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The Sailor’s Dilemna

August 3, 2019

“I found the best things in life are free – I found them very expensive” E.A. Bucchianari

Relaxing in an anchorage with good wi-fi we accessed the sailor’s bible, Noonsite, to read a recent news posting on propsed fee changes for boats visiting Palau. The title of the article is‘North Pacific; Palau fees increase by 400% for visiting foreign vessels’.

We have visited Palau twice in our offshore sailing experiences; once in 1988 and once in 2011. In 1988 we paid, in advance, a fee of $75 for a one month stay. On arrival we could find no official that would admit to having received our letter and cash (advance application required) and thus paid another $75. However, we were then told that because we had not applied in advance that we could only stay 10 days. Despite pleading with officials we could not extend our permit so rushed out to the Rock Islands and returned to Koror leaving 10 days later for the Philippines. Needless to say we were highly disappointed but were amazed by the dazzling beauty of the area.

Having wanted to stay longer we vowed over the intervening years to return to Palau. In 2011 we returned.

We weren’t required to apply in advance but we were only allowed to stay one month ( + 2 months X 1 month extensions) and the fee structure had changed. On arrival we paid $50 for the first month + a cruising permit of $80 for one month + $100 environmental fee + $100 ($50/person)/10 days to visit the Rock Islands (add another $100 if visiting jellyfish lake). There was also a departure fee which I cannot remember the cost. Needless to say we did not request a second month after learning we would have to once again pay for a cruising permit and other fees.

I tell this story because our experiences over 20 years of long distance cruising have shown a dramatic change in entry requirements for offshore sailing boats around the world.

Most western European countries and North America have not instituted cruising permit fees, environmental fees, diving fees, garbage fees and/or anchoring fees. One travels to most of these countries much as though one were camping or simply driving through. However, underdeveloped counties in search of ever needed cash are seeing the yachting community as easy targets for fees related to entering and travelling through their countries.

We have paid fees now for places like the Seychelles ($535 for 2 months), the Maldives (approximately $800/2 months, Chagos ($400/28 days + a requirement for wreck removal insurance – $880/year that covered wreck removal should one end up on a coral reef) and Sri Lanka (requirement that all boats work through a broker which adds to the fees) – $250 for one month. The list goes on and the fees keep on increasing.

In our 1980 voyaging, fees were low or non-existent except for French Polynesia. Polynesian fees were low but they did require all yachts to put a deposit down which was the equivalent of the cost of an airline ticket back to your home country. For us, from the West Coast of Canada, the cost should have been that for an airplane back to Vancouver but they wouldn’t accept anything but the equivalent cost of an airplane ticket to Montreal!

While cruisers complain (comes with the territory) it’s hardly a wonder that these countries adopt fees. Sailors are generally far better off than the people in remote places of the world. Like all sub cultures there is a vast differential in each yachts income. In the 1980’s the average size of boats voyaging offshore would have been about 10 metres whereas now the average yacht length is about 15 metres. Most offshore sailing yachts now come equipped with water makers, satellite communication devices and small percentage with washing machines and air conditioning. Does this mean there is a more affluent mix of yachts cruising offshore?

I know that we are better off now than in the 1980s but we saved our money and luckily don’t have to work along the way like we did in the 1980s. But we are 30+ years older! I don’t object to these added fees as I see it as a way in which these small countries add to their treasury. However Palau is an exception and a trend setter. They set fees in the 1980s and increased them slowly over the years and now they are exceeding all expectations.

And now they want to increase them by 400%! Is it worth it?

They are not the only country with beautiful countryside, exceptional diving and snorkeling and parks. Other countries will follow suit and it’s a trend we have been witness to for 40 years and for a portion of the cruising fleet it’s untenable. There are still many cruisers sailing offshore simply on a minimal income. Many have given up earnings to retire early and fullfil a lifelong dream. They have smaller and simpler boats outfitted with only the most necessary gear and look for the simplicity of isolated anchorages as a way to stretch limited incomes. With increasing fees the opportunities for enjoying ‘simple’ cruising becomes harder and harder. Eventually it will only be the larger and more luxurious yachts that will be able to enjoy these opportunities.

An often touted statistic used in economic studies on tourism is the amount of money spent by a tourist per day. For those on cruise ships I think the figure is an average of $35/day/passenger. For those in all-inclusive resorts I would expect it to be even lower since everything is paid for prior to leaving a home country.

I don’t recall any study I have read that has asked the offshore cruising community what their expenditures are. I’ll bet it’s way higher than most forms of tourism. We stay for longer periods of time in most countries, shop daily from stores or local markets, repair equipment involving the purchase of locally supplied boat parts, purchase fuel and a myriad number of other monetary activities.

It’s not only the spending of cash but sailors bring their work related backgrounds in to play whether they be doctors, nurses, mechanics, technicians, builders, refrigeration specialists etc etc. Not only offering asssistance to remote communities sailors participate in trade and commerce bringing hard earned cash into the communities by purchasing arts and crafts as well as foodstuffs. We are not like the average tourist who comes for a 1-2 week stay in a resort who rarely interact with the locals nor like those on cruiseships that disgorge tourists to rampage through an area and rush back to the cruiseships for their meals.

A very good example of the above is the work that many cruisers did in Dominica after the hurricanes in 2017 which devastated much of Dominica’s infrastructure. Cruisers came together from all over the Caribbean to help rebuild and donate whatever they could to the rebuilding of commercial enterprises that would go to suppport self sufficiency.

So where does this leave the sailor? In our experiences high latitude sailing experiences are usually free of fees. They are generally more welcoming, less travelled, more challenging BUT colder!

To stay sailing in the tropics make sure there is a line item in your budget for fees as they are getting more prevalent and ever increasing.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Darrel and Loretta Smith permalink
    August 4, 2019 05:51

    Good article, and sadly bang on. Even for expats living in apartments in the tropics, fees are climbing. But with a bit of imagination, we can still live our dreams. L xx

  2. Barrie permalink
    August 4, 2019 08:16

    One of the reasons we travel off the beaten path and/or off season. Greece and Croatia are countries you can add to the list of fee hungry countries. We decieded to skip them in our Med adventure in part due to the fees and red tape. Barrie SV Passat II

  3. August 4, 2019 10:02


    Well written. You’ve certainly confirmed the stories of other cruisers who all point out that other than the lack of reliable winds, BC still has the best cruising grounds in the world. Clearly the ‘System’ is slowly coming here. Unfortunately, other than cash grabs, one of the reasons fees are being imposed is that we are now dealing with a new breed of cruiser who with a few dollars worth of electronics feel intrepid and stumble out blindly leaving others to pick up their pieces.

    Sailing, for many, has always been a religion with a mantra of self-sufficiency. It has now become all-too-easy to push a button to call for help…..and the rest of us all pay.

    God bless the “Old School.”


  4. Chris Laletin permalink
    August 4, 2019 10:57

    Tony this is interesting but not surprising. Wthe only offshore country we sail to are the Bahamas. Their fees are raising several fold this year and cruisers are up in arms. I’m ok with the few hundred dollars to spend the winter there. We use their resources a suppose we should contribute to some of their costs but not to a point that will harm the communities that count on our spending.

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