From the minute we heard about bareboating in the Whitsundays, it was extremely high on our list of can’t miss experiences during our lap around Australia. Sailing around the Whitsundays at your own pace, just you, the open ocean and some of Queensland’s best islands, what could be better?
If you haven’t heard about bareboating before, don’t worry – we’re going to take you through all the details. We’ve found that it’s not something people have really heard heaps about outside of Queensland. But it is an incredible way to see the Whitsundays, where you truly have the freedom to explore these beautiful islands at your own pace.
We rented our bareboat for five nights with Whitsunday Rent A Yacht, and they were the perfect company for our bareboat experience. They are the longest-established, Australian owned yacht charter company, offering people the most amazing Whitsunday experiences since 1978.
Whitsunday Rent A Yacht know absolutely everything there is to know about bareboating around these islands, and they really went above and beyond to make us comfortable in the boat and give us such a comprehensive lesson before we left the marina. By the time we started heading out we were super confident that we would be able to manage sailing alone for the next week.
But let’s get into all the little details about bareboating, here we go!
In this post:
What is bareboating?
Bareboating is when you skipper yourself on a powerboat, sailing yacht or catamaran around the Whitsunday Islands. After you rent your boat and have a quick lesson on the basics of sailing, you’re free to explore wherever you like around the islands.
The Whitsundays is actually one of the only places in the world where you can charter your own yacht without a boat licence. In fact, you don’t even need that much sailing experience, Whitsunday Rent A Yacht will make sure you know everything you need to know before you go.
Planning your bareboat adventure
When I started mapping out this part of the blog post, I realised that the easiest way to get through some of the key details is to answer some of the main questions we were asked about our visit.
Where does it leave from? Whitsunday Rent A Yacht can be found at their own little jetty in Shute Harbour. It’s the perfect place to leave from, as it’s quiet and way more chilled out than some of the other marinas and harbours around Airlie. It’s also a lot closer to some of the islands and good anchoring places that you might head to on your first night. Shute Harbour is only a 10 minute drive from Airlie Beach and within an hour you can be anchored at an island bay.
Can you take other people with you? YES! Our boat had 4 bedrooms and could easily sleep up to 8 people comfortably. Our family was actually meant to come with us for this adventure, but unfortunately because of the lockdowns in Victoria they couldn’t come up for this one. Just means we’ll have to book another one, hey!
How long should you go for? Our bareboat was for 5 nights, which was the perfect amount of time for our first time bareboating. Make sure you remember that the first day is pretty much full of your introduction mini course and then just getting to wherever you’re going to anchor for your first night, and then one your last day you need to be back to Shute Harbour by 10am. So really it’s only 4 full days to explore.
If we had of been with our family like we had planned we could have even done 7 nights. There is SO much to see and explore, you can easily fill your time with a new beautiful location every single day.
Choosing your bareboat
Once you’ve decided to bareboat the first thing to do is to choose your vessel, HOW EXCITING!
Whitsunday Rent A Yacht have all different kinds of options, including yachts, catamarans and motor cruisers. All of the different types of vessels can be motored, so you don’t need to sail if you’re nervous about that.
You can view each individual boat on their website, which is such a good starting point to see what kind of boat you want to hire. They are clearly labelled so you can see how many cabins they have, how many people you can have staying on it, and how many showers and toilets are onboard.
We rented the Yellow Fin for our charter and even though we wished that our family had of been able to make it, it was a great size for just the two of us. The Yellow Fin had four cabins and two bathrooms downstairs, an inside kitchen and lounge area, and outdoor lounge area and a BBQ to cook outdoors.
Best time to visit the Whitsundays
The Whitsundays have a sub-tropical climate, meaning they do experience a bit of a dry and wet season, although not as extreme as in Tropical North Queensland. The average temperature is around 27°C all year round, really only fluctuating between around 25°C in the winter months (June to August) and 30°C in the summer months (December to February).
The winter months, from June to August, are also whale watching season, and you are likely to spot humpback whales who have migrated to the islands to have their babies around the islands. It’s a little cooler during these months, but there is very little rain. The summer months will experience higher rainfall, as it is technically part of the wet season, although they are normally quite short tropical showers.
September is actually considered one of the best times for your bareboat adventure, when there’s minimal rain and warmer temperatures. We did our bareboat in the second week of October, and the weather was lovely and sunny but October has been known for being a little bit windy. That does sometimes make it difficult to get to some of the most popular spots on the eastern side of the islands.
Before you go
The charter check in time with Whitsunday Rent A Yacht is generally midday (unless you’ve made some other arrangements) which is when your bareboat lesson begins. However, if you want a little more time to settle in before you set off on your adventure you can also choose a sleep-aboard option, where you can check in to your boat from 4pm and stay on the boat overnight in Shute Harbour, before beginning your lesson at 8am and setting off a little earlier.
This is a really great option for anyone who is flying into Airlie Beach – it will give you enough time to go to the supermarket, stock up on supplies and really get settled in before you head off from the harbour. A sleep-aboard night is cheaper than the normal charter rate and it means you also get more time at sea.
