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Choosing a holiday, with safety in mind.

Choosing a holiday, with safety in mind.


“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”  –Abraham Lincoln

You’ve been dreaming of this holiday your entire surfing life. Are the companies taking your money for your holiday going to provide you with a safe holiday? Do they have a plan? Do they have training? Do they have experience? Do they have the tools and materials to combine training and experience to implement their plan? Do they understand that you’ll be surfing in a remote archipelago, hundreds of miles from the nearest hospital, over open ocean and in waves of consequence?

Tourist boats sinking in Mentawai
As my dad would say, “bad trip”.

In June 2018 Nick Carroll wrote an article putting the fear of God into surfing tourists considering Indonesia as a destination. Painting with a broad brush, Nick writes, “Yet the lack of safety backup at these resorts is surf tourism’s little secret.” Nick followed up his first article with another, which refined his broad brush-style and also mentions charter boats as part of the larger industry-wide issue. Nick’s article convinced me of a need to expand his warning to all tourists seeking a vacation, in whatever mode of accommodation they prefer, anywhere in the world.

Here are some simple questions to ask when you are booking a holiday:

    • Do you have an tsunami evacuation plan?
    • Are your boats equipped with medical kits?
    • What communication equipment do you have on hand?
    • Are your surf guides trained in CPR?
    • What are your medical kit recommendations I can bring from home with me on my trip?
    • Where is the nearest hospital relative to your location, and how long does it take to get there with the transport you have access to?
    • What is your medivac transport plan if there is an emergency?

On the 4th August, 2018 the charter boat KM Alyssa sank in Mentawai after crossing the Padang – Mentawai channel. With 17 surfers and 6 crew on board, Alyssa had left Padang at midnight, against the recommendation of the Padang harbormaster and headed out into 3 – 4 meter seas and 20-25 knot southerlies. The sinking of Alyssa made my decision for me: it was time that the public got a heads up.

Tourists being rescued after their boat sinks in Mentawai.
Vacations + Search and Rescue do not go well together.

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.”

–James P. Lewis

Here is a list of Mentawai charter boat industry accidents that have happened in the last 20 years.



A tourist charter boat burns and sinks in Sumatra.
Indies Explorer on fire in Bungus Harbor

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

–Henry Ford

Hard to believe that during all of these disasters, not a single person was killed! I think some of it is fantastic planning by professional skippers, and some of it is just plain dumb luck.

Sit down with skipper Rick Hallet someday and talk to him about the charter boat “Freedom 3” being picked up by the 2010 Mentawai tsunami and surfed into a gas tank on the transom of MV Midas which he was skippering. Midas, full of guests and crew, then burst into flames, surfing and burning through the waves onto the beach near Macaronis Resort. A tsunami which can cause a boat to surf into another boat? Boat collision unexpectedly in the dark of night? Gas tank exploding and boat fire? Yacht ending up on a beach in flames? Geez, what else could go wrong? How did nobody die? Rick being a top notch skipper and registered nurse certainly helped in getting everybody out of that in one piece.

What about the MV. Quest? The ex-Indies Trader 2, one of the nicest boats in the permanent Mentawai fleet, for hours slowly succumbing to her death in decent weather off the coast of southern Mentawai. Dodgy-as story if you’re an insurance underwriter, but at least they had enough communication equipment to make stuff happen. They had dinghies and a jet ski and life rafts. They had a plan. They saved everybody.

Quest 1 Rip Curl sinks in Mentawai Islands.
Million dollar vessels aren’t safer if there’s no plan.

I willingly admit in 2017 I lost my own resort boat which was tied up tight on the mooring, only 100 meters from the resort. Bad weather, equipment failure and negligent crew, sinking the most important asset of my business. “Shit happens” to all of us, and the Indian Ocean does not discriminate whether you’re a professional or fly-by-night operator. All you can do is prepare.

Eventually, a charter boat or resort operator in Mentawai will encounter that perfect combination of a bad thing happening at the worst possible time (ala Murphy’s Law), and tourists will lose their lives that could have been saved with a bit of planning, professionalism and equipment redundancies. The only way to avoid this is for YOU — the consumer — to vote with your vacation dollars to bankrupt the dodgy operations. Only choose operations that have a reputation for safety, local experience with conditions and well maintained vessels, tools and networks.

If you want the cheapest deal, you’ll definitely find cheap. But is your life or your friend’s and family’s life worth any amount of money that you could save on a holiday in this distant, third-world country?

Tourists being rescued in Mentawai Islands boat sinking.
Surfers being rescued from their bad trip; having lost everything but their lives.

“There are no failures–just experiences and your reactions to them.”

–Tom Krause

Mentawai Charter Boat Sunk
June 2022 was the latest Mentawai charter boat sinking.