia opportunity

My presentation (you can find it below, one day I will learn to tuck my t-shirt in) was over, and I felt relief. Total relief. I had survived. Almost exclusively due to Nick's winter sailing initiative and excellent videos. Thanks, mate.

But then the strangest thing happened. Conference participants approached me to exchange business cards and express their interest. I have 40 boats in Zadar doing nothing in the winter, I would love to join an initiative. I have 80 in Sibenik. We have boats all over the coast. We have lots of boats in Turkey, but we would be very interested in getting involved. 

How do we meet Nick, and how do we move this forward? 

Is anyone brave enough to join a roundtable initiative for winter sailing in Croatia?

How indeed?

Having been heavily involved in the digital nomad visa and general promotion, as well as the Split Winter Tourism Roundtable, I can clearly see how we can move this forward quite easily, but I don't think that Nick and I should do that alone, especially as we are not Croatian. So if anyone is interested in getting involved in this initiative, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Winter Sailing Initiative. 

As for Nick and the sailing, check out the excellent 45 Degrees Sailing.  


What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning - Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners is now available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.