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Sailing and boating in Australia is very popular, and enjoys excellent support from a network of parks, mooring fields, and marinas. With over 25,000 kilometres of coast and hundreds of fascinating destinations from large inland lakes to the Great Barrier Reef, the variety and choices of cruising grounds are near endless.
Most of Australia's population is on the coasts, and every coastal city has sailing, cruising and boating. Most have rental boats, and a few have destinations nearby for interesting and exciting sailing holidays on bareboat or crewed charters.
Yacht charter in Australia is as varied as the terrain and climate. From a small "tinny" to run around the channels in the Gold Coast to a superyacht charter for a sunset tour of Sydney Harbour with thirty friends, you'll find what you need for your sailing holiday.
Licensing is not required to charter a yacht in Australia, but you will have to show proof of competency. Some charter companies offer skill brush-up sessions, and captains and crewed charters are available in most locations.
Because yachting is so popular in Australia, the state governments have made waterway access a priority. A variety of inexpensive or free mooring options are available in many desirable locations. Some time limits and restrictions may reply, but most charter yachts under forty feet (12.2 metres) can find government or park moorings for little or no charge. Anchoring is available at the edge of most mooring fields for larger yachts or if there are no free moorings.
Well-equipped charter bases ensure an easy charter with well provided vessels, and an array of services and options from provisioning to extra water toys are available for most yacht charters.
The best spots to charter in Australia aren't in the major coastal cities, but near the cities with major airports. The cities have water access, and local rentals for exploring, fishing and touring and you can charter in Sydney. But if you're looking for a luxury yacht charter for a week long sailing holiday, you may need to get outside of town.
Airlie Beach: Airlie Beach isn't an enormous city with an international airport, but it is about 500 Km from Cairns and 900 Km from Brisbane. Either international airport is suitable to catch a domestic flight to the Whitsunday Coast Airport (or Prosperine Airport, airport code: PPP), though you may find a few more direct flights from Brisbane.
The Great Barrier Reef Airport (airport: HTI) on Hamilton Island has direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns.
Trains and buses are also available, but less desirable than domestic flights since the distances are so far and travel times long. Flying to Mackay and driving is an alternative.
Sydney Airport: Sydney Airport is a large international airport you can fly into from anywhere. It is south of the city centre, on Botany Bay. From the airport you can hire a taxi or Uber, rent a car, or get onto Sydney's public transportation to get to your boat.
The largest charter operation on Sydney Harbour is in Rushcutter's Bay. The easiest option from the airport is an Uber or taxi, however you can take public transportation. Many harbour tours and shorter rentals leave from Darling Harbour, also reached the same ways.
The other chartering centre is on the Pittwater, out of Newport or Mona Vale in the Northern Beaches region about an hour north of the city. An Uber or Taxi to Newport or Church Point can cost up to $200 AUD, but is the fastest and most direct except during the worst rush hour traffic. You can rent a car or take public transportation. An express bus runs from the Central Business District to Mona Vale, where you can take a local bus or taxi to the charter base.
Brisbane Airport: Brisbane International airport is northeast of the city centre and is connected to public transportation and has plenty of taxi and car service.
The centre of Brisbane is several miles up the Brisbane river. Like Sydney, some limited recreational rentals are available but it's not ideal for charter hire as the river is busy with traffic and sailing isn't easy.
Just outside of Brisbane to the south, the suburb of Manly has rental and charter options. From there, you can cruise the waters of Moreton Bay and visit several barrier islands and coastal anchorages. Further south, the Gold Coast has charters and rentals for exploring the Broadwater and barrier islands; these are mostly houseboats and power yachts. A taxi is the quickest way to get to Manly in under half an hour, but is the most expensive. Trains and buses will take closer to an hour and a half but are very reasonable.
Brisbane may be the best international airport to pick for a transfer to Airlie Beach if you're heading to the Whitsundays, as it's the closest major city with the most direct flights.
The most popular yacht charter destinations in Australia are on the east coast. There are so many choices, from snorkelling and diving the Great Barrier Reef and exploring national parks to catching the first spectacular New Year's Eve party in the world. Limited options for charters are available in Tasmania, Perth and Western Australia. There are many options for sailing and motor yacht tours, but bareboat rentals and charters are not generally available.
The Great Barrier Reef is the largest system of reefs in the world with over 400 species of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 molluscs. Chartering a yacht to snorkel and dive the reefs is one of the best ways to see this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town of Airlie Beach is the most popular starting point for charters in the Whitsunday Islands and to the reef.
