Your Ultimate Guide To Sailing The Whitsundays
Posted: 14th September 2017
Posted in: Sailing
In this guide, you’ll not only get all the info you need for a hassle free, relaxing holiday, we’ll also let you in on some hidden secrets of the Whitsunday Islands so you get the most out of your sailing adventure.
Arguably one of the best sailing areas anywhere in the world, the Whitsunday Islands are a must do for any holiday maker or traveller wanting a trip with a difference.
Voted the ‘Best Cruising Experience in Australia‘ by Australia Traveller Magazine, the Whitsunday Islands are protected national parks covered with lush Australian bushland that provides a stunning backdrop to the crystal blue waters.
So What Exactly is Bareboating?
Simple. You rent a boat and take it sailing without the help of a hired skipper or crew.
You go with friends or family and with our advice, you’re free to take your boat anywhere you like in the designated waters of the Whitsunday Islands. Head from one special spot to another or spend a night on one of the island resorts – it’s all up to you.
How Much Does Bareboating Cost?
This depends on the following:
- The size of the boat.
- If you want a luxury vessel.
- How long you intend to go for.
- The time of year you intend to go.
- If you need a crewed yacht or not.
- If you need provisioning organised.
For a table of detailed costs, please see our rates page.
How Do I Get to the Whitsundays?
The Whitsundays are located on the Queensland coast just north of Mackay with the main entry point to the Islands being Airlie Beach. Access can be made by air, car, bus and rail.
Depending on where you’re coming from, there are international Airports in Brisbane (1000km) or Cairns (620km) (with another domestic flight needed to get to either Proserpine, Mackay or Hamilton Island).
There are daily flights into Hamilton Island from Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. You can see arrival and departure information for Hamilton Island here.
Many tourists also fly into Whitsunday Coast Airport in Proserpine. From here, there is only a short distance by car or bus to Airlie Beach and Abell Point Marina which is where many boats are moored.
Airlie Beach is around a 12 hour drive from Brisbane, 7 hours from Cairns or 3 hours from Townsville. If you’re flying into Mackay, you can get to Airlie beach in about an hour.
What Should We Bring?
Apart from food and clothing, all vessels come fully equipped!
Bring light personal clothing, a book, camera and possibly a tracksuit for the cooler months between June and September. A hat, sunglasses and sunscreen are a must.
Your boat will be completely equipped with linen, utensils, maps and navigation tools.
There’s also snorkelling gear on board that you can use.
- Beach towels for swimming in the ocean (we supply your bath towels).
- A good hat or two.
- Soft luggage for easy stowing.
Footwear should include sand shoes for the dinghy and comfortable shoes for bushwalking. You’ll spend most of your time barefoot on board the boat.
Whatever you’re comfortable in! If you’re going onto an island for the night, smart casual with shoes is the general rule.
Polarised sunglasses help in reducing reflection and improving visibility of the reef especially when coming into anchor. You can get cheap polarised sunglasses at a variety of shops in Airlie Beach.
What NOT to Bring
- Hard suitcases and luggage.
How Long Should We Take A Boat For?
We recommend no less than 7 days to get the full experience of the Whitsundays. So, while we do offer shorter rates – you’ll appreciate the extra time to unwind and explore. Our suggestion? Go for seven nights minimum or take a look at our stay and sail 8 day packages!
What Time Can I Start My Charter?
Most charters start at 830am. Early briefs may be confirmed the day prior to charter and depend on maintenance and vessel traffic.
On your final day, you’ll need to return to Shute Harbour – or to Hamilton Island by midday.
How Do We Provision Our Vessel?
Provisioning packages take the hassle out of organising food and drink.
They’ll maximise your time on the water – especially important if your cruise starts the day you arrive. Whitsunday Provisioning provide an online one-stop superstore for all your provisioning needs.
