The first rule of boat club is this. Never hand over any money, not even for gas, until you’ve seen your boat close up, and checked it.
The second? Know what type of boat you need.
For a small group of people popping up an easy stretch of river, a canoe with an outboard will do just fine. Surprisingly small outriggers hop fast and safely between sheltered islands.
When heading out through open sea, however, or negotiating narrow channels through an exposed coastal reef, you need something with the size and power to cope with chunky surf, heavy swell and nasty chop.
Big fish and marine mammals, such as whales and killer whales, cruise on serious oceanic currents, requiring, generally, a relatively hefty boat. Nervous mammals, like dugong, may feed at sea but shy away from engine noise: meaning you’ll need to be towed in a rowboat, canoe or other human-powered boat to where they’re grazing and then be left to spot them.
|Arriving at Lombok
How to find a boat? Look for a promising one, then ask about the owner. The best value boats are often moored away from the main jetty, by the shore.
Basic safety checks are critical.
For example… Is the boat watertight?
Now, a bailing scoop hacked from a jerry can is an essential piece of boating equipment across Indonesia. Canoes, longboats and outriggers throw up spray as they cut the water, which accumulates in puddles in the bottom of the boat.
Puddles of water should be no cause for alarm unless you’re carrying electronics and have yet to plastic-bag your pack.
An inflow? Now, that’s the sort of thing to walk away from.
Another pertinent question… Does the engine work?
If the boat has an outboard motor, take a look at it. Are all (or most) of the external bolts intact? Can you see rust? Does it start convincingly (ideally first tug, first time)?
If not, move on. If the owner borrows a reserve engine from a friend, check that one too.
The safest boats feature lifejackets (at least one per person, including crew) and a working, two-way radio (with someone on the other end). Outside regions with a developed tourist culture, these are like hen’s teeth.
Storms at sea, especially during the rainy season, can kill. Take advice on the weather from a local who has no financial or familial interest in your transaction — delay or cut short your trip as necessary.
|Perama boat to The Gili Islands
Finally, you’ll need to negotiate the price. For short hop charters, such as trips to nearby populated islands, or out to sea to meet a ferry, there is often a standard local price. Find out the figure from a local and use it as your starting point.
For other deals, prices are calculated on a combination on the type and size of boat, the time you’re hiring it for and the distance the boat will be covering (including any returns to base).
Fuel is normally included (though owners often like a contribution to fuel paid upfront); normally, it’s form to feed the crew. Confirm these details when you haggle.
And, finally? Enjoy. There are tens of thousands of islands, and hundreds of thousands of islets across Indonesia, just waiting to be discovered. The only way to get to most of them? A boat of your own.