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Fast boats linking Bali, Nusa Lembongan, Lombok and the Gili Islands have proliferated, especially as the latter places have become more popular.

Travelling Safely by Boat

Safety regulations are nonexistent and accidents happen regularly. In 2016 two tourists were killed when a fast boat to the Gilis exploded.

Crews on these boats may have little or no training: in one accident, the skipper admitted that he panicked and had no recollection of what happened to his passengers. And rescue is far from assured: a volunteer rescue group in east Bali reported that they had no radio.

Conditions are often rough in the waters off Bali. Although the islands are in close proximity and are easily seen from each other, the ocean between can get more turbulent than is safe for the small speedboats zipping across it.

With these facts in mind, it is essential that you take responsibility for your own safety because no one else will.

Safety Tips

Bigger is better It may add half an hour or more to your journey, but a larger boat will simply deal with the open ocean better than the overpowered small speedboats. Also, trips on small boats can be unpleasant because of the ceaseless pounding through the waves and the fumes coming from the screaming outboard motors. Avoid anything under 30 seats except between Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida.

Check for safety equipment Make certain your boat has life preservers and that you know how to locate and use them. In an emergency, don't expect a panicked crew to hand them out. Also, check for lifeboats. Some promotional materials show boats with automatically inflating lifeboats that have later been removed to make room for more passengers.

Avoid overcrowding Some boats leave with more people than seats and with aisles jammed with stacked luggage, to the point where the captain can't see oncoming boats (this resulted in a boat crash off Nusa Penida in 2017 that killed one person and left six more injured). Don't use the boat if it's too full of luggage or passengers.

Look for exits Cabins may have only one narrow entrance, making them death traps in an accident. Sitting at the open back may seem safer but fuel explosions regularly injure passengers at the back of boats.

Avoid fly-by-nighters Taking a fishing boat and jamming too many engines on the rear in order to cash in on booming tourism is a recipe for disaster.

Don't ride on the roof It looks like carefree fun but travellers are regularly bounced off when boats hit swells and crews may be inept at rescue. Rough seas can drench passengers and ruin their belongings.

The ferry isn't safer One of the big Padangbai–Bangsal, Lombok car ferries caught fire and sank in 2014. A Gilimanuk, Bali–Java ferry capsized and sank in 2016.

Use common sense There are good operators on the waters around Bali but the line-up changes constantly. If a service seems sketchy before you board, go with a different operator. Try to get a refund but don't risk your safety for the cost of a ticket.