All visitors, welcome to the Whitsunday Islands National Park! The map at right is sourced from the National Parks brochure and can be downloaded here.
If you are planning a boating trip to the Whitsunday Islands there are a few things to be aware of that will help to make your visit safe and enjoyable.
Boating Safety and Awareness
The key to safety in a small boat is PREPARATION. Keep a note that VMR Whitsunday (call sign “VMR442”) can be contacted on VHF Channels 16, 67, 81 or 82 or by mobile phone to (07) 4946 7207. More details at VMR Whitsunday operations.
Always do all your normal pre-departure checks before leaving home and again before leaving the boat ramp.
If you are towing a trailer any distance you will need to have the trailer tyres (treads and pressures) and wheel bearings checked. Don’t just walk round and give the wheels a kick. Ensure that the trailer lights work correctly and rig a tarp or net over the boat to keep everything safely inside the boat.
Clean out the fuel tank/s, filters and lines and fill with fresh fuel. Get the engine serviced; double check the batteries and connections. Carry at least basic spares and tools, and the knowledge to use them.
Especially check your normal safety gear (EPIRB, flares, life jackets etc). Check the Marine Safety Queensland (MSQ) website if you are not sure what is required, click here – MSQ Safety Gear Guide. MSQ refers to “partially smooth waters”. In the Whitsundays this includes the area from Bowen in the north to south of Midge Point (and generally one nautical mile beyond the main islands). A Partially Smooth Waters map is available for download. For information on safety equipment and licensing regulations you are advised to check with Maritime Safety Queensland for up to date and accurate information. More detailed links can be found on our Useful Links page.
Make sure your anchor and rope is in good condition. We recommend at least double the boat length of chain before the rope and remember that coral and rope don’t get on very well. You will need to use a scope of at least 4:1.
Never, Never, Never, underestimate your fuel consumption. Take as an absolute minimum, 25% extra, 50% would be safer, and take it every trip. Always fill your tanks before you leave.
If you are sailing. The wind can kick to 25 knots (15-25 knots is common during the day) so make sure you can reef in a hurry if needed. A combination of brisk breezes and a short chop whilst sailing to windward will test shrouds, sails, halyards and deck fittings, particularly if you and your boat are more accustomed to lighter weather. Whilst you are checking, look at your keel fittings and hinge points as well.
Think about rigging a sun protection awning over the boat if you don’t have one. The sun can be a weapon on a clear day. Don’t forget to Slip Slop Slap. Take lots of fresh water whenever you go to sea and food if you are out for a few hours. Don’t forget to cater for emergencies. We highly recommend a VMR Whitsunday membership as cheap insurance should something go wrong.
We have found from our experience that anyone travelling the Whitsundays Islands without a correctly fitted and tested VHF radio is running a risk. Get an operator’s license to stay legal and understand the correct voice procedures and protocols. Whilst not perfect, a good quality hand held 5W VHF is better than nothing. Note that 27meg is rarely used in the Whitsundays because of poor reception and is not monitored by VMR.
During the day all the Charter Boat Operators and Commercial boats are listening on channels 81, 82 and 86 so you can be only a radio call away from assistance. Mobile phones have limited use. Depending on your supplier, they may not work at all in this area and only Satellite Phones will work on the Eastern side of the islands. Even if you are able to get through by phone, only the person you are calling will know you have a problem. A radio call on the other hand, tells everyone in the area that you have a problem. There could be help from another boat only 5 minutes away. More information about radio is available on the Where we Operate page.
A good steering compass, charts and plotting equipment is important for basic navigation. It is crucial to know where you are going and, if you need help, it will be essential to give rescuers an accurate position. “Somewhere in between Airlie Beach and Hayman Island” isn’t helpful…we really need a Latitude and Longitude. We have often gone to a position given by a stranded boat only to find they are in fact several miles away!
A GPS is a very good idea. Even a cheap hand held one will give an accurate position that you, or we, can work from. A smart phone with a Navigation app. can give a position but remember that navigation mode uses a lot of power so keep the phone charged. If you have a plotter, ensure that you understand the difference between “Boat Position” and “Cursor Position” We have spent numerous hours looking for boats that gave us a “Cursor Position” which was in fact miles from their “Boat Position”.
Use them every time you do your passage plan (every day you go out). In the Whitsundays the tide range can be significant and the Tide Floods South and Ebbs North. The tide range can be as much as 4.2 metres during king tides. When there is a large tide range the tide current can run at 3 knots in the main channels and double that in narrow sections and near some headlands. Shute Harbour is the nearest tide reference point and you can find tide tables on-line for 2020 and 2021.
