Cocos (Keeling) Islands

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An online cruising guide for yachts sailing to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Cocos (Keeling) Islands
There are Port(s) of Entry here
12°08.114'S, 096°51.568'E Chart icon.png
lat=-12.13523 | lon=96.85946 | zoom=11 | y
Cocos Keeling.jpg
The Cocos (Keeling) Islands

For yachts making the passage from the pacific towards South Africa, the atoll of Cocos (Keeling) provides an excellent port of refuge in the often tempestuous Indian Ocean. Cocos is rare in that it is possibly the world's remotest atoll and was only recently inhabited by man. If the ancient Polynesian voyaging canoes did stop here, they left no trace.

This island group, which voted in 1984 for integration with Australia, is a lagoon seven miles wide encircled by a chain of sandy islets. Only two are presently inhabited. West Island has a population of about 300 Australians, most of who are on temporary work contracts. At the opposite end of the lagoon, on Home Island, is an equal amount of people of Malay origin, brought here originally to work the coconut plantation.

The atoll permits a big sky where clouds, stars and winds roll by unobstructed. The islands are in their last stage of their cyclical existence. Born of ancient volcanoes with lofty peaks have long since been eroded into the sea, the islands were reborn when coral polyps began building upwards from the submerged mountains. As new coral spreads outward, the dry coral polyps in the reef's centre died and collapsed to form the central lagoon. The sea continued to hammer at the edges of the island until channels were eroded into the lagoon, creating segmented islands, or motus, lying like a necklace of pearls in an azure sea.

The average elevation of these islands is less than two metres above the sea. If our crowded planet's atmosphere overheats and the polar ice caps begin to melt, the sea levels will rise and these islands will be the first to drown again. But for today the wonder of an atoll is the refuge it offers in a vast wilderness of ocean. Fish, birds, plant life and people all find their way to it's mid-ocean sanctuary.

There is also an anchorage behind the three kilometer long Home Island. However, before visiting there you must get special permission from the local Malay council. In the centre of the island is a field where flatbed rail cars rest on iron tracks. The cars wait under open-sided sheds to be loaded with fresh coconut and pulled into the sun for drying. At one time most of the islanders worked at harvesting the copra. Today the copra cars lie as idle as the people.

For over 150 years these islands were the private territory of the Clunies-Ross family. By the indenture dated 1886, Queen Victoria granted all land in the group to George Clunies-Ross in perpetuity. Throughout this time, exporting copra was the sole industry and the Clunies-Ross descendants prospered. Since the family sold the island to Australia several years ago, the hard work of harvesting copra has been largely abandoned in favour of welfare checks from the new landlords.

Entering the Malay village you can't help but notice every family has been provided with new prefabricated homes with indoor plumbing. With less than one kilometer of road that leads to nowhere, the natives rush about on motorized bicycles as if on some urgent business. On the south end of Home Island is a large, empty turtle pond. Its perimeter is marked by a large wall of stones, fencing off a corner of the lagoon. The Malays seem to have lost their taste for turtle in favour of frozen dinners flown in on the weekly flight from Australia.

Though Cocos has gone through some lamentable changes, cruisers who visit there for the first time now will appreciate the convenient services. Besides card phones on the beaches, the government also provides them with a free weekly ferryboat that goes from Direction Island across to west Island. A free bus runs from the pier to the government settlement where a bank, post office and supermarket are located. Next to the airstrip which takes up nearly a third of the island length, is the meteorological office where in pre-weather-fax days the visiting sailors would go to get a long range weather forecast before departing. Gales and violent squalls are not uncommon in this part of the Indian Ocean. Along the rock-strewn windward side of Home island is the sobering sight of a fiberglass yacht dashed to pieces on the reef some years ago.

On the lagoon side of home Island lie two rusted iron rails, the ruins of an old slipway. This may have been the spot where Captain Joshua Slocum hauled out "Spray" when he visited here during his solo circumnavigation 100 years ago. Close to the beach nearby is a graveyard under the palms. One of the marble headstones is marked "In memory of Maria, relict of Captain James Clunies-Ross, 1899" a conspicuous reminder of the islands' strange past. It was 1609 when Captain William Keeling discovered the islands whilst in the service of the East Indian Company. They were then mostly ignored until visited by Captain Clunies-Ross in 1814. As he passed on a voyage to India he came ashore and raised the British Union Flag on what is known today as Horsburg Island. He was staking his claim for he planned to return and settle there.


Chart Number - Chart Name
Chart Number - Chart Name
Chart Number - Chart Name


Give local weather conditions or refer to another page (a region or island group) that covers these conditions.

Sources for Weather forecasts:


See Australia.


Key to symbols: |Island icon – island |Port of entry icon – port of entry |Harbour icon – harbour |Marina icon – marina |Anchorage icon – anchorage |Needs data icon – needs data ||
  • Direction IslandDirection Island/wiki/Direction_Island Island icon – island |Port of entry icon – port of entry |Anchorage icon – anchorage |Needs data icon – needs data |
  • Home IslandHome Island/wiki/Home_Island Island icon – island |Anchorage icon – anchorage |Needs data icon – needs data |
  • West IslandWest Island/wiki/West_Island Island icon – island |Anchorage icon – anchorage |Needs data icon – needs data |


See Australia.


No off-lying dangers right up to the north entrance of the lagoon. Depths come up quickly at the entrance to below 10 meters. Proceed into anchorage under Direction Island. A night approach isn't recommended. Anchor off or tie up to the yellow quarantine buoy until cleared in.


On arrival contact the marine officer on VHF channel 20 when about 10 miles off. Anchor off or tie up to the yellow quarantine buoy until cleared in.


See individual Islands above.


See individual Islands above.


See individual Islands above.

Eating out

See individual Islands above.


List transportation (local and/or international.)



Give a short history of the island.)

Places to Visit

List places of interest, tours, etc.


Contact details of "Cruiser's Friends" that can be contacted for local information or assistance.


List links to discussion threads on partnering forums. (see link for requirements)



See Australia.


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