Your Checklist For Chartering A Liveaboard In Indonesia

With some of the most epic and well documented diving in the world, Indonesia has become a popular destination for travellers looking to indulge in the wonders of the sea. But serious divers face a choice upon arrival: to locate themselves on the shores of various islands and travel by land, or to fully indulge in the adventure lifestyle by booking a luxurious cabin on an Indonesian liveaboard dive boat that will do the travelling for you.

But, there are some important factors you should consider when making the decision about chartering a liveaboard in Indonesia. After all, no one wants to be out to sea eating poor quality food on a trip with people they don’t like, or worse, find themselves under the not so experienced care of a Dive Instructor who doesn’t know the area. To make sure you choose the right boat and have the experience of a lifetime in Indonesia, we’ve put together this checklist to ensure you know what to ask about when you’re planning your Indonesian liveaboard experience.

The harbour in labuan bajo, a popular launch spot for liveaboard trips

Launch Spot

In Indonesia there are many incredible dive sites but of those, the best two are undoubtedly the region of Raja Ampat and the protected areas of the Komodo National Park. It’s more than possible to include both of these areas on a liveaboard journey, so make sure you ask any companies you are considering whether they’ll do so. Then make sure you’re clear about where the boat will launch. Boats commonly depart from Labuan Bajo in Flores, or from Sorong in West Papua. It’s also important to make sure you ask about the weather and timing of your trip. Both of these areas are welcoming to tourists, but you should know that West Papua requires an extra day of travel from Denpasar.

Dive Equipment

If you’re an experienced diver you’ve likely got some, or all of your own equipment, but make sure the boat you’re considering has ‘top notch’ gear anyway. Ask them what kind of equipment they have, look for reputable brands and ask them if the gear is regularly serviced. Some Indonesian operations skimp on this vital factor and the result is equipment that is aged or damaged. Ask them if they have spare parts, if they can carry out unexpected repairs on board, and even how many tanks they’re operating. They’ll need to have an air compressor on board but these machines can be noisy, so make sure there are enough tanks to get you and your dive buddies through the day before the machine is switched on. Also, double check that the company has DAN insurance, and oxygen on board in case of emergency.

Divers on an Indonesian liveaboard

Sleeping Arrangements

Whether you’re sharing a twin cabin or planning to book your own, really look at the photos and make sure there’s enough space for you to catch a decent night’s sleep. A common mistake friends make is trying to squeeze three into a room that was built for two people. Unless you’re chartering a super yacht, the cabins on any boat are built to be compact, so ensure that there’s enough storage, that the beds are comfortable and that there are enough bathrooms to accommodate you.

Crew

Don’t hesitate to ask about the crew who’ll be on board with you. Are they experienced, have they been working together for some time, or are they newly assembled. It’s especially important to ensure your Dive Instructor or Dive Master knows the area well and if they are trained in first aid. Also ask the company if there are other certified divers in the crew, and what languages they speak. It’s always reassuring to feel as if you can communicate your needs to at least one of the crewmembers. A good boat in Indonesia will have someone who can speak English, Italian, Indonesian, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

Crew members on board Mantra Dive and Sail

Service

As a paying customer the team should be ready to assist you with anything you may need and that means you can expect them to keep up a professional standard of service throughout the whole trip. So ask about the service, is there a cabin boy to clean your room and wash clothes? Does a waiter attend the meals and can someone make you a coffee in the morning? Indonesia’s beautiful environment needs protecting so ask the company what they do with the rubbish and also whether you’ll have access to a TV, DVD player and sound system should the weather turn and require a movie night.

Food

Food and beverages are an important part of your liveaboard experience. There’s nothing nicer than sitting back watching the sunset and enjoying a gorgeous meal after a day in the water! Before you choose your company, check to see if the chef has been professionally trained. If you’re on a longer trip, you can expect there will be times between ports where fresh food gets a little low, so ask about what’s served when that happens. Also, ask about what drinks are on board, can you bring your own wine or do they accept requests to stock spirits of your choice? Be aware that in Indonesia, the supply of alcohol is often limited, this is due to the largely Muslim population in many areas of the archipelago, so make sure your demands are reasonable but also that you feel accommodated.