Airlie Beach has dozens of small variety and grocery stores and bottle shops. There’s also a specialty Woolworths supermarket with pizza bar and deli at Airlie Beach Central. The main shopping centre and large supermarket are at nearby Cannonvale.
Here’s a list of Airlie Beach shops:
- Order drinks online from The Airlie Beach Hotel.
- Coles – Whitsunday Shopping Centre
- Woolworths in Airlie Beach.
- IGA at Jubilee Pocket
- IGA on Hamilton Island (Front Street).
But what happens if we run out of food?
Simple! Just reorder by letting your base know via the onboard radio and they’ll arrange delivery to an agreed location.
If you’re going for more than 8 nights, it’s recommended to make a stop at your base so you can refuel, get more provisions and anything else you may be missing.
Is Bareboating Safe?
The Whitsunday region is one of the world’s safest boating destinations.
It’s sheltered from ocean swell by the Great Barrier Reef and numerous islands which provide calm and often completely protected natural anchorages.
During your cruise, we make two scheduled radio calls each day.
Each morning, we’ll establish your plans for the day. Each afternoon, we’ll confirm you are safely anchored for the night. You are free to contact us throughout the day by radio.
Mobile phone coverage is available in around 75% of anchorages.
Many of our charter groups are families with small children. Keep in mind, however, that regulation life jackets do not cater for babies and small children.
We provide children’s life jackets on request. Order these when you confirm your booking.
Do I Need a Boat Licence?
No. Sailing qualifications or great sailing skill is not required to hire a bareboat. No formal qualifications are required as the vessels cannot exceed 10 knots which is when a licence is required in Queensland.
Your briefers will provide the necessary training and are available for extra tuition as required.
How Do You Prepare Us?
As mentioned, your briefers will provide comprehensive sailing and boat handling tips before you leave.
They’ll give you a comprehensive run down of the boat so you’ll know exactly what to do when your out sailing.
Then, you’ll receive a familiarisation covering all aspects of navigating through the islands, weather conditions and suitable anchorages. They’ll then take you for a test sail to ensure you’re confident and comfortable. Your briefing will take about three hours.
If you have special interests – diving, fishing, walking, island resorts – this is the time to ask!
How Much Sailing Experience Do I Need?
If you can handle a windsurfer or a sailing dinghy you should be able to sail a yacht – the principles are bascially the same.
If you have never sailed before, a motor cruiser is the best choice of vessel for you.
Using simple briefing techniques and easy-to-handle vessel rigging, your briefer will show you the ropes. The most important thing you need to have is simple common sense!
Once the briefing as finished, will assess you to see if you display a practical demonstration of boat handling.
Do I Need to Know How to Navigate?
No coastal navigation experience is needed.
You’ll be shown how to use the Whitsunday Chart (map), tide charts and the navigation devices on your boat so you’ll know exactly where you’re going.
All navigation in the Whitsundays is by line of sight. Compasses, dividers, rulers and charts are provided onboard. The ‘street directory’ to the area – the 100 Magic Miles is also provided.
If you’re still not confident at the end of the navigation run through, don’t worry, your briefer will keep going until you are.
What Happens if We Get Into Trouble?
As standard, your charter company will radio in with all vessels each morning and in the afternoon.
They’ll provide you with the latest weather and also give you advice regarding where you’re planning to go and maybe make alternative suggestions based on the weather.
But remember, if you do get into trouble, help is only a radio call away.
Your charter company will be staffed from 8 til 5pm daily. You’ll also have contact details of a land-based radio station which will contact off-duty managers in the event of an after-hours emergency.
If you have a concern, your first course of action is to radio your base – staff can assist with almost any problem.
High speed helicopters and commercial craft will generally respond to any emergency within minutes.
What Sort of Weather Can We Expect?
The Whitsundays are situated near the Tropic of Capricorn, where the weather is tropical and pleasant virtually all year round.
A key benefit of the mountainous islands in the Whitsundays is that they protect many of the bays and inlets from winds which provides a great sailing experience in all conditions.
