Sailing In Southeast Asia

Is Sailing In Southeast Asia Difficult?

Sailing in Southeast Asia is as easy or as difficult as you make it. Like any part of the world, it is planning and preparation that keep you safe and happy on a sailboat. We believe it is no more dangerous or difficult than any other area, in fact we think it’s often safer!

In our latest podcast, we talk about our experiences over the last 10 years of sailing in Southeast Asia through Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Although it is an incredible sailing ground that should be on every cruiser’s bucket list, there are some challenges to think about. In this post we’ve answered some of the more common questions and concerns we hear, but for a more in-depth discussion watch or listen to the video podcast.


The weather conditions in Southeast Asia can change quickly, with sudden, short-lived squalls bringing 60kts of wind making sailing a challenge. Read the signs and be ready to reef and get on weather watch if the conditions look ‘interesting’.
Typhoons are tracked throughout the region, so there is usually plenty of time to sail out of danger or find a safe hole to leave the boat. Monsoons are predictable, bringing steady winds from different directions throughout the year. The winds in Southeast Asia change once you cross the Equator, so make sure you are aware of the winds for the time of year and for your sailing ground.
For long-distance sailing, it’s important to take prevailing winds into account and use them whenever possible. For example, it would be pointless trying to sail west from Malaysia across the Indian Ocean during the Southwest monsoon.


There are numerous islands, shoals, reefs and obstructions in the sea around Southeast Asian waters, so it is important to always have someone on watch. We prefer to avoid sailing at night wherever possible, by you can’t always do this, so be vigilant.
Navigation charts are inaccurate in many of the remote islands and areas, so you must only enter during the right time of the day to see beneath the water. We use satellite images (a lot) in conjunction with Navionics and eye-balling. Currents are another hazard to be aware of.
Check out our episodes on navigating through reefs:

Although it is improving, the one thing in Southeast Asia which you will not be able to ignore is the amount of rubbish in the water. Expect to get a plastic bag or two around your prop!


English is widely spoken in the towns and tourist areas of Southeast Asia, and in Malaysia it is common. The more remote parts of Thailand and much of Indonesia has a bit of catching-up to do. So we always learn a few basic words and lean heavily on Google Translate. If you download the language, you can use this remarkable app offline.

Cultural Differences

Southeast Asia can present cultural challenges for foreigners. Respect local customs and traditions, even if they do not align with your own way of thinking, and you will be welcomed.
In many parts of the region, conservative dress is the way to go. Western women might be able get away with wearing skimpy clothes, but be assured that if you do the locals will presume you are a prostitute. This is just the way it is, so if you want to be respected, wear loose-fitting clothes. Similarly men will have a better reception if their torsos are covered. At government offices like clearance (Immigration, Customs etc) men must wear long trousers, shoes and shirts.


There is still work to do on erradicating piracy around the island of Jolo and parts of the Sulu and Celebes Sea. But with protection from Malaysia’s military it is becoming easier to sail through these area. Keep abreast of local politics and unrest through local newspaper and your own Government warnings. In the UK the Foreign Office keeps its Foreign travel advice updated daily. We subscribe to updates for the countries in which we are travelling.

Tips for Sailing in Southeast Asia

Despite the challenges of sailing in Southeast Asia, it is still a region that is well worth exploring. Here are some tips to help sailors navigate the region with ease:

  1. Plan your route carefully, taking into account weather conditions, navigational challenges, and safety concerns.
  2. Keep a close eye on weather and be prepared to adjust your route as necessary.
  3. Learn some basic phrases in the local language and carry a translation dictionary.
  4. Respect local customs and traditions, such as dressing conservatively and not pointing with your index finger.
  5. Be aware of safety concerns, such as piracy and uncharted hazards.
  6. Consider joining a Facebook group like Sail South East Asia.

While sailing in Southeast Asia can present challenges, it is a region rich in cultural, historical and geographical marvels. It has the best diving in the world; it’s worth breaking through our preconceived notions to explore. By taking the necessary precautions and being aware of the challenges, cruisers can navigate the region safely and enjoy the beauty and excitement that Southeast Asia has to offer.

Join the conversation on the followtheboat Discord channel!

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