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Cairns Snorkeling Info – Safety Tips

Snorkeling allows you to explore the amazing wonders of the Great Barrier Reef with no previous experience required and no sore eyes from the salt water. The masks (which are included in all Cairns reef tours) provide clarity of vision and the snorkel allows you to keep your head down, enjoying the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, without having to come up and take a breath.

Anyone who can swim, can snorkel. First time snorkelers may find breathing through a snorkel a little strange and uncomfortable, so we recommend practising in shallow water first. A Cairns island, cay or pontoon snorkel tour is recommended for first time snorkelers (as opposed to an Outer Great Barrier Reef day trip), as you can get comfortable in the shallow waters, before heading out to explore the reef.

Snorkeling is just like swimming, except you are floating on top of the water, face down, breathing through the snorkel. This allows you to make the most of your time on the reef, seeing the corals and fish beneath you. The masks provide the vision / lens / clarity you need to see the reef. A mask has three basic components, a glass “lens”, silicone “skirt” and adjustable strap.

Cairns operators are experienced at fitting masks to faces, so will be able to find one that is comfortable and best for you. Top tip: the adjustable strap, which fits around your head, will allow you to make the mask fit properly. You do not need to tighten this strap too much, as the water pressure will hold the mask to your face.

If you get water into your mask while snorkeling, simply lift it away from your face and drain it. If you get water into your snorkel, then blow sharply, to push the water through the end of the snorkel.

If you are not a confident swimmer, you can still enjoy snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef as all operators are able to provide you with buoyancy devices such as vests, noodles and safety rings. If you become tired while snorkeling, rest on the floatation device, or flip over and swim on your back, which uses different muscles. Alternatively, signal to the boat, they always have lifeguards on duty who can come and collect you in their tender.

Please note, it is recommended that you have a reasonable level of fitness to snorkel, especially if you are choosing an Outer Great Barrier Reef trip.

Snorkeling Tips

Snorkeling is an extremely safe activity, especially if you take all of the correct precautions and listen to your own body whilst swimming. Below are some basic Great Barrier Reef snorkeling safety tips.

Fitness. Make sure you only snorkel / swim to your fitness levels. Do not get too far away from the boat / island / coral cay / pontoon that you are not going to be able to swim back to it. Watch the currents and make sure you do not get carried away. It is highly recommended that you do not snorkel after consuming alcohol.

Sunburn.The Cairns Great Barrier Reef is located in a tropical location. Summer is hot and even winter is warm with high UV rays being emitted from the sun at all times throughout the year. When snorkeling, the water is running across your back, so while you may feel cool and comfortable, if you have not taken appropriate precautions, you could be getting sunburnt, which in extreme cases may lead to sun stroke. There are some easy ways to avoid this. Make sure you apply (and reapply) waterproof sunscreen throughout the day and take advantage of the lycra suits on offer, they provide great sun protection. Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated throughout the day: all Cairns reef tour operators provide cool water on board, free of charge.

Marine Stingers. Two types of marine stingers, or jellyfish, are found on Cairns’ Great Barrier Reef. Both are poisonous and can leave painful stings and sometimes scars. Usually, they are only present in the waters between November and May, but this may change pending weather conditions. You can easily avoid painful contact with marine stingers by taking advantage of the full length body suits / lycra suits, available on board the boats. All Cairns day tour operators provide briefings and safety instructions regarding marine stingers, en route to the Great Barrier Reef. You do not need to do anything to prepare in advance for this.

Take a Friend. Like diving, it is always a good idea to snorkel with a friend. That way, if something goes wrong, like you get a cramp, you are not on your own. Stay close together while snorkeling and share the experience of exploring the Great Barrier Reef.

Don’t Touch the Reef or its Residents. The Great Barrier Reef is a protected marine environment, home to rare and endangered corals and marine life. It is advised and preferred that you do not touch any corals or marine animals, for your safety and theirs. Corals are sensitive to sunblock and creams, which can be easily transferred from your hands. Similarly (most) fish do not like to be handled and may respond with aggression. For your benefit and the protection of the Great Barrier Reef, for the enjoyment of future generations, please do not touch the reef, its residents or try to take a souvenir shell / coral home: fines do apply and will be enforced.

Please note: We are not affiliated with any of the boats. We are Cairns locals, trying to help visitors have the best time they can, on the amazing Great Barrier Reef. This website is funded and built by us: we make commission from your tour bookings. We hope the information is of some assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact us for more advice.

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Selected Tours

Sunlover Cruises

Great day tour for people of all ages. Visit Outer Reef Pontoon at Moore Reef, with lots of inclusions: snorkelling, glass bottom boat and semi-sub tours, underwater observatory and more.
Lady enjoying the water-slide at Moore Reef.

Quicksilver Outer Great Barrier Reef Cruises

The Ultimate Great Barrier Reef Cruise - Quicksilver Cruises provides the only Port Douglas Great Barrier Reef pontoon tour, departing Marina Mirage daily. Can snorkel and dive, Semi-Submarines & Underwater Observatory.

Sunlover Arlington Reef Half Day Tour

Great day tour for people of all ages. Visit Arlington Reef Pontoon see the Outer Great Barrier Reef in half a day. Includes Snorkeling, Underwater Observitory and BBQ Lunch.

