Bareboating in the Whitsundays


Novice sailors can set sail for an unforgettable experience in the Whitsunday Islands.

Coral beach at Butterfly Bay, Hook Island.

Bareboat sailing in the Whitsundays is a wonderful way to soak up one of Australia’s most beautiful natural playgrounds.

While you won’t get to the outer reef, your boundaries of Hayman Island to the north, Border Island to the east and Shaw Island to the south provide enough scope for a few weeks’ cruising around Queensland’s Whitsunday Islands.

In between, there’s Hamilton, Long, South Molle, Lindeman and Daydream islands. Better still, there are many nooks and crannies to explore around Whitsunday and Hook islands.

You don’t need a boat licence to charter a yacht here, but someone on board should have sailing experience if you want to sail independently.

Options for the inexperienced range from tuition (pay per hour) from the sail guide who briefs you to full sailing training, which you can prearrange. You can also pay to have a sail guide on board for part or all of your trip.

The four-hour, pre-charter briefing is gruelling but essential.

There’s a lot to absorb and we found that it took a few days on the boat to feel comfortable with everything, from the smooth operation of marine toilets, electronics and sails to navigating around reefs.

Anchoring and mooring techniques, for example, are very important.

Stonehaven, Hook Island.

Stonehaven on Hook Island.

We hired from Whitsunday Rent A Yacht, which provides a comprehensive briefing, marine charts and 100 Magic Miles, the Whitsundays sailing bible.
You’re given detailed information about where you can sail and anchor.

For safety reasons, charter boats must anchor by 4pm and there are twice-daily radio schedules with weather and tide updates.

Radio support is available during the day and there are options for emergency help at night.

The only issue we had was a recalcitrant dinghy outboard motor, which was promptly attended to by our charter company.

Our 38-foot Leopard catamaran had large inside and outside covered areas, four comfortable cabins and decent bathrooms.

Our cat included an electronic chart plotter, autopilot, good fridge/freezer, back-deck barbecue, snorkelling gear, wet weather jackets and the necessary safety equipment.

With a week of strong winds during our charter, we became adept at picking up moorings in 20-25 knots.

It takes good teamwork to snaffle an obstinate mooring and it’s satisfying to pick one up, secure the boat, then sit back and admire the magnificent surroundings with an accompanying beverage.

Sandy Bay, South Molle Island.

Sandy Bay, South Molle Island.

There’s competition for overnight moorings at the more popular spots, but we didn’t have trouble finding one.

In any case, there are many places to anchor, including all-weather locations like Nara and Macona inlets at the southern end of Hook Island.

You can also pay for an overnight marina berth at Hamilton Island, with its many facilities, or a mooring at Palm Bay Resort (Long Island).

The charter companies have recommended itineraries, as well as tips for where to snorkel, swim and not swim.

In our six-day charter, we had overnight stops at Henning Island, Chalkies Beach, Macona Inlet, Stonehaven, Nara Inlet and Sandy Bay.

We also visited Whitehaven Beach (in the south) and Langford Island and Butterfly Bay (in the north).

Stonehaven and Butterfly Bay were my favourite places, but there was no shortage of scenic competition. Try not to cover too much territory. It’s better to amble around, drop the “pick” for a lunchtime swim or beachcomb, then find a nice anchorage for the night. After all, it’s a cruising holiday, so you don’t need to set a frantic pace.

Sunset mooring at Henning Island.

Sunset mooring at Henning Island.

Go with the tide as much as possible. Tides can be fierce in the Whitsundays and seven or eight knots of pace with the tide behind you can become a three-knot struggle in the opposite direction.

Be aware of the tides when anchoring. Some days they vary almost 4m. Charter costs vary, depending on the boat and time of year. Catamarans cost more. As a guide, hiring starts from about $600 per day for a monohull and $900 per day for a large cat.

You also need to allow for insurance, marine park fees, diesel, equipment hire (e.g. stinger suits, fishing gear) and provisioning. You can provision the boat yourself or use a provisioning service (food and beverages). We used Whitsunday Provisioning and they did a great job. You can save money doing it yourself, but it’s convenient to have your supplies preloaded.

Charter companies have helpful information online if you want to plan a sailing holiday in the Whitsundays. It’s a stunning place to lose yourself for a week on a yacht. Stay longer if you can.

Bareboating tips

  • Duffel bags are easier to stow. Pack lightly.
  • Take reef shoes, a hat, sunscreen, lip balm and insect repellent.
  • Include some warm clothes.
  • A ‘dry bag’ is handy for going ashore.
  • Plan your day around the tides.
  • Research the pros and cons for different times of the year.



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Things to note

The information in this article has been prepared for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice or specific advice to any particular person. Any advice contained in the document is general advice, not intended as legal advice or professional advice and does not take into account any person’s particular circumstances. Before acting on anything based on this advice you should consider its appropriateness to you, having regard to your objectives and needs.