Indonesia Snorkel+Dive

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.

Why charter your own snorkelling Liveaboard in Komodo?

Chartering a snorkelling liveaboard in Komodo wasn’t in our original plan, nor budget. We initially planned to kayak to some of the nearer coral reefs and islands from Labuan Bajo. However we soon realised that this wasn’t really viable given the distances and currents involved.

Beautiful aerial photo of a deserted island in Komodo
It wasn’t until we arrived in Komodo that we understood how vast the National Park really was

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.

Organised snorkelling liveaboards in Komodo are rare

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.

Liveaboards in Komodo are expensive

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 liveaboard for Snorkelling

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.

Liveaboard shopping in Labuan Bajo

The harbour at Labuan Bajo is a community on water, packed full of all kinds of small boats and liveaboards. 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
Liveaboard 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 liveaboard 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.

Picking our Snorkelling Liveaboard

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.

Man searching for a boat at a port in Labuan Bajo
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.

Toilet facilities on a Liveaboard in Komodo
Enjoying all the facilities out at sea

Cost of our Snorkelling Liveaboard

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.

Women snorkeller on a liveaboard 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.

Indonesian boat crew mates and guide on a 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 liveaboards anchored when we arrived. After a while they moved on for the night, leaving just us and another yacht in the bay.

Beautiful small sailboat at sunset
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 liveaboard 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. 

42 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.

      1. Hi Nick,

        Would also greatly appreciate getting his contact details. Looking for pretty much exactly the same as you described in your blog.

  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.

    1. Hi Margaret,

      Thanks for your comment & glad you enjoyed reading about our experience in Komodo! Yes of course, I will send you an email with Ris’s contact details.

      Best,
      Nick.

  4. Greetings Nick,
    Thank you so much for your story writing. It gave me much insight about my upcoming trip.
    Would you mind sharing Ris’contact informations? I would also like to have your intake on Raja Ampat if you have been there or any advice.
    Thank you very much!
    Reading you made me see how helpful it is too share the journey!
    Best regards,
    Sasha

    1. Hi Sasha,

      Many thanks for your comment! Very glad that you enjoyed reading about our liveaboard adventure in Komodo. I will send you an email with Ris’s contact details.

      You will find a lot of information on our blog regarding Raja Ampat – I am actually writing to you from our bungalow on Pulau Gam. It’s our fourth time here (which is probably testament to how much we love it!)

      We’ve covered snorkelling and diving advice, stories about what the journey is like, recommended homestays plus our experience of staying in a traditional Papuan bungalow. I’ll leave a link below to our Raja Ampat Travel Guide which is a good place to start:

      https://remoteandafloat.com/raja-ampat-travel-guide/

      If you have any questions about Raja Ampat, please feel free to write to us in the comments section 🙂

      Best wishes,
      Nick

    1. No problem at all Nicole, we will email you directly with Ris’s contact details. So glad you have found the blog helpful and thank you for your comment – Nick

  5. Hey Nick
    It’s Boxing day today and I’m getting over some food coma from Christmas !! Stumbled on this and I think Ris will be one busy guy. I too would like his email details please – we’re planning to go to Lovina, North of Bali, snorkelling in Menjangan and then to Labuan Bajo in mid April. I know I know too far ahead but I’d like to plan. I will leave the haggling of the price for the boat to my hubby but sounds like there’s boats galore!
    I too have started to check but most sites cater for divers and /or are expensive. Question – the cabins- are they OK/comfy?
    Thanking you in advance and thanks for this info
    kind regards
    Suz

    1. Hello Suz,

      Thank you very much for your comment. Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and have recovered from the food coma!

      Oh fantastic! We spent a lot of time on the North / East coast of Bali this year and it was brilliant – there is a blog post coming soon so watch this space.

      Yes there are many to choose from, so cabins differ depending on the boat you pick. You can easily hop on board to have a look first before committing. Our cabin was very simple and small but completely adequate. We actually chose to sleep on top deck under the stars in the end, which I highly recommend!

      We will send you Ris’s details in an email, hopefully he is available for your trip to Komodo.

      Best Regards,
      Nick

  6. Hello Nick,
    My wife and I will traveling to Flores and Komodo in June, 2019 and are inspired by your writing and experiences. Thank you so much for sharing.
    Would you please send contact information for Ris?
    Thanks.
    Jim

    1. Hi Jim, thanks for your kind words! Really great to hear that you are planning a trip to Flores. Sure no problem, look out for an email from me – Nick

  7. Hello,

    Thanks for the information about your experience. Hard to find online information about snorkelling liveaboard. I would really appreciate if you send me the Ris contact as he looks so professional. Thanks.

    Pol

  8. Hi

    I’ve only just come across your blog and has been amazing.
    I am going to Bali in May and have a plan to do a 2 day trip to Komodo.
    I was going to book with a company but having read your plans it seems you can organise it yourself easily.
    Would you mind sending me Ris’s contact details?

    1. Hi Aadarsh, thats great to hear, thank you! Yes it is very straightforward to organise yourself. Look out for an email from us with Ris’s contact details – Nick

  9. Hello Nick,
    We are a couple from Barcelona travelling to Flores and Komodo in August 2019, we would like to have the contact information for Ris, could you please send mean email with the info?
    Thanks.

    Gemma.

