The Recreational Mariner's Guide

2. Norway


Online Book: Navigation and Marine Electronics at Attainable Adventure Cruising

Charts and Publications

Nautisk Fritid sells marine charts and publications online and in their Oslo store.

Norwegian Government Charts (Kartverket)

The entire Norwegian coast has been re-surveyed to WGS-84 datum as of 2007.

Two Kartverket documents that may be helpful:


Available only as print-on-demand (POD), although some bookstores may still carry some local charts.

List of suppliers


Kartverket provides their charts integrated with pilot information (Den Norske Los) online.

See the latest chart updates at Notices to Mariners (Etterretninger for sjøfarende – Efs).

Other Charts


Båtsportkart (Nordeca)

In groups of charts from the Swedish border to Rørvik.

  • Based on a scale of 1:50,000
    • Not good for forward planning
    • Small size may be useful on small boat
    • Best if cruising in a small area
  • Include information about nature reserves, toilet facilities, etc.
  • In Norwegian only
NV Verlag Atlas

In groups of charts from the Swedish border to Haugesund.

  • Introduction in English and Norwegian
  • Include tide data
  • App included


There are a number of companies offering electronic charts for Norway.

Sailing Directions

Den Norske Los (The Norwegian Sailing Directions) is no longer available in print but is being integrated into Kartverket online marine charts.

The volumes are also available as PDF downloads; however, they have not been updated since 2018. The text is in Norwegian only, with the exception of Vol. 7 (Svalbard and Jan Mayen), but there are numerous sketch maps and aerial photos in the PDFs that may be helpful.

Other Cruising Guides


Though the text is in Norwegian, with a short summary in English, the aerial photographs and charts may be useful for pilotage. They have an app through which you can purchase the online equivalent to their printed books. 


Compiled and updated by Redningsselskapet (The Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue), this website covers harbours along the mainland Norwegian coast. In Norwegian only.


An online crowd-sourced map-based guide to harbours all over the world, in Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and English.

Aids to Navigation

There are 13,400 (give or take one or two!) aids to navigation along the coast of Norway; some are single isolated beacons and some are clustered thickly. The skill of their placement makes navigation of even the narrowest and most complex channels relatively easy.

On Norwegian charts, green buoys have their outline filled in while red ones have the inside of the symbol left blank and so are easy to overlook. For more on navigation symbols, see Symbols and Abbreviations on Maritime Charts (in English and Norwegian)

Many channels, such as Blindleia in south Norway (Volume 2) and the approaches to Veiholmen on Smøla (above picture), are positively alarming when first looked at on the chart due to the intricacy of navigation required, but you will find them perfectly easy to follow in practice, since every point of difficulty has an aid to point the way.


Norway complies with the I.A.L.A. A buoyage system, as used in the rest of Europe. When following the direction of buoyage inbound to a harbour, green buoys will be to starboard and red buoys will be to port. 

The direction of buoyage originates at Norway’s southmost point, Lindesnes, and proceeds in two paths:

  • One path follows the coast to the west, then north, then east around Nordkapp and then south to the Russian border.
  • The other path follows the coast to the east and then northeast, then splits north towards Oslo and south towards the Swedish border.

In interior leads and fjords, the direction of buoyage is inwards from the sea, independent of the compass direction. Around islands there may be confusion regarding the direction of buoyage and you will need to consult the chart for clarification. 

Black/yellow directional (N, E, S, W) cardinal buoys are used, often without double triangle top marks or lights.

Varder (singular varde)

Varder are stone towers painted black, often with some form of white stripe, which makes them individually recognizable. 

They make up the world’s oldest system of navigational aids still in use and are denoted on Norwegian charts with a 4-pointed star and a V. They may be lighted.

Varder often carry top marks consisting of a short post supporting a single horizontal arm, in which case the varde should be passed on the side towards which the arm is pointing; however, do not blindly follow the pointer without identifying the varde on the chart and checking the depths shown. 

Other varder may be passed on either side and these are used as landmarks, progress marks or leading marks.

Båker (singular båke)

A common type of beacon, båker are of no unique shape but most often are a tripod or latticework structure shaped much like a varde. They are denoted on Norwegian charts with the same 4-pointed star as varder but they are marked with a B rather than a V.


A jernstang (steel pipe) usually imbedded in a rock, perches are used in the same way as varder and båker but at a more local level. Numerous perches may be used to mark a channel through a group of rocks or an offshore shoal may be marked on more than one side by perches with outward-facing top marks. Again, it is important to clearly identify the perch on the chart and determine which side to pass on; don’t just blindly follow a pointer. 

Perches are clearly marked on Norwegian charts but are often visible only at relatively short range, and sometimes they only project a short distance above the surface at high water, so it is necessary to keep a sharp lookout. It would be a pity to hit a perch marking a rock over which you could have passed safely! 

Many have reflecting strips, sometimes red or green; the colour is not necessarily consistent with the buoyage colour scheme, so do not depend on the colour to indicate on which side to pass.

Sector Lights

Strategically placed in the skjærgård, enabling very accurate navigation in these intricate waters during the winter dark, in daylight the distinctive little cylindrical white houses with red roofs remain useful reference points for pilotage.


All lighthouses in Norway are automated.

HIBs (hurtigbåt indirekte belysning/high-speed indirect light)

Express boats move at speeds where navigating using ordinary sector lights becomes difficult. With this in mind the Coastal Authority has developed a new type of navigation mark, using solar panels, lithium batteries and LED technology to power a fixed light that illuminates a fibreglass structure. The markers are numbered and usually carry a red or green stripe. It is expected that over the years HIBs and mini-HIBs (used in passages frequented by recreational vessels) will replace many of the existing navigation markers. So far they are mostly found on the south coast, but their “test bed” was Spitsbergen. 


