With its breathtaking vistas, beautiful islands and coral cays, and an incredible diversity of wildlife, the Great Barrier Reef is a nautical paradise, offering one of the most stunning places in the world to go sailing or boating.

Marine tourism operators have done a terrific job in helping look after this paradise but with more and more people taking to the Reef’s waters in vessels, there’s an even greater need to follow responsible boating practices.

Careless boating practices such as vessel groundings, collisions with large marine animals, and poor vessel maintenance send more than a ripple through the sensitive marine ecosystem. On the other hand, responsible practices are extremely easy to follow and make good environmental sense, and are also very sound business procedures.

Responsible Reef Practices

In general

  • Be on the look out for marine animals and travel slowly in areas where they are known to be present, for example:
    • Humpback whales migrate along the Reef from May to September
    • Dugongs inhabit shallow seagrass areas – particularly in the Hinchinbrook and Townsville regions
    • Seabirds nest or roost on sand cays and islands
    • Marine turtles are commonly found in shallow reef and seagrass areas - especially during September and October when mating behaviour brings them close to the surface.
  • Drive your boat conservatively. Abrupt starts, excessive speed and extended use of full throttle not only reduce fuel efficiency and increase emissions, but are also hazardous to slow moving marine animals such as dugong and turtle.
  • Use the voluntary speed limits and transit lanes in the Hinchinbrook area.
  • Look out for shallow coral, or other natural hazards, and take into account tidal changes. Leave at least 30 centimetres clearance between the propeller and seabed.
  • Slow down to minimise the wake when you’re approaching reef edges, shorelines and beaches.
  • Check for nesting seabirds or turtles before pulling your vessels up onto beaches.
  • Avoid pulling boats up onto delicate beach vegetation such as sand dunes.
  • Take all litter (for example, rubbish, food scraps, sick bags and cigarette butts) with you and responsibly dispose of it on shore.
  • Collect litter that you find on and in the water, and ashore.
  • Be considerate of others when motoring or anchoring near them (for example, avoid wakes and do not anchor too close).
  • Keep noise levels low to minimise animal disturbance.
  • If you’re conducting a bareboat or hire operation, thoroughly brief your clients on Great Barrier Reef legal requirements and responsible practices.

When using outboard engines

  • Consider purchasing a new, cleaner running outboard engine.
  • Choose ultra low emission engines and use as a guide the Voluntary Emissions Labelling Scheme (VELS) developed by Outboard Engine Distributors Australia (OEDA) (see Related Links).
  • Ensure that your outboard engine is kept in good condition and is serviced according to the manufacturer's recommendations.
  • Properly match engine horsepower to the size of the vessel.
  • Use the right size propeller and keep it in good condition (nicks and dents reduce performance).
  • Properly trim your boat whilst underway.
  • Reduce unnecessary engine idling.
  • Reduce weight. Extra cargo in your boat reduces fuel efficiency.

When cleaning your vessel

  • Do not carry out major works at sea. Choose an approved slipway and maintenance facility, where possible. Contain wash down water that may be contaminated by marine life.
  • Do not clean or scrub hulls on or near reefs.
  • Use non-toxic, phosphate-free, chlorine-free cleaners (for example, baking soda, vinegar, citrus-based products, vegetable-based soaps). Avoid cleaners with bleach, ammonia, lye or petroleum distillates.
  • Use cleaning and degreasing chemicals sparingly.
  • Use non-toxic antifouling alternatives if practical (for example, silicon-based coatings, two pack epoxy paint) or no antifouling at all.
  • Wash down your vessel occasionally with a soft cloth to remove the slime layer and prevent the build-up of secondary fouling.
  • Regularly inspect the hull of your vessel and the internal seawater pipe work, fenders, anchors, open bilges, propellers and sea chests for marine growth. Report suspect species to the authorities.
  • If the vessel has remained stationary for an extended period, treat its internal seawater systems using a highly diluted (less than five per cent) detergent solution prior to departing port.

When maintaining your engine

  • Keep your outboard engines in good condition. Fix all leaks immediately.
  • Inspect fuel lines for cracks and loose connections. Replace the lines before they start leaking.
  • Keep a drip tray under engines, do not dump waste at sea, take it ashore and dispose of it properly.
  • Steam clean your engine rather than use degreasing chemicals, whenever possible.
  • Use oil absorbent pads to mop up spills.

When refuelling

  • Refuel on shore wherever possible. Use the correct gear and have spill response equipment readily available.
  • Always fill portable fuel containers on shore.
  • Use a proper sized funnel when transferring fuel.
  • Do not overfill the fuel tank.
  • Have fuel absorbent material on hand to catch spills.
  • Dispose of fuel soaked cloth at a hazardous waste facility, not in the rubbish bin.
  • Install appropriate equipment to prevent fuel spills (for example, auto shutoff valves, fuel gauges, and tank whistles).


  • Please report all oil and fuel spills and suspected illegal disposal of wastes.

Marine Parks Legal Requirements

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