Photo: Abdellah Ihadian

Rules in the harbor of Copenhagen: How to behave on the water

By Jacob Christiansen

Last updated December 21, 2022

Copenhagen Harbor is on a daily basis filled with everything from harbor buses to kayakers and swimmers. According to City and Port, there are 6,000 members of kayak and rowing clubs, 200 stand up paddle boards and 600,000 annual users of the harbor buses. There is therefore no doubt that Copenhagen Harbor is a well-visited urban space that is becoming increasingly attractive. In an area that has so much traffic, it can be difficult to know what you can and can't do. Find out more about the various rules in Copenhagen Harbor for your own safety and that of others.

With whom do you share the water in Copenhagen Harbor?

The harbor in Copenhagen has for many years formed the framework for a blue urban space to the great delight of locals and tourists. Every year, a multitude of opportunities for recreational experiences on the water are offered, such as music events, art, sustainable initiatives, food experiences, guided tours and much more. From being an industrial port where, among other things, coal was shipped, the port now oozes with human life and activity on and near the water.

In Copenhagen Harbor, you share the water with:

  • Rowers
  • Kayakers
  • Private sailing boats
  • Renters of rental boats
  • Tour boats
  • Harbor buses
  • Canal cruises
  • Paddleboards
  • Professional sailors
  • Swimmers

Dos and don'ts in Copenhagen Harbor

It can be difficult to know what you can and cannot do when you are in Copenhagen Harbor. There are different rules, depending on how you use the harbor. It becomes even more difficult to navigate as many of the daily users do not know the rules either and therefore act according to their own needs rather than the safety rules.

Here are the rules of Copenhagen Harbor:

  • It is permitted to sail in Copenhagen Harbor, as long as all traffic rules and the harbor regulations are obeyed
  • Bathing is permitted in the designated harbor baths and marked bathing zones in Copenhagen Harbor. It is therefore strictly forbidden to jump into the water from bridges in the harbour. There are currently 3 harbor baths and 6 different bathing zones (but the number will probably increase):
Copenhagen Harbour Canals Fishing
  • Islands Brygge (harbour bath)
  • Fisketorvet (harbour bath)
  • Sluseholmen (harbour bath)
  • Halfdansgade (bathing area)
  • Halvandet (bathing area)
  • Havnevigen (bathing area)
  • Sandkaj (bathing area)
  • Søndre Refshalebassin (bathing area)
  • Kalvebod Bølge (bathing area)
  • It is permitted to sail by harbor bus, canal cruise, rent a rental boat or sail in private boats. Special rules may apply when renting boats and sailing in private boats. The overall rules can be found in the harbor regulations and at the various rental services as they may have individual rules for their rental boats.
  • It is permitted to fish with a rod in the harbor from November to April in select areas along the quay. See the specific areas on the map from By & Havn or read more here.

Bonus info: Recreational vessels equipped with an engine and/or sails must be provided with name and home port or other identification marks of an appropriate size, but at least 50 mm. in height and placed in a visible place so that it can be identified from land.

Right-of-way and placement: As a general rule, all vessels in the harbor whose depth is not a hindrance, must keep to the right. If a ship crosses one of the harbor runs, this must be done with the utmost caution so that dangerous situations do not arise with the risk of collisions with other vessels.

Here is what you are not allowed to do in Copenhagen Harbor:

  • It is not permitted to sail more than 6 knots in the big harbor run and the limit is 4 knots in the side runs and canals.
  • It is not permitted to sail in a military area or in the commercial port.
  • It is not permitted to swim outside the designated harbor baths or bathing zones. It is also not allowed to dive in Copenhagen Harbour.
  • It is not permitted to Stand up Paddle, windsurf or sail with a sail in the Inner Harbor.
  • Sailing with water scooters, jet skis, water skis, as well as windsurfing and other water sports activities may only take place in Copenhagen Harbor's lake area upon prior, written agreement.
  • It is not permitted to throw rubbish into the harbor.

For a further explanation of which traffic rules apply in the port, the port regulations can be read here.

Copenhagen Krøyers Plads Summer Harbour Canals Relax Sights Sunbathe Water Sailing Boat Rental GoBoat

Increased focus on safety in the Copenhagen Harbor

Several of the city's politicians have a strong desire to increase safety in the harbors. In 2020, a unanimous Citizens' Representation adopted a new proposal to strengthen the safety measures of all stakeholders in the harbor. This means that Copenhagen Municipality, City & Port and the police must work together to find a solution that better equips Copenhageners to navigate the waterways. As part of the proposal, the tour boats, harbor buses, sailing clubs, rowing and kayaking clubs and boat hire companies such as GoBoat must also be involved in discussing new measures.

A number of measures have already been put in place to increase safety. In the high season there are e.g. harbor hosts who sail around the harbor to help and guide the many users. In addition, the police, the Emergency Management Agency and the Municipality of Copenhagen meet in a Safe Harbor Committee, where they continuously discuss the various challenges in the harbor.

