Sailing the Whitsundays for the first time | Whitsunday Rent a Yacht

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Tips for Sailing the Whitsundays for the first time

If you're sailing the Whitsundays on a bareboat charter and you're not sure what to expect, this post is for you.

Many people wonder if they’re able to enjoy sailing the Whitsundays on a bareboat without any boating experience. The short answer is yes, but it helps to do some research and a little preparation.

In this post, we’ve compiled suggestions on how you can prepare for a Whitsunday sailing adventure and what support you can expect. We’ll give you tips from our sales and operations team, details on our sail guide service and interview a recent guest on how he found sailing the Whitsundays for the first time.

Sailing the Whitsundays

How does sailing the Whitsundays on a bareboat charter work?

A bareboat charter is when you hire a yacht, catamaran or motor cruiser and sail without a professional skipper or crew. In other words, you skipper the boat yourself.  Bareboat charters are akin to hiring a motorhome and going on a road trip, only with a bareboat, instead of driving, you're sailing around a tropical island, finding secluded beaches and fishing off the boat between anchorages.

Bareboats come fully equipped with everything you need to live comfortably, including linen, kitchen appliances, safety equipment and towels. For a comprehensive list of what comes on a hired yacht or catamaran with Whitsunday Rent a Yacht visit this page: What's included on a bareboat.

Do I need a license to self sail in the Whitsundays?

You do not need a boat license to charter a yacht and sail the Whitsunday Islands. This is because the Whitsundays are considered a safe sailing ground - close to the mainland, protected by the Great Barrier Reef and popular with tourism operators who ensure the safety of visitors.

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Sailing the whitsundays

How you're trained to sail the Whitsundays on a bareboat

All guests, no matter what their boating experience, are given a 3-4 hour training session before they take their vessel out to the islands.

If after the initial standard training, a briefer feels that the crew needs more assistance, this will be arranged in the form of additional training ( $50 per extra hour.) or adding a sail guide for the first night. 

If you're new to boating, It’s worth noting that you don’t have to put the sails when you hire a yacht. All of our boats have motors and can be operated without needing to understand the ins and outs of sailing.

What's covered in the briefing with Whitsunday Rent a Yacht

The training session will cover:

  • Navigation, reading maps and using depth finders.
  • Boat operations such as batteries, water and fuel
  • Dropping the anchor and picking up a mooring
  • Understanding tides and winds
  • Spots to look out for around the Whitsundays
  • Operating the radios and the process of “radio scheds"
  • What to do if you get into trouble
  • Where to go and your itinerary considering the conditions
  • The 100 Magic Miles book – a comprehensive guide on board your vessel
  • Getting your boat underway and operating the sails (if this is something you want to do)
  • Any questions or concerns you may have

Prepare for your bareboat charter before you arrive

Experience and practice are, of course, the best ways to learn about operating a boat; however, there are a few things beginners can do to prepare for sailing the Whitsundays.

Tips for making a booking as a first-time charterer

Please make sure you tell the sales team when confirming your booking that you haven’t chartered a bareboat before.

The team may advise that you:

  • Book a sleep aboard the night before your charter so that you’re able to start your briefing early in the morning, leaving plenty of time for training.
  • Book extra training time with your briefer
  • Consider adding a sail guide to your charter (see below)

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Sailing the Whtisundays Map Navigation

Support throughout your yacht charter

Radio Support:

All guests need to radio-call our base in the morning and the afternoon of every day.

The morning call is an excellent opportunity to seek itinerary advice, discuss the conditions and your plans for the day.

We ask that everyone arrives at their intended anchorage by 4 pm for the afternoon radio sched. This is so our team know where everyone is spending the night.

Radio support is available between 7:30am – 5pm. After hours phone support is available in case of an emergency.

Quick call out response and support:

If needed, we can send a support boat from Shute Harbour to assist with your vessel's operations. Our base is the closest mainland port to the islands, so we can respond quickly. 

Whitsunday Rent a Yacht also have a partnership with our region’s leading support vessel business, Mars Charters, who have vessels located at Shute Harbour, Hamilton Island & Airlie Beach. Mars are available to assist bareboat charters quickly in times of need.

Help is never far away among the islands:

The Whitsundays is a popular sailing ground for bareboat charters and also many experienced sailing enthusiasts on private boats. If you did need immediate assistance, you could use your radio to communicate with nearby boats.

sailing the Whtisundays

Don’t be scared of adding a sail guide to your sailing holiday!

When you hire a yacht with Whitsundays Rent a Yacht, you have the option to hire a fully qualified sail guide to accompany you on your charter. Guides can join you for one night or the duration of your trip; it's up to you. 

Don't worry about having a stranger join your crew; all of our sail guides are amazing people who will add a positive experience to your trip. You might not want them to leave!

Sail guides are different to skippered charters, you can learn more about the difference in this post. 

How does a sail guide work?