A lesson in bareboating
Before you embark on your Whitsundays adventure, you get a 3 hour induction lesson, where you will learn everything you need to know about operating your boat and the Whitsundays cruising area. This was actually incredibly thorough and such an amazing insight into the Whitsunday islands and bareboating before we left.
Ian was the guide for our lesson and he was so helpful. He started by introducing us to the 100 Magic Miles book, which was absolutely our BIBLE for our time on the water. The book has every single thing you might ever need to know about the islands of the Whitsundays. It included details about where to anchor for the night, which spots were protected from wind, where to find the best snorkelling spots, whether you can go fishing there, the list is endless.
Ian talked us through some of the best places to visit around the islands, taught us how to read the maps and the 100 Magic Miles. He patiently answered all our questions along the way, and presented all the information in such an easy to understand way. Then he also went through our boat and the way all the different bits and pieces worked – like how to anchor, flush the toilet, use the shower and most importantly steer the boat!
The best past about this lesson is that Ian then comes out with you as you leave Shute Harbour, to make sure you know what you’re doing and you’re confident with all the different controls of your vessel before you’re on your own. Then just as we were leaving the harbour and he wad confident we knew what we were doing, he hopped into his dingy and that was it, we were all by ourselves and free on the sea!
A couple more questions that might be helpful –
Do you have to sail? Nope, if you’re nervous about using the sail you don’t have to. Whitsunday Rent A Yacht’s fleet all have motors, which makes it super easy to get around. We chose not to learn to sail and just used our motor throughout our trip.
Will I have reception during my trip? We found that on the western side of the islands, including some of the most popular anchoring areas, we had heaps of phone and internet reception and could easily FaceTime, make calls and post to social media. However, once you head over the top of Hook Island or anywhere on the eastern side of the islands, including Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet, there is absolutely no phone reception.
Can you contact Whitsunday Rent A Yacht once you’ve left the harbour? Absolutely! Whitsunday Rent A Yacht was always available either by mobile phone or over the radio. Every morning they would give us a weather and conditions update at around 8am over the radio, and then check in with all their different boats to find out peoples plans for the day and make sure you were okay. Then in the afternoon they would radio again at around 4pm to make sure you had a good day and had anchored in a safe area. If you had any issues or troubles with your boat, you could also contact them via radio and receive an immediate response. This was actually very comforting to have out in the open water, to know that we were always being checked in on and that they knew where we were each night.
What to bring for your trip
Packing for an adventure around the Whitsundays is not really any different to any other kind of holiday. Bring all the normal things you would for a beach holiday, including your camera, lots of bathers, cute beach outfits, a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and insect repellent. Bring some warm clothes for the evenings and when you’re moving in the wind, it can get a bit breezy.
You will also need to bring all the food and drinks you will need for your time in the Whitsundays. There is plenty of space to store all your supplies, with a large fridge and freezer on board, plenty of pantry space and you can also borrow an esky if you need some extra room. Make sure you pack lots of extra snacks, that are easy to grab while you’re swaying around at sea. For days when we travelled for 3 to 4 hours, these were a lifesaver.
Also a good idea to bring any entertainment you might want during your charter – a book, board or card games, an iPad stocked with a couple of movies. It gets dark quite early in Queensland so bring something to entertain you in the evening.
If you get seasick, definitely a good idea to bring some seasickness tablets just in case, you never know when you might have a bit of wind on your travels.
Don’t worry about bringing towels or beach towels, they were both supplied for us on the boat, as well as all the bedding we needed.
Other costs to consider
After you’ve paid for your charter there are only a few other costs that you will need to keep in mind for your bareboat –
Fuel: At the end of your trip you will need to pay the cost of refuelling your vessel. To give you an idea of how much that might cost, after 5 days, and literally going ALL OVER the Whitsundays, our fuel bill only came to $175. So good, we were nervous it was going to be so much bigger with how much we got around the islands.
Extras: As part of the package, Whitsunday Rent A Yacht included snorkels and flippers on our charter. If you want to try out any extra water activities, for an additional price you can also hire a stand-up paddle board, fishing gear, a kayak, and even stinger suits if you’re sailing during stinger season. You can also bring any of these items with you if you already own them.
Marina fees: If you decide to visit any of the resort islands around the Whitsundays, like Hamilton Island, Daydream Island and Hayman Island, you might be charged an additional fee to moore in the marina, plus they also have their own rules about whether or not you can sleep on your boat. Make sure you do some research into this before you decide to spend half of your adventure in an island marina.
Our first experience on a bareboat charter was absolutely insane. Although we didn’t have the calmest weather for some of our trip, we still had an amazing time, and gained such a deeper perspective of the Whitsundays as we sailed around them. We definitely want to come back with a group next time, it would have been so much fun to have our family with us, but we also enjoyed the time together to relax and unwind.
If you have ANY questions about bareboating around the Whitsundays definitely leave it in the comments below and we will get back to you ASAP. Chartering yourself around the Whitsundays can be a bit of a daunting thought before you do it, especially if you don’t have much boating experience, but you can do it and you will have the best time!
Our bareboat charter was in collaboration with Whitsunday Rent A Yacht. In exchange for our blog and social media coverage we received a discount on our rate. All opinions are, as always, our own.