Please note: The Whitsundays Plan of Management has been amended. Some of the information below may have changed. Please refer to the Whitsundays Plan of Management for further information.

The Great Barrier Reef offers visitors stunning vistas – both above and below the water, but it contains some very fragile environments. As someone who is lucky enough to call this unique area their ‘office’, you have a special responsibility to ensure that your boating activity, and that of your clients, does not leave its mark.

An act as simple as hoisting an anchor overboard may have a significant impact on the world below. It may be years before the damaged area recovers or, in some cases, the coral may never return to its former glory.

By taking a little extra care when anchoring, you will help protect this delicate underwater landscape and preserve the masterpiece for others to behold.

Responsible Reef Practices

In general

  • Use public moorings where available.
  • Share moorings with other operators wherever possible.
  • Anchor your boat a safe distance away from other boats.
  • Examine the nearby area before anchoring to find the best location to minimise reef damage.
  • Anchor away from turtle nesting beaches during the nesting and hatching seasons.
  • Use the correct anchor for your situation and environment (for example, small vessels could use reef picks).
  • Use only as much chain as you need to hold the vessel, without compromising safety (remember that you will need to use more chain and line to anchor in deep water). Rope causes much less reef damage.
  • Keep a constant watch to make sure the anchor isn’t dragging.
  • If you’re conducting a bareboat or hire operation, thoroughly brief your clients on correct anchoring procedures.

When setting your anchor

  • Anchor in water deep enough to avoid your vessel grounding with the tide change.
  • Anchor in sand or in mud wherever possible.
  • Never anchor directly on coral.
  • Anchor away from fragile or sensitive areas including bird nesting areas, Indigenous heritage sites and shipwrecks.
  • Look out for the safety of any people in the water when dropping your anchor.
  • Never wrap the anchor rope or chain around bommies or large coral heads.
  • Set the anchor where possible, especially when close to coral (for example, swim the anchor in and out, and send divers down to check it).
  • If anchoring ashore, carefully place the anchor to minimise shore and coastal damage (for example, do not anchor on sensitive sand dunes or tie your rope to a tree).
  • If anchoring overnight, anchor before nightfall and double check the swing room.
  • If you revisit the same site frequently, anchor in the same position.

Anchoring Correct

When retrieving your anchor

  • Motor towards the anchor when hauling it in.
  • Use a float recovery system to haul in the anchor.
  • Retrieve the anchor when the line is vertical.
  • If the anchor is stuck, consider using qualified divers or swimmers to check the situation and dislodge it, or disconnect the anchor and mark the site for proper retrieval later.
  • If the anchor is caught on the reef, free it by hand wherever possible.
  • Do not force the anchor free by motoring forward.

Marine Park Legal Requirements

  • You can generally anchor in most places in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, but you must not damage or remove coral.
  • You are required to comply with all designated no anchoring areas.
  • There are specific management arrangements for anchoring in the Cairns, Hinchinbrook and Whitsundays Planning Areas:
    • You must take reasonable care not to damage coral in the Cairns, Hinchinbrook and Whitsunday Planning Areas.
    • In general, you must not anchor within 50 metres of moorings and 200 metres of pontoons within the Cairns Planning Area. 
    • In the Cairns Planning Area, vessels between 35 metres and 70 metres in length can only anchor at a designated reef anchorage or cruise ship anchorage or outside a Location. Vessels greater than 70 metres can only anchor at a cruise ship anchorage or outside a Location. 
    • In the Hinchinbrook Planning Area, vessels between 35 metres and 70 metres in length can only anchor in cruise ship anchorages, the Dunk (Coonanglebah) Island Spit Location or outside any Location. Vessels greater than 70 metres can only anchor at a cruise ship anchorage or outside a Location.
    • In the Whitsunday Planning Area, vessels between 35 metres and 70 metres in length can only anchor 1500 metres away from reefs or the coastline unless at a Setting 1 area or a designated cruise ship anchorage. Vessels greater than 70 metres can only anchor at a cruise ship anchorage or 1500 metres away from reefs or the coastline provided the ship is in a General Use Zone or Shipping Area.
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