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Pacific Planning Advice

By Jimmy Cornell — last modified Mar 21, 2019 10:28 AM
Contributors: Sue Richards & Val Ellis
First published for noonsite by Jimmy Cornell in July 2008, this useful and informative planning advice has been updated by the noonsite team for 2019.

Published: 2013-03-26 00:00:00
Topics: Pacific Ocean West , Pacific Crossing , Pacific Ocean East , Pacific Ocean South , Cruising Information
Countries: Australia , Cook Islands , Easter Island , Ecuador , Fiji , French Polynesia , Galapagos , New Zealand , Niue , Panama , Pitcairn Island , Tonga , Venezuela

Having passed through that symbolic gateway – the Panama Canal – the whole Pacific Ocean is suddenly beckoning, a vast area that covers one third of the globe. In spite of the long distances that lie ahead, with careful planning this could be the most pleasant part of a long voyage. Below is an outline of the most important criteria that anyone planning such a voyage should bear in mind.

Possible Schedules

As the safe sailing season in the South Pacific is well defined, and the weather is usually fairly benign in the eastern part of this vast ocean, the most critical decision concerns the time of arrival in the first tropical island group. Most boats transit the Panama Canal before the onset of the hurricane season in the Caribbean (June to November), with the busiest time for Canal transits in February and March.

Those who plan to sail all the way across to Australia in one season need to reach the Marquesas (French Polynesia) not later than May, although an April arrival is better as it allows more time to sail the remaining distance. In French Polynesia the cyclone season lasts, at least on paper, from late November until the end of March, but as the Marquesas are very rarely affected by tropical storms one can take a calculated risk and arrive there early in the season. This normally means transiting the Panama Canal early in the year (February) so as to have enough time for a stop in the Galapagos. From there, the 3,000 mile passage to the Marquesas can start early in March so that the Marquesas are reached in late March or early April.

See this useful report for info on passage planning from Panama to the Galapagos.

See this useful report for info on passage planning from the Galapagos to the Marquesas.

One serious drawback of the above schedule is the need to leave the Caribbean at what is the best time there, so an alternative is to stay in the Caribbean until the end of the safe season (June), then cruise leisurely through those places that are not affected by hurricanes (Venezuela, ABC Islands, Panama’s San Blas Islands). Having transited the Panama Canal one can sail to mainland Ecuador where Puerto Amistad and Puerto Lucia provide a safe and convenient place to leave the boat while visiting the interior of South America or to just wait until the time comes to sail to the Marquesas. This timing also allows the option of not sailing the traditional route to the Marquesas, but make a detour to Easter Island and Pitcairn so as to arrive in French Polynesia via the Gambier Islands. As in the case of the Marquesas, those islands should not be reached before the end of March and the start of the safe sailing season in the South Pacific.

The onward passage to Fiji can be sailed any time during the safe season. Its timing will depend on your onward plans once you leave there. There are many interesting island groups to explore en-route: to the north the northern Cooks, then either Tonga or the Samoas; to the south the southern Cooks, Niue and Tonga.

As most yachts sail to the Cook Islands from the east, a good time to plan one's passage is after the 14 July celebrations in Tahiti are over, as the first week of August is the time when the Cooks put on their own festivities around Constitution Day. Most of the action is in Rarotonga, but the other islands can be visited afterwards.

Once you reach Fiji it’s decision time: to head to New Zealand or Australia for cyclone season; or continue to Vanuatu, the Torres Strait and beyond to the Indian Ocean. If circumnavigating and taking the Cape of Good Hope route, it’s important to pass through the Torres Strait by early September, giving sufficient time to reach South Africa by early November (before the start of the cyclone season in the Indian Ocean).

If however your desired route is to the northern Indian Ocean and SE Asia, then passage through the Torres Strait can be delayed until October.


Most boats follow the traditional route across the South Pacific that sweeps in an arc from Panama to the Torres Strait. Favourable south-east trade winds are a usual feature of this route during the winter months. However, normal weather conditions can be affected by various factors, such as the El Niño or La Niña phenomena (warming and cooling of the ocean surface across the eastern and central equatorial Pacific). The latest El Niño episode occurred between 2016 and 2016. The latest La Niña in 2011 contributed to severe drought in East Africa and to Australia's third wettest year in its 112-year period of record..

