Maritime Helsinki offers new services and livelihoods close to residents' homes

The sea and the maritime livelihoods are essential for Helsinki. Helsinki has 130 kilometres of shoreline, and it is the busiest passenger port in Europe. New maritime services are constantly opening in Helsinki. Opening this summer are the western archipelago route and Kivisaari island. Places such as new boat marinas will be built in the coming years.

View of the Market Square with terrace, swimming pools and boats.

Helsinki's most recognisable characteristic is its marine environment. Of the city's area, 70% is sea, with over 300 islands laying in the water. The shoreline meanders for 130 kilometres. There is an exceptionally high number of beaches and various water activities and livelihoods in Helsinki. Another special quality is that all residents live within only 10 kilometres from the sea. There is space for all of them in the arms of the 'daughter of the Baltic Sea,' Helsinki, just as there is room for the delicate archipelago nature and the passenger ships.

Vili Tuomisto, manager of the City of Helsinki's maritime projects, says that various companies are largely to thank for the diverse maritime services in the city, from coastal cafes to shipyards.

"There is immense know-how in Helsinki, such as leading engineering expertise, which could be directed even more at maritime projects, even up to the global market. For example, our seafaring technology, down to shipbuilding, is top-class on a global scale. We also have extremely high-quality testing platforms. Companies have the courage to try out solutions that stand out, such as Allas Sea Pool or the sauna restaurant Löyly, and they have also drawn international attention," Tuomisto praises local operators.

Minttu Perttula and Vili Tuomisto are smiling on the bridge.
Vili Tuomisto, who leads the city's maritime projects, and Minttu Perttula, who led the city's maritime strategy, are delighted with Helsinki's maritime services. Photo: Veeti Hautanen / City of Helsinki

Maritime events yield reputation benefits

According to Tuomisto, many maritime events and sports have substantial benefits for Helsinki's image, although it is difficult to measure them in money.

"Top athletes, such as Tapio Lehtinen and the Spirit of Helsinki crew, bring positive international attention to Helsinki. This also applies to various competitions and events, such as the Tall Ships Races, which drew half a million visitors the previous time."

Minttu Perttula agrees. She led the work on the City's Maritime Strategy in 2018–2022.

"For example, the internationally esteemed Helsinki Biennial has increased awareness of Helsinki as a maritime location. Our immensely beautiful archipelago and the right of public access are Helsinki's advantages, as is the all-season use of the coast, with winter swimming sites and similar. Places such as new water sport centres have been established, which is delightful. Moving about in a marine environment has health benefits, which also leads to benefits for the national economy when people are feeling better."

During Perttula's management of the maritime strategy work, parts of Helsinki's archipelago were opened for recreational use, and infrastructure and camping conditions were improved. Electric boats on demand also started operating in Helsinki waters. Perttula says that electric water transport pilots have paved the way for bigger steps towards emission-free water transport.

Yellow flowers on Vallisaari beach.
Vallisaari is a fine destination on its own, but Helsinki Biennial will bring art from Finnish and international artists to the island again this summer, also increasing Helsinki's international renown. Photo: Julia Kivelä / City of Helsinki

Kivisaari opened to the public, new archipelago route established

The new western archipelago route opened between Helsinki and Espoo in June. A new island destination, Kivisaari, also opened to the public. The island is accessible by the eastern Helsinki archipelago route, and it will potentially have more traffic connections later.

Regular traffic will continue throughout the summer to various destinations, such as Lonna, Vallisaari, Kruunuvuorenranta and Suomenlinna. Operation to the new island destinations is initially being planned for next summer. In the best case, Isosaari island would also become accessible by regular routes again, moving forward.

"The City is currently negotiating on the purchase of Isosaari, but there is still much to be examined, starting from the condition of the soil, buildings and water pipelines. Helsinki's policy is to open various islands that are suitable for recreational use to the public, with environmental values in mind," says Project Manager Tom Qvisen, the person in charge of land purchases at the Urban Environment Division.

Aerial photo of Kustaanmiekka.
Helsinki's most recognisable characteristic is its marine environment. Helsinki has 130 kilometres of shoreline and over 300 islands in the archipelago. The passenger ships arriving right by the city centre are an important part of Helsinki's image. Photo: Suomen Ilmakuva/Helsinki Partners

Helsinki is the busiest passenger port in Europe

How significant are maritime livelihoods in Helsinki? You can get an idea of how many maritime businesses there are by searching the registers of businesses and registered offices for sea-related companies registered in Helsinki. The most recent information is from 2022, which still shows the collapse caused by the pandemic, but the numbers still show the scale of the operations: there are over 350 companies and 4,400 employees. The figures do not include businesses like boat clubs or coastal restaurants and cafes.

