Boating and diving in Italy


Given Italy’s climate, the length of the coastline and the large lakes in the north, it will come as no surprise to discover that watersports are popular in Italy. Messing about in boats is a favourite pastime and sailing boats, motorboats, canoes and kayaks can be hired (rented) at many coastal and lake resorts.


Sailing ( vela) in yachts and dinghies is popular throughout Italy, where even small coastal towns often have a marina. Dinghy sailing is also popular on the major lakes, particularly Lake Garda, which often provides better wind conditions than the smaller lakes.

Sailing has received a further boost in recent years by the prominent Italian attempts to win the America’s Cup. So far success has proved elusive, but the challenge has raised the profile of the sport in Italy considerably. Motorboats are also popular as they cater for the Italians’ love of speed.

Many resorts have prominent sailing and yacht clubs, through which boats can usually be hired and courses taken. Generally these require you to be a member and costs vary widely; enquire at a tourist office about the facilities available locally or contact the relevant sports federation (see below). Boating holidays are popular in Italy, both on yachts and on motorboats.

You can charter a boat provided you have a licence ( patente nautica) or are willing to hire a captain (or an entire crew if your budget stretches to it). Before anchoring at a marina in Italy, you must obtain permission from the harbour master ( capitaneria di porto).

Weekly and weekend sailing courses and holidays are featured in the magazine Avventure nel Mondo and advertised in sailing magazines. If you’re chartering a boat without a captain, you need a guide to harbours such as the ‘Pilot’ series (published in England by Imray, Laurie, Norie & Wilson, www.imray.com), which includes most Italian ports.

A list of sailing clubs and information about courses is available from the Italian Sailing Federation, Federazione Italiana Vela, Piazza Borgo Pila, 40, 16129 Genoa (010-544 541, http://domino.federvela.it).

For information about motorboat clubs and racing, contact the Federazione Italiana Motonautica (http://domino.fimconi.it). A boat show ( salone nautico) is staged in Genoa in October each year.

It offers an entertaining day out, if only to marvel at the way a fortunate few live, and is a good place to make contact with sailing organisations and discover the range of boating holidays available in Italy and beyond. Entry is free for foreigners on production of your passport.

Canoeing, kayaking and rowing ( canottaggio) are also popular in Italy (which is one of the world’s leading rowing nations), both on lakes and rivers and along the coast. For information, contact the Italian Rowing Federation, Federazione Italiana di Canottaggio (www.canottaggio.org) or the Federazione Italiana Canoa Kayak (www.federcanoa.it), which can provide lists of clubs that hire out equipment and provide training.


Scuba diving is well established in Italy, where it developed under the auspices of the Italian Federation of Divers. Some of the best scuba diving ( immersioni or subacquee, often shortened to sub) in the Mediterranean is in Italian waters and diving is popular almost everywhere along the coast. However, the best diving areas are in the Ligurian Sea; south of Genoa between the Portofino peninsula and the Cinque Terre; and around the Italian islands of Capri, Sardinia and Sicily.

The area around the Portofino peninsula has recently been designated a marine nature reserve, with fishing and other activities restricted. The area has a rocky coast and boasts a wide range of interesting marine life (it’s particularly noted for its large number of red fan corals), and provides an excellent environment for fish and invertebrate life.

However, there are few large fish, due in part to the fact that spear fishing continues to be popular in Italy (outside the marine park), although there’s evidence of greater numbers of larger fish in the area since the park was established.

A particular attraction in this area, at San Fruttuoso, is the submerged bronze statue of the Christ of the Deep ( Cristo degli abissi). This famous statue of Christ with outstretched arms was ‘erected’ in the bay in 1954 at a depth of 18 metres as a memorial to those who have died at sea.

On a calm day the statue can be seen from a boat on the surface, but the view from close up under the water is much more impressive. In August an annual festival takes place at the statue to honour seafarers.

The islands of Sardinia and Capri also offer good diving, with plenty of marine life and several interesting wrecks. Wreck diving is popular in Italy, where even sunken aircraft survive well on account of the weak tides in the Mediterranean.

Wrecks suitable for scuba divers include a number of war and merchant ships dating back a few centuries, as well a number of German and British warplanes. If you want to see larger fish and mammals, you should head for Sicily, which has the advantage of being further out in the Mediterranean.

Beginners need to enrol on a diving course, of which there’s a wide variety, including those offered by the major training organisations such as PADI, SSI and CMAS. If you’re already a trained diver, a local dive centre will ask to see your certification card, after which you’ll be able to join them on trips to local dive sites and further afield.

If you don’t have your own diving equipment, it can be hired at local dive centres. The water temperature varies around the coast, but can fall to around 14C (57F) in winter, rising to 25 to 27C (77 to 81F) in summer. Local divers generally wear semi-dry suits in cooler temperatures, while in summer a wetsuit is sufficient (suits can be hired in most areas).

In recent years, independent dive centres have developed all along the coast and on the islands of Elba, Sardinia and the Maddalena archipelago, noted for its crystal-clear waters.

These tend to advertise in the local press and on roadside posters, and many also advertise in Italian, English and American diving magazines. Information about scuba diving and dive centres can be obtained from the Federazione Italiana Pesca Sportiva e Attività Subacque, Via Tiziano, 70, 00196 Rome (www.fipsas.it).

Free Diving

Free diving ( apnea) is a specialist sport comprising a number of disciplines, all of which involve diving without scuba equipment – i.e. holding your breath! Free diving is popular in Italy, due in part to the publicity surrounding the success of Italians such as former world depth record-holder Umberto Pelizzari.

Most diving magazines in Italy include articles about apnea and have advertisements for courses. Needless to say, it’s a sport that requires extensive training and you need to be fully aware of the dangers.

Blackouts and convulsions are common, even among the top competitors in the sport, and can result in death unless the right back-up is available. If you’re interested, speak to the experts at a local diving centre or the Federazione Italiana Pesca Sportiva e Attività Subacque (see above).

Waterskiing & Windsrufing

Waterskiing ( sci acquatico) and windsurfing are popular, both along the coast and on inland lakes, particularly Lake Garda, whose northern end (around the Riva del Garda) is noted for its strong winds.

Equipment and wetsuits – highly recommended at most times of the year – can be rented at resorts. For details of waterskiing clubs contact the Federazione Italiana Sci Nautico, Via Piranesi, 44/b, 20137 Milan (02-7529 181, www.scinautico.com ).

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Italy. Click here to get a copy now.

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