The islands are enclosed in the Great Barrier Reef park and have many locations for diving and snorkelling. It is a tropical location similar to much of the South Pacific with warm weather, white sand beaches, crystal clear water and spectacular snorkelling and scuba diving.
Government and charter company regulations prohibit taking charter boats to the outer reef - it is far offshore from the islands. Within the islands, you'll find many public moorings available for no charge. They permit anchoring, but there is a plan for locations which must be followed. Also, take care not to anchor on coral. Your charter base will provide you a guide of anchorage and mooring locations, with instructions on how to anchor without damaging the coral if a mooring is not available.
Depending on the season, you may see whales, dolphins, dugong, turtles, and other large marine life. Reef fish on the corals are year-round and plentiful. Fishing is permitted in some parts of the park, consult the park regulations and comply with all zones. The Whitsundays have some seasonal jellyfish; check with the charter company. "Stinger suits" may be included or available for rental.
Hamilton Island is the only developed island in the archipelago. You can fly into Hamilton Island, and for a fee most charters companies will allow pickup or return of your charter yacht from Hamilton Island Marina. In town, you will find a grocery, and you make take on water and fuel in the marina and dispose of trash.
The largest island is Whitsunday Island, with Cid Harbour as a popular spot for those starting a yacht charter. Whitehaven beach is seven kilometres of white sand beach and one of several beach destinations on the island. Hook Island, to the north of Whitsunday Island, also has several beautiful coves and is one of the larger uninhabited islands in the chain.
Brisbane, the Gold Coast to the south, and the Sunshine Coast to the North are all popular charter destinations. Sailboats are more popular out of Manly on Moreton Bay and Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast. The Gold Coast is a hotspot for fishing and powerboat charters to explore the Broadwater and national parks all the way to Moreton Bay, though sailboat rentals are also available.
Only a few boats are available for bareboat charters as navigation on Moreton Bay and up the river to Brisbane can be tricky. However, many options are possible from river cruises to multi-day trips on the bay. If you're looking for a sunset cruise or a fishing charter, you should be able to find the perfect boat. Houseboat charters on the Gold Coast are very popular.
Moreton and North Stradbroke Islands form a natural protection from the ocean swells and breezes and make for comfortable anchorages on the bay side. Ashore, you'll find miles of beautiful beaches and walking trails, wildlife and birds, a freshwater lake, stunning views, and several resorts with cafes, restaurants and entertainment.
The Tangalooma Wrecks is a popular spot for anchoring, with spectacular snorkelling in the crystal-clear waters around the wrecks. Sharks, coral, fish, rays and dolphins are common. The entire island is a national park, and all the surrounding waters are part of the Moreton Bay Marine Park. If you're lucky, you can even see dugongs and whales in the waters around the island.
South of Moreton Island, The Terk Roo Ra National park and The Horseshoe beach on Peel island are popular destinations. Nearby North Stradbroke Island is a little more developed than Moreton Island and has several villages and more miles of beautiful beaches.
Sydney Harbour is a world sailing hotspot, with hundreds of boats out on any weekend day. The Harbour itself has dozens of coves and spots to experience the city and suburbs, from downtown to Manly beach and even quiet anchorages in a national park.
A few hours sail from Sydney (or an hour's drive) you'll find the Pittwater and the Hawkesbury River. Thread up the river and stay in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National park, or stay closer to the Pittwater with beaches, clean water and park access. Fine sailing, natural beauty, and secluded anchorages and moorings make this a popular yacht charter destination.
The New South Wales government has moorings in several spots around Sydney Harbour and the Pittwater for recreational boaters. These are available on a first-come, first-served basis for no charge. For the charterer, this is ideal as mid-week there are usually moorings available. Most have limits on consecutive nights you can spend on them, and there are maximum size limits written on the ball. Check with your charter base for the colour scheme for the area you plan to sail.
Sydney Harbour has several delightful spots to anchor with shore access. Far up the bay under the Anzac Bridge, Roselle Bay is a popular spot to anchor for a night. Dinghy docks give access to the Sydney Fish Market, the Glebe neighbourhood, and Sydney's excellent public transportation, which can take you anywhere in the city. Manly, a fun beach town on the North Shore known for the surf on its ocean beach and excellent restaurants. You can spend the night on state moorings off the town beach, or take up a trip past the Spit Bridge to Middle Harbour and anchor off a national park. Rose Bay doesn't have moorings, but from the dinghy dock you can walk or cab to Bondi Beach, visit restaurants and shops, or jump on the city's public transport.