From May to September the islands experience south-east winds, with northerly winds with calm periods prevailing during the rest of the year.
Average temperatures range from 25C to 30C in January, and 17C to 23C in July.
See here from the Bureau of Meteorology, a detailed table on annual temperatures, rainfall and daylight hours.
Can We Visit the Island Resorts?
Yes! As you sail from port to port, you can choose your itinerary and schedule.
Be sure to contact anchorages as far ahead as possible to make sure that you get the berthing you need.
You’re welcome to use the facilities of the island resorts and join in the fun.
See more detailed mooring information below but generally fees range from approximately $100 to $175 per vessel per night depending on which island you’re at and the size of your boat.
Can My Boat Be Picked Up From Hamilton Island?
Yes! Please let us know when you complete your booking.
Are Jellyfish or Sharks a Problem?
The severe ‘irukandji syndrome‘ symptoms caused by jellyfish stings are possible through the warmer months.
Box jellyfish can also be found during the warmer months – predominantly, however, along the mainland.
We recommend you wear stinger suits at all times to protect against jellyfish stings, coral scrapes and sunburn. While we ask you to take care, the risk of being stung is minor.
Sharks are generally not a risk.
While jellyfish do inhabit the beautiful Whitsunday waters they’re not a year round phenomenon and they are not ubiquitous to all areas.
For more information on irukandjis, have a look at Marine Stingers facts.
Can We Bring Our Dog?
No. When you visit the Whitsundays, you enter the World Heritage-protected Great Barrier Reef Marine Park which is home to thousands of species of fish, birds, animals and marine life.
To protect our pristine marine area, domestic animals are not permitted in the marine park, the six Queensland National Parks (protecting 70 of the Whitsunday islands) or the four National Parks on the mainland.
Can We Feed or Touch the Wildlife?
One of the joys of bareboating in our region is discovering the incredible array of marine life. The most responsible way to observe these creatures in their natural habitat is not to feed, touch or disturb them.
Travel slowly in known dugong or turtle areas and never shine lights, including flash photography, directly at them. Take only photos and memories with you. Get more information about the Whitsunday wildlife in this Whitsunday area visitor guide.
Can we do a reef trip from our boat?
Yes! The Outer Great Barrier Reef extends north from Cairns and south to Gladstone, and is home to thousands of marine species. It provides an amazing ecosystem and we’re privileged to enjoy the islands fringing reef systems within the national park.
The plane will land close to your location and you’re then whisked off to the edge of the Barrier Reef Marine Park at Hardy Lagoon.
Here you’ll experience 2 hours snorkeling at the sheltered private lagoon, coral viewing in a semi submersible boat, enjoy snacks and celebrate your day with a glass of bubbles.
Then, you’ll take an amazing scenic flight over heart reef and the Whitsunday Islands back to your vessel. Contact us about this amazing experience.
How Big Are The boats?
The first step is organising your crew. The size of your group will determine which boat you should take. Then you can choose a boat from our large range of options.
All boats have a number of private cabins, and some have en suite bathrooms too.
Bigger than a caravan, but smaller than an apartment, every boat still has all the creature comforts to make a perfect holiday.
If you’ve ever wanted to have a houseboat holiday, this is it. All vessels are supplied with an AM/FM Radio and all vessels have a CD player. There is also iPod connectivity, some may also charge your device.
Space is important on your boat so depending on how many people you have and your budget, spending a bit more for a larger boat will make your holiday that much more enjoyable.
Which boat is right for us?
At Whitsunday Holidays, we have a big selection of yachts and catamarans and don’t worry, if you don’t have much sailing experience, we have the perfect option for you also.
If you’re a seasoned sailing veteran, we’ll have the perfect boat for you but if you’d rather not sail, then there’s plenty of options for you to cruise around with the motor on and not worry about the sails.
