Balaton Cruising Guide

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WorldInland LakesBalaton Cruising Guide

Lake Balaton Cruising Guide

An online cruising guide for yachts sailing in Lake Balaton, Hungary.

Lake Balaton, Hungary
Small info.png (Click links for more information)
GPS: 46°49.82′N, 17°44.04′E
Gallery: Photo gallery


Lake Balaton is the largest lake in Central Europe. It is in the transdanubian region of Hungary. As Hungary is a landlocked country, it is also called "Hungarian Sea". Its hungarian nickname is "Balcsi". German name is "Plattensee".

It is a famous destination for summer vacation. In fact in the communist era it was the best such destination reacheable for most of the population of the country. Hence it has a nearly mithological role for the middle aged and older generations, commonly associated with summer, happiness, young age and love.

Lake Balaton was also the meeting point for german families divided by the iron courtain.

The mountains in the nort shore have a good climate for grape, so there are some very nice wines there. The most famous wine growing region there is Badacsony.

Hydrology, winds

Balaton is a rift lake 77 km long, roughly in east-west direction, its with is roughly 8 km, the maximum is 14 km. Its surface area is 594 square km. The lake is filled from the Zala river and several streams. Te only outflow is the Sió canal, which is used to keep the level of the lake constant. Sió have water only in "planned shipmove times", one or two times a year. (Sió is the hardest to navigate waterway in Hungary.) The lake retention time is 2-3 years. The average depth of water is 3.3 meters, but in the pipe (see below) it reaches 12m.

There is one peninsula in the Northern shore, called Tihany peninsula. It divides the lake to two basins. The narrow between the basins is called "the pipe" ("a cső" in Hungarian).

The north shore is mountaneous, and deepens more quickly than the southern one. There are two under-water dunes in the south shore, which means that some 500m from the coast is recommended if you are not heading to/from a port. The main wind is NW, so surface currents are southbound, and underwater currents are northbound. These are slow ones.

Wind is modulated by the north mountains, so sudden changes in its strength and direction are common. The eastern end of the lake is most notorious of this. Waves can build steep in the relatively shallow, low viscosity and warm water. The highest measured waves were 1.82m near the coast and 1.95m in the deeps.The wavelength is tipically 2-12m. Folklore says that every 7th wave is big. Wind can make differences in the water level on the shores in an order of half a meter. When it is from west or east, this can drive noticeable currents in the pipe, sometimes in the order of 2m/sec.

Water quality is a high priority for all responsible for the lake, and it is constantly monitored.

Storms can build up quickly, but there is a storm forecast and warning system (since more than 65 years). There are more than 40 sites which display

  • No signal means at most 40 km/h gusts in the next hours (beaufort 3).
  • First level is signalled with 45 yellow flashes per minute. This means gusts between 45 and 60 km/h (beaufort 4). Life jacket is mandatory, small boats should stay close to the shore.
  • Second level is signalled with 90 yellow flashes per minute. This is above beaufort 5.

When real storms will come:

  • The water police warns each ship on the lake one by one. (But do not count on any police to save your life.)
  • There is a dark grey strip of clouds above the northern mountains. It is called "gerenda" (beam), because it resembles to a concrete beam. When you see this, it is too late. Get rid of all your sails and drop an anchor, because there will be 100 km/h gusts in a minute.

Radio Nets, distress center

Also see World Cruiser's Nets

  • Distress and low visibility navigation channel: 16 (156,8 MHZ)
  • Inter-ship communication channel: 10

There is a radio network called "Balatrönk", distress channels are 3E and 13E. Apparently you need a "balatrönk radio" to use this...

  • The availability of the Zánka Distress Center:
    Telefon: +36 30 3 83 83 83
    BalaTrönk: 3E, 13E
    VHF: channel 16 (156,8 MHZ)
    Address: 8250 Zánka, 030/8 Hrsz.
    Postal Address: 8360 Keszthely, Erzsébet királyné útja 12.
    Telefon: +36 87 568 168, Fax: +36 87 568 169
    Website, Email


You always see the coast, so you don't really need a map. Just remember not to go closer to the south shore than 500m, except in ports. However:


The lake is near the southwest border of Carpathian basin, so there are noticeable mediterranean and oceanic effects added to the basic mild continental climate.

The number of sunny hours is around 2000. The most warm months are June, July and August. Most shiny is June. The least rain in July and August, 6-6 rainy days in average.

The lake have considerable effect in the climate of its surroundings: in summer the air is not as hot, in winter it is not as cold as far away. Daily changes in temperature are also smaller.

The water surface reflects sunshine, this adds to the radiation income of the southern hillsides on the northern coast. This means very good wine!

The shallow water is warmed quickly, so the temperature can reach even 28-29 Celsius. The "standard" temperature is measured in Siófok, in 1m depth. In the shallow southern coast the actual temperature can be higher than the standard one. When a storm comes, the water comes up from the depths, so the water temperatures - including the standard one - can drop abruptly.

The lake freezes in most winters, the depth of ice can be 20-30cm. This is an excellent opportunity for ice sailing. Sailing at twice the speed of wind is something you must try! When temperature goes down, long rifts evolve in the ice due to thermal contraction with a thunderous noise. When temperature goes higher, expansion pushes ice to the shore, and aginst itself.

Sources for Weather forecasts:


Normally you navigate by sight of coastal objects, most notably the lights of storm forecast system, ports and mountains.

The pipe is marked with a cardinal system. There is a reef in the pipe, which is also marked by cardinal system.

Ports are marked with port hand, starboard hand and bifurcation posts according to their geometry.


No islands. There are always plans to build artificial islands, but there is nothing so far, fortunately.

There is a meteorogical station in the exact middle of the eastern basin. Nothing spectacular, only some instruments on a post covered by guano. But at least a destination in the middle of the water. As fishers will not come close with their nets, there are a lot of fish there.

Marinas, Yacht Clubs & Popular Stopovers

There are a lot of ports around the lake. There are the Bahart ones (22 around the lake) which have smaller fees, wessels renting in one port can freely visit other Bahart ones. There are the private ports which often offer better services always for higher fees.

You can look up ports in this site It is in hungarian, but for most ports you can find contact info and webpage which might have English or German information.

More info on Bahart marinas


You can drop an anchor virtually everywhere in the lake. The bed is a bit lousy, so allow 6 times the length of vessel for the rode.

Vessels with ballasted keels are kept in ports as a rule. Some boats with daggerboard are kept on anchor in the reeds of the northern shore. Some of the fishing piers on the north have deep enough water for keeled vessels, but don't do it without considerate knowledge of the location.

There are a lot of ports with moderate fees if you want to get to the coast, and the bed is close enough everywhere for anchoring if you want to stay in the water for a night or a just a swim.

Yacht Repairs and Services

Marine Stores

Submit addresses and contact details of marine related businesses that are of interest to cruisers.


Fuel, Water, & Electricity

  • Fuel - fuel notes
  • Water - water notes
  • Electricity - electricity notes

Tourism and Things to do Ashore


List places of interest, tours, etc.


Grocery & Supply Stores




Motorbike & Car Rentals

Garbage Disposal

There are garbage disposal facilities in every port. It is mandatory.

Disposing of anything to the water is a major offence.


Transportation (local and/or international)


Contact details of "Cruiser's Friends" that can be contacted for local information or assistance.


List links to discussion threads on partnering forums. (see link for requirements)



Publications, Guides, etc.


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