Located in Northern Europe and surrounded by a number of water bodies, Finland shares land borders with Russia, Sweden, Norway and Estonia across the fairly narrow Gulf of Finland. The majority of Finland’s 5.4 million population is found in the southern parts, with many people making their homes around the capital city, Helsinki. Finland is also home to an autonomous region known as the Åland Islands which are to the south.
Scuba diving in Finland can be quite challenging due to the freezing winters and the wide variation of climates between the north and south areas. In the south, the Finnish winter air can reach as far below zero as -30°C, with near consistent snow between the months of November to April. During the summer months of May through September, the air temperatures can range from 10°C all the way up to 35°C. Bearing these cold temperatures in mind, it is of course advised for divers to make use of a dry suit when venturing below the water’s surface.
As a country, Finland has both a continental climate and a maritime climate thanks to its close promixity to the warming Gulf Stream and the Atlantic Ocean. Together with the Baltic Sea and the many inland lakes, the Gulf Stream results in Finland actually having a warmer climate than some other countries that fall along a similar latitude. To the north, in Lapland, there is consistent sunshine for more than 70 days in the summer, where the sun never sets. On the other end of the spectrum, during the winter months in Lapland, inhabitants will not see the sun for more than 50 days.
The main hub for scuba diving around Finland is in the Baltic Sea, around the southern islands known as Åland. The Åland Islands are made up of an impressive 6,500 islands and present some of the greatest navigational challenges in the world. Surprisingly, the waters around these islands are also used as the busy commercial shipping path between Finland and Sweden. With navigational challenges and many large commercial ships comes the unavoidable event of ship wrecks, and more than 500 ship wrecks have been found in these waters. In fact, there are so many ship wrecks around the Åland Islands that this area is regarded as having one of the world’s greatest densities of ship wrecks. Highly popular with divers and maritime enthusiasts, especially in the months between April and October, this area also offers the Åland Maritime Museum for those interested in discovering more about the ships in the area.
Finland also presents a number of other water-based activities including boating and kayaking around the beautifully scenic Lakeland. Finland’s coastal towns as well as those around the Åland Islands , offer sightseeing cruises that can be day trips or longer chartered trips. Tourists can even choose to travel on board a historic lake steamer or make use of the more modern motor-powered open-top vessels. Lapland is very popular with visitors due to its showing of the mysterious northern lights, and the capital city Helsinki is a modern, popular hub for architecture, arts and culture.
Wreck diving enthusiasts are in for a treat when visiting Finland, as this is the main type of diving available. Thanks to the Baltic Sea having low salinity, the wrecks in this area are extremely well preserved and even the old wooden vessels remain in excellent condition. Although the visibility isn’t the best and usually falls between 5-15 meters, the wrecks are fascinating, with many of them aging back more than 100 years. These century-old vessels are protected and may not be touched.
A very popular wreck dive in Åland is the S/S Hildenburg, which sank in 1918 after only 3 years of operation. This vessel served as an icebreaker for Germany but navigated into a mine and sank to a depth of 37 to 47 meters. Unfortunately all the S/S Hildenburg crewmembers were lost in the incident. The wreck was rediscovered fairly recently in 1995 and is highly protected, offering only 12 permits annually for advanced or technical divers to explore all 51 meters of well-preserved maritime history.
Rated as one of the ten best wrecks in Scandinavia, the Plus is a 70 meter square-rigger that was built way back in 1885. Located close to the harbor and easily reachable regardless of the weather, the Plus lies at a depth of between 17 to 32 meters. The Plus sank only 100 meters from the safety of the shore due to a tragic navigational error. Similarly to the S/S Hildenburg, the majority of crew members’ lives were lost and only 2 crewmembers out of the 16 total managed to survive the crash. Both technical and recreational divers are able to visit the Plus wreck site.
Another great wreck site for technical divers is the S/S Notung, which was a UK-built steamship dating back to 1882. This 75 meter vessel was attacked in 1942 by Russian bombers, and eventually sank after a torpedo explosion. The S/S Notung was transporting cellulose from Finland to England, and all crew members were able to survive despite being under fire from the Russian forces. Although the visibility is only 10 meters at best and the wreck site lies at a maximum depth of 50 meters, technical divers are able to marvel at the intricate interior that is so well preserved.
Finland is home to one technical cave diving spot, the Ojamo Mine, which is one of the country’s most famous dive sites for those who are qualified. This system of limestone caves ranges in depth from 38 meters to a whopping 200 meters, although from the surface it simply looks like a small lake in a forest in Lohja. Divers are able to submerge through narrow tunnels that reach for miles, and although it is possible to dive at any time of year, divers will need to brave the 4°C water in order to experience this underwater wonder.
Finland has a number of airports throughout the country that offer both international and domestic connections. One of the major airports is located in the capital city of Helsinki, which will welcome flights from the US, Europe and other international destinations.
The rail system in Finland is highly reliable and visitors can make use of passenger trains or car carriers to get from place to place. There is also the option of coaches to travel via road, and these too are very reliable and comprehensive. Driving in winter can of course be hazardous due to the heavy winter snow, and so snow tires are required between the months of December and February. It’s also important to watch out for reindeer and elk on Finnish roads as these can prove rather hazardous if hit.
Diving in Finland is best done through a recognized diving operator who can take care of all coast guard duties, transportation hassles and dive permits. In Åland it is not possible to dive legally without going through a licensed diving center. There are a number of dive shops that offer certification courses in recreational and technical diving. Many of the dive centers can also assist with equipment rental and training as well as diving accommodation.