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Sailing with a flat-bottomed sailing boat on the Wadden Sea

Everything about sailing on the Wad with a flat bottom

Have you always wanted to rent a sailboat to sail on the Wadden Sea? Rest, relaxation, silence around you… You’ve probably also wondered about the current. All those sandbanks, gullies and tides can be quite exciting for sailboats with a keel.

Sailing on the Wadden Sea with a flat-bottomed boat is one of the most beautiful ways to discover the Wad. In this article, you can read tips and tricks to properly prepare for your first sailing trip on the Wadden Sea with a flat bottomed sailing boat.



Is it dangerous to rent a flat-bottomed sailing boat on the Wadden Sea?

Sailing on the Wadden Sea is a dream for many people. If you have sailed a lot on the Frisian lakes and sailed along the Afsluitdijk, you may have also dreamed of going through the locks and entering the salty water. But there is always that little voice: what if something happens?

That is why I want to show you that sailing on the Wadden Sea with a rented sailing boat is not scary at all. You just have to follow a few simple rules to ensure safety.

In general, the IJsselmeer is considered more dangerous than the Wadden Sea. When it is around wind force 5, it is still wonderful sailing with a reef in the mainsail and around 6 you can still sail perfectly well with with back winds.


Safe sailing on the Wadden Sea with a flat bottom sailing boat:

  1. Make sure you are in a safe harbor with wind force 6 and higher. Our ships can handle a storm on the Wadden Sea, but it is often very exhausting for the crew and certainly not fun. So our advice is: stay in the harbor when the wind is strong.
  2. Having a good weather forecast is crucial so that you are prepared for possible rain showers and additional gusts of wind. The websites Zeeweer, Windy, Windfinder and Buienradar are good advisors. With Windy, also pay particular attention to the ‘Wind gusts’ function.
  3. Stay informed of the water levels and any deviations such as spring tides. The Schiermonnikoog traffic post broadcasts a message every 2 hours on the VHF radio on channel 10. Provided you have a VHF radio certificate, you can call the Schiermonnikoog Traffic Post on VHF channel 10 for more information.
  4. Keep a close eye on the depth of the water. The swords are excellent depth gauges! When they hit the ground, you know there’s about a foot of water under the bottom. The Jan Steen and the Vrouwe Klazina also have a depth sounder. In addition: keep track of where you are sailing on the map and look at the water depth in your immediate vicinity. 
  5. Gain a lot of knowledge for your holiday by, among other things, looking at the Wadvaarders site. There is a wealth of information there. The harbor masters also have a great deal of knowledge and are happy to give advice. We provide recent charts on board as well as a VHF radio, binoculars and a GPS. Anchor gear and engine are in order and well maintained. 
  6. Do you unexpectedly encounter a fierce shower with strong wind in the middle of the Wad? Know that the ship can take it. Personally I find a spot behind a sandbar in good time and set the anchor. Behind the cabin you can sit nicely out of the wind, but you always have time to enter a harbor. From island to island is about 4.5 hours sailing, so you are almost always safe in a harbor in less than 2 hours. 
  7. Realize that the water on the Wadden Sea flows much faster than you can ever swim, and that it is not easy to find a person in the water in a bit of swell. Therefore, always wear life jackets. As a skipper myself, it is a fixed rule: from the moment we enter the sea lock, the life jackets must be on and I never deviate from this. You can rent good automatic life jackets from us.
  8. In the unlikely event that something goes wrong or if you have a pressing question, we can be reached by telephone. And in case of real emergency also at night.



Can I sail with a flat bottomed boat?

If you already have some sailing experience, you can. You do not need to have sailed with a flat-bottomed sailing boat before, to rent a Vollenhovense Bol or Lemsteraak (flat-bottomed sailing boat) on the Wadden Sea. Sailing with a Vollenhovense Bol or a Lemsteraak, the flat-bottomed boats that we rent out, is only slightly different than sailing with a “normal” sailing boat.


What is the difference between sailing with a flat bottom and a ‘regular’ sailing boat?

  1. You have two swords instead of a keel to keep you on course.
  2. You need more speed to tack than with a ‘regular’ sailing yacht.
  3. You set the mainsail with 2 halyards instead of 1 halyard.
  4. Je hoeft niet in paniek te raken als je de bodem raakt. Sterker nog, dit is een van de allermooiste eigenschappen van zeilen met een platbodem op de Waddenzee.


Someone with sailing experience can certainly handle a flat bottomed sailing boat. We are happy to give some tips before you leave, so feel free to ask us.


Tips to make sailing on the Wadden Sea safe and fun:


Falling dry with a Vollenhovense Bol

They are made for drying out on the seabed as they have a thick (2.5 or 3 cm) steel bottom supported by a heavy, massive keel beam and are therefore very stable on the seabed. And drying out on the seabed is a great experience. You choose a place to anchor (or “accidentally” let it dry out), put your anchor out and watch the water slowly disappear. And then there is peace. You can explore the Wad from your rented sailboat for hours! For many there is nothing more beautiful. You can even fish for your own dinner. Mussels, Japanese oysters and Clams offer you a delicious seafood meal.


The best way to dry out on the Wadden Sea with a flat bottomed sailing boat:

  1. Two to three hours after high water running aground gives a safe margin. This prevents you from falling dry on the top of a sandbank.
  2. Make sure you don’t fall dry on the edge of a deep gully, otherwise you’ll end up crooked. Sound on all sides of the boat with the boom in the water to measure the depth difference, or circle above the chosen anchorage and check the depth gauge.
  3. Drop anchor: after setting your anchor at the chosen location, your sailboat will (depending on how much line you give the anchor) fall dry between 10 and 20 meters from the anchor. The anchor may then be significantly higher on the sandbank than the flat bottom. It is then useful to take the anchor out of the mudflats during drying out and to press it into the bottom again on the other side of the ship. This prevents you from being higher on the sandbank after the tide


When you are on the dry seabed, you can start exploring. From knee-high water you can disembark calmly, and at around knee height you should go back on board. But you can also just wait until the sandbed dries up, then you normally have at least 2 hours to explore.