Even at the height of the winter season, consistent winds are only encountered at the two extremes of this route, between the Galapagos and Marquesas, in the east, and in the Coral Sea, in the west. Between these two extremes, sailing conditions are often a matter of luck, with long spells of steady trade winds in some years, or an alternation of short periods of two or three days of steady winds followed by a spell of unsettled weather with squalls, thunderstorms and variable winds.

A constant feature that affects weather conditions throughout the tropical South Pacific is the South Pacific Converge Zone. The SPCZ stretches in an ESE direction from about 5°S, 155°E to 20°S, 150°W, and can influence weather conditions all the way from the Solomons to Tahiti, although its effects are particularly felt in the area between French Polynesia and Tonga.  The location and movement of the S.P.C.Z. are monitored by the Fiji meteorological office.

Galapagos Interlude

The Ecuadorean authorities, who administer this archipelago, are now more tolerant towards cruising yachts than in the past and will allow short stays. However, those that plan an extended stay here definitely leave with incredible memories, more so than those who only have time to visit one island. According to the current regulations, yachts arriving in the Galapagos without an official permit pre-arranged, can stay up to 7 days in the port of entry (no movement allowed). This option is only allowed in Wreck Bay, Puerto Baquerizo. It is for yachts who wish to re-fuel, take on provisions, fresh water and possibly quick repairs.

If a permit (autographo) is arranged in advance, yachts can choose to visit between 3 and 5 islands, or, multiple islands (which does require hiring a National Parks guide). Agent fees for an autographo are between $450 - $650. There are additional arrival and departure fees for moving between inhabited ports. Yachts wanting to explore outside the major ports will need to have a licensed guide onboard for an additional cost.

It is mandatory to use an agent to check in with the port captain for any stay of more than 1 day. Not only can the agent ease clearance, but can also help book excursions and obtain diesel and fresh provisions.

There are three official ports of entry: Baquerizo Moreno (Wreck Bay) on the island of San Cristobal, Puerto Ayora (Academy Bay) on Santa Cruz and Puerto Villamil on Isabela. All three may be used to clear in and if only a short stop is possible many cruisers recommend Isabela as the “one-island visit” as it is less commercial and laid back than the other 2 islands and has good shelter. Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz is the main starting point for excursions to the outer islands, so it is always crowded with local boats. It does however have better shops and facilities. San Cristobal has a lot to do ashore without having to take commercial tours and is not as commercial as Puerto Ayora. The anchorage is also more sheltered. In all 3 ports it is possible to join day excursions to the outer islands to view wildlife, hike and go snorkelling and diving.

French Polynesia (FP)

To really see the South Pacific islands properly, many cruisers choose to spend two winters here. Some leave the tropics for the cyclone season, sailing south to NZ or Australia or north to Papua New Guinea and Micronesia. Others remain in the tropics for the summer finding shelter in one of the safe harbours or all-weather marinas (see cyclone shelter notes below).

The good news is that the FP Customs have seen the error of their ways, and the length of stay for French and foreign yacht crew was modified from a maximum of 185 days per calendar year to 18 months (as long as their visa or visa extension permits this length of stay) on March 27th 2013. This is renewable after an exit from the Territory of 6 months minimum.

Formalities in French Polynesia for yachts and sailors who are not from one of the countries of the European Union have been tightened up, especially regarding visas. Also, those who arrive without a visa and cannot show a return airline ticket to their country of residence, may be required to post a bond equivalent to an open one-way ticket to their home country. The money is returned when checking out of French Polynesia.

For the long term cruiser Papeete.  (Tahiti) has one major advantage: due to an active local yachting community its repair facilities are the best this side of New Zealand. Provisioning is just as good, even if the prices are quite high. The only other centre with extensive repair facilities is on Raiatea, where two charter companies have their base. Facilities are on a par with Tahiti, or even better, and have the great convenience of being grouped together.

Cyclone Shelter

For those prepared to stay in the tropics during the critical cyclone period (mid-November to May) there are a number of hurricane holes conveniently spread out across the South Pacific. Only some of them are fully fledged hurricane shelters and because of the large distances that separate the various island groups, running for shelter if a cyclone is predicted may not only be a hazardous affair, but one may also find that there is no space left when one gets there. The best tactic is either to stay close to a chosen shelter, or cruise on the edges of the cyclone belt, so as to be able to possibly sail out of danger, for example by sailing north from the Marquesas towards the equator.

