On "The sea that binds us together", the theme for the 50-krone banknote
Both the English name for Norway and its Norwegian cognate Norge come from an early Old Norse word Norðrvegr, which can mean "the country towards the north" or "the northward route". For centuries, Norway's shipping lanes and seafaring tradition tied this long and narrow country together and provided the basis for the unification of Norway as a single realm. Throughout the 1800s and 1900s, an extensive infrastructure of lighthouses and sea marks was developed, making it safer to sail in coastal waters. The "watery highway" along the Norwegian coast is often referred to as Norway's "Route 1".
Based on texts by Per G. Norseng and Alan Hutchinson et al.
Even though the Norwegian coastal climate is harsh, the coastal waterway is well suited for sailing long distances. Most of the coast is sheltered by skerries that form the outside of an inner waterway with good natural harbours where, from time immemorial, seafarers have put in for the night and sought shelter from rough weather, or waited for a fair wind. Ever since prehistoric times, having land in sight for an entire journey has made coastal navigation relatively easy. In many places, seafarers have been able to navigate by noting distinctive mountain formations and other natural or man-made sea marks.
During the Middle Ages, stockfish was Norway's chief export, and was transported on small vessels from the north of Norway to Bergen, and then shipped to other countries. Much of the other transport between the fisheries and the towns in western and northern Norway took place in the same way, which helped to tie together the various parts of the country. From around 1500, simple clinker-built vessels were commonly used. Built by farmers, they were wide, had no deck, were single-masted and had a single square sail. Such boats continued to be used to carry freight right up to the beginning of the 1900s, when they were partly superseded by somewhat larger decked sailing ships. These larger sailing ships were later built with smooth hulls and engines.
The steam engine made scheduled service possible. In the 1820s, the first regular steamer went into service in Norway to transport post and passengers between Christiania and Kristiansand. Somewhat later, services were established between Trondheim and northern Norway, and between Trondheim and Kristiansand. In the latter half of the 1800s, steamships took over an increasing share of goods transport, either as freighters or as scheduled steamers that carried both cargo and passengers.
The most important routes were the coastal route between eastern Norway and Bergen and Hurtigruta (Coastal Steamer or Coastal Express) from Bergen northwards. At the same time, an extensive local boat network developed to connect the inhabitants of the numerous coastal islands and fjord communities to the larger towns.
Technological advances gradually replaced the topographical features that seafarers navigated by. Coastal steamer services were pioneers in using nautical charts, compasses, speed logs and chronometers. The system of lighthouses and marks made shipping faster, safer and more reliable all year round. These advances have enabled seafaring to retain its importance for Norway as a means of transporting both people and cargo. The sea still binds the people of Norway together, as it always has.