The island of Alor from a liveaboard dive boat

Route Flexibility

Some companies run the same trips over and over and have no flexibility about routes and schedules. This can be disappointing if you find a sweet spot that you want to dive again or if the weather turns. Make sure you ask the team whether they are willing to be fluid with the schedule? Depending on the length of your charter you’ll always sacrifice one stop for another, but ask if they’re willing to do this should you desire it. There’s nothing worse than finding a diving mecca and having to pull anchor when you want to spend more time exploring!

Just Diving?

Though diving may be your main motivation consider a company who also offers adventures above the water. Indonesia is rich with many experiences on land as well as in the sea. Whether it’s island hopping in search of unique cultural experiences, mountain climbing, fishing, sea kayaking, water skiing or even exploratory trips into unchartered areas. Further to this, does the boat have a qualified PADI or SSI instructor so you can up skill on your diving? If so consider becoming an advanced or rescue diver while on board and using the time to better your underwater skills.

Numbers

Many liveabords run large operations where you’ll find yourself on board with 15-20 people! Think about how this will impact your serenity and sense of freedom. While there are benefits to meeting lots of others, consider smaller boats with a higher level of luxury and service. The lovely thing about a smaller group is that you get to know each other intimately. You share in moments of joy and beauty together and it’s a bespoke experience. The main factor to consider is comfort, boats have limited space so do yourself a favour and make sure you don’t get caught out by a ‘cookie cutter’ type of charter where you’ll feel like just another cog in the factory line.

A small group of divers on a private liveaboard charter

Cost

This is the one area where most people go wrong. You need to consider that you’re not just paying for your diving; you’re also paying for all of your food, accommodation and entertainment for the period of your trip. So make sure you weigh this up when you’re making cost decisions. If you choose to see this beautiful country by land you’d be paying added expenses anyway but a liveabaord trip is generally all-inclusive.

Explore Indonesia With Mantra Dive And Sail

If you’re looking for a boat trip that ticks everything on this list then consider Mantra Dive and Sail. The company offer bespoke liveaboard experiences throughout Indonesia with everything from 2-day to 25-day trips available. You can book the whole boat for a journey of your choice or just a private cabin on one of the trips they already have planned. Liveabord is the best way to dive the archipelago of Indonesia so ensure you’re getting what you pay for with a quality company! Click here for more information and start planning the trip of a lifetime.

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Manta Point Komodo – A Sanctuary For Manta Ray

Speak with anyone about diving in Indonesia and you’ll see their eyes light up as they reminisce about interacting with the majestic Manta Ray of the Komodo Islands. The Komodo National Park offers sanctuary to more of these beautiful creatures than most other places in the world and is truly unmissable for the intrepid traveller.

Manta Point Komodo

In 2014 Indonesia outlawed the fishing and export of manta ray to protect the species and since then Komodo dive sites like Manta Alley in the South and the famed Manta Point Komodo have found a place high on the wish lists of travellers wishing to experience close contact with these curious, intelligent underwater giants.

 A Channel Between Two Oceans

 Manta Point Komodo is a divesite rich with bottom based plankton making it an alluring spot – attracting dozens of Manta Ray for feeding and cleaning. Accessible by chartered liveaboard, the dive site sits between the islands of Komodo and Rinca within the Komodo National Park.

Geographically the site is directly on the channel connecting the Indian and the South West Pacific oceans, each hosting distinct underwater climates that come together to create an ideal environment for Manta Ray.

You can expect to drop down just ten metres or so to find a sandy bottom not heavy with coral but blessed with excellent visibility for most of the year and a reasonable current to nourish the nutrient rich arena for the Manta Ray.

Gentle Giants Of The Underworld

In Indonesia you can hope to find both reef and oceanic Manta Ray, but Manta Point Komodo is usually home to the more dominant species, the Reef Manta. They’re a long living species, with a life expectancy of up to fifty years, but they’re slow to breed, giving birth to as few as ten Manta Ray pups in their lives.

This is why they’ve been included on the red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The organisation classifies the Manta’s conservation status as vulnerable. While safe in Indonesia, in other parts of Asia they are hunted for their plankton filtering gills, which are used to produce medicinal concoctions.