  10. Hello Nick,
    thank you for the wonderful story and you are very brave. I am going to flores in two days, would you please kindly share ris’ phone number?
    thank you.

    kind regards,
    lucy

  11. Hello,
    Thanks for the information about your experience.
    Hard to find on line information about snorkelling liveaboard KOMODO
    I would really appreciate if you send me the Ris contact
    .Thanks
    Pat

  12. Hi, would you be able to share your guide name for this so I could do this live aboard like you did. It sounds really exicting! would be my first time to Labuan Bajo. I do have 7 days in East Nusa Tenggara area, if you could recommend some places to go.

  13. Hi,
    Thanks for the great post. I was trying to find information if it was possible just to shop around for a private boat directly from the harbour – and your post proved it is.

    Could you send the contact for Riz?

    Thanks,
    Arttu

    1. Hi Arttu, thanks for your comment. Pleased you’ve found the post helpful! Sure no problem, will email Riz’s details to you now – Nick.

  14. Hi,

    Thank you so much for such a great blog, we are basically planning our trip to Komodo and Raja Ampat around your reviews. Could we please have Riz’s details?
    Thanks
    Anastasia

  15. Nick–I just stumbled onto your blog and quickly went thru it. Will do a more thorough reading soon. But for now, I’m hoping you can help me with a few questions. I am a 62 yr old retired American who likes to travel to out of the way places. Most of the time I travel solo, but also enjoy being a part of small organized groups. I’ve recently become interested in snorkeling and Raja Ampat is on my bucket list. I am not a diver as I went to Utila Cay in Honduras last year to learn and freaked out and gave up on diving. Like yourself, I can’t find much in the area of snorkel only cruises. I am probably not up to the challenge of finding my own boat. So I was hoping that by now you might have come across a connection that books people like me into some of the nicer boats, but maybe at lower prices and without single supplements. The few snorkel only trips I’ve seen are offered by large US and UK adventure tour agencies and are expensive and don’t offer no or low single supplements. One boat that I’ve seen is the Ombak Putih. It has air conditioned rooms and ensuite baths. I’m looking for a bit of relative luxury without having to pay full price for it.

    Also, if you know of some resorts that have AC in the rooms with house reefs to snorkel, please send them my way. If I can’t find a boat that makes sense for me, maybe I will go the land based route.

    Thanks in advance.

    Ricky

    1. Great to hear you are considering Indonesia for your next snorkel trip Ricky – You won’t regret it! It is challenging to find ‘relative luxury’ on a budget in Raja Ampat as the area is still widely underdeveloped.

      Since the islands are mostly off-grid, electricity in homestays and resorts runs off of generators, meaning even the luxury resorts do not offer A/C. The only one we know of is the Sorido, which is extremely expensive. I would suggest having a look at The Cove, which is one of the more affordable resorts in Raja Ampat (although they do not have A/C) if you are looking for more Western comforts.

      Since we are budget travellers, we always opt for traditional Papuan homestays which are primitive, but despite this, come highly recommended! They offer excellent house reefs in an incredible setting. Another option for you may be to have a look at the homestays and dive resorts close to the port town of Waisai on Waigeo as these may be slightly more ‘modern’ (i.e. concrete buildings as opposed to palm leaf bungalows) – however the house reefs here are not known to be as good.

      Based on our own research, snorkelling liveaboards with A/C and ensuites are generally very expensive (more so than resorts) however there is an affordable local snorkel liveaboard operator called Raja Ampat Adventures, run by a Papuan guy named Deni. Although we’ve not personally done one of his trips, we’ve spoken to many people that have and he is very highly regarded. From what we know, the boat consists of one open room with 8 sleeping areas and one bathroom.

      Thanks for your comment and hope you find this info helpful to your trip! – Nick

  16. Nick–Thanks for your quick response. I will check out Deni and will keep digging around. One observation for you in case you are an entrepreneur. There seem to be a ton of people who are looking for snorkel only and a bit of luxury like me. I think you could charter one of the nicer boats and then rent out spaces to people like me and make a profit, either cash or getting a free trip out of it for you. Eventually I think you could work up to buying your own luxury boat and going full time with snorkel only trips. Let me know if you ever decide to do something like this. Would be fun to be your first customer. Ricky

    1. Funnily enough Claire and I talk about this all the time! It is definitely something we would love to do in the future, so great to know we already have one customer signed up 😉

  17. I read all of your blog eagerly. You guys are great ! And make me kinda envious. I’d Just love to do the same thing you did. Being an amateur spearfisher I know that generally the more fishes you wanna see the more prepared you have to be to venture into strong currents. Cos that’s where the more food fishes get ! But that’s also where tour operators normally don’t bring you. I had already the idea that joining a diving crew as a snorkeller would get very expensive and just not worth the minimal difference of price you end up paying considering you wouldn’t even rent scuba equipment. Let’say if they ask 130 per day to a scuba diver they ask 100 to a snorkeller, which doesn’t make any sense. Finding a liveboard that suits snorkellers needs would be great. Just as anyone above I ask of you could give me Ris contact. It’s always worth a try ! Best of luck and thanks for your amazing blog ! C.

    1. Hi Cass, thanks for your comment! Yep you’re right, the more current there is, the more fish you’ll find! We found arranging snorkel trips in Komodo ourselves to be far more affordable and flexible than if we were to join a dive boat or an arranged tour group. Hope you are able to get in touch with Ris, will drop you an email with his details now – Nick

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