Staying Safe on the Reef

Each year millions of people venture to the World Heritage-listed site of the Great Barrier Reef, leaving with lasting memories of a vivid underwater playground, teeming with marine life and colourful coral.

Whether swimming with dwarf minke whales, finding Nemo, or learning to scuba dive for the first time, the following basic tips are handy to keep in mind when exploring the reef. While Australia is a welcoming and safe place to visit, you still need to take responsibility for your own security, especially when venturing into unknown waters.

Listen to the Pros

Always listen to the safety presentation given by the crew. These experienced professionals can read the weather and wind conditions expertly and it’s in their best interest to give you the most enjoyable day out possible, so be sure to heed their advice and warnings.

Swimming skills

If you aren’t a confident swimmer most reef tour operators provide flotation equipment on board to ensure guests can still enjoy a snorkel. The flotation equipment normally consists of life jackets or long foam noodles. Or where available, hop aboard a semi-submersible submarine or glass-bottom boat to see the action below from up above.

The platforms or pontoons of many of the reef cruise vessels also have safe swimming enclosures where young children can paddle around under parental supervision.

Watch your step

Coral can be hard and sharp, so watch where you step, especially when entering the reef waters from one of the many islands. Also, be wary of certain reef animals such as stingrays that like to bury themselves in the sand of shallow waters. Shuffle your feet as you enter the water to give resting rays ample warning.  

Slip, Slop, Slap

According to jellyfish expert Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin, you’re more likely to suffer severe sunburn than getting stung by a jellyfish while exploring the reef.

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. For the best protection, slip on protective clothing, slop on a broad spectrum, water-resistant SPF30+ sunscreen, and slap on a hat. Remember to also seek shade where possible and slide on some sunglasses.  


If you suffer from chronic seasickness, visit a chemist for seasickness tablets. In some cases, you may need to take these the night before your reef tour to maximise the effects of the medication.

If you experience nausea during your trips to or from the reef, remember to sit up straight – lying down will make it worse – and look out to the horizon. Advise a crew member if you aren’t feeling well.

Marine Life

The Great Barrier Reef is home to a large and diverse collection of tropical fish, molluscs, rays, dolphins, reef sharks, and turtles, so it’s to be expected that among this extensive group there may be a few characters to be wary of. But if you’re respectful of their environment, avoid touching any sea life, exercise the necessary precautions, and remember to listen to the boat crew, you should be fine.

If swimming during peak marine stinger season you will be instructed to wear the appropriate protective clothing, which will be provided to you on board. And don’t let your fear of potential reef dangers put you off experiencing its breathtaking beauty. The likelihood of being harmed is incredibly slim. If you don’t believe us though, read what the experts have to say

Read more about the dangers of the reef

Personal Security

The Great Barrier Reef boat tour operators exercise best practices to ensure the safety of all passengers and crew. It is your responsibility to take care of your family and friends ensuring all follow the advice and procedures given by the boat crew.

Multilingual Great Barrier Reef Tours

Many of the reef tour operators have multilingual crew members able to assist overseas guests in understanding the day’s itinerary and safety procedures. Brochures and safety manuals are also available in a number of languages. Simply enquire when booking.

No smoking

All reef tour boats in Australia have a no smoking policy. This is for both the comfort of other guests and to protect the waters of the Great Barrier Reef and its marine life from pollution. 

Alcohol, Snorkelling & Diving On The Great Barrier Reef

The consumption of alcohol is not permitted until all in water activities have ceased. Guests are not permitted to carry personal quantities of alcohol or any other banned substance on board the reef tour boats.   

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