Anchoring and mooring in the Whitsundays | Whitsunday Rent a Yacht

Check availability and get a price

You are here

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 bareboat 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. Popular locations have moorings with time limits. It's worth knowing that you can stay overnight if you pick up a mooring after 3 pm.

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 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. Look on your depth sounder for a flat and smooth area away from the coral.
  • Anchor a safe distance from other boats.
  • Never wrap anchor rope or chain around bommies or large coral heads.
  • Bareboat charter visitors are asked to be at their overnight anchor or mooring by 4 pm. We will check that you have enough swing room for the wind forecast.
  • Use only as much chain as you need to hold the vessel safely.
  • If the anchor is caught on a reef, free it by hand wherever possible.
  • Do not force the anchor free by motoring forward.
  • Keep watch to make sure the anchor isn’t dragging.

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.

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.

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 keel (boat bottom) at low 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 bottoms 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 up near the anchor.

3 - Reverse your boat before you drop the anchor

Before calling for your anchor to be dropped, put your boat into reverse and commence idle astern (staying still and preparing to reverse).

4 - Set the anchor

As soon as you start moving astern (reversing), call for the anchor to be dropped. Since you are already moving astern before you drop your anchor, it will lower to the seafloor. 

Set and immediately lay out the anchor chain nice and neatly across the seafloor without fouling the anchor itself (getting the anchor tangled)

5 - Let out the chain with enough scope

Remain in reverse while continuing to let out a sufficient chain for the depth of water you will be in.

You need to let your anchor out to a pre-determined length. Remember the two golden rules:

  • Let out between four to five times as much chain as the water is deep. This is known as your scope. If you are in a tight spot you might not be able to let out this much scope, but the closer you can get to this ratio the better.
  • If in doubt, let more out. Always allow extra chain in the event of high winds.

6 - Lock-off the anchor

When the anchoring crew have observed the pre-determined length of the chain over the bow roller, (your anchor chain is marked off with cable ties every 10 metres), lock off your anchor winch or release the "down" button on the anchor winch deck switch or handset on your yacht.

7 - Test you are safely anchored

Leave your engine/s in reverse until you feel the chain take up and you can confirm that even with your engines in reverse you are actually “holding station” ie. your anchor is set and holding your boat even though the engine is trying to pull you astern.

8 - When you turn the engine off, take note to see if your boat surges forward. This indicates that the anchor is set.

Clip or shackle on your snubber or bridle, let the chain out again until the bridle or snubber takes all of the weight and the chain is loose to the anchor winch, give your engine a few more revs in reverse, just to “test and set” your anchor.

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"!

Resetting the anchor

Setting an anchor is simple when you know that the winds and currents are going to be coming from one direction. However, sometimes the conditions change, your boat will swing and there is a small risk that the anchor could become dislodged.

Set your anchor alarm so you will be alerted if your boat swings too far in the wrong direction and risks dislodging the anchor

Set the alarms on your depth sounder to go off with a minimum and maximum, alert to inform you if the water depth changes significantly, indicating that you are drifting either away from or towards the shore.

Moving off the anchor

When you're ready to move from your position, all you need to do is drive up to the anchor and pull it upwards. Because the anchor is designed to dig in with horizontal force, the fact you're above it should allow you to release it easily.

As with anything, it can be difficult to grasp until you have practised a few times. We will make sure one of your crew members is comfortable with how to anchor a boat before you set sail on your charter. Once you've done it, you'll realise how easy anchoring is.

Whitsunday rent a yacht

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

Yes, your briefer will run through how to anchor and pick up a mooring. Everyone on deck should learn these essential skills. 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.

Thank you for reading this post and taking an interest in how to anchor or pick up a mooring in the Whitsundays. It shows that you prioritise doing the right things and protecting our amazing yet fragile underwater world.




Sail Whitsunday Rent a Yacht and enjoy the freedom to explore.
Contact us 1800 075 000 or