If you want to make the most of your day at the reef, don’t forget to come to the Reef Teach presentation the night before! Here’s a few other tips to help you enjoy your trip:
Choose the right trip
See our advice on the main Snorkelling & Diving page about how to choose the right trip for your interests and comfort level in and on the water.
What to take with you
- Swimming costume
- Sunscreen (SPF 30+)
- Cash / credit card for drinks and optional extras on the boat
- Tour booking voucher (if you booked through an agent)
- Certification card and logbook if you’re scuba diving
- Dive medical certificate (if required)
- Reef Teach ID guides, marine field guides, underwater slates, etc.
- Any prescription medication you might require
- Seasickness medication
- Something to read / listen to when you’re not in the water (especially on overnight trips)
- Change of clothes, nightclothes, and toiletries (for overnight trips)
- A warm shirt or jacket for when you’re inside in the airconditioning
- A re-fillable water bottle
Most boats provide all your snorkelling and dive equipment (including floats for nervous swimmers) but if you prefer to use your own – don’t forget to take it with you! Binoculars are also useful if you’re a birder (especially for Green Island, Michaelmas Cay, and overnight trips) or if you’re going on a whale watching trip.
Avoiding sunburn, heatstroke & dehydration
It’s easy to burn when visiting the reef, even on a cloudy day. Make sure you:
- protect yourself from the sun. Remember to ”Slip, Slap, Slop”… Slip on a shirt, Slap on a hat, Slop on the sunscreen… BUT sunscreen harms corals, so try and cover up instead – wearing a westsuit, stinger suit or lycra sun suit will protect you from the sun.
- Protect your eyesight from the glare with good quality (e.g. polarized) sunglasses.
- Seek shade, retreat to the airconditioning, or jump in the water to cool down if you’re feeling too hot!
- Drink lots of water or fruit juice to stay hydrated (tea, coffee, fizzy drinks and alcohol will dehydrate you). The air in scuba tanks is very dry, so it’s a good idea to drink plenty of water before and after your dives.
You can still have a great day on the reef even if it’s a bit rough, but you might want to take some seasickness tablets! There are two varieties:
- Hyoscine Hydrobromide or Dymenhydrinate tablets (brand names include: Kwells, Avil, Travacalm in a green or blue box) – only available from the chemist, but some boats also have a licence to sell them. Can make some people feel a bit drowsy but very effective.
- Ginger tablets (Travacalm in an orange box) – the natural alternative – available from Reef Teach and on many boats. Tested by the Mythbusters!
There are two late night chemists in Cairns where you can buy Kwells and Travacalm, etc.
- Cairns City Chemmart, 119 Abbott Street, opposite the night markets, open 7 days, 9am to 9pm)
- Cairns Apothecary Pharmacy, next to Cairns 24 hour Medical Centre on the corner of Florence & Grafton Streets, open 7 days, 7am-11pm)
If you forget to buy tablets before your trip, don’t panic – you can buy them on most boats – but don’t forget to take the tablets over breakfast or as soon as you get on the boat – before it starts moving! They are a prevention not a cure. When you get to the reef it will be more sheltered and you’ll probably be feeling okay, but on the journey back it will get bumpy again, so make sure you take some more tablets before the journey home. If you felt bad on the way out, ask the boat staff when the boat will be leaving the reef and take some more tablets 30 minutes before.
If you feel sick, get outside onto the deck (the lower back deck is usually the most stable place), look at the horizon and take nice deep breaths of fresh air. If you need to be sick, grab a paper bag from the crew or throw up over the back of the boat (it’s always a good idea to check the wind direction first!). Do NOT hide inside the boat or lock yourself in the toilet – it will make you feel much worse, and will annoy everyone else who needs to use the loo!
Travelling with children
Most reef trips welcome children on board, and carry child-sized snorkelling equipment and floats, but it’s always a good idea to check with the operator about facilities for very young children. In general trips to islands, coral cays and pontoons are a good choice for young families. Some have child-safe swimming enclosures.
Most boats can cater for special dietary requirements (e.g. nut allergies, vegan options, etc) with sufficient notice, but please arrange this well in advance, and check with crew when you get on board (once the boat has left the marina, it’s too late to do anything about it)! A few boats can accommodate wheelchair users, and it may even be possible to arrange snorkelling and diving for people with mobility difficulties, but please check in advance to make sure your needs can be accommodated. Medical advice and special equipment may be required.
Dive & snorkel briefings
The staff on your boat will give you a briefing before you get in the water. This usually includes information about the site, marine life and any interesting things to look out for or to avoid, how to snorkel (for those who’ve never snorkelled before), hand signals to communicate with the boat from a distance, safety procedures, where you should / shouldn’t go, and what time to return to the boat. Please listen to the briefings, even if you’re an experienced diver or snorkeller. They are designed to ensure your safety and enjoyment out on the reef. Don’t forget to sign in when you return to the boat, and sign out again if you jump back in for a swim.
The stinger (box jellyfish) season runs from roughly November to May (the exact dates depend on local conditions, so check with boat staff and Life Guards), however the smaller species which cause Irukandi syndrome may be encountered at other times. Stings are rare, but very painful, and the best thing to do is to protect yourself by wearing a lycra stinger suit or wetsuit, which you can hire on the boats. During the stinger season, don’t swim off the beaches in northern Australia, unless it’s inside a stinger net, and abide by beach closure signs if you see them. You can access the most recent North Queensland Beach Update about stinger nets and Life Guard patrols here. For more information about jellyfish, read our newsletter “Watch out, watch out, there’s stingers about!”
In addition to standard diving equipment, divers in Queensland are required by law to carry a dive watch/computer, snorkel, high-visibility signalling device (e.g. a safety sausage), a whistle (and a dive knife or similar tool if there is a risk of entanglement). Accidents involving marine life are extremely rare on the Great Barrier Reef, and most involve some form of stupidity on the part of the person injured! Don’t touch anything, wear a wetsuit or stinger suit and you should be fine!
Don’t forget your standard dive safety procedures – plan your dive, dive your plan, check your equipment, carry out buddy checks, review underwater signals, stay close to your buddy, dive within your (and your buddy’s) limits and training, avoid reverse profile diving, ascend slowly, don’t dive with a cold or take decongestants, end your dives with a minimum 3 minute safety stop at 5m, and keep breathing!!! Drift dives are relatively uncommon on the GBR, so you may want to review your underwater navigation skills to ensure you surface close to the boat and avoid a long surface swim!
Make sure your travel insurance covers scuba diving accidents, as evacuation to a chamber for recompression treatment is expensive (DAN insurance is recommended). The nearest recompression chamber is in Townsville, 350km south of Cairns. It is the largest chamber in the southern hemisphere, with excellent staff, and is surprisingly comfortable should you be unfortunate enough to require its services, but try to avoid it if possible!
It is recommended that you should wait at least 24 hours after diving before travelling to more than 300 metres (1,000 feet) above sea level to avoid decompression illness, so activities such as flying, ballooning, skydiving or visiting Kuranda, Mareeba, Atherton and the Tablelands should be avoided for a day after diving. If you plan to visit these places, go before you dive or leave a day in between diving and visiting the Cairns Highlands / Atherton Tablelands.