Clearing in to Satun, Thailand: Stuck in the Mud


Last Updated on November 28, 2019 by Amy

I’m living at a 5-degree angle. Drawers aren’t closing properly with the usual effort. I tripped going up our stairs, unused to the weird effect. David’s nervously pacing up and down the decks of our boat.  Starry Horizons is stuck in the mud, and we’re waiting for high tide.

Sailing Langkawi to Satun

After cruising Langkawi, we cleared out of Malaysia and motored a few hours to Satun, the southern-most clearance port on the west coast of Thailand. As we’ve learned, most of the west coast is pretty shallow, with murky water and mangroves. Throw in local fishing pots, indicated on the surface by a small flag, and no marked channel and we were feeling some tension.

Using OpenCPN, we were able to track the ferries coming into Satun and follow their route around the islands and shallows. The port of Satun is directly south of the city, with the ferry dock about 10 km due south of downtown Satun. It is located at the entrance of the river.

Anchoring in Satun

Navigating Starry Horizons to the river, we found one other sailboat there: a monohull. We dropped the anchor just southwest of that monohull, slightly closer to shore. We had hoped to be in and out of the river, anchoring somewhere out in the open for the evening. All we needed to do was clear in, find an ATM, and get a SIM card.

Formalities Entering Thailand

We tied our dinghy up to the Customs Office dock. Walking out to the streets and around to the ferry terminal took us about 15 minutes. The immigration officer was very friendly and helped us fill out all our paperwork. A happy coincidence for us – there was no ferry at the moment, so no crowds to contend with.

The ferry terminal in Satun.

The officer explained that the next stop was the Harbourmaster, but the office closed for lunch. I found a tour agent who helped us hire a tuk-tuk to take us into town for an ATM and SIM card, both found at 7-Eleven, for 300 baht (less than $10 USD).

Harbourmaster’s office in Satun.

Back at the port, we completed our Harbourmaster and customs clear in – using a shortcut and hopping over a fence instead of taking a long way around.

Note: you must clear out with the Harbourmaster of each province in Thailand before you leave, and clear in with the Harbourmaster at the new province, completing local formalities.

At this point, we’d been gone longer than we thought we would be (four hours). Also, we’d learned that we did change time zones from Malaysia, which we didn’t expect. Now our calculation for the tides was wrong.

Stuck in the Mud

Sure enough, we got back to Starry Horizons, fired up our engines, and went….nowhere. The tide was already down low enough that the mud had trapped our port minikeel.

Once this happens, there’s not much you can do. We didn’t want to suck up too much mud into our engine intake pipes, so we quickly shut down.  David ran around opening the bilges and closing all of our seacocks.

The good news is, being a catamaran we’d sit fairly flat onto the river bottom. It would have been better if we were bow into the shore, but since the tide was flowing out, we were beam-to the shore.  There was nothing to be done except nervously wait for the tide to rise again. We were still worried about damaging our boat. What if the forces snapped off our minikeel? What if the mud created too much suction and Starry Horizons didn’t rise up with the tide?

David nervously watching the tide drop.

At low tide, we could see how badly we were stuck. The mud was soft and was up to the waterline on our port side. I could have stepped off the stern into the mud with my rubber boots on and my socks would have stayed dry.  We watched the sunset, saw birds hunt on the exposed muddy shore, and counted down the time.

Finally, near 10 pm the tide rose enough that we floated off the shore.  David and I carefully brought our anchor up and followed our track out of the river.  We dropped our anchor just east of the ferry channel we’d followed in and crossed our fingers that ferry boats wouldn’t wake us overnight.

Upcoming Haul Out

We’d cleared into Satun on that Friday so that we could haul out at Phithak Shipyard & Services, a facility nearby, on the next Monday.  Our haul out was to change a thruhull, but now we could also check for damage on our minikeels.


  1. Its unfortunate that you had these mud issueas in your trip. I hope other than this, you had a wonderful advanture. Thailand is one of the places I absolutely have to visit in 2019 🙂

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