They’re incredibly smart marine animals with large brain capacities and no barbs. This makes them harmless to humans. Divers who get lucky at Manta Point Komodo can expect interactions of as long as 30 minutes in the right conditions and will be thrilled by their gentle curiosity

Diving Manta Point in the Komodos

At Manta Point Komodo you’re likely to find small groups of Manta, often traveling in packs of two or three. Some groups base themselves in the tropical water of the Flores and Komodo area, while others are mid migration. Each manta has distinguishable spots on its belly and while these beautiful marine animals are capable of travelling up to 1000 Kilometres, many hang around and have become known by dive masters in Komodo for their distinct personalities.

Manta Point Komodo

The South end of Manta Point Komodo is marked by a little green island. Dive groups access the site by dropping in about 400 metres away, then take advantage of the current to drift dive into the shoal area which ranges from just 5 metres to 15 metres deep. The current in the area is rated as mild to strong but your divemaster is most likely to carry reef hooks with which to secure each team of divers.

In Indonesia, Manta Point Komodo is known as Karang Makassar and while the focus for most divers is the manta, there have been sitings of turtles, reef sharks, hump back rays, sweetlips, giant trevallies, huge clams, cuttle fish, sponges and many other types of micro marine life.

Intimate Manta Ray Encounters

Diving with the Manta Ray is truly a life-changing experience. Upon entering Manta Point keep an eye out above you for the tell tale shadows of Manta as they cruise past to check you out. They’re already aware that you’re in their territory but don’t feel threatened, these creatures are notoriously friendly and curious.

Upon siting it’s likely your divemaster will find a suitable spot on the flat sandy bottom and signal you to join them. This means it’s time to relax, adjust your buoyancy and sink down in preparation. By basing yourself on the bottom and not displaying any aggressive behaviour or sudden movements you’ll signal to the Manta that you’re safe and invite them in to your space.

After a couple of passes the Manta get more confident and begin circling above you, flapping their giant wings and even dropping down to greet you. Their huge bodies seem unaffected by the current and when relaxed they don’t hesitate to come so close you could touch them.

Looking directly in to the eyes of a friendly Manta Ray is a photographer’s dream but be discreet. Let them control the interaction and you’ll find yourself buzzing with excitement in a one on one intimate encounter with a giant marine animal unlike any other.

 More Info on Diving the Komodos

Divers who wish to visit the Komodos should plan to fly in to Labuan Bajo. Flights leave regularly from Denpasar or Jakarta. We offer private liveaboard charters to the area should you be travelling as a group. There’s also the option of taking a cabin on one of the exciting pre-planned Dive Intensive liveaboard trips that we run. Find itineraries, photographs here and take the time to read our other articles on diving in the Komodos.

 

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Best Komodo Dive Sites – Currents

The Komodo Islands offer liveaboard travellers world class diving. The area is famous for its thrilling drift dives and teeming fish life. Pelagics are abundant at sites near the open ocean, and macro species find their niche here in cracks and crannies in the thriving coral. We’ve covered several excellent Komodo dive sites in a previous article: Batu Bolong, Pillarsteen, Cannibal Rock, and Manta Alley. In this article we’ll take a detailed look at three more of the best Komodo dive sites: Crystal Rock, Castle Rock, and The Cauldron. All three are drift dives with currents ranging from mild to very strong.

collage of Komodo dive sites showing coral reef, divers in boat

Komodo Dive Sites: Crystal Rock

Crystal Rock is named for the crystal clear water and excellent visibility at this site near two small islets off Komodo. The main topographical feature is a bommie or pinnacle that rises all the way from the sea floor, breaking the surface at low tide. There is also a large mound that rises to within 14 metres of the surface. Fish school near the mound. The maximum depth at the site is around 35 metres. Currents can be strong here but are milder during slack tide.

The coral at the site is spectacular. You’ll see both hard and soft species in hues of red, blue, orange and yellow. The healthy reef attracts a lot of fish. A school of fusiliers usually hangs around this site, and there are literally thousands of other fish here. Anthias, sweet lips, damselfish, trevally, and surgeonfish are particularly abundant. Eagle Rays sometimes school here too. Tuna and mackerel stop by from the open ocean looking for a snack. Divers frequently spot a couple whitetip reef sharks here.