  • A sail guide provides a service above and beyond your comprehensive charter briefing. They join you on your charter and assist in running your vessel or teach your crew how to sail.  
  • Some charterers find they're eager to learn the ropes under the direction of a qualified mariner, while others find that they want to step back and enjoy the ride.
  • You pay a nightly rate on top of your boat charter hire. All you need to do is provide your sail guide with a separate cabin to sleep in and food.
  • For comprehensive information about adding a sail guide to your charter, please view our sail guide information page.
  • Sail guides cost $400 per day.

What are the benefits of a sail guide?

  • Having a sail guide along for the ride can take the pressure off your crew.
  • A sail guide is there to help you handle the boat in a way that suits you.
  • Families with children tell us it can be especially handy to have an extra pair of hands, eyes and ears!
  • A sail guide can help train the crew. There may be one or two experienced sailors on deck, but it can help to have a qualified teacher to bring everyone else up to speed.
  • Our sail guides know the best anchorages, the hidden gems, the pristine snorkelling spots, the top hikes and lookouts – and they can even tell you lots of interesting facts about the marine life, flora, fauna and history of the Whitsundays.

sailing the Whitsundays

Sailing the Whitsundays Itineraries

It's difficult to fully plan an itinerary until you know what the weather and wind conditions will be like. However, if you've never sailed the Whitsundays before, it can help to become familiar with some of the anchorages and islands before your charter. 

Download these free itinerary suggestions for inspiration and local tips. 


While sailing the Whitsundays, don’t miss spending time at Hamilton Island

For those who are daunted by the idea of spending an entire week on a boat, a stay at Hamilton Island mid charter is a great way to diversify your Whitsundays sailing holiday.

There is something for everyone to enjoy at Hamo. For a fee, you can berth your boat at the Hamilton Island Marina giving access to the resort facilities including the shops, restaurants, spas and public pools.

Learn more about enjoying the attractions on Hamilton Island here: 15 fabulous things to do on Hamilton Island.

Sailing the Whitsundays 4 Boys caravan

Interview with 4 Boys and a Caravan on how they found sailing the Whitsundays for the first time

We interviewed Tom from 4 Boys and a Caravan to get his perspective on what it’s like sailing the Whitsundays when you haven’t done it before.

Tom, Aimee and their 4 boys are a full time travelling family. They had always dreamed of sailing the Whitsundays, describing it as an item that has “been on their bucket list for a long time”.  Sailing with us in August 2020, they didn’t let a lack of boating experience stop them from having an epic family adventure.

How did you find skippering a catamaran without any boating experience?

We had never driven or sailed a yacht before our recent charter in the Whitsundays.

The training we received from Whitsunday Rent a Yacht was excellent and gave us all the confidence we needed. Our briefing went for 4-5 hours, and our trainer made sure we were comfortable before we went out on our own.  

Do you recommend sailing the Whitsundays with kids? 

Chartering a yacht was an amazing experience for the kids and us. We explained how to be safe on a boat and around the water. It wasn't long before we felt confident in the way they handled living on the water and we didn’t have to worry about them at all. The boys loved learning about the ocean, reading maps and being a part of “the crew”.

How many nights would you recommend for a yacht charter?

There is so much to see and do around the Whitsunday Islands from Island hopping, snorkelling, fishing, bushwalks, lookout trails, caves.

We chartered for 7 nights as well as staying the night before our booking on our boat while it was at the Shute Harbour jetty (which we highly recommend). Personally, we wouldn't go any less to really see a lot without rushing.

Was it difficult mooring and anchoring?

We were a little nervous about picking up a mooring because it was something we had never done before. But the training covers the process well and we didn't have any issues.

Dropping an anchor is relatively simple. There are little tricks to keep in mind, such as let out five times as much chain as the water is deep. But you just need to do it once to get the hang of it. Make sure you practise dropping the anchor in your briefing session.

Did you get seasick?

I (Tom) usually always get seasick and have to take tablets. For this trip, I never once had to take anything. I believe it helped driving the boat myself. Also, the seas around the Whitsundays are mainly calm. We were advised on the best overnight anchorages to stay out of the winds.

Do you think it’s expensive to sail the Whitsundays on a private charter?

We suggest that if you’re interested in sailing the Whitsundays, call the team at Whitsunday Rent a Yacht. They can help find a package and vessel to suit your needs.

Chartering a yacht for a week is worth every cent for the adventures and the memories it creates. Being able to explore the Whitsundays on your own terms is a truly incredible experience.

Enjoy this video from 4 Boys and a Caravan showing highlights from their trip.

Follow 4 Boys & a Caravan on Facebook and Insta for more inspiring family travel content.


Every member of the Whitsunday Rent a Yacht team is focused on ensuring you have a safe and memorable experience chartering a yacht in the Whitsundays.

If you are thinking of chartering a yacht but feel you don’t have enough experience, the best thing you can do is talk to our team so they can customise your experience to suit your needs.

If you have any questions about sailing the Whitsundays, get in touch!




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