- I am not a very good swimmer, can I snorkel?
Our crew are experts at helping people learn to snorkel but to be safe we very strongly recommend that you should be able to swim and be medically fit. It’s easy for inexperienced swimmers to over-exert themselves. If this is combined with a serious health problem, in particular a heart condition, the health risks are significantly increased.
Snorkelling can be a strenuous activity and the weather also plays a role in this. For example, if the wind is strong or moderate, combined with a highish tide in the middle of the day, then the snorkelling conditions will probably be choppy. In lighter winds or low tide, the conditions should be calm, and therefore less strenuous.
We provide flotation devices called noodles which are great for snorkelling. If you can’t swim then Wavelength is very likely not the best trip to choose. You’d probably get more from visiting a pontoon with semi-subs, or the Low Isles where you can snorkel in more sheltered water from a beach or go in a glass-bottom boat.
The best idea would be to email or phone our shop for advice.
- Can anyone snorkel?
Super-fitness or Olympic swimming ability is not needed to have fun. Most people can snorkel but bear in mind it’s a physical activity and so medical fitness is important. We want you to have a safe, great day. Whilst snorkelling is a healthy activity, some people forget that snorkelling for an older or very unfit person can be hazardous. The risk of injury or drowning is greatest for those with heart conditions, because if a person suffers a heart attack or loss of consciousness whilst in the water the consequences are most likely much more serious than if on land. If you have a significant medical condition we advise you to check with your doctor whether you’re ok to snorkel.
Health problems that can be a concern for snorkellers include: heart disease, asthma induced by salt water mist, some types of diabetes and epilepsy. Older age or being excessively overweight increases the risks due to the greater incidence of heart disease.
- I haven't snorkelled before. Is it easy?
For someone who’s of average fitness and not excessively scared of water, snorkelling should be easy in calm conditions, but if it’s high tide and windy then the water can get choppy and it’s more challenging to do it for the first time. Being relaxed makes snorkelling a lot easier so confidence in the water helps enormously.
It’s not at all unusual to start off nervously when snorkelling for the first time but most people get their confidence within just a couple of minutes. Of course our crew are there to help you.
If you are in Port Douglas before your day of travel then you are welcome to drop into our shop at the marina to borrow a mask and snorkel, and get a few tips so you can practice in your resort pool before your trip. This will help you get used to breathing through a snorkel and may save you time at the reef.
If you have reservations about whether you will be able to snorkel at all then we recommend a reef tour to an island or pontoon where you can still try it but have alternative options to see the reef without getting in the water. Although we have our own boat we want to try to make sure visitors go on the most suitable reef trip for their requirements. You’re welcome to contact our shop for advice.
- Do you ever cancel the tour due to bad weather?
If Wavelength decides that conditions on the Great Barrier Reef are unsafe due to a combination of exceptionally strong winds or gales and high tides in the middle of the day, we will cancel the tour. In this likelihood, Wavelength will issue a full refund to any passengers.
As a guide, between June 2015 and September 2016 we cancelled only one day and this was due to weather, so it’s unusual.
- Is the trip suitable for small children?
Reef education is a big part of our philosophy and we love taking children to the reef. We even do lots of charters with educational groups. However, we have a policy of a minimum age of 8 years old as it is a big day out. We recommend a tour to the Low Isles, or a reef pontoon, as being more suitable for small kids as there are more options to entertain them out of the water.
- How do I choose the best reef day?
We don’t go out if we think the conditions are unacceptable, and the visibility at our sites is always good and the fish and coral are always there, but some days are better than others. The perfect reef conditions have a low tide near the middle of the day, calm winds and sunny weather. If you get conditions like that you are lucky as most of the time we don’t have all three together!
If it is busy season and you leave your booking to the last minute hoping to choose these conditions it is quite likely the reef boats will all be full.
If planning ahead you can check the tides here. At spring tides the tidal range can get to 3.0m but at neap tides the range is very small and makes little difference to the day.
If you are travelling soon you can check the weather at the Bureau of Meteorology website or with the local waters forecast but bear in mind that forecasts are normally only accurate to a few days ahead.
The reef is worth visiting at any time of the year. Less wind and the calmest days are often in the wet season, but it may also be raining and the small chance of a cyclone around. The winter is the busiest time of year but also trade winds prevail with normally about 15 to 20 knots of wind and quite often more. This is compensated for by being whale season with very clear water and dry sunny weather. The months outside the main wet season or the busy winter season are also good such as May, June, October and November.
- What's different about Wavelength?