Although Norwegian coastal traffic is generally alert and courteous, occasionally ships fail to give way to pleasure boats, or pass disturbingly close at high speed, in seeming contradiction to the courtesy and high level of seamanship you usually find here. This may be caused by factors unlikely to be known to a foreign pleasure boat skipper as it is based on differences between the Norwegian Rules for Navigation in Inland Waters and the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (also known as COLREGS).

According to the Norwegian rules, vessels under 20 m in length and all sailing vessels must keep clear of engine-driven boats which are following the channel in traffic separation zones.

Further, it also states that pleasure boats and open or sailing craft are required to keep clear of larger ships, ferries en route, and other commercial vessels when in narrow routes, in crowded or busy channels, and in harbour areas. This causes problems, even between Norwegian pleasure craft and ships, since what is considered narrow or crowded is subject to interpretation and harbour boundaries can extend miles from the inner harbour. 

What causes even more confusion is that there is a widespread belief—partly fostered by errors in the national boating literature—that this second rule applies to all coastal waters.

Awareness of this situation may help foreign pleasure boat skippers avoid unpleasantly close encounters and help them to understand what seems like boorish behaviour on the part of ship captains. In Sweden the saying is: “Those who sail for their leisure should yield to those who sail for their bread and butter…”


Coastal Danger Areas

There are sheltered inshore passages behind the skjærgård (off-lying islands) for most of the coast between the Swedish border and Lindesnes (Volume 2) and then again for the long distance from Tananger to Nordkapp (Volumes 2, 3 and 4); so even when it’s quite windy you can sail in smooth sheltered waters most of the time.

However, there are places where there are gaps in these protecting islands and, when these gaps coincide with a coastal danger area, you will need to take special care. Den Norske Los, Vol. 1, lists 24 areas of the coast likely to have exceptionally high, steep or chaotic seas under certain conditions of wind and tidal stream. In these places bottom contours (even when at substantial depth), coastal topography, and currents interact to produce sea-state conditions that can be much more severe than would normally be expected for a given wind speed.

Coastal Danger Areas are shown on the map at the beginning of each Harbours and Anchorages chapter

Tides, Tidal Streams and Currents

More detail is given about tides, streams and currents at the beginning of each Harbours and Anchorages chapter

In Norwegian, a tidal stream is shown by –straumen or –strømmen at the end of a name (e.g. Saltstraumen and Brevikstrømmen), and –renna refers to a narrow passage (e.g. Risøyrenna), which may or may not have a strong tidal stream.


Kartverket provides online tide information

There is a progressively greater rise and fall of the tide as you travel north, with a spring range of around:

  • 0.6 m at Stavanger
  • 1.2 m at Bergen
  • as much as 3.7 m at the Russian border

High water in Bergen is approximately 1 hour before high water in Dover.

Tidal Streams

The Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA) has developed a wave and current forecast for fairways

There are no significant tidal streams east of Lindesnes though strong currents may be found at the mouth of large rivers such as Skjenselva and Drammenselva (5 knots is not uncommon).

West of Lindesnes there is considerable tidal stream in some of the inshore channels and in some of the fjords, due to river flow, wind and other factors, requiring transit planning.


On the southeast Norwegian coast there is a generally southwest-going current with maximum strength at about three to ten miles offshore. Strong winds may have an affect on the current, even to the point of reversing the direction. The current may also be reversed inside the islands in places.

West of Lindesnes the current sweeps round the coast and up to the north, though strong winds may have an effect, even to the point of reversing the direction.

Overhead Cables and Bridges

Overhead power cables are common in Norway. They are marked on the charts by a red broken line, with the lowest height in metres shown in red. These markings are usually conspicuous, but they can be missed where they are printed over numerous islands or other features. It is also possible that a new cable has been added since the printing of the chart, so it is important to keep a sharp lookout for them. There is usually a sign posted on the shore near the cable showing height in metres, but the height shown on the sign and that printed on the chart are not always in agreement.

Bridge height in metres at high water is shown on charts as Bru(15). Note that there are new bridges being built all the time due to Norway’s commitment to providing infrastructure to outlying areas.

For up-to-date information consult Kartverket’s online charts

Fish Farms and Fishing Gear

Not all of the many fish farms in Norway are shown on the charts, as their positions often change, so it is important to keep an eye out for them. Another thing to be aware of is that mooring ropes have been known to run between the surface buoys and the shore with nothing to alert the mariner to their presence. Sailors from Tromsø ran into just such a situation and ended up with the mooring rope caught between the rudder and the prop.

October 1 marks the start of the lobster season in Norway. The buoys are small, usually without flags, and difficult to see even in daylight in a flat calm. These pose a risk for the late-season cruiser making an inshore passage.

Restricted Military Areas

There are a few small military areas indicated on the chart, some of which may not be entered, and some of which may be transited without anchoring, fishing, or diving. Note that special requirements apply to boats greater than 50 tonnes or 24 m in these areas.

Magnetic Variation

The magnetic variation is small enough on the northwest Norwegian coast to ignore for most coastal navigation; however, on the southwest Norwegian coast the variation reaches around 5°W and, as you sail east from Nordkapp towards the Russian border, it increases to around 12°E.

Compass Dip

Above 60°N a handheld compass might suffer from some dipping, making it sluggish, but it should still be usable. If your boat is from the southern hemisphere, make sure you have your steering compass changed over to a northern hemisphere-balanced card. Generally, fluxgate compasses are fine. 


The inshore passages and most harbour approaches are exceptionally well lighted in Norway, so inshore navigation at night is certainly possible; however, in summer the hours of darkness are few or nonexistent, so most visiting cruisers will have no need to be underway inshore in the dark. 

Sunrise and sunset times