Table coral and cracks in walls provide habitat for smaller more reclusive species. Common sights include frogfish, scorpionfish, stonefish, crocodile fish, moray eels, big cuttlefish, red octopus, nudibranches, and flatworms. There are some magnificent sea cucumbers as well.

Komodo Dive Sites: Castle Rock

The black spire of Castle Rock reaches from a depth of 30 metres to within 4 metres of the surface. Like nearby Crystal Rock, the site has excellent visibility. The area around the seamount has strong current, especially near the surface. The current flows to the east, so get in on the west and descend. You can find shelter from the current on the lee side of the seamount. Sharks, rays, and schooling pelagic species from the open ocean congregate, avoiding the current. This is one of the best spots in the Komodos to spot bigger stuff. If you are really lucky, you might even witness a pod of bottlenose dolphins hunting in these fecund grounds.

You’ll see overwhelming numbers of schooling fish. Trevally, jack, grouper, emporers, sweetlips, snapper, surgeonfish, fusiliers, jack, barracuda and mackerel form dense clouds of marine life. The macro life here is great as well. The lion-maned “blue dragon” nudibranch always impresses, and you can spot a variety of shrimp, crabs morays and sea snakes too. Look out for pygmy seahorses among the soft coral and fans around 20 metres below the surface.

Fan coral at Komodo dive sites

Komodo Dive Sites: The Cauldron

At the east end, the site drops into a 20 meter deep cauldron-shaped bowl, hence the name. This site is also called “Shotgun” because the current blasts between Gili Lawa Laut and Darat here at up to 10 knots. You can take shelter with the smaller fish in the lee of the cauldron walls. If you look up you’ll see big tuna, grouper, and sometimes mantas silhouetted above you, fighting the current. Schools of anchovy and trevally dart around the canyons in the reef. The sandy bottom is swarming with garden eels.

You’ll spot a pinnacle here. Make sure to aim yourself to drift by and see the magnificently weird semi-translucent glassfish lurking on the lee side avoiding the current. Pipefish hide in the fan corals here, so be sure to take a close look. Don’t miss the hydra corals, turtles, and macro life in the lush coral on the northeast side of the site. Sweetlips, batfish, bumphead parrotfish and sharks round out the list of commonly seen species. The current is slacker in this shallow area, offering an opportunity to relax a little and look around.

Regional Dive Vocabulary: Bommie

A note on vocabulary. Australians all know what a “bommie” is, but if you are from UK or the US, you might be unfamiliar with the term. Australians, as is their habit, shortened the aboriginal Australian word “bombora” and added an “ie”. A bombora or bommie is an offshore underwater feature, usually reef, that protrudes close enough to the surface to potentially cause waves to break.

More Info on Diving in the Komodos

We have several more articles on diving in the Komodos. Our article on Komodo liveaboard diving  includes descriptions of three more great Komodo dive sites. You can get some ideas on how to get to the Komodos here. We offer private charter liveaboard dive trips in the Komodos as well as cabin bookings on dive intensive Komodo liveaboard trips, and our detailed information on these trips can help you get a sense of the underwater wonders that await you in the centre of the Coral Triangle. There are lots of great photos in the detailed day by day itineraries on these pages too.

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Komodo Liveaboard Diving Guide

The Komodo Islands have some of the best diving in the world. They also have slightly better transportation infrastructure than the North or South Pole. To say it is not especially easy to get around the Komodos using ferries and roads is somewhat of an understatement.

While that might seem discouraging initially, it is actually a great thing for divers, if you can scrape together the budget for a liveaboard trip. So what is the upside? Because it is difficult to access, those who dig deep and cough up the cash for Komodo liveaboard diving are richly rewarded for their efforts. The difficult and stressful problem of transportation vanishes when you choose the relaxed comfort of a luxury yacht. It is an investment you will not regret. Ultimately our experiences, not our objects, are what we truly cherish most, and diving the Komodos is a priceless experience.