The rest of our website should answer this question. Small group (and the advantages that go with it), super sites at the Outer Reef, and a big focus on marine biology. As well as a marine biology snorkel tour there is normally at least one crew member in the water with you at any time.
There is also a very different atmosphere compared to bigger boats. Passengers normally get back from the reef worn out but happy, with a feeling they have had an adventure and “done the reef properly”.
- If the weather is rough can we still see the reef?
During our tropical winter (May to October) we can encounter strong winds in Port Douglas, the wind direction is from the south east. Our sites are in behind the Great Barrier Reef and when there is a low tide in the middle of the day the reef acts like a barrier (hence the name Great Barrier Reef) and it can be very calm and protected snorkeling in behind the reef. The stronger trade winds usually occur during our winter period and during this time the visibility on the outer Great Barrier Reef is at its best. You just need to brace yourself for a “rock and roll” ride to the reef!
- I've read about coral bleaching. Is the reef ruined?
No! Since April we’ve been providing updates on the impact of the 2016 global bleaching event on the areas we visit. This is available on a different page.
- Will I miss out on seeing anything by not doing a scuba dive?
No. Approximately 90% of reef life lives in the top 4 meters of water on the Great Barrier Reef; in addition, red and yellow light are the first colours you lose when you go deeper into the water- therefore the corals and fish in shallow water are much prettier than diving at 10 meters, where everything has a blue/green tinge.
When snorkelling you also have more freedom to explore, to swim where you like and to return to the boat when you want to.
- Will I get seasick on a smaller boat?
Hmmm… this is a common question! And a tough one to answer. Wavelength 4 is a very new catamaran designed by the world’s leading commercial catamaran designers Incat Crowther. She is specifically designed for a soft and stable ride in open sea conditions. Wavelength 3 is a Randal West coaster. It is 16 meters long, and very “beamy”. These boats are designed to work off the continental shelf in Western Australia where 5 meter seas are common. Steve Irwin’s boat “Croc One” was also a Westcoaster.
If you are concerned about the possibility of seasickness, preventative medication Travacalm can be purchased on board Wavelength. Where possible we recommend that guests pre-purchase preventative seasickness medication from a pharmacy (drug store). Remember seasickness medication is a preventative, not a cure! If you are unsure as to how you travel on boats, we advise you to take medication well ahead of your check-in at 8.00am, if not the night before. We recommend that you discuss this with a pharmacist.
- I've heard a lot about Agincourt Reef, is it better to snorkel than Opal Reef?
Agincourt Reef is a thin ribbon reef, very close to the deep drop off of the shelf. It is no better than Opal or Tongue. In fact , due to its shape, Agincourt, especially it’s satellite reefs, offers less in the way of protection to the ocean swells and currents for snorkelling. It is well suited for diving.
Opal Reef on the other hand is broad and curved and perfectly shaped to provide protection to snorkellers from the south easterly swells and wind that we typically experience during the months of May to September. Reef tour companies each have their own moorings to use. Bigger boats with 100 or so passengers are legally required to use Agincourt moorings. Wavelength 4 with up to 48 passengers, and Wavelength 3 with up to 30 passengers, can use Opal Reef. The moorings allocated are based on history and usage. Wavelength has been in business for over 30 years…so you guessed it…we have the top choice of moorings; all chosen specifically for the needs of snorkellers. Wavelength owns the permits for the pick of the mooring sites at Opal reef and Tongue reef. The point is that reef site selection is far more important than what actual reef you are visiting. The very best snorkelling sites at Opal Reef are owned exclusively by Wavelength.
- Does it make much difference to go with a boat that offers scuba diving?
If you don’t want to dive you don’t need to travel to the Great Barrier Reef with a dive boat. Divers require sites that have flat sand about six to ten metres deep for students, deep water drop-offs for certified divers, and suitable (ideally sandy bottom) areas for introductory divers who can easily damage coral gardens with lots of fragile staghorn coral. Being a bit further from the reef or slightly less sheltered is not a problem for divers. There are some good sites for mixing diving and snorkelling, but mostly site selection is a compromise and a site chosen to be optimum for snorkellers is often not ideal for divers; so skippers have to put the needs of divers first.
A dive boat schedule is determined by dive times. Sighting whales may change our schedule, or if we have a site that, for example, has an unexpectedly strong wind-induced current, we can get our snorkellers back on board and move.
In addition, the larger dive vessels may not be able to get snorkellers as near to the reef as a smaller boat. At some of our sites we have to zig-zag through bommies to get in close.