If you have a wind against tide situation e.g. big flooding tide against a solid South East wind, the seas can build rapidly in the channels and be potentially dangerous to a small, open boat. Read up on how to handle choppy seas in a small boat so you don’t get swamped. Always check the tides and never guess or assume.
A lot of our beaches have fringing reef off them. If you want to beach your boat you will have to make sure you have enough water depth to cross the coral safely, both getting ashore and returning to sea. The current maximum fine for damaging coral is $500,000, that’s right ½ a Million Bucks, so it will pay to be careful. Most smallish tinnies need at least 1.5m above a zero tide (LAT) to clear the coral safely. “The rule of twelfths” and “Tide Bell Curves” can help you to estimate tide heights and times during a tide. See Rule of 12ths.
For observations on Whitsunday weather and where to find information see Weather
The Whitsunday Islands
We recommend the book ‘100 Magic Miles’ by David Colfelt. This book is a bucket full of local knowledge, not just all the bays and anchorages but lots of good, general information on the area. Buy it early then read it so you can use it to help plan your trip.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
“The Marine Park protects a large part of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef from damaging activities. It is a vast multiple-use Marine Park which supports a wide range of uses, including commercial marine tourism, fishing, ports and shipping, recreation, scientific research and Indigenous traditional use. Fishing and the removal of artefacts or wildlife (fish, coral, seashells, etc.) is strictly regulated, and commercial shipping traffic must stick to certain specific defined shipping routes that avoid the most sensitive areas of the park. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest and best known coral reef ecosystem in the world. Its reefs, almost 3000 in total, represent about 10 per cent of all the coral reef areas in the world. It supports an amazing variety of biodiversity, providing a home to thousands of coral and other invertebrate species, bony fish, sharks, rays, marine mammals, marine turtles, sea snakes, as well as algae and other marine plants.” – Source: Wikipedia
Some Islands have very nice camping areas. Check the Whitsundays Chart (taken from the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) website) at the top of this page. You will need to take everything with you though and there is a nominal charge per person per night to use a camp site. Open fires and pets, of course, are not allowed in National Parks and you should leave your campsite spotlessly clean when you leave. Check with Parks and Wildlife for all details.
Several of the Islands have good walking tracks; some are pleasant, particularly South Molle and Long Islands and some quite challenging, Whitsunday Cairn and Passage Peak. Hard work but the views are spectacular. More information at Parks and Wildlife.
The Box jelly fish season is nominally from November to May and Irikandji can be found occasionally, all year round. It doesn’t hurt to be careful though, so use snorkel suits, especially if you will be in the water for a while, they are good UV protection as well. You can hire snorkeling masks, fins and suits in Airlie Beach so you don’t have to spend a lot of money to protect yourselves. Country people will have more exposure to snakes and City people a lot more trouble with spiders than we do with stingers Stinger information.
A good time to snorkel is with plenty of sun overhead. You can snorkel the drop off anytime but if you are swimming over the reef you will need about 1.5m above a zero tide to avoid touching the coral. When the sea level is much over 3m above a zero tide the smaller fish are reluctant to leave the safety of the coral and the coral colours are less intense. If you are lucky, you may see small reef sharks and rays whilst snorkelling. They are very timid so don’t make sudden moves or they will bolt. You will see many other different species of fish though and if you don’t see lots of Turtles, your eyes are painted on.
Be sensible – Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has hazards from its native species – including a few snakes on islands, marine stingers, stone fish in rubbly and muddy bottoms and be shark smart. These animals are natives and you are in their local habitat.
Be shark and stinger smart. Read and heed the advice of charter boat operators.
Looking after the Reef
As you would expect, there are severe penalties for polluting. Please don’t leave rubbish around. In fact, if you see rubbish, and it is safe to do so, please pick it up and take it back to the Mainland with you. The Whitsundays is a precious place, so please treat it kindly and obey the rules – in general – look but don’t touch
- If you take specimens in accordance with the Zoning Plan, take only what you need, and abide by official limits
- Return all unwanted specimens to the water carefully and quickly, preferably to the exact location where you found them
- Collect dead shells only
- Check the shells for live animals that may be living on or inside them. If there are any, return the shells to where they were found
- Treat all specimens humanely and carefully, as handling some specimens may be dangerous.
- Stay away from marked coral reclamation areas – young corals are being regenerated throughout the Whitsunday Islands.
Enjoy your stay!
Thanks to Geoff Smith, VMR Whitsunday Skipper and Training Officer, for providing the above information.