Buy Yourself A Banka

“there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats” The Mole, ‘The Wind In The Willows’, Kenneth Grahame 1908

One of the wonderful things about living in the Philippines, an archipelago of over 7,000 islands, is that you are never far from the water. Unless you choose to live up a mountain, most expats find themselves living pretty close to the sea. Apart from my time living in Manila, I was never more than a kilometre from the water. So a boat was a must-have.

Banka Boat

What’s A Banka?

The local outrigger is called a banka, or banca, unless it is rather largish and then they call them pump boats. If it has a small lawn mower like engine it is a banka; if it has a car or truck engine then it is a pump boat. There are smaller versions with no engine, just paddles or a crab-claw sail made from rice sacks or tarps; but let us focus on the banka. It will be between 20 to 30 feet long, powered by a 5-8hp petrol motor and steered by a long bamboo tiller. If you wish to be authentic you steer with the tiller under one arm and the throttle string between your toes.

I bought a 30 foot fishing banka off an American C-130 pilot and had his wife’s relatives deliver the boat up the Cebu coast to me in Bogo. I’d made friends with one of the Baragay Tanod who patrolled the Bogo wharf and he kept an eye on it for me for a few hundred peso a month. I painted it, fixed it up with navigation lights and all the right safety gear and had a lot of fun with it for a year. I sold it when I moved from Bogo to Cebu City and didn’t know where to keep it. I shouldn’t have worried because this is the Pilipeens! All I needed do was have my man run it down the coast to Talisay and leave it among the hundred other boats drawn up on the beach!

What About Something Bigger?

I used to run the boat from Bogo to Malapascua Island when I was involved in a resort project there. It was used to get my mate and all his worldly goods off the island when things turned a bit sour. I also rented it to some Koreans to go fishing in and circumnavigated the Dayhagon Channel separating Cebu from Daanbantayan in it; a channel so narrow I had to wait for high tide for enough water under my keel but the outriggers nearly touched both banks.

If you want something roomier you can buy the bigger pump boat and they can be made rather comfortable as a live-aboard. The good thing about living on a pump boat rather than a western yacht or motor boat is they fit in better, they just blend into the background. Makes you less of a target but eventually the local pirates will know which one belongs to the kano and hence worth robbing. This is why it pays to hire a good crewman and let him sleep aboard with his bolo, especially if you are ashore for long periods.

The other problem with buying one is the owner will want far too much money for it, as is the case with anything second hand in the Pinas. The boat really needs a good going over to make sure it is sea worthy and unless you plan to do a lot of island hopping, it might be more economical to rent a pump boat and crew for a few days at a time. Gather a few friends and their Filipinas and a lot of ice, beer and BBQ supplies and head off and have fun.

Perry Gamsby, D.Lit, MA(Writing), Dip.Bus, Dip. Mktg is a writer and lecturer who lives with his Cebuana wife and five Aus-Fil daughters in Western Sydney. The author of a series of best-selling ‘self-help’ books for expats and those married to Filipinas, he is also a Master of Filipino Martial Arts and a former World Stickfighting Champion who has lived, worked and vacationed in the Philippines since 1988. Perry and his family return to the Philippines on a yearly basis. You can read more of his writing on Philippines topics at


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8 comments on “Buy Yourself A Banka
  1. Greg Pa says:

    Nice story.

    We are building a 38 foot Trimaran sailboat, and a 10 meter Catamaran for Boracay & Tablas Sailing Tours in the Philippines

  2. William says:

    What was the purchase price of the boat?

  3. michael says:

    Im interested in Getting a “SAILING Banka”

    any Advice..where do i start..
    have one built..what are my options..???


  4. Martin Christian Aguilar says:

    I want to build a House boat.

  5. ADEL says:

    So a boat was a must-have.

  6. Zeferino Arroyo says:

    I also want to build a pontoon River house boat in Cam Sur…