There is some incredible diving on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in the Coral Sea and the northern ribbon reefs where the live-aboard boats go, but, despite Wavelength being mostly staffed by dive instructors and dive masters, we believe the outer reef off Port Douglas is best seen by snorkelling. This is of course because the vast majority (90%) of tropical coral reef life on the Great Barrier Reef is found within the top 4 meters of water which can easily be observed from the surface by snorkellers.
- Do I need to book in advance?
It really depends on the time of year. During peak periods, like school holidays, Wavelength can book out up to 2 weeks in advance. If you are concerned about the weather being unfavourable on your selected date, you can book a date and contact our office 3 days prior to your tour. We can then check the 3 day forecast and check the tides. If the conditions are not ideal, and you give us sufficient notice, we may be able to move your booking (subject to availability of course) for you so that you get the best weather possible for your experience on the Great Barrier Reef.
- What are marine stingers?
During the warmer months of October to March it is considered unsafe to swim off the beaches in North Queensland due to the possible presence of box jellyfish, unless you swim in a netted area or wear a lycra suit.
Many visitors don’t realise that the same, or similar, species of box jellyfish are found through South East Asia. For example, in places like Thailand there is much less education and public awareness about them.
Out on the reef Irukandji may be present. These are small jellyfish that can cause painful stings and sometimes serious injury. Like their larger cousins, they are found in other areas through the Indo-Pacific.
Irukandji are rare to encounter…. but worth taking precautions against. Between November and May we require our guests to wear a lycra suit that protects from the likelihood of a sting. These suits also protect from sunburn and help reduce the amount of sunscreen you need to apply. Sunscreen, especially the non-water resistant type, comes off your body in the water and can settle on coral preventing it from photosynthesising.
- What is "Reef Tax"?
Reef Tax is the commonly used word for the EMC (Environmental Management Charge) and is a government tax (currently $6.50 per person) that is charged to all visitors to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The funds raised from this tax are used for research and conservation of the Great Barrier Reef. Tourism operators who take passengers to experience the Great Barrier Reef are required by law to collect this on behalf of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). You can read more about the work that GBRMPA does to ensure that future generations still have a reef to visit at their website
- I wear glasses, do you have corrective masks?
Yes we do! They are available on board for free. If you wear contact lenses it is possible to wear contact lenses under your normal mask whilst snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef. We have a wide range of prescription masks from -2 to -8 on board the vessel. Please make sure that you let us know at the time of booking and also at least 72 hours prior to your trip of this special request.
- Are there any penalties if we cancel our trip?
If you cancel within 24 hours of your scheduled Great Barrier Reef snorkeling trip then a cancellation fee of 100% applies.
- If the weather is bad on our date of travel can we change our trip to another day?
Of course, as long as you notify us of the change (and as long as we have availability) within 24 hours of your scheduled date of travel on the Great Barrier Reef.
- The water on the beach is brown, will I see anything on the reef?
During the wet season, vast amounts of water carrying silt from the Rainforest wash out of the rivers and is deposited on the beaches. When strong winds blow, this coastal sediment is stirred up making the water on the beach brown. The Great Barrier Reef is 30 miles off shore and the clarity of water this far out is much better. This is due to the reef being further away from the river mouth and additional water movement, creating better visibility.
- Should I bring reef shoes so I can walk on the reef?
No, there is no need to bring any reef shoes as we have a scrict “no touch” policy. Not only would you hurt the delicate reef, some corals can also do you damage if you touch them and we won’t allow you to do this! The only thing we will allow you to take are PICTURES!
- Should we bring an underwater camera?
If you have your own digital camera with a housing you may bring it along to capture your memories of the Great Barrier Reef. Wavelength will not accept any liability for any damage to your equipment, regardless of how it’s occurred, so make sure you know what you’re doing with your own equipment. However our crew have an underwater digital camera and will take photos of all passengers and also of the fish, corals and turtles that are seen on the day. Our office crew will burn a disk of the day and also add 100 of the best images of Wavelength to it. The cost of this is $45 for each CD. You may like to have a look at our photo gallery to see some great images of the Great Barrier Reef.
- Will we see whales?
Hopefully! During the months of July to September migrating Humpback and Dwarf Minke whales are often seen on the Great Barrier Reef. Obviously as wild animals, their movements can not be guaranteed, but we can see whales on the Great Barrier Reef during this period.
- Do I have to wear a lycra suit (stinger suit)?
Wavelength require our passengers to wear a lycra suit whenever they are in the water during “stinger season” (this is when there are stinger nets at the beaches too). While snorkelling outside of this season, lycra suits are available if you would like to use them, but are not mandatory. In the cooler months we provide 5mm shortie wetsuits instead of lycra suits.