Looking at those shelters from east to west, the Galapagos and Easter Island can be dismissed at they are not affected by cyclones. On rare occasions, a cyclone has reached as far east as Pitcairn or north-east to the Marquesas, although the latter are very rarely hit by a full cyclone. The outer island groups of French Polynesia (the Gambier and Austral Islands) can be affected but the risks are lower than in the Tuamotus, which are not only more exposed but their unprotected lagoons provide no shelter in a cyclone.

The Society Islands attract fewer cyclones than the island groups further west, but should perhaps be avoided during the critical period. The few marinas are full with local or charter boats, so the only possible shelters in Tahiti are the landlocked lagoon at Port Phaeton on the south-west coast, which has a small marina and good anchorage, or the anchorage behind the reef at the Tahiti Yacht Club in Arue, east of the capital Papeete. On the island of Raiatea, boats can be left on the hard at one of the two boatyards, but during a cyclone several boats have been blown over and suffered extensive damage.

The Cook Islands are best avoided during cyclone season.

Neiafu Harbour in Tonga’s Vava’u group is very well protected and experiences fewer cyclones than Fiji and there are several operators who rent cyclone moorings for that season which conform to insurance standards. Some will also provide an excellent, reliable caretaker service.

In the Samoas, traditionally the best cyclone shelter is at Pago Pago in American Samoa.

More secure places are to be found in neighbouring Fiji, where several cyclone-proof marinas have been built, although these do fill up quickly with local boats so early bookings are advised. As a result of this many sailors have been persuaded to spend the summers in Fiji. On the island of Vanua Levu two of the marinas at Savusavu (Waitui and Copra Shed) have laid down a number of strong moorings, all of which have performed very well when cyclones have passed through. On the west coast of Viti Levu the marina at Lautoka, Vuda Point. offers good protection in a circular basin that can be entirely closed off by an anti-surge barrier. For added protection, boats left on the hard at this marina have their keels dropped into a trench. Port Denarau Marina has a natural cyclone protection area in the mangroves adjacent the marina. A cyclone shelter has also been created in a land-locked basin at Musket Cove on the island of Malololailai.

Even further west, the land-locked natural harbour of Port Vila in Vanuatu offers adequate protection in a cyclone as does Port Moselle Marina at Noumea in New Caledonia. In the Solomons the best shelter is reported at Tulagi opposite the capital Honiara.

The above list is by no means exhaustive and there are small sheltered spots in most island groups that may be known to locals.

Pacific Marinas, Harbours and Boatyards at a glance

French Polynesia


Bounty Yacht Quay: full service marina

Chantier Naval Warren Ellacott, Motu Uta: slipway with 80 ton lift

Papeete City Marina: full service marina in the middle of the city

Papeete Harbour (Quai des Yachts): basic services & on busy town centre quay

Tahiti Yacht Club: full service marina

Taina Marina: full service marina

Tahiti Nautic Centre, Taravao: small but full service marina and boatyard

Technimarine Motu Uta: full service boatyard with 300 ton and 75 ton lift


Chanter Naval Des Iles Sous le Vent (CNI), Uturaerae: marina and full service boatyard with 20 ton trailer

Marina d'Uturoa: full service marina and Dream Yacht Charters base

Marina Apooiti: a popular charter base and full service marina

Raiatea Carenage Services: full service boatyard with 25 ton travelift

Bora Bora:

Mai Kai Marina & Yacht Club: full service marina

Bora Bora Yacht Club: mooring buoys and facilities ashore


Marina Vaiare: full service marina

Hiva Oa:

Atuona Port: not a marina, but the port provides good shelter



Niue Yacht Club: safe moorings for visiting yachts & facilities ashore


Neiafu (Vava'u):

The Boatyard Vava'u: full service boatyard

Neiafu Harbour: protected harbour with moorings

Nuku'alofa (Tongatapu):

Big mama Yacht Club: shore services provided for yachts in anchorage at Pangaimotu island

Nuku'alofa: moorings in Faua harbour


Musket Cove (Western Fiji):

