Indonesia Snorkel+Dive

Private Snorkelling Liveaboard in Komodo: Charter your own boat on a budget

Before our trip I remember looking at Komodo National Park on the map, trying to get a scale of things. We wanted the freedom to snorkel the best Komodo had to offer but didn't have a huge budget for all the boat charters involved. Hiring private boats each time we wanted to snorkel would prove too expensive and time consuming. Therefore we had to look into alternative options which we did not consider beforehand.

We initially planned to reach some of the nearer islands from Labuan Bajo by kayak. But after realising how long it would take to paddle out, it was clear that kayaking was not an option. Another idea was to join an organised group liveaboard, there are countless of them in Labuan Bajo – Offering anything from a 2night/3day combo around the National Park,  right up to a two week sailing trip to Maluku or Raja Ampat. This option made sense after realising how spread out Komodo National Park was. Consequently we decided to try and join a snorkelling liveaboard in Komodo.

Snorkelling Liveaboard in Komodo
It wasn’t until we arrived in Komodo that we understood how vast the National Park really was

After speaking to a few tour shops, it was apparent that the liveaboards were tailored towards divers only. As a result, there weren’t really any tours available for snorkelling specifically, especially to the far out reefs. We were reluctantly put on a reserve list at a Uber Scuba who told us we could join as snorkelers but only if the spaces on board were not taken up by divers first. Also we wouldn’t have our own guide.

Furthermore, this was a really expensive option, way out of our backpacking budget. A two night, three day liveaboard package as snorkelers would set us back 6,500,000 IDR per person. This was just 500,000 IDR less than what a diver would have to pay.  We had to re-think our plans.

Finding a local snorkelling guide

Purely by chance, we met a dive master whilst having lunch at our hotel. Ris had over 8 years experience diving in Komodo as a guide. He and his wife were freelance dive masters looking to form their own tour company. We voiced our predicament and explained that we were struggling to find a snorkelling specific liveaboard, that would take us to the best snorkelling in Komodo.

We knew that we would need a guide onboard to judge the current, tide and weather conditions. Ris suggested that if we could find a boat, captain & crew and provide food for 2 days then he would happily do the honors and be our personal guide on our very own snorkelling liveaboard in Komodo. We were starting to get really excited!

Finding a suitable boat on a budget

Ris recommended we source a big boat directly from the harbour. It should have a minimum of 3 engines, and capable of going at least 8 knots. The best reefs are far out from Labuan Bajo, plus Komodo seas can be unpredictable, as we were soon to find out.

The harbour at Labuan Bajo is a community on water, packed full of boats in all shapes and sizes. There weren’t any other tourists shopping, so our presence was welcomed by the boat owners as they each invited us onboard for a look around.

Labuan Bajo harbour boats komodo liveaboard
Boat shopping in Labuan Bajo harbour: We were spoilt for choice!

We clambered from one deck to the next, in search of our very own liveaboard. It was certainly not hard to find a boat big enough for our needs. The touts selling group tours on Jl. Soekarno Hatta had offered much smaller vessels than what we could find ourselves at the harbour.

After viewing several different options, and bargaining with the captains, we finally decided on a two cabined 52ft long boat. We were comfortable with the engines and most importantly, we loved its open top sleeping deck. The boat could fit up to 8 passengers on board, but we were happy to have it all to ourselves.

private liveaboard boat komodo snorkelling diving
Our private liveaboard boat in all its glory!

The majority of boats in Labuan Bajo are traditional wooden vessels constructed in Makassar.  They have a distinctive style, but don’t offer the highest of living standards and facilities are very basic. Ours had a small open kitchen area to the rear, and very small saltwater toilet / shower.

Liveaboard facilities Komodo National Park
Enjoying all the facilities out at sea

We negotiated a price that we were happy to pay: 3,000,000 IDR which included the boat, fuel, captain and two crew members for 1 night, and 2 full days.

Although the captain spoke very little English, he made sure to communicate that this price did not include food. And there we had it, our very own private snorkelling liveaboard in Komodo!

Picking the best places to snorkel

Ris knew Komodo like the back of his hand. He suggested an itinerary that included some of his favourite dive spots; Tatawa Kecil, Pengah Reef, Siaba Besar, Batu Bolong and Mawan Island. He told us these were also amazing for snorkelling, but may be a challenge. Read our reviews of what it was like to snorkel these incredible dive sites here.

Snorkeller liveaboard diving boat trip
Are you ready to jump?

We were aiming to hit 3 different reefs per day and the order would depend on wind, current and tide conditions. Ris explained that the current situation at these reefs was no joke, and told us a story of a group of divers who’d been swept out to sea very recently. They survived, but ended up having to fend off Komodo Dragons with their scuba fins. Full story here

Guided by a pro

Ris had a very tight schedule planned for our two days at sea. He knew exactly when was best to hit each spot, and worked closely with the Captain to determine the direction of the fast changing waters.

Komodo’s seas are notorious for strong currents. Therefore certain places at certain times of the day could be very dangerous to dive, let alone snorkel. Claire was petrified about jumping back in after our experience at Pink Beach, but Ris’s expert knowledge helped put our minds at ease.

Boat crew mates Komodo liveaboard
Our snorkel guide Ris, and crew mates!

We learnt from Ris that you can often predict strong currents (horizontal or vertical) by looking at the surface of the water. Areas where the surface is choppy without a moderate to strong wind, mixed with areas of very smooth water, could indicate a strong current.

Also if a boat is tied to a mooring buoy, you can look at the direction in which the boat is turned. If a boat is tied off at the bow, the boat will be facing into the current. If the mooring line is tight, the current is likely to be moderate to strong.

Thankfully though we didn’t really need to worry ourselves. Ris would take the lead on each snorkel site, scrutinizeing conditions first before giving us the all-clear.