Fitzroy Island Ferries

Fitzroy Island Resort Ferries have convenient departure and return times from Cairns to Fitzroy Island, making this great for a full day tour of the Island. Depart Cairns 8:00am, 11:00am and 1:30pm.

Great Adventures: Green Island – Half Day

There are three (3) departure and return times for the half day tours, which means this trip can be accommodated into most itineraries.

Great Adventures: Green Island – Full Day

Great Adventures offer two departure (8.30am - 10.30am) and return times (2.30pm - 4.30pm) for their full day tours. Flexible option, suitable for families.

Big Cat Green Island – Half Day

Half day tours from Cairns to Green Island. Morning (9am) and afternoon (12.45pm) departures. Up to 2 hours to explore Green Island. Rainforest walks, swimming and snorkelling from the beach.
Green Island

Fitzroy Island & Sea Kayaking – Cancelled

The only Cairns Great Barrier Reef day tour that includes sea kayaking. Fitzroy Island day tour. Up to 7 hours on the island, including 3-hour guided sea kayaking tour (no experience necessary).
Sea Kayaking - Fitzroy Island

Frankland Islands

This dive and snorkel reef day tour departs from Deeral, which is 40-minutes south of Cairns, and visits the Frankland Islands group which is surrounded by fringing reefs.
The Frankland Islands Group of Islands.

Big Cat Green Island – Full Day

Green Island day tours run by a locally owned and operated company. Departs at 9am and returns at 5pm. Plenty of time to explore Green Island's rainforest, sandy beaches and fringing reefs. Great value.
Big Cat Green Island Cruises

Deep Sea Divers Den: Sea Quest

Value for money Great Barrier Reef day tour. Visits 2 reef sites. Perfect for snorkellers, certified divers and those wanting to try an introductory dive. Buffet lunch included.

Passions Of Paradise

Australian Tourism Award Winner. Daily dive / snorkel trips to Paradise Reef on 25m brand new sailing catamaran. Free scuba demonstration & guided snorkel tour. Hot / cold buffet lunch.
The Passions of Paradise boat Cairns Australia

Low Isles Wavedancer

Low Isles is an unspoilt coral cay, which is just a one hour sail from Port Douglas. A great day tour for families and non-swimmers. Not suitable for scuba divers.

Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel Cruises

Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel offers a great value for money option for people to join a large stable boat that spends 5 hours at a beautiful reef location. Free guided snorkel tour, glass bottom boat tour and marine presentation.
Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel Boat at the Great Barrier Reef.

Ocean Free Sailing Reef Cruise

Unique Cairns to Green Island sailing day tour. Max number of guests = 35. Snorkelling & diving plus time on Green Island. Buffet lunch + morning and afternoon tea included. Friendly crew.
Scuba diving Green Island

Seastar Cruises

Seastar provides daily dive and snorkel tours to Michaelmas Cay and Hastings Reef. Up to 5 hours at the reef and 2 guided snorkel tours included.

Reef Experience

Cairns' only fully inclusive day tour, including: city transfers, trip to Great Barrier Reef, 6 hours on reef, 2 reef locations, meals, free scuba dive, marine biologist presentation & equipment.
Fully inclusive Great Barrier Reef day tours with Reef Experience

Tusa Dive T6

Tusa Dive provide quality Great Barrier Reef snorkel / dive day tours on one of Cairns' newest reef day boats, T6. Up to 5 hours on the reef, visiting 2 locations. Great service - all meals included.
Tusa at the Reef

Ocean Freedom

Locally owned & operated. 5 star service. Up to 6 hours snorkel / dive time at 2 Great Barrier Reef locations. Best reef tour lunch in town. Friendly crew, glass bottom boat tour & much more.
Ocean Freedom the quickest Great Barrier Reef day tour dive in Cairns

Ocean Spirit Cruises – Michaelmas Cay

Ocean Spirit Cruises provide a luxury sailing catamaran to Michaelmas Cay. This trip is suited to swimmers, snorkelers and families. Often Sea Turtles are seen from the beach. All meals included.

Poseidon Snorkel and Dive

Poseidon provides daily tours from Port Douglas to the Agincourt Ribbon Reefs, visiting three (3) separate reef sites. Suitable for divers and snorkelers.

Reef Magic – Marine World

Up to 5 hours at the reef. Outer Great Barrier Reef pontoon with fabulous coral gardens. Meet Wally! Lots of inclusions: snorkelling, glass bottom boat, semi-sub, underwater observatory and more.
Reef Magic Outer Reef Scuba Diving

Great Adventures: Outer Reef

Leaves later than most (10am) and provides up to 3 hours at their outer reef pontoon. Enjoy the sun deck, underwater observatory, semi-submersible and many optional extras.
Great Adventures

Silversonic – Port Douglas

Silversonic provides daily reef tours departing from Port Douglas and visiting the ribbon reefs at Agincourt Reef. 5 hours at reef and up to 3 dives.

Great Adventures: Green Island & Great Barrier Reef

This is the only Cairns day tour to combine time on Green Island with a visit to a Great Barrier Reef pontoon. Best of both worlds. Suitable for snorkellers and divers.
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Do you need help choosing?

Can't decide? We have personally been on every Cairns reef and diving trip. We can help you choose the best tour, to suit your experience and budget.

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