Malaysia West Coast, Lumut: Pangkor Marina or “Hotel California”

“Hotel California” is how one yacht owner describes this popular marina. “You can check in anytime you like, but can never leave…”

Published 6 years ago, updated 5 years ago

Solving the sailors’ problems is his passion. It’s why he worked so hard to build a marina in his hometown, in the middle of the west coast of Malaysia. It’s why he offers a 50% discount for stays over 3 months to Sail Malaysia participants. It’s why service prices overall are less than any other marina in the region. James Khoo just wants to help. He derives great satisfaction from assisting sailors.

“Hotel California” is how one yacht owner describes this popular marina. “You can check in anytime you like, but can never leave…” speaking to the phenomenon whereby once a yacht owner discovers all that can be done here, so well and cost-effectively, the To-Do list rapidly expands. There may be no better place in Southeast Asia to get so much done.

Whether one chooses to perform one’s own work or hires a portion or all of it to be done, it’s the boat owner’s choice. Pangkor Marina simply provides a list of local service providers recommended by those sailors who came before. Those on the list are competent, honest, and cost-effective. The marina provides this list to anyone, complete with contact information. They’ll email it to you if you ask. The marina does not make a commission on the services these contractors provide. The marina only asks that the craftsmen treat the marina’s customers with the highest level of service. The challenge can be booking their services, especially during high season if you show up unexpectedly with a big project. The craftsmen will normally squeeze in the smaller or emergency projects, but if you can wait a week or two, even those larger jobs can get started.

Take our case as an example:

We had planned to spend 6 days in Pangkor Marina, just long enough to experience the Sail Malaysia Gala Banquet before heading off to Penang and Langkawi, the latter of which we had made a haul-out reservation. As part of Sail Malaysia, James offered participants 5 days free mooring in his marina, first-come-first-served. We raced to get there, only to be told they were all filled up. We would have to anchor. I begged for a slip. Told them I needed a mechanic to replace my engine’s fresh water pump. I had a spare. Within an hour, they had made room for me.

Over the next two days, James and crew had manoeuvred other boats within his marina, making room for more than a dozen other Sail Malaysia boats to tie up in the marina. The morning we tied up, two mechanics came on board to assess our problem. By that afternoon, the pump was replaced and a more secure berth was made available. The highly experienced mechanic, Zaman, would not leave the boat until he saw that his work was leak free and operated properly. He stayed on board as we motored to our next slip. Satisfied with his work, he felt comfortable accepting payment. His labour was around $50 US. (Note: another yachtie asked Zaman to repair his outboard. When he wouldn’t, after spending an afternoon trouble-shooting it at his shop, stating the outboard’s age and condition didn’t warrant the costly repair, “Better to buy new,” the mechanic wouldn’t accept payment for his trouble-shooting time. “No fix, no pay.” And know this too, the mechanic doesn’t sell outboards and has no affiliation with those who do. The yachtie forced a “tip” as a thank you.)

Our story continues…

Prior to arriving at Pangkor Marina, I had obtained quotes to fabricate a replacement 1 ½” stainless engine exhaust elbow from Langkawi and Phuket.  I had spoken with a fellow cruising sailor who was a retired aviation mechanical engineer. He told me what to ask for, in welder jargon, so that I could flush out the pros from the amateurs and keep everything apples to apples. Langkawi quoted $625 USD; Phuket, $270. Pangkor Marina’s vendor, KNE quoted $225, and delivered in three days, pressure tested. When I went to install it, I found our bilge full of transmission fluid and a severed engine-mounting bolt—time for a visit from the mechanics. With rust visible on the brackets that support the mounts and the engine’s age, plus our plan to motor sail to and through the Red Sea, the mechanic recommended pulling the engine to ensure a solid foundation and an engine check-up. I asked for an engine paint job too. Hauling out at Pangkor Marina meant I needed to cancel our Langkawi haul-out reservation, which Rebak graciously did.

Two and half months and a lot of work later, we reinstalled a near fully rebuilt (compression tests were excellent, so not a complete rebuild), re-painted engine with new mounts, prop shaft (pitted), cutlass bearing (never going to be easier), and more. Took advantage of the engine’s removal to replace hoses and re-wire parts of the engine room, repainted the bilge. We had interior woodwork done, including teak veneer and water damaged wood replacement. The bottom was painted and the hull polished and waxed. We installed a new wind generator to replace our failed unit. And on and on.

Getting supplies and parts

While most expendable supplies can be purchased locally including imperial sized hoses, tubing, and stainless fasteners, more unique parts can often be sourced through Singapore. The most specialized parts need to be sourced through Australia, Europe, or the US. These foreign purchases can take between a week and three to get, and the marina will help you through the duty-free process. Throughout it all, a little thought kept popping into my head, “There is no better place in the world to discover and repair boat problems.” Thailand marinas appear to be run by Australians who know well the marine service business and charge Australian prices for their good work. The rest of SE Asia gives me the impression that you’re mostly on your own to find a decent service provider, to negotiate price, and to get it done in a timely manner.