Musket Cove: full service marina and moorings


Copra Shed Marina: full service marina

Savusavu Marina and Curly's boatyard: full service marina and boatyard

Waitui Marina: mooring buoys with services ashore


Vuda Point Marina: full service marina and boatyard

Port Denarau:

Port Denarau Marina: full service marina and boatyard


Royal Suva Yacht Club: full service marina usually full of local boats, anchorage nearby

Tradewinds Marina: small resort marina

New Caledonia


Marina de Hienghene: small marina for shallow draft vessels only with basic services


Marina de Pandop: small marina with basic services

Lifou Island:

Lifou Marina (Marina de We): small marina for vessels under 45 ft


Port Moselle: full service marina

Port du Sud Marina: full service marina

Marina de Ouenghi: small marina 25nm from Noumea

New Zealand


Bayswater Marina: full service marina

Gulf Harbour Marina: full service marina and boatyard

Half Moon Bay Marina: full service marina and boatyard

Orams Marine: full service marina and boatyard

Pier 21 Marine Centre: full service marina and boatyard

Pine Harbour Marina: full service marina and boatyard in East Auckland

West Harbour Marina: full service marina and boatyard

Westhaven Marina: full service marina in Downtown Auckland with moorings


Eastland Port Marina: full service marina with haul out facility

Gulf Harbour:

Gulf Harbour Marina: full service marina and boatyard

Opua (Bay of Islands):

Opua Marina: full service marina and boatyard

Whangaroa Marina: small marina with facilities

Kerikeri Cruising Club Marina: full service club marina

Tauranga (Bay of Plenty):

Tauranga Bridge Marina: full service marina and boatyard

Tauranga Marina: full service marina and boatyard


Evans Bay Marina: full service marina with boatyard nearby

Seaview Marina: full service marine and boatyard with 50 ton lift


Whangamata Marina: full service marina and boatyard with 35 ton lift


Marsden Cove Marina: full service marina and boatyard

Riverside Drive Marina: full service marina and boatyard

Tutukaka Marina: full service marina

Whangarei Marina (Town Basin Marina): full service marina


Whangaroa Marina: full service marina


Panama Canal agents

Galapagos agents:

Radio nets

Arnold's Net (South Pacific) 14.318 MHz at 0400 (UTC)

California Hawaii Net (Pacific E, NW and Hawaii) 14.340 MHz at 1600Z

Coconut Breakfast Net (French Polynesia) 8188 KHz at 1730Z (English) 
Coconut Breakfast Net (West of French Polynesia) 12353 kHz at 1830Z (English)

Confusion Net (Pacific) 14.305 MHz at 1900 (UTC)

Far North Radio (Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, NZ) 1800-1900 hours New Zealand daylight time - 6.516MHz and 1900-1930 hours New Zealand daylight time - 4.417MHz.

French Net (French Polynesia) 13940 kHz at 0300Z (French)

Harry's Net (W & S Pacific) 7.095 MHz at 2000 (UTC)

Magellan Pacific Net (8155 @ 1330Z): Set up to facilitate comms between boats from Panama to French Polynesia, via the Galapagos.

N Zealand Wx Net (New Zealand) 7.080 MHz at 2000 (UTC)

Pacific Inter-Island Net (Micronesia & up to Hawaii) 14.315 MHz at 0800 (UTC)

Pacific Maritime Mobile Net (East Pacific) (HAM) 14300-14313 kHz 24h/day in different languages

Pacific Maritime Net, 21412 kHz at 2200Z

Pacific Seafarers Net, (HAM) 14300 kHz at 0300Z

Panama Pacific Net, 8143 kHZ at 1400 UTC daily. Can cover from southern Mexico (Chiapas) down to Ecuador and out to the Galapagos. Net Controllers needed.

Rag of the Air Net, (SW Pacific) 8173 kHz at 1900Z (0700 or 0800 local time in Tonga/Fiji/Samoa/NZ)

Sheila Net (NE Coast of Australia, New Guinea, Louisiade Archipelago, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Noumea) 8161 kHz daily at 2200Z

Namba Net (sister net to the Sheila Net with similar coverage but with more relevance to yachts in New Caledonia, Vanuatu and north to the Solomons) 8101 kHz May to October 0815 (local time Vanuatu)

Sonrisa Net for Sea of Cortez, 3.968 MHz (3968 LSB) at 0730 PDT



General: For a comprehensive list of weather resources see weather.