The Pittwater is a quiet contrast from the bustle of the big city and a great place to see wildlife, fish, take walks through the park, and visit the beach. The Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is sprinkled with moorings throughout the lagoons and coves on the Hawkesbury River. You may spy dolphins, parrots, the white-bellied sea eagle, and a variety of parrots and cockatoos. The park has kilometres of walking trails and places to see wallabies and other wildlife. You can also reach the park from moorings in Coaster's Retreat, a cove off the beach with camping on shore. Around the southern and eastern sides of the Pittwater restaurants in waterfront yacht clubs and marinas are open to the public.
The town of Newport is a quick walk from the water, with an ocean beach and restaurants. In the spring and fall you may spot a migrating humpback whale from the coast. Further towards Barrenjoey head, visit beaches on both the ocean and Pittwater side, and you'll find more trails for walking to the stunning views at the heads. You'll also find a grocery to provision your yacht.
Fishing charters, whale watches, harbour cruises, and other day trips run out of the Pittwater and Sydney for something extra to do on your charter holiday.
All varieties of boats are available for rent in Australia, though not all vessel types are available in all regions.
Sailing Monohulls: You'll find sailing monohulls anywhere they charter boats. They're a popular and common sailing yacht in Australia. If you're looking for a more traditional sailing boat or have a smaller group of people, there are plenty of monohulls from small boats for couples to large luxury yachts for crewed charters.
Sailing Catamarans: Like much of the world, sailing catamarans are gaining in popularity in the Australian chartering fleet. The large capacity for guests couple with a stable platform and easy sailing make them an ideal choice for your larger charter group.
Motorboats: Traditional power cruisers and motorboats are available for charter in a range of sizes to suit your boating holiday. Small cabin cruisers and large power yachts may be chartered in most places.
Power Catamarans: Power catamarans give the space and comfort advantages of the sailing cats to non-sailors. If you don't want to sail and you have a good-sized group, you will find a boat.
Runabouts and Day Sailors: Small boat rentals are popular in some of the more enclosed waters on the Gold Coast, in Sydney Harbour, and places where overnight charters are less practical. You can find day sailors and small fishing boats to rent almost everywhere.
The Australian coast is thousands of miles long, and population centres and cruising destinations are spaced out. So, it's important to pick the area you wish to see when you book your charter since cruising range outside the local grounds is limited. Each cruising area is distinct, with its own navigational challenges and differences.
Many yachts in Australia are available as skippered charters but not bareboat rentals. Several locations with minimal bareboat charters, like Tasmania and Perth, offer crewed charters and cruises. Many of these are for day sails and specific tours, like whale watching or visiting barrier islands in the Indian Ocean. But multi-day charters and longer trips are unavailable.
North and South American sailors wishing to should be aware that Australia is on the IALA-A buoyage system, which differs from the IALA-B system used in the Americas. Red and green are reversed, so "Red, Right, Returning" no longer works. You'll get used to it, but when sailing in Australia you will need to take extra care not to misjudge the buoys.
You do not need a boat licence or permit for a boat charter. However, experienced sailors will be expected to show a minimum level of competence. Charter bases may offer instruction if you aren't comfortable, and most have skippers if you need them.
Certifications can help prove your skills. Among those accepted in Australia you will find:
● Royal Yachting Association - Yachtmaster Certificate of Competence or Day Skipper
● International Certificate for the Operation of Pleasure Crafts
Even if you provide written credentials they may require you to demonstrate competence.
The peak seasons for a charter in Australia run from September through January. This is the southern hemisphere summer, and Northern destinations like the Whitsundays will be warmer. The holiday season in Sydney is very popular, peaking with the spectacles of the start of the Sydney to Hobart race on Boxing Day and the always stunning New Year's Eve on the Harbour. Australia Day is another spectacle of boating, colour and fireworks.
January to March is the rainy season in the north and less than optimal, but year-round the weather in the Whitsundays is beautiful. Winter in the Whitsundays is still tropical and comfortable. The peak season rates have as much to do with timing around the holidays as they do with weather, and holiday rates over Christmas and the New Year will be the highest.
Sailing is a year-round sport in Australia, though you may find cooler weather in New South Wales in the winter, it's usually temperate and comfortable. Many will find northern Australia more comfortable in the summer months, but the rare cyclone that affects Queensland could interrupt your charter holiday.