Traveling on one of the few liveaboard dive boats serving the Komodos, you can go where almost no one else can. Consequently, you will not encounter crowds at the pristine  and unspoiled dive sites. There are over 50 “popular” yet uncrowded sites in the area and exploration routinely yields new surprises and delights. Macro life and strong currents are notable highlights. The logistics ensure relatively few tourists will be there, and the sprawling marine sanctuary protects the area from the ravages of commercial fishing.

Komodo liveaboard diving boat
The Mantra Komodo Liveaboard Diving Yacht

Species You Can See Diving In Komodo

The robust protected marine ecosystem of the Komodo Islands supports incredible bio-diversity – literally thousands of species. Some of the more common yet exciting sights in these waters include: spanish mackerel, tuna, mantas, napoleons, dugongs, bumphead parrotfish, fusiliers, surgeon fish, turtles, and many varieties of sharks and cetaceans. Smaller species include coleman shrimps, crinoid shrimps and other shrimps, ghost pipefish, zebra crabs, decorator crabs and many other crab species, moray eels, cuttlefish, feather stars, scorpion fish, frogfish, various species of octopus, flatworms, sea snakes, nudibranches, seahorses, frogfish, cephalopods, ghostpipefish, waspfish, indian walkman, and more. There are also around 250 species of coral to be found in the Komodos.

Komodo Liveaboard Diving Sites

There are 50 named sites known to liveaboard captains here in the Komodo Islands, and every captain has a few secret spots too. We’ll save the secrets for our guests and just discuss a few of the more famous Komodo dive sites here.

Batu Bolong

Batu Bolong means “hollow rock” in Indonesian. The massive pinnacle rises from a depth of around 75 meters, covered in hard corals and sponges. Fed by currents carrying plankton rich waters from deeper seas, the fish life at this famous Komodo dive site is amazing in both diversity and sheer numbers. In the shallows you’ll find fish of assorted reef-dwelling species numbering in the thousands. The deeper water reveals big napoleons and whitetip reef sharks. Hawksbill turtles feed here on the ample buffet of tunicates and sponges. The action is concentrated in the relatively small area around the pinnacle, so whereas on some sites, the conveyor belt of current provides a welcome tour, we aim to dive this site at slack tide when the current is minimal.

Pillarsteen

Pillarsteen’s topography is an interesting mix of walls, pinnacles, chimneys and caves. Massive soft brown leather corals contrast with bright yellow sea cucumbers. Soft corals in hues of green, yellow and orange, sea fans, squirts and sponges round out the underwater flora. Strong currents run across the long sloping reef. The depth varies from 5 to 40 meters. Reef fish such as angelfish, butterfly fish, and snapper mingle with schools of fusiliers and surgeonfish while scorpionfish, lionfish, and moray eels hide in the reef.

Manta Alley

Giant trevally, schools of fusiliers, turtles, whitetip sharks, and really big jack feed here. But as you might guess, the concentration of manta rays here is the main attraction. Sometimes you can see as many as 20 on a single dive. We frequently see juveniles in the shallows, as little as five meters deep. Three deeper underwater channels attract schools of bumphead parrotfish and put the “Alley” in the name. Currents carry colder water here and it can get a little chilly in the deepest parts of the site, around 30 meters. This is one of the most popular dives in the Komodos, so you will likely spot some humans here too, but there is plenty of the “Alley” to go around.

Cannibal Rock

Divers who venture to Cannibal Rock discover a world class assortment of macro life. Bizarre nudibranches, whimsical frogfish and undeniably cute pygmy seahorses delight underwater adventurers here. Blue and green anemones wave among the enormous 2 meter tall gorgonian fans and vibrant maroon sea apples extending their tentacles to filter plankton. Feather stars of just about every color and bright blue tunicates join colorful soft corals to complete the underwater rainbow of marine flora.

coral reef

Komodo Liveaboard Diving Season

Conditions for Komodo diving are best in May through October. During this time you can expect visibility of 25 to 35 meters. Water temperatures are around 27 C (80 F).

How to Get to Komodo

Komodo is, as noted, a bit remote. Our Komodo liveaboard diving trips sail out of the port of Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores. You can get there by ferry, but we recommend flying to Labuan Bajo from Bali. You can see more details on how to get to Komodo at the link. We’ll cover some more Komdo dive sites in a future article in our Mantra Chronicles series.

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