Dropping Anchor at Siaba Besar

After many awesome hours of snorkelling around several different reefs, we arrived at the sweeping bay of Siaba Besar. Siaba Besar was to be our anchorage for the night and we were looking forward to relaxing and enjoying  this totally amazing location.

There were quite a few dive boats anchored when we arrived. After a while they moved on for the night, leaving just us and another yacht in the bay.

Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?

At dusk the sea turned into a perfect reflection of the sky, as peachy hues of the sun setting around us transformed the water and surrounding outcrops of land.

We let the crew and Ris take the cabins. And there we were, living out a bucket list dream of sleeping top deck under the starry night sky on our very own private snorkelling liveaboard in Komodo National Park. How lucky were we?! It was an incredible feeling.

It can get pretty gnarly out there

On day two of our trip, en route to Pengah reef, we encountered some very big swells. These unexpected waves were created by a sudden burst of strong winds pushing against the currents. Our boat took a beating and started listing 20 degrees or more. Unfortunately we happened to be enjoying a pre snorkel coffee and pot noodle when the captain yelled out – hold everything down! Big waves were hitting us from the side as he tried to position us in front of the reef.

Pop mie indonesia snack food liveaboard komodo
Time for a Pop Mie: Photo taken just before things got gnarly

We couldn’t even stand up let alone walk properly on the boat, and weren’t sure if the conditions were just too rough to snorkel now. Ris assured us it would be fine once we were in the water.  We could see that the captain was trying his best to keep the boat pointed steady. So we didn’t hang around. We put our snorkel gear on, and as quickly as we could, jumped in.

We explored some pretty remote and unforgiving waters on our two day adventure, so it was essential to have an experienced guide and boat crew to look out for our safety.

We were grateful to have such an awesome team on board, and had a lot of fun together during our DIY liveaboard.

Conclusion: Be your own agent

If you are an adventurous snorkeler, wishing to experience the parks harder to reach and best snorkel sites, then there is no better way than a ‘do it yourself’ snorkelling liveaboard in Komodo. It is far cheaper than joining a dive liveaboard, plus creating your own itinerary is so much fun!

For us, it was a unique and personal experience, tailored to our dreams.

Liveaboard boat Komodo National Park top deck sunset captain
Aye aye Captain Nick

Additional fees we had to pay

If you plan on doing a DIY liveaboard, then we advise buying the Komodo National Park entry passes. Each pass is valid for one day and can be purchased at Labuan Bajo harbour.

They cost 150,000 IDR / person per day (Sundays & holidays 225,000 IDR / person)

Ris strongly recommended that we buy these, as boat crew and passengers can get in trouble with local authorities if they’re found taking tourists without passes. We were initially in two minds, but felt it would be unfair to their livelihood if we risked it.

If you join an organised group liveaboard, this fee is likely to be built into the price of your trip.

Get yourself a guide

Above all, getting a snorkel guide is a necessity, especially when circumnavigating Komodo’s currents. Our guide Ris offers private and personal tours across Komodo, Flores and Warebo – both underwater and overland. He was incredibly professional, personable and understanding of our needs. We would recommend his services to everyone, and hope to go snorkelling or diving with him again soon. If you are planning on a Komodo tour and would like the contact details of our guide then please feel free to send us a direct message.

We hope you enjoyed our travel trips and tricks on how to enjoy a snorkelling liveaboard in Komodo, on a backpackers budget! If you are interested in future posts like this one then please subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on Facebook. 

5 comments

  1. Wow, what a story! I thought directly, ‘damn, I want to do Raja Ampat this way’. Probably harder to do a dive liveaboard like this, with compressor and all, but hell, I’ll have to learn to appreciate snorkling more. Sounds amazing!

    I’m curious – what about all those boats laying about in Labuan Bajo, especially the ones you considered? At least the one you picked looks very well suited for exactly what you did. Do you know if that’s what they are normally used for?

    And thanks for sharing so much of your journey, we’re getting so inspired at home! The best (for me at least) is probably how you seem to be enjoying the present as be-ers rather than doers. That’s good life advice for anyone!

    Definitely bookmarked 🙂

    /Vilhelm

    1. Hi Vilhelm, so good to hear from you, and thanks for commenting 😄
      We would LOVE to do Raja Ampat in this way too, it would be awesome to combine both snorkelling and diving!

      Yes Labuan Bajo is quite strange as there are so many boats in the harbour that appear to be unused. A lot of them I’d say would be unsuitable for sleeping on, or reaching the further out islands. Despite this, most tour operators in town were offering us these much smaller boats.

      The boat we ended up chartering (and some of the others we looked at) were a lot bigger, and definitely not set up for diving or tourists really. So we think the boat owners may just be opportunists, and there to take advantage of anyone (like us!) looking to hire a private boat for a night or two. Our snorkel guide wouldn’t come with us to the harbour to help choose a boat, as he was worried that it would look like he was helping us cut out the tour operators.

      We’re really happy to hear that you have enjoyed reading about our journey so far, and keeping you inspired for your future travels 😉 Absolutely couldn’t agree more, we are very much living and loving the moment.

      Thanks again & look forward to speaking soon – Nick.

  2. Hi Nick. That was a really nice post with very useful information. Is Ris still working there? Would be great if you could give me his contact so that I can also plan my trip over. Thanks.

    1. Hi Fareea,

      Thanks for getting in touch, great to hear you’ve found the blog helpful! Yes as far as we know, I’ll send you an email with Ris’s details.

      Best, Nick.

  3. Hi Nick, thanks for sharing about Komodo Island. My family, 2 adult and 2 kids will go there on Christmas.
    May I have Ris phone number?
    Thank you so much for your help.

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