Australia is an enormous country with temperate to tropical conditions on its coasts. The Australian summer, from September through February, can be warm. Destinations to the south are cooler, but Sydney and New South Wales still have hot summer days.
Winter weather is still comfortable, but nights can be cool and it will be warmer in northern destinations.
Sydney and the Pittwater: Average high summer temperatures are 27°C (80°F), with lows to 20°C (68°F). Daily variability may push the temperature over 37° (100°F) but it's not common. Most days have consistent sailing breeze of 12-18 knots most afternoons. Westerly winds are uncommon, with most patterns cycling from the south, through easterlies to northerlies. Temperatures tend higher and wind strengths lower as you move more inland into protected locations like Sydney Harbour and up the Hawkesbury River and the Ku-ring-gai national park.
The Whitsundays: The warmest time to be in the Whitsundays is from November through March, with average daily temperatures of 27°C (80°F). January is the warmest month. In the winter, the daily temperatures drop to 22°C (72°F) during the day and 18°C (64°F). It's comfortable year-round, though you may want a pullover or light jacket for evenings in the cockpit in winter.
Prevailing winds in the Whitsunday islands are from the east year-round. Most days have decent sailing breeze.
Winter visitors should know that cyclones are a slight possibility this far north. They won't catch you by surprise, but a cyclone threat may shorten or cancel a holiday so check cancellation policies and consider trip insurance for flights and the charter.
Brisbane and Moreton Bay: The Brisbane area has average highs of 28°C (82°F) and lows of 22°C (72°F). January is the warmest month, though December through March have plenty of pleasant summer weather. In the winter the daily highs average below 22°C (72°F) and may get cooler in the evening with lows around 11°C (52°F).
Summer winds are higher on average, prevailing from the east. The winter months have more southerlies with lighter winds.
The holidays season around Christmas and New Year's are the most popular and expensive times for yacht hires. This applies to all regions.
In the Whitsundays during peak season, smaller bareboat monohulls sleeping six start around €400 per day, exclusive of taxes and fees. A large catamaran sleeping ten or more may cost as much as €1,100 per day plus taxes and fees. The Whitsundays have several mandatory park fees charged per person per day on most charters. A skipper may add up to $400 AUD per day in costs, plus food.
Bareboat charters out of Sydney Harbour start at $1,300 AUD daily and run up to $1,900 AUD. This does not include holiday surcharges or New Year's Eve rentals. Skippered charters add about $700 AUD per day, but usually are not available for overnight charters.
In Brisbane, only a few bareboat charters are available. They are all catamarans, and cost about $1,100 AUD per day. Crewed charters on one of several monohulls cost from $1,020 AUD to $1,600 AUD per day, depending on the size of the boat and the length of the charter.
Most boats have a 10% public holiday surcharge and require a deposit or insurance bond to cover damages or accidents. The cost of this varies but expect to add a few hundred dollars to most rentals.
Yes, yacht hires are legal and does not require a boat license. Be careful if someone offers to rent you a private yacht or private charter boat as insurance and regulations may not permit this.
You can hire sailing yachts - both catamarans and monohulls, power yachts, power catamarans, cabin cruisers, small runabouts and fishing boats, and sailing dinghies.
What sort of holiday are you looking for? Everything from tropical fun in the sun to sparkling night life and fine dining is available, but not always in the same place. Do you want a luxury boat or are you on a budget?
Look for a company with excellent reviews and recommendations from travel sites. Reliable companies will have fleets in good repair and well-defined policies for cancellations and changes. Beware of reports of dirty boats or vessels in poor condition.
The Australian summer is very popular, though it can be warm. The edges of the seasons away from the holidays may have better rates and lower crowds, but even the cooler parts of the year are pleasant in the north.
Yes, all charter companies will require a deposit to book a yacht. This is often refundable if you make cancellations or changes over ninety days in advance. But read the cancellation policy and consider trip insurance if booking inside the cancellation window.
Charter companies will have a support boat to come fix problems should they arise. If your yacht is completely disabled, they may offer you a different boat (if available) or a partial refund for unused time. Check the details in your rental agreement to make sure you understand the specifics.
Your party size may determine the boat you need, so get a headcount before you look. Australia is a big country with much to see inland. If you are travelling from far away, you may wish to spend some time touring on land before or after your charter.
In most cases, yes. Specific requirements vary by country, but in most cases you must apply for an eVisa or an Electronic Travel Authority. Visit the Australian immigration website for details specific to your home country.