Anchoring and mooring in the Whitsundays


Knowing the guidelines around mooring and anchoring around the Whitsunday Islands is important knowledge for boating visitors.

The Whitsunday Islands are located within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. To protect & conserve this fragile marine environment, bareboat visitors are asked to adhere to responsible anchoring and mooring guidelines.

In the post, we’ll share what you need to know about anchoring and mooring around the Islands and how to identify reef protection markers.

Cid Harbour Whitsunday Rent a Yacht

Mooring in the Whitsundays

There are more than 100 public moorings scattered throughout the Whitsunday Islands. They are maintained by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Public moorings are free to use and are, in most cases, located in areas of live coral. If one is available, always take the option to pick up a mooring over dropping the anchor.

Moorings operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.  Between 7am to 5pm a 2 hour time limit applies to mooring use.

It’s worth knowing that you can stay overnight if you pick up a mooring after 3 pm, as the time limit does not apply overnight (between 5pm to 7am).

The difference between Mooring and Reef Protection Markers in the Whitsundays

The Great Barrier Reef has installed public moorings and reef protection markers to preserve sensitive habitats and avoid damage to coral from anchors.

You can identify a public mooring by the blue plastic float. Look for the plastic tag with more info on the mooring, including any time limits.

The White pyramid markers are reef protection buoys. They create an imaginary barrier around no-boat zones. Always anchor outside the reef protection markers, preferably on a sandy or muddy patch well away from the coral.

Please report any damaged mooring here or let us know in your “radio sched”.

How to pick up a mooring

This GBRMPA video has step by step instructions on how to pick up a mooring as well as guideline info.

Moorings are colour coded around the islands to suit different vessel sizes.

Mooring codes

Anchoring in the Whitsundays

Anchoring outside of reef protection areas is an option around the Islands.

We can’t stress enough how important it is to anchor responsibly.

Anchors can damage coral reefs by

  • The chain dropping or dragging on coral
  • A vessel grounding when the wind changes or when the tide ebbs
  • A chain or rope wrapping around coral and breaking pieces off.

What to look out for before dropping the anchor

  • It’s best to anchor in sand or mud.
  • Ensure your chosen location allows for adequate swing room.
  • Check the depth
  • Check for hazards – including reef, rocks, shallow water and other vessels.
  • Bareboat charter vessels are to be at their overnight anchorage by 4 pm (an anchorage is your overnight location, which can be mooring or anchoring).

How to anchor a boat

Anchoring a boat is a skill that can be learned or brushed up on before you take out your first charter and will be practiced during your briefing.

There is a routine to the procedure if you follow these simple steps you will be confidently anchoring overnight in no time.

1 – Find where you want to anchor

The first step is to ensure you are anchoring in an appropriate spot. It always pays to do a bit of planning. Use the copy of 100 Magic Miles found on your vessel to help determine a safe anchorage area taking into account the weather, tides and winds.  You can also discuss your plans with our operations team by radio or phone during your charter.

When you choose a location to anchor for the night, you will want to face the direction of the wind and be within the lee of the land.

You’ll need to know the tidal variation between low and high tide to be certain that the anchorage has enough depth to accommodate the depth of your vessel (draught) at all stages of tide and that you have enough scope (see below) out when the tide is highest.

All of the recommended anchorages in the Whitsundays have appropriate ocean floor for the anchor which comes with your yacht.

2 – Prepare the boat to anchor

Drop the sails and ensure that your dinghy is either in its davits or tied off short alongside your vessel to avoid a prop-wrap. Motor at idle into the wind and approach your selected anchoring site.

Remember that your boat will not stay at the exact anchoring site, it will sit some distance downwind or down current from the anchor point.  Always ensure that you are not too close to reefs which might become an obstacle at low tide.

Once you have examined and confirmed your chosen anchoring site. Have one person steering the boat and one person positioned to drop the anchor.

Calculate the scope required for the maximum depth of the duration of your stay (considering tidal variation).

3 – Lowering the anchor

As the vessel slowly moves astern, begin lowering the anchor to the ocean floor, ensuring that sufficient chain has been laid out (scope).

4 – Let out the chain with enough scope

Remain in reverse while continuing to let out the correct length of chain.

You need to let enough chain for the required scope. Remember the two golden rules:

  • Whitsunday Rent A Yacht uses a 5 to 1 ratio when calculating scope, which you will be trained on calculating during your briefing.
  • If in doubt, let more out.

5 – Setting the anchor

To set the anchor slowly increase engine RPM in reverse to ensure the anchor is not dragging.

6 – Completing the anchoring process

Attach your snubber or bridle to the chain, let the chain out again until the snubber or bridle takes all of the weight and the chain is loose to the anchor winch.

Take your bearings from prominent landmarks when you anchor so you can determine any changes in position.

Finally, shut your engines down and crack open your well-earned “sundowner”!


Whitsunday rent a yacht

Will I learn about anchoring and mooring in my bareboat briefing?

Yes, you will practice how to anchor and pick up a mooring.  You will likely be dropping the anchor and or picking up a mooring every day!

Do I need boating experience to charter a yacht in the Whitsundays?

You do not need a license when you hire a bareboat in the Whitsundays. While some boating knowledge is helpful, we support everyone to hire a boat with us.

If your briefer thinks you are not ready to take the boat out, they will suggest more training time or a sail guide for your first night.

Learn more about how to prepare for sailing the Whitsundays for the first time.

Taking an interest in how to anchor or pick up a mooring around the Whitsunday Islands is important knowledge to protect our amazing yet fragile underwater world.


Sail Whitsunday Rent a Yacht and enjoy the freedom to explore.
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