The magic and maintenance of Zanzibar Dhows

Wooden dhows are part of the history of Zanzibar. Maintenance on these are still done in the traditional method, called Kalafati.

East Africa Diving

Our traditional Zanzibar wooden dhows are a very comfortable and a very different kind of boat for divers.  It is slower than our speed boats, but offers a lot more comfort and lots of space.  It is the ideal boat to use for the nearby northern dive sites around us and is a social friendly way of travel as the engine is not so loud and divers can chat to each other.

If you have seen beautiful scenic photos of Zanzibar, you will most likely have seen these beautiful wooden boats in them too. Diving with East Africa Diving will give you an opportunity to experience the magic of them first hand. 


Boats are known to need a lot of care and maintenance, whether it is a traditional wooden one, a sailboat or a motorboat. In our 15 years on the island, we have learnt a lot about DHOW maintenance from the Zanzibaris.  There are three main ingredients in dhow maintenance: You need FUNDIS (experts), KALAFATI (coconut rope) and MAFUTA (coconut oil) to stop the boat from leaking.

The day before the KALAFATI job starts the boat gets BURNED.  This means a small fire is made under the boat with old leaves. This removes and burns off all the algae and growth from the last 3 months and causes a big alarm and lots of photos from tourists walking past!  Next up is the preparation of the rope: The coconut rope is soaked in coconut oil and then forced in-between the wooden boards to create a seal.  With all the boat movement on the water the rope decays over time and need to be replaced every three months.  Here comes the tricky part; for maintenance to happen, we need the boat out of the water. Although this sounds like an easy thing to do, it is very not that straight forward on Zanzibar as we have no dry dock. 


We do, however, have extreme tide changes twice a month, during full moon and no moon and the tide can change up to 5 meters.


So we plan for the dhow to be ready for work on the beach when we know the tide will be very low tide: Our captains come to work very early and pull the boat onto the beach at high tide. When the tide pulls back the boat is sitting on the sand, ready for work when the FUNDIS arrive.

This is where all the clicking sound of the FUNDIS.


The Fundis work their way through one side of the boat. Then tilt it over and do the other side. The whole job takes about 4 hours to finish.  The next step is to fill the boat with water and check for any leaks.  Meticulously the wood gets checked and even the smallest leak gets filled and fixed. Once the boat is securely sealed and checked, the plug of the dhow is pulled out to let the water out again. This all needs to happen while the tide is low and as the last checks are done, the tide will be coming in, lifting the boat off the sand and into the water. The captains then move the dhow back safely onto the mooring. This process gets repeated for every boat, every three months.

So if you have ever considered  buying a Zanzibar dhow, you  will need:

  • Fundis to do kalafati
  • Mafuta
  • An ocean filled with patience

Pole Pole

You have the opportunity to dive from a traditional Zanzibar Dhow when you dive with East Africa Diving. Send us an enquiry to find out more.

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