In Pangkor Marina, the team works for you to make your experience not only less painful but actually a pleasure.

Living costs ashore

For the comfort and convenience (preventing a possible co-captain and crew mutiny), we prefer to be off the boat during significant repairs.  Monthly rates for extended stay services are extremely affordable. Our one bedroom air-conditioned hotel room with a refrigerator, washing machine, hot-plate, and hot water showers, and a simple five-minute walk from our boat cost us US$15 a day. Our little rent-a-wreck car is only US$6/day. The marina restaurants are a good deal too. Chinese, Malaysian, and western sit-down restaurants offer lunch specials for about $2pp. For $1 more and a 15-minute walk, an excellent Indian buffet awaits you at Biriyani. (These prices are based on 4 Ringgit to US$1).

Via taxi or rental car, (or bicycle for the more fit), there are several hardware stores, supermarkets, and a modern shopping mall complete with cinema and international chain restaurants. Access to the bank ATM machine is a taxi or ferry ride. For fun, Cameron Highlands, Ipoh, and Pangkor Island are close by. Penang, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore, though further, are accessible by rental car or bus. You can even get healthcare issues resolved cheaper near the marina than in Penang, an international medical vacation destination. Pantai Hospital in Sitiawan is excellent and brand new. Prices are inexpensive with walk-in services available.

It can’t be this great, right? What’s the hitch?

Marina Island, where the marina is located, is clean and very secure, but may not be as exciting as Langkawi or Phuket. Pangkor Marina is quiet.

The marina is small-sized for wet berths, large for dry, open and covered.

There can be a language barrier. You thought you were clear. They said “Yes,” they understand and agree, but by the work done or not done, obviously they did not. I found treating the staff with kindness, a smile, and patience, learning their names, a little about their lives, greeting them in their language(s), being honest with timetables, all this helps to gain even greater response when a problem arises. James, the team, and the service providers make a great effort to make things right. Just ask the many boat owners that park here annually for their maintenance and/or leave their boats to fly off to take advantage of inexpensive overseas travel opportunities (Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, India, and even other parts of Malaysia).

The number of qualified service people is limited. It’s wise to make them aware of your needs as soon as possible, even before you arrive, give James or the office a call so you can get in the queue and order parts/supplies ahead of time, especially for larger jobs. If you can wait for two or three weeks, things will get started. If you have an emergency, they will do everything possible to make your boat safe again, but it has to be a real emergency, not just an ambitious schedule.

Marina Approaches

When sailing into the marina, shoals surround the entrance. When arriving, sail to a point alongside the main channel between Pangkor Island and the mainland’s Marina Island (where the marina is located): N 04o 12.655’, E 100o 35.100’.  From this point, turn east toward the marina’s entrance: N 04o 12.699’, E 100o 36.030’.   Best to let the marina know ahead of time when you plan to arrive, and update them by radio (they actually monitor their VHF, ch69) as you approach. They have 24-hr security, but it’s safer to arrive during daylight when the tide is not low. The dockworkers will typically escort you into the marina or anchorage area (away from the ferries’ path) if you give them notice.

Marina Berthing and Facilities/Services

Anchoring here seems fine, but there’s commercial traffic that can rock you, and it took us three attempts before our hook grabbed. Getting a slip, if possible, makes for a better overall experience.

Pangkor Marina lifts boats using a US-made Sea Lift. Although it can accommodate most boats, some it cannot. The lift schedule is based on the tide and a boat’s draft. The marina does its best to please everyone. You may have to wait your turn to get hauled out or in.

Go to the Pangkor Marina website for contact information and a list of services.  They’ll email you the list of service providers if you wish to contact services directly. In some cases, it may be better to have the office understand your issue and let them discuss it on your behalf with the outside service provider.


James Khoo is the key to the marina’s success. Having managed several other businesses, including hotels, James appreciates the importance of customer satisfaction. Making clients happy seems part of his DNA. He can’t help himself but help a sailor solve his or her problems, and his staff is a direct reflection of this characteristic. I don’t know if it’s possible to find a more accommodating marine service provider, with the breadth of services, the quality of work, and the low-cost. It’s only by chance we stumbled onto this jewel of a marina. Now that you know, you might elect to make it an intended opportunity.

For further information, contact James or the office directly:

James Khoo +60 16 550 4088; [email protected]

Akina +60 16 523 1800

Bryce (my son) made this excellent video about Pangkor Marina:

Eric Rigney

s/v Kandu

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