Most of the maritime employees, almost 1,500 people, work in maritime goods transport, and over a thousand people in maritime passenger transport. Implementing the ships and floating structures employs almost 600 people.
The harbour operations were estimated to have a total economic impact of 4.1 billion euros in 2019 when the latest impact review was carried out. The employment impact of jobs related to seafaring and harbour operations was 25,100 person work years last year. The total turnover of the City-owned Port of Helsinki Ltd was 91.1 million euros last year.

The income provided by tourists is also worth mentioning, as the Port of Helsinki is the busiest passenger port in Europe. The regular liner ships were used by 8.9 million passengers and international cruise ships brought almost 163,000 passengers to Helsinki last year. The latest studies show that cruise passengers and crews spend approximately 25 million euros in Helsinki on an annual basis. This sum would be approximately 10 million euros higher if Helsinki could draw all passengers to disembark in the city. The City is constantly striving for this.

Tourists in the West Harbour.
Cruise passengers and crews spend approximately 25 million euros in Helsinki on an annual basis. Photo: Veikko Somerpuro / Port of Helsinki Ltd

More marinas to be built in the coming years

The City is facilitating maritime livelihoods by selling its obsolete coastal properties for public recreational use. Villa Schroderus in Kallahdenniemi is currently on sale, while Villa Wikström in the same neighbourhood will go on sale in August. The confirmed sales include Stansvik Manor in Laajasalo, which is now housing restaurant and sauna operations, and Villa Achille in Kallvikinniemi, which was bought for sports and recreational services.

To make boating easier, the City is adding visitor jetties and buoy sites to many of its islands this summer. Helsinki is also planning to introduce electricity to Kaunissaari island. Places such as the eastern archipelago will have more signs and campfire sites.

New marinas will open in Kruunuvuorenranta, Verkkosaari, Nihti and Saukonnokanallas in the next five years. Puotilanranta will stop serving boaters due to housing construction around 2027, but Kruunuvuorenranta will have about 70 new winter storage spaces for boats to replace the removed ones. In addition to these, a thousand similar spaces are being planned for Tolkkinen in the nearby town of Porvoo.

"Winter storage involves challenges, because it would be the most feasible in coastal areas, but there is a limited number of suitable sites in Helsinki. We have started a study into our winter storage policies, which should be ready by the end of the year. In practice, we study the situation and set policies for how the City will approach winter storage moving forward," Vili Tuomisto states.

Boats in the harbour.
New marinas will open in Kruunuvuorenranta, Verkkosaari, Nihti and Saukonnokanallas in the next five years. Photo: Beatrice Buht / City of Helsinki

Electric and emission-free water transport

Vili Tuomisto points out that the City sets its maritime policies with respect for the delicate nature. The City also hopes for and supports the transition to eco-friendly vessels as far as possible.

"For example, the plan is to turn the regular traffic to Pihlajasaari electric in the future. The City is looking into more effective support measures to facilitate the transition to electric water transport."

The City aims for at least half of water transport to be emission-free by 2030.

"We aim to minimise all human-caused emissions by developing solutions for floodwater and stormwater control and water supply management in our island and coastal areas. The City's new nature conservation programme that is under preparation will also include a section dedicated to underwater nature. The City is also active in the protection of the sea through the Baltic Sea Challenge. Matters of ecology are essential to the City on principle, but they are also a reputation and attraction factor for both the City and maritime companies," Tuomisto states.

The harbours in central Helsinki have had shoreside power connections for a longer time, and now Vuosaari Harbour is also offering shoreside power to ships. The use of shoreside electricity may reduce a ship's emissions in the harbour area by up to 50–80%, while also reducing the noise. Cargo traffic will take a great step towards emission-free operations in July when the first container ship using renewable fuel, X-Press feeders, starts regular operation to Helsinki. At the same time, the market for the distribution of synthetic fuels will open in Finland.

Sources, in addition to the interviewees: Helsinki Maritime Strategy 2030; Port of Helsinki Annual Report 2023; the website and Communications Department of the Port of Helsinki; maritime Helsinki in the city plan, reports of Helsinki City Planning Department 2013:18.

Published: 4.7.2024 09.00