Crossing Singapore

Crossing Singapore

Singapore sits at the pointy southern end of the Malay peninsula. Less than nine nautical miles of water separate the island nation from Indonesia to the south, and a much narrower band divides it from Malaysia to the north. It’s a smaller margin all the time, based on the land reclamation projects we saw. Even our 2011 charts weren’t current, and we passed multiple stages of different land-add projects underway- including land masses which were not yet noted on our two-year-old charts. Singapore’s expansion plans are sufficient for neighboring countries to have banned the sale of marine sand used in the projects.

Crossing Singapore

I should back up and point out that we didn’t plan to cross Singapore. We planned to stop in, and visit for a few days. However, the Republic requires boats entering to have an “AIS transponder installed and operational.” We have a receiver, but not a transponder, so that left us out. Hey, we’d love a transponder, but they weren’t legal for private pleasure craft to purchase when we got our AIS gear in 2008, and it’s kind of an expensive upgrade! It turns out there is a back-door way around this that local clubs will facilitate, but at the time, the information we had was the response from the port quoted above, and it is quite unambiguous. We’ll do the wink-and-nod version on our way back south, now that we know the secret handshake.

Meanwhile, we had a country to get across, so we lined up at an anchorage at the east side of Singapore with the goal of a single-day run from Malaysia to Malaysia, with a glimpse of the nation-city between. It started easily enough. Blue skies, accurate charts, gentle breezes.

Crossing Singapore

Then the odd fishing flag started to pop up. These are the flags on a pole about 2 meters long, identifying ONE end of a long net. The game, when you’re in a boat, is to figure out which way the net goes- so you don’t end up massively fouled in it. Then, we saw another… and another… and another. In shipping lanes, even! Huh? I’d have pictures, but I was too busy spotting.

Crossing Singapore

Mostly, it was just very, very crowded. We got into the groove, but constant vigilance to the speed and trajectory of nearby boats was necessary. Totem is just a speck next to most of them, and mass wins!

Crossing Singapore

Fun fact: our AIS receiver peaked at 887 ships in our immediate area. Thankfully, many of these are at anchor or moored, but it is a massive amount of traffic and pretty stressful.

There was a startling range of ship types, from the small fishing boats to big car carriers and massive tankers. Turns out there’s a name for the supertankers built to the maximum size that will fit through the straits: the Malaccamax. The constraint is depth; 25 meters (82 feet). They’re used for carrying crude from the middle east to China.

Crossing Singapore

We were lucky with the current, and were able to make nearly the entire distance with neutral or favorable current. There was a brief stint of foul, but mostly it was one to two knots of push, the whole way around. You can time these things but it was luck, really, to have the daylight hours transit line up so nicely… and put us safely inside Puteri Harbor well before sunset.

10 Responses

  1. Singapore always looks like that too. What a mess. I am glad your crossing went without incident. My family love reading your blog. We happen to be in Singapore now but moving to Bangkok. If we happen to see you tied up somewhere we might need to stop by and say hi.

  2. Additional factoid: Singapore residents who intend to operate a motorized pleasure craft (including jet skis) are required by law to attend a course and sit for a licensing exam called the PPCDL. It’s basically a drivers license for boaters. It covers ColRegs, navigation and knowledge of surrounding waters.
    Fair winds on your way North.


  3. My husband and I read your blog religously-We live in the PNW (Port Ludlow), plan on leaving August 2014 for Mexico and beyond with our 12 year old daughter. BTW, I grew up in East Lyme, Ct. and I know you have a connection to the NL area. Anyway, I was reading your blog and began to tell my hubby when we realized he was reading it at the same time and we were in the same spot. That AIS shot was ugly!!!! Glad you navigated safely. Thanks for your great writing. Cheers.

  4. Hello,
    we have the same route like you and are always happy to read your experience. We have the same problem with Singapore, too, that we just have an AIS receiver and no responder. I did not really understand how you entered now Singapore port without the responder? Can you give us some links or official informations if it is possible to enter without it at all? Thanks and have a nice xmas-time in Africa! 🙂

    ps: we are a family on a Lagoon 400 and have a 10 year old daughter onboard. 😉 If you have more special family-tipps for us we are always happy to hear from you! :)))

    1. Hi Heide- when we were there, an AIS transponder was only required if you planned to change locations *within* Singapore; you didn’t need it to clear in. So, just pick your marina and don’t plan to move! The information online conflicts with this, but that was our practical experience, and I haven’t heard that it’s changed. I know there are some kid boats in Penang and Langkawi, this time of year most boats are getting into Thailand – hook up with one of them and you’ll quickly find the rest!

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