Sailing Tips for Tonga
Ok, we’re not going to tell you how to sail in Tonga, but we are going to give you a few tips for clearance, which regions to hit and other essentials for smooth sailing in Tonga. Tonga is a highlight of any Transpacific voyage where sailors can navigate a maze of inlets, uninhabited islands and remote islands that showcase the South Pacific as it used to be. However, there are a few formalities to go through and restrictions to be aware of before doing some island-hopping in The Kingdom. We’ll go through all of that in this list of tips for sailing in Tonga!
1. First Time to Tonga? Head to Vava’u!
With hundreds of yachts visiting Vava’u each year, Vava’u is a good place to start your sailing adventure in Tonga. There’s a wealth of information out there on moorings, clearance process and more from the thousands of yachties that have passed through over the years. You’ll also be able to meet other yachties and get more information at the Vava’u Yacht Club, which is at the Mango Cafe in Neiafu. As a sailing ground, Vava’u consists of a maze of inlets and compactly situated islands for some interesting days out on the water. The Port of Refuge in Vava’u is considered one of the safest harbours in the South Pacific, making it a popular spot for hauling up yachts during the cyclone season. Learn more about Vava’u in The Complete Guide to Vava’u.
2. Submit an Advance Notice of Arrival Form
Before arriving in Tonga from overseas, you will need to submit an Advance Notice of Arrival (Small Craft) form to Tonga Customs with at least 24 hours notice. You can request then send the form to firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, yachts can be fined up to TOP$4,000 and face having clearance delayed, withheld or refused.
3. You Get a Free Visitor Visa for 31 Days
Citizens from a significant number of countries get a free 31-day visa upon entry into Tonga. Visas can be extended through Immigration offices in Nuku’alofa and Neiafu. Get more details on the visitor visa in Do You Need a Visa to Visit Tonga?.
4. You Cannot Go Through Yacht Clearance on a Sunday
Under Tongan law, Sunday is a day of rest. You will not be able to go through clearance on a Sunday. It’s also against the law to do any strenuous exercise or work on these days, so keep this in mind for on your boat – no swimming, no working, just relax!
5. You Need to Check-in and Check-out of Each Island Group You Visit
The good thing about Tonga is that it has ports of entry in each island group. The slightly annoying thing is that you are required to clear in and out of each island group when sailing between groups. This is known as a domestic check-in/check-out. You will need a Local Movement Report (Small Craft) and check-in/out at customs at each port of entry. Note that day sailing within an island group is not restricted.
6. Know the Whale Interaction Restrictions
Humpback whales frequent the waters of Tonga every year as early as June to as late as November. While whale swimming is legal in Tonga, it’s under strict regulations. It is illegal to swim or kayak with whales unless you are on a licensed boat with a certified guide. Yachts cannot approach whales any closer than 300m (330 yards) and jet skis are not allowed within 2km (1.2 miles) of whales. Breaking these laws incur huge fines and are likely to result in visas being cancelled.
7. If You’re Looking for Idyllic Islands, Head to Ha’apai
There’s more to discover through sailing than just Vava’u. The central island group of Ha’apai is a scattering of 62 islands. 45 of those islands are uninhabited and there are even new volcanic islands that have appeared over the last five years. Note that Ha’apai requires careful navigation. Find out more about visiting the Ha’apai islands in The Complete Guide to Ha’apai.
8. If You’re Looking for Adventure, Head to The Niuas
Some of the only visitors that reach these isolated islands are yachties looking for a real adventure. Made up of three isolated islands, The Niuas are closer to Samoa than they are to the nearest islands in Tonga, Vava’u. The two main islands, Niuatoputapu and Niuafo’ou are also around 100km (60 miles) apart! Life on the islands is very traditional and much less developed than the rest of Tonga, providing a taste of what the South Pacific used to be. Discover more about visiting The Niuas in The Complete Guide to The Niuas.
9. Be Aware of the Marine Reserves
Marine reserves are for looking, not touching! It is illegal to collect shells or fish in the marine reserves of Tonga. Yachts are also forbidden to anchor in or around giant clam reserves. There are a number of marine reserves, particularly in Tongatapu and Vava’u. See the list of reserves in The Sailing Guide to Tonga.
10. Look After the Ocean
Needless to say, throwing waste into Tonga’s waters is forbidden. Note that most islands in Tonga don’t have waste disposal, so you will need to carry your waste and rubbish on board with you until you reach refuse containers. There are some at Faua Wharf (Nuku’alofa), Halaevalu Wharf or at the Moorings Base near the Mango Cafe (Neiafu), as well as The Boatyard in Vava’u.