If you accidentally get stuck with a flat bottomed sailboat

If you get stuck and the nose is in the wind, you must immediately lower the sail and put the engine in reverse. If you are still stuck you must release the anchor to avoid moving higher up the sandbank when every wave hits. When sailing under sail, put the engine in reverse and use the sails to ensure the front of the boat is pointed towards the wind.

If you get stuck around high tide during spring tide, you have already made many mistakes! That should never happen. But if it does, drop the anchor as soon as possible and alarm the KNRM directly by app or telephone. If this does not work then call the Traffic Post Schiermonnikoog via telephone or VHF. They will come to try to pull you from the sand bed. If this doesn’t work, you may be stuck for several days because the water doesn’t get high enough. The KNRM has an app that automatically shows your location. Register with the app before departure. In principle, you have 4G coverage on the entire Wad. Otherwise, call them or call the Schiermonnikoog traffic control post and provide your GPS position that the boat’s navigation system transmits.



Sailing times and sailing area on the Wadden Sea

  • From the rental harbor you can be on Schiermonnikoog in about 2-3 hours
  • From Schier to Ameland is about 4 hours
  • From Ameland to Terschelling is also about 4 hours
  • With a little tide and good wind you can return from Terschelling to Lauwersoog in one day
  • High water on Terschelling is about 1 hour earlier than in Lauwersoog and you can leave up to 4 hours before high water!
  • To the east is Noordpolderzijl, about 4 hours sailing from the lock
  • Continuing to the German Wad takes about 3 hours


You can also choose to discover the beautiful Dokkumer Ee. Sail left out of the harbor and you are in the historic town of Dokkum in an hour. In 6 to 7 hours you will arrive in Leeuwarden. Want to go to Harlingen? That will take about a day and a half as you sail inland. For example, leaving the harbor on Saturday, arriving in Harlingen on Sunday, and then sailing on the Wad on Monday in the direction of Texel, Vlieland or Terschelling.

You can of course sail west on the Wadden Sea, and then return to Harlingen via Leeuwarden and Dokkum. Depending on the wind direction you can determine your sailing plan. You can also ask us what a nice sailing route is for the current weather conditions. We are happy to think along, to ensure that you have a wonderful time when you rent a sailboat.


How do you use the leeboards?

The leeboards are the keel of the boat. So when maneuvering in harbor, sailing into a box with crosswinds, you should always use your leeboards. The ship then stays on course with a little more wind. Certainly very useful if you have to enter a box.


What to do in the event of an engine breakdown

You have a sailing boat, so engine trouble is not an immediate disaster! Set the sail and ensure you get to deeper waters, or consciously choose a safe place to anchor. You can also sail and anchor close to a harbor. A tow can often be arranged via the KNRM app or VHF, or by calling the harbormaster. Also waving/asking for help from passing ships is often a great solution.

The engines on all our ships are practically new, so the chance of them breaking down is very small. In addition, there is a complete toolbox on board and with some telephone help from me or our mechanic, you are very likely to be able to get the engine up and running again. Always call us to discuss first. And, perhaps most importantly, always check how much fuel you have left before you leave the harbor.



How do the tides work on the Wadden Sea?

The Wadden Sea takes about 6 hours to empty from high water(HW) and then it takes about6 hours before the water returns. A rule of thumb is that in the first hour 1/12 of the water returns or disappears, the second hour about 2/12 and the third hour 3/12. Thefourth hourthen 3/12 again, the fifth hour 2/12 again and the last hour 1/12 and then the circle is complete.

If you then know that there is approximately 240 cm of water at Lauwersoog at high tide, it is easy to calculate how much water comes or goes per hour. The exact tides can of course be found in the map on board and via the weather forecast from the Schiermonnikoog Traffic Post which indicates any changes. In general, there is more water at a full moon, just like with a western wind. You certainly have less water with an eastern wind, which can make a difference of 30 to 50 cm. And of course, the water map indicates how much water disappears on the Wad when it is low tide.


How does the current work on the Wadden Sea?

Because the water rises and falls the most in the third and fourth hours before and after high water, the current is also strongest at these times. At the back of each boats’ instruction book you will find this information in the current charts. The fatter the arrow, the faster the water flows. So sailing against the current at that time will not help you make that much progress.

Wind against water is not a great experience, but wind and water in the same direction give speed. The water always runs around an island from both sides which means the two currents meet approximately in the middle behind the island. This is often the shallowest place, the so-called ‘Wantij’. It is useful to be here around high tide, after all that means sailing with the current again!

The Wad is a very special nature reserve, so respect it! No loud music, no football on the sandbanks and don’t get close to seals and birds. And of course, always take your rubbish with you. Read the Wad sailers’ Sailing Code and stick to it. This code can be found in the information booklet on board. Then the Wadden Sea will remain sailable for us in the future!

If you do not leave the harbor at wind force 6 or higher, and listen carefully to the advice of lock keepers, harbormasters, sentries (the Brandaris and Schiermonnikoog) and from us, then you will have a fantastic time on the Wadden Sea.



I hope that with these tips you have become enthusiastic about renting your own flat-bottomed sailing boat on the Wadden Sea. We have a Grundel, 7 beautiful Vollenhovense Bollen and 2 Tjalks for rent. These flat-bottomed sailboats guarantee a unique sailing trip that you will talk about for a long time.

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