The big yellow harbor buses might be the greatest danger to soft users. They sail across the entire harbor and it can be difficult for them to see all the little users moving around in random places. In 2019, the harbor buses were therefore given the opportunity to report so-called near-miss accidents. For example, there may be situations where bathers are in the way at a stop, and thus a dangerous situation arises. By putting an extra effort into the fight for increased safety, it is hoped that it will minimize similar situations. It has also been discussed whether to completely move some of the stops that are located close to areas where bathers can get lost.

Who is in charge of Copenhagen Harbor?

There are a number of rules in Copenhagen Harbor, but there is as such no one who has authority over the seas in Denmark. However, it is the Danish state that has sovereignty over the sea territory. This means that the Supreme Court has the right to regulate the use of the sea. The Port of Copenhagen is administered by City & Port and it is therefore they who set the rules for traffic and use of the harbor. You can read the Harbor Regulations here.

City & Port

City & Port is responsible for port operations in Copenhagen Harbor, and thus the maintenance of a 42 km long quay. They are tasked with managing the harbor's water area, where they must keep the harbor clean so that it is available to the many users. City & Port is therefore also tasked with determining the rules of conduct. You must therefore apply for permission from City & Port if you want a docking space or if you want to host an event. City & Harbour is 95% owned by Copenhagen Municipality and 5% by the state.

Copenhagen Municipality

The Municipality of Copenhagen and By & Havn are focused on the enormous recreational potential of Copenhagen Harbor. With the vision ‘A harbor of opportunities, the municipality sets the agenda for new development opportunities. A harbor of possibilities focuses on the following 8 themes:

  • More activities in the harbor
  • Better access to the water
  • Multiple hot spots
  • Better routes and connections
  • A clean and inviting harbor
  • A harbor with a healthy nature
  • Events and temporary projects
  • Variety and space for everyone

The police

The police are one of the stakeholders who play an important role in maintaining peace and order in the harbor. Until 2017, however, they were dependent on the Marine Home Guard when they had to sail around. But in the summer of 2017, the police put their own boat into use, so that they can be more visible on the water. In 2019, this meant that the police were present on the water in the period from April 1st to September 30th, with 75 planned patrol days. In addition, the police are always present at large events in and around the harbor. The police boat is always, as a minimum, manned by one captain and two people from the local police.

As part of the previously mentioned focus on increasing safety in the harbor, City & Port is taking a closer look at changing the Harbor Regulations in order to give the police more authority to issue fines. Although fines do not necessarily equate to compliance with the harbor rules, the hope is that it will trigger a change in behavior.

The Harbor Master

The Harbor Master is the highest authority in Copenhagen Harbor. The current Harbor Master is Morten Johansen, who joined City & Harbor in 2008 as a port assistant. Since 2013, however, he has been a harbor officer. With that title comes a great deal of responsibility with the supervision of traffic and sailing in the port, as well as that the rules are obeyed. As a harbor officer, you have an additional broad palette of tasks, ranging from shipping, trade, service, waste to working with pollution.

The Military in the harbor area at Holmen

Some of the areas in the harbor are administered by The Danish Armed Forces. This applies to the water areas at Holmen, Nyholm, Frederiksholm and Arsenaløen. Parts of the harbor are therefore marked with yellow buoys where it is forbidden to enter. If you still sail in there without a permit, it can trigger a fine.

Until, and including, 2023, there will continue to be military areas on Holmen (an old common term for the areas in Copenhagen where the Navy's ships were partly built and partly equipped, maintained and repaired). But after 2023, it is intended that the Navy's units will be moved from Nyholm and parts of Nyholm will be sold, so that the area will be further opened up to the public. Read more about the plans here.

Frequently asked questions

Where can you swim in Copenhagen Harbour?

There are 3 harbor baths and 6 different bathing zones in the Port of Copenhagen.
- Islands Brygge (harbour bath)
- Fisketorvet (harbour bath)
- Sluseholmen (harbour bath)
- Halfdansgade (bathing area)
- Halvandet (bathing area)
- Havnevigen (bathing area)
- Sandkaj (bathing area)
- Søndre Refshalebassin (bathing area)
- Kalvebod Bølge (bathing area)

How fast is it allowed to sail?

I Københavns Havn er det tilladt at sejle op til 6 knob i havnens hovedløb og 4 knob i sideløbene og kanalerne. Flere udlejningsbåde har en maks. fartkapacitet på 4 knob.

Why is it not allowed to dive in the harbour?

There is too great a risk for both divers and vessels if diving in the harbor was allowed. Although it is a legal requirement to dive with a diver's flag and marking buoy, it is still too risky to do so in the Copenhagen Harbor, where the vessels do not necessarily spot the divers.

Where can you sail SUP in Copenhagen?

In the entire area from Langebro to and including the harbor areas south of Slusen, SUP sports are permitted. It is also permitted to SUP in the northern part of the harbor in the Nordbassinet at Nordhavn.
In the winter period 15 September to 15 May, however, it is permitted to SUP along a fixed route that runs from Holmen to the area south of Langebro.
See a map of the permitted areas here.

Who decides the rules in Copenhagen Harbour?

The Copenhagen Harbour is administered by the City Port, who are also the ones who have set the rules for the area on and near the water. Read more about rules and who helps enforce them here