Are there Luxury Boats that I can hire in the Whitsundays
Yes. Please see our range of luxury yachts here.
Are there any deals at the moment?
Cooking Facilities on the Boat
All vessels are supplied with crockery, cutlery, cooking gear, coffee plunger, gas stove, gas BBQ and fridge/freezers.
All vessels have an oven. All vessels are supplied with enough pots, pans, cutlery and crockery to cope with the specified amount of people that vessel can carry.
Prior to your charter you can download your vessel operation manual which gives you a full inventory of the galley and the vessel. Here’s the brochure for Alani.
Maps of Whitsunday Islands
Where to go + Anchorages
The tropical islands are fringed with coral reefs and white beaches, and feature numerous secure anchorages. The Great Barrier Reef protects the Whitsundays from ocean swells allowing calm sailing conditions all year round. Here’s a map of all anchorage sites.
The reef and islands all form part of the vast Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and, as such, the sea-life and wildlife are protected, and fishing is restricted in some areas.
There are 74 islands which encompass the Whitsunday group.
We recommend having a loose plan of what you want to see and do whilst you’re here, be it Bushwalks, Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet Lookout, Scuba, Fishing, Snorkelling, resort hopping or all of the above. Your briefer can then give you a rough itinerary based on the weather predictions before you depart.
Time between anchorages is usually less than two hours.
Please note that the Cruising Area will be discussed thoroughly during your brief.
Whitsunday Islands Mooring Fees
Resort and Marina: Daydream Island Resort and Spa. (*Note under refurbishment until mid-2018)
Facilities: Several restaurants, bar, swimming pools, showers, mini-golf, playground, cinema and other activities.
Cost: Mooring is $150 per night.
Anchorages: Six moorings are situated outside the marina on the east side of the islands.
How to Book: The resort will allocate a mooring. Contact them by phone or channel 17.
Phone: 07 4948 8488
Radio Contact: Channel 17 on approach.
Other: Beach towels are available from the resort for a deposit of $20 per towel.
Resort and Marina: Hamilton Island Marina
Facilities: Fuel available 24/7, laundry, wireless internet, toilets, showers, supermarket, restaurants, pubs, marine services, spa, swimming pools, sports club and golf.
Cost: Berthing fees range from $115 to $130 per night. Fees vary depending on the size of vessel. Day fees are $18 per day, usually limited to two hours.
Anchorages: 301 berths, with super yacht berthing up to 60 metres.
How to Book: Long-term bookings should be made in advance. Guests should complete the berthing agreement and pay in advance. Casual bookings or day visits can be made on short notice. Check-in time is 11 a.m. and check-out is before 11 a.m. Early and late check-in and check-out can be arranged. Bookings can be made via online form or phone.
Phone: 07 4946 8353
Radio Contact: Channel 68 on approach.
Other: Marina guests have use of many of the resort facilities including beaches.
Resort and Marina: Hayman Island Resort and Marina (*Note, closed in 2017 for renovations).
Facilities: Fuel, restaurants, dive shop, water, rubbish disposal. Guests must adhere to smart casual dress code. Use of resort facilities, including pool and restaurants, is available with a day visitor’s pass of $120 per person, valid between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Cost: Mooring fee of $175 covers four guests. Each extra guest is charged $35. Fees apply to day bookings and access to restaurants between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. For overnight use of the marina, guests must stay in the resort.
Anchorages: Berths available for day use only.
How to Book: Make reservations in advance via phone or website.
Phone: 07 4940 1882
Radio Contact: Channel 16 on approach.
Long Island – Palm Bay
Resort and Marina: Palm Bay Resort
Facilities: Swimming pool, guest kitchen, restaurant, tennis court and day spa. Kayaks, games and books are also available.
Cost: $100 mooring includes two people. Each additional guest is charged $15 per night.
Anchorages: Separate moorings are available for monohulls and catamarans. Monohulls can berth at inner moorings.