Also, check out these useful reports about weather in the Pacific:

South Pacific Weather Resources by Rory Garland from SY Streetcar.

Sources of Weather information for the Pacific Ocean by Rob Murray from SV Sarana.

Hawaii: WWVH in Hawaii gives storm warnings for the entire Pacific at 48 minutes past each hour on 5000, 10000 and 15000 kHz

French Polynesia: Weather forecasts in French are available from Meteo France, Tel:(689) 36 65 08, Fax:(689) 80 33 09,

Weather forecasts for the next 24 hours are broadcast every day on VHF channels 27 (Windward Islands) and 26 (Leeward Islands) at 1100, 1200, 2040,2100 local Tahiti time.

Mahina Radio forecasts for French Polynesia on 8803 kHz at 2100Z (also on VHF channels 26 and 27). Warnings at 0640Z and 1800Z.

Fiji: Suva Radio forecasts for tropical SW Pacific on 4372.9 and 6746.8 kHz at 0033, 0433, 0803, 1203, 2003Z

Fiji Meteorological Service

New Zealand: Russell Radio, located in the Bay of Islands, provides weather information for the Western Pacific and runs a maritime net on 13101 kHz (16:30 to 17:30), 6516 kHz (18:00 to 18:30), 4445 kHz (18:30 to 19:00) and 4417 kHz (19:00 to 19:30).

VHF Ch. 63 Marine weather broadcast at 08:00, 09:30, 13:30 and 17:50.

New Zealand and South Pacific weather:

New Zealand Metservice :

Taupo Maritime Radio (New Zealand) forecasts fort subtropical SW Pacific on 6224, 8297, 12356, 16531 kHz at 0903 and 2103Z

Sue Richards
Sue Richards says:
Oct 29, 2018 11:34 AM

Useful article by Cruising World Magazine - September 2018
Pacific Passage Planning:

oceancruiser says:
Sep 02, 2013 03:41 AM

Most boats make the decision to visit New Zealand leaving Tonga or Rarotonga to avoid the cyclone season arriving about Mid October. Spend the summer season either cruising NZ or haul out for maintentance and repairs. They leave the beginning of the next cyclone free season for Fiji or New Caledonia or Vanuatu by various races departing from NZ at that particular time or cruise individually or join a rally to Australia Fiji New Caledonia and Vanuatu. Its double tracking going to fiji, then to NZ then Fiji again New Caledonia or Australia or Vanuatu.

American Samoa
Antigua & Barbuda
Ascension Island
BIOT (Chagos)
British Virgin Islands
Canary Islands
Cape Verdes
Cayman Islands
Channel Islands
Christmas Island
Cocos Keeling
Cook Islands
Costa Rica
Dominican Republic
East Timor (Timor Leste)
Easter Island
El Salvador
Falkland Islands
Faroe Islands
Federated States of Micronesia
French Guiana
French Polynesia
French Subantarctic Territory
Heard, McDonald & Macquarie Islands
Hong Kong
Ivory Coast
Juan Fernandez Islands
Marion & Prince Edward Island
Marshall Islands
Myanmar (Burma)
New Caledonia
New Zealand
New Zealand's Subantarctic Islands
Norfolk Island
Northern Marianas
Palau (Belau)
Papua New Guinea
Pitcairn Island
Puerto Rico
Reunion Island
Sao Tome and Principe
Saudi Arabia
Sierra Leone
Sint Maarten
Solomon Islands
South Africa
South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands
South Korea
Spanish Virgin Islands
Sri Lanka
St Barts
St Helena
St Kitts & Nevis
St Lucia
St Martin
St Pierre & Miquelon
St Vincent & the Grenadines
Subantarctic & Southern Ocean Islands
Trinidad & Tobago
Tristan da Cunha
Turks & Caicos
US Virgin Islands
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom
Wallis and Futuna
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The perfect base to prepare for your Pacific crossing: extensive boatyard facilities with easy haul-out and repairs; secure marina from which to explore inland; ideal stopover en-route to the Galapagos