What You Need to Know About Sailing in Samoa
Located between French Polynesia and Fiji, the islands of Samoa offer a welcoming stop on the Transpacific journey for yachties. While not exactly a huge sailing ground like the scattered archipelagos of some of the other South Pacific nations, Samoa makes for some interesting islands to visit nonetheless. Furthermore, the country may well offer one of the first practical landfalls if travelling west from French Polynesia or the Cook Islands.
So, find out about the islands to visit, the clearance procedures and more in this complete sailing guide to Samoa.
5 Quick Tips for Sailing in Samoa
- Yachts are not encouraged to sail or remain in Samoa during the cyclone season, between November and April
- Although clearance staff are friendly and hospitable, the arrivals and departures clearance processes are painfully slow and inefficient; so give yourself plenty of time to clear in and out within usual Government working hours
- If you can avoid it, don’t arrive/depart on a weekend
- You need to obtain a Cruising Permit to anchor in Samoa outside of the Apia Harbour; due to the lengthy process and conditions, we recommend anchoring in Apia and exploring from there
- If sailing from French Polynesia, the Cook Islands or American Samoa, note that you’ll be crossing the International Date Line which means you’ll be “skipping” a day.
Where to Sail in Samoa
Samoa is made up of 10 islands; two large inhabited islands, two small inhabited islands and the rest are tiny and uninhabited. Logistically, the islands of Upolu and Savai’i make the best islands to visit via yacht. Find out more about the different islands in What are the 10 Islands of Samoa?
Samoa can be included in Transpacific sailing itineraries, where most yachts approach west from French Polynesia or the Cook Islands. The journey between Bora Bora to Samoa is approximately two days – see sailing times in How Long Does it Take to Sail to Samoa?
Sailing From American Samoa to Samoa
Approximately 69 nautical miles east of Samoa is American Samoa, which could well be your first landfall before arriving in Samoa. Note that American Samoa is not only a different country to Samoa with its own clearance and customs process but is on the opposite side of the International Date Line. This means that you’ll be skipping a day when sailing to Samoa, which is useful to bear in mind in case you arrive on a weekend or public holiday when Samoan authorities work limited (if any) hours.
Learn more about crossing the International Date Line in What is the Samoa Time Zone? and how Samoa differs from its closest neighbour in What’s the Difference Between Samoa and American Samoa?
Sailing to Upolu
Upolu is the most populated island in Samoa and the main service centre. Repair facilities and yacht services are limited to this island, so it’s a good place to start and stock up before long voyages – check out the Information, Shops & Services on Upolu for services that might be helpful.
Berthing instructions for the Apia Harbour, Samoa’s only port of entry, can be obtained from the Apia Harbour Master on VHF Ch.16 when you are one or two hours away. See the “Clearing Customs for Yachts in Samoa” section below for more details.
As for experiencing Upolu as a visitor, the island has a vibrant tourism industry with resorts, beach fales, dining options in Apia, beautiful waterfalls, cultural demonstrations and much more. Head to The Complete Travel Guide to Upolu to start planning your visit.
Sailing to Savai’i
Savai’i might be the largest island in Samoa but it’s much less populated and, in turn, enjoys a more traditional way of life. Note that you’ll need to obtain a Cruising Permit before anchoring here, see the section below for more details.
The only real anchorage on Savai’i is on the north coast of the island in Asau Bay. In this isolated corner of the island, there is the accommodation of Va-i-Moana Seaside Lodge which also has a restaurant, as well as the nearby but rundown Vaisala Hotel. You would have to get a taxi or take the bus to the other side of the island, Salelologa, to have access to rental vehicles and other services. Alternatively, guided tours of the island from Asau are available.
Once you’ve sorted out the logistics, Savai’i offers a wealth of breathtaking natural and cultural attractions in the form of waterfalls, lava tube caves, a village solidified in a lava flow, crafting demonstrations, plantation tours and more. Plan your visit starting with The Complete Travel Guide to Savai’i.
Clearing Customs for Yachts in Samoa
The Samoa Port Authority requires that all yachts arriving in Samoa from overseas must give at least 48 hours’ notice prior to their ETA by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com (note that emails might not be acknowledged).
Then, one or two hours before entering the Apia Harbour, yachts must contact the Apia Harbour Master on VHF Ch.16. You cannot enter the Apia Harbour until you have received verbal permission. Note that you will unlikely receive an answer before 9 am on a weekday and will only likely be able to clear between 3 pm and 5 pm on a weekend, but we highly recommend that you don’t arrive on a weekend for reasons you’re about to discover.
A crude chart and tide table for the Apia Harbour can be found on the Samoa Port Authority website.
Ports of Entry in Samoa
There is only one port of entry in Samoa, the Apia Harbour, where you must go through clearance on arrival, as well as go for outward clearance.
Apia is the capital of Samoa, located on the central northern coast of Upolu. Learn more about the capital in The Complete Travel Guide to Apia.
Yacht Clearance Process
Admittedly, the clearance procedure for yachts in Samoa is not the most efficient. Four different clearance authorities are usually contacted separately by Port Control:
- Health Department
Port Control will organise for each clearance authority to come to the marina, which may take a while. Contact VHF Ch.16 regularly for updates.
The skipper must complete a Master’s Declaration Form declaring biosecurity risk items, which must be submitted at least 24 hours before arrival. For typical biosecurity restrictions, check out What to Declare When Arriving in Samoa.
Immigration is the last clearance authority to deal with. The Immigration Office is located on the ground floor of the large Government Building in town; not at port, so you’ll need to gather your documents and take a taxi. Learn more about Visitor Visa durations and more in our guide, Samoa Tourist Visa: Do You Need a Visa to Visit Samoa?
Should you want to sail to Savai’i, you’ll need to obtain a Cruising Permit at the Government Building in Apia (fourth floor), which will add significant time to the arrival process. There is a fee for the permit (approximately ST$50) and it may have a limited number of days, with some reports saying it can be as little as five days. As this leaves little time to explore the country, it might make more sense to pay the anchorage fees at the Apia Marina and plan your travels around Samoa from there. The Best Samoa Travel Guide is a good place to start.
Yachts are required to clear out of Samoa via Apia. You must provide Customs with a receipt from the Apia Marina before they will issue your final clearance papers. There is a clearance fee payable to the Customs Office, which closes at 4 pm. We recommend starting the clearing-out process no later than 2 pm, again, on a weekday.
Learn more about departure fees in our guide, Samoa Tipping & Tax Guide for Travellers.
More About Sailing in Samoa
That’s it for our complete guide to sailing in Samoa. More tips for travellers arriving by yacht can be found in the following guides:
- The Duty-Free Allowances for Samoa
- Taking Food to Samoa: What You Need to Know
- Information, Shops & Services in Samoa