How to Book: Select an outer mooring, then arrange berthing through the caretaker at the resort’s reception area.
Phone: 0477 770 133
Radio Contact: Channel 81
Other: For use of day spa, book in advance by phone: 0409 100 611.
Cape Gloucester Eco Resort
Resort and Marina: Cape Gloucester Resort, on the mainland
Facilities: Restaurant, showers and saltwater pool.
Cost: $25 for mooring for two guests. Each additional guest is $25 per night.
Anchorages: More than 20 moorings are available, including overnight anchorage.
How to Book: Call before arrival to arrange mooring.
Phone: 07 4945 7242
Other: To use resort amenities, go ashore to pay fees.
Resort and Marina: Montes Reef Resort, on the mainland.
Facilities: Restaurant, bar.
Anchorages: Overnight moorings by arrangement.
How to Book: Call 07 4945 7177
Here’s an 8 itinerary for an epic holiday around the Whitsunday Islands. Adjust accordingly depending on your timeframe or tastes.
Motor down the long narrow fjord for your overnight anchorage. Opposite is a track that leads from the beach to Aboriginal Caves and further on there is a waterfall which runs after heavy rains.
The site is protected by a fence and gate which must be kept shut to keep out the goats that inhabit the island. Inside the cave admire the primitive paintings indicating that aboriginal people lived here until recently.
Head to Cid Harbour on Whitsunday Island is a very large harbour and is one of the all weather anchorages in the area. With several sand beaches and a 1 km walking track from Sawmill to Dugong beach this is a very pleasant way to spend the day just relaxing. For those that are a little more energetic take the walk to Whitsunday Peak for a panoramic view.
Stop at Hamilton Island. This is a modern resort Island with a village that has all the essentials -bakery, bottle shop, general store, chemist, local art, fashion and plenty of restaurants to choose from.
Hire a golf buggy to explore the island and end your day by watching a glorious sunset from the lookout.
Sail over to Whitehaven Beach where the water is an amazing emerald colour.
The beach is 5 kilometres of sparkling white sand made up of 98% silica – a legacy of a geologic era when the sea level was lower. Take a walk up the beach and the only sound you hear is the sand that squeaks beneath your feet.
There’s no resorts, no buildings, just natural beauty. At the northern end of the beach is Tongue Point with a safe anchorage in Tongue Bay.
Once ashore it’s just 650 meters to the platform lookout with a magnificent view straight into Hill Inlet where the sands just beneath the water swirl to give incredible contrast.
The long sweep of Whitehaven beach makes a picture that all your friends to envy.
Cateran Bay, Border Island is a great place for a snorkel. The fringing reef has so much to offer.
Colourful corals with an abundance of vivid fish of all shapes and sizes including the resident Moari Wrasse, a huge blue placid fish with a big pouty mouth who gracefully swims amongst the other fish.
Further north to the top end of Hook Island is Manta Ray Bay offering some of the best underwater scenery in the area. Butterfly Bay is the perfect spot to pick up a mooring, to sit back and reflect on the days events.
Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island offers more amazing snorkelling with an abundance of fish and coral. Alternatively, spoil yourself and tie up at Hayman Island Marina and visit the resort for lunch.
Be sure to have your credit card handy as this resort is simply five star. Alternatively, you can just moor at Langford Reef for lunch before heading off to Stonehaven to pick up a free public mooring to view another amazing sunset and settle in for the night.
Black Island or as the brochures advertise Bali Hai.
You’ll also notice here a big ‘yellow submarine’. This is for day tours for non-snorkelers who come to this area by ferry to view the reef without getting wet.
Several hours south is South Molle Island.
This national park has some of the finest walking tracks with spectacular views of Whitsunday Passage. You can visit the resort for a small fee and enjoy the facilities including a 9 hole golf course, tennis courts and swimming pool.
Around the corner is Daydream Island (West Molle) with just enough time for one last snorkel before heading back to Abel Point Marina.