Buying a boat in SE Asia: hints and tips

Thinking of finally buying your dream boat and setting off into a cruising lifestyle? Daunted by the actual details of looking for a suitable boat, or the costs of purchasing and setting the boat up for long-term cruising? Keen to cruise in exotic locations and sample differing cultures but lack the confidence to leave Australia, cross the Coral or Arafura Sea and travel through remote areas on your own?

Then consider buying your next boat in Malaysia or Thailand. There is a robust market in South East Asia for all types of cruising boats for a number of reasons and bargains can often be found when boat-shopping in this region.

Thailand and western Malaysia are usually considered the turn-around points for yachties not wanting to commit to travelling further west into the Indian Ocean and then on to either the Red Sea or South Africa. A cruising boat has to decide whether to continue on, turn back and travel east or south again, remain in South East Asia indefinitely, or to sell up and fly home.

Many folk who are cruising through this region find that for reasons of ill-health, a need for more family support, dwindling finances or the call of the grandchildren, they need to return to life on land. To sail back home, usually to Australia or New Zealand, is just too much in their current circumstances, so reluctantly the boat is put up for sale.

Some would-be circumnavigators from Europe and America/Canada similarly find themselves stalled in the oh-so-easy cruising of South East Asia and eventually need to fly home for good, also leaving their boat stored and for sale.

While there are many reputable yacht brokers in Malaysia and Thailand, most are located around Langkawi Island in northwest Malaysia and Phuket in Thailand. Some Malaysian marinas that also promote yacht sales include Penang, Pangkcor and Port Dickson, an hour by car from Kuala Lumpur.

These brokers advertise in sailing magazines and can also be found by Google. All have websites with significant listings and can discuss available boats via e-mail or phone. They may also be able to arrange accommodation and car hire if you choose to follow through with a visit to view.

Ian and Alison were seeking a particular yacht for their retirement: a Valiant 40. They looked at two in Australia but found them both too expensive and not in great condition.

Ian searched the web and found a broker in Phuket who was advertising a Valiant 40. They flew to Pattaya where the boat was stored and found to their joy it was in excellent condition. “We bought a much better boat, fully fitted out for long-term cruising, and at a much better price than anything we saw back home. We’re very happy with it,” Ian commented.

There are also boats for sale by their absent owners, who will fly in to show the boat to serious buyers. These owners will generally have left the boat secured in a marina and advertise their boats on websites such as Gumtree and Trade-a-Boat.

Kevin and Trish had been cruising on their steel 40 foot yacht for over ten years, with the last few years spent exploring South East Asia. When they needed to return to life on land, they did not have time to sail the boat back to Australia so left it stored at a marina in Penang, Malaysia.

Back in Australia they advertised their boat through a couple of websites. After a year of semi-serious enquires, they found a committed buyer and Kevin flew to Penang to show the boat. The deal was completed quickly.

While they acknowledge that they did not get a great price, they were able to walk away leaving their boat fully equipped with spares, household and galley equipment; everything necessary for the new owner to go cruising. The new owner was able to head off sailing within a week.

Marinas and boat brokers are well-located for new purchasers: close to major airports so you can fly in with little fuss and there are marine services and chandleries nearby. The many scenic islands and bays of Langkawi and Phuket are ideal for short hops in a new boat, to get your sea legs and become acquainted with the new love of your life.

The west Malaysian and Thailand coast is an extensive and interesting cruising ground to explore and the area is regarded as safe and politically stable. There are also many other cruising folk travelling about, so there is no shortage of company, advice and possibly some friendly expertise.

The weather in this region is generally benign and predictable, it is well out of the cyclone belt of the northern hemisphere. Cruisers tend to travel in the direction of the prevailing monsoon winds, but it is not difficult to move in any direction if you are happy enough to wait a few days for calm weather.

Boatyards and marinas in Malaysia and Thailand are generally well managed and maintained, with professional staff directing things. The cost of berthage, haul-outs and maintenance work in South East Asia is low compared to Australia and New Zealand, so do not be put off by a need to haul your potential new boat out for survey or inspection, to antifoul or to have some work done. In Malaysia the average cost of a boat worker, for timberwork, painting, fiberglass or mechanical work, is around AU$30 per day. In Thailand it is even less.

Many yachties choose to live ashore while having work done on their boat. Accommodation in a furnished airconditioned unit near the boatyard will be very inexpensive, especially by Australian standards.

Food is cheap if you choose to eat local and what is not to like about Malaysian and Thai food! There are also western-style supermarkets that offer most of what you could possibly want.

Kate and Tim, an Australian couple with two young sons, ventured to South East Asia to buy their first boat. They had been watching various cruising forums and brokerage websites for a while but were attracted by an owner’s advertisement on an internet cruising forum describing his 40’ sloop, which was currently stored at Pangkor Marina, Malaysia.

Kate explained, “back home we were too busy with work and the children to concentrate on buying a boat and fitting it out. We also couldn’t afford to be living there while we took time to prepare the boat and ourselves for long-term cruising. This way we were able to finalise our life in Australia, fly to Malaysia and rent an apartment while organising the purchase and our new life.”

They moved into a three-bedroomed, airconditioned, fully furnished apartment, with all services, wifi and pool near the marina. The accommodation and hire of a late model, mid-sized car came to less than RM$3,000 (AU$1,000) per month.

They lived there for three months while completing the survey, purchase and handover, settling the boys into home-schooling, clearing the boat out and cleaning it from top to bottom before moving on board.

Kate added, “another benefit was that our boat was already fitted out as a cruising boat; we had little extra to buy.”

Points to remember

  • If you are thinking you will eventually bring your new boat back to Australia, be aware that unless it is already Australian registered, you may be liable for a hefty import duty on your return

  • Unless you are well-experienced at inspecting a boat for sale, it may be wise to use a surveyor. There are boat surveyors available, or often there will be a cruising yachtie nearby who is a surveyor/engineer/shipwright

  • Talk to other cruising folk and marina staff about recommendations before contracting workers

  • If negotiating a sale, even with a broker, be very clear with the seller about the purchase price, rate of currency exchange and transfer of funds, who pays for an inspection haulout and the date of handover

  • Be aware of the visa requirements: Australian tourists are usually granted 90 days on arrival in Malaysia and one month in Thailand. After that you need to exit the country and re-enter

  • There is a good selection of boats for sale in Malaysia and Thailand, so it is really worth researching the websites and considering flying over to look if you are serious about purchasing a boat.

Remember: if you do not find what you want, at least you will have had a vacation in a beautiful part of the world!

Sue Woods
Pantaenius Sailing
Yacht Share Mariner
Listings Added
Multihull Group
Yacht Share Mariner
Listings Added
Multihull Group