What is a Glass Bottom Boat tour?
Stay dry while you explore the Great Barrier Reef on a fun, safe tour for non-swimmers of all ages. Guests board a boat fitted with either a thick, clear floor or transparent walls that sit below the waterline. Each guided tour takes 15-30 people and cruises leisurely over the reef for 20-30 minutes.
5 Best Glass Bottom Boat Tours on the Great Barrier Reef
These are our staff picks with each tour offering Glass Bottom Boat Tours:
What are the benefits of a Glass Bottom Boat tour?
This is a fun, safe activity the whole family can enjoy. It doesn’t matter if you can’t swim or snorkel, or even if you’re a little scared of fish, you can still enjoy breathtaking views of the Great Barrier Reef from the comfort of a Glass Bottom Boat. Learn more about this natural wonder from the expert guides on board who are more than happy to point out interesting sites, teach you about the history of the reef and share fun facts about the abundance of marine life you’ll see through the glass panels.
What types of things will I see on a Glass Bottom Boat tour?
From sharks to shipwrecks to schools of tropical fish – whatever lies beneath the surface, you can see from the comfort of your cosy, dry Glass Bottom Boat. The Great Barrier Reef is 2300km long so what you see through the glass panels will depend on:
- Which part of the reef you’re visiting
- What time of year you’re visiting
- Whether the tide is high or low.
No two tours are ever the same! When the tide is low, coral appears brighter as the sunlight can better penetrate the water and bring the vibrancy of the reef to life.
Glass Bottom Boat tours glide leisurely through the water so there is plenty of time to marvel at the underwater wonders. Be sure to pay attention to the tour guides – some of whom are marine biologists – as they are a wealth of information about the reef. They can share fascinating insights about the coral, fish, turtles, clams and stingrays you’ll see as you glide past.
TIP: If you’re visiting a pontoon with an underwater viewing observatory, it’s worth visiting early in the day before swimmers and divers start splashing about. If it’s a clear day and visibility is good, you’ll get a taste of what’s below deck.
What are the differences between Glass Bottom Boats, Semi-Submersibles, Underwater Observatories, and Transparent Kayaking?
There are many wonderful ways to peek below the waves without getting wet.
- A Glass Bottom Boat has a flat base with a clear panel in the middle and seats positioned around its perimeter. You can look down and see the reef below as the boat gently glides on the surface of the water. Glass Bottom Boats have open decks making them suitable for anyone who feels uncomfortable in enclosed spaces.
- A Semi-Submersible craft looks and feels like a mini submarine. Step down into an enclosed glass hull and take a seat on the long bench that runs down the centre. Large, glass panels line the hull like windows allowing you to look across the reef and below. Many semi-submersibles are air-conditioned, so it feels a little like a moving aquarium. It’s worth noting there are usually stairs in these vessels and some can be a little steep.
- Underwater Windows and Observatories are attached to offshore pontoons anchored above the reef. They are like a semi-submersible in that you walk downstairs to a submerged chamber with large windows looking out across the reef. However, observatories don’t move so you can sit and watch marine life at your leisure. At night, external lights are turned on to spotlight the reef’s nocturnal inhabitants and illuminate surrounding coral.
- Transparent Kayaking is a leisurely way for one or two people to explore above and below the surface. Clear Perspex panels line sections of the kayak’s hull, usually around the footwell, so you can view the reef and its inhabitants as you glide through the tropical waters above.
Where can I take a Glass Bottom Boat tour?
Glass Bottom Boat tours are usually offered on half-day and full-day tours to the reef and occasionally from the mainland. The boats, kayaks and semi-submersibles are moored on large pontoons anchored at the edge of a reef or on islands dotting the Great Barrier Reef. Tour operators schedule several Glass Bottom Boat tours daily so check with a crew member when you arrive on the pontoon or island for departure times.
When is the best time to go on a Glass Bottom Boat tour?
The Great Barrier Reef is a joy to visit at any time of the year, so Glass Bottom Boat tours depart year-round. Peak tourism season is usually from September to March – the Southern Hemisphere’s spring and summer months. It’s a little quieter after Easter so April and May are great if you want to avoid large crowds.
In winter, an injection of fresh water flushes out the reef and makes visibility crisper and clearer. These cooler months are the perfect time to take a Glass Bottom Boat tour as it will be easier to spot all manner of marine life and sea creatures under the surface.
TIP: If you’re eager to see turtles, check out the tours that leave from Bundaberg.
I have booked a half-day trip; will I have time to take a Glass Bottom Boat tour?
Absolutely! Glass Bottom Boat tours vary in length from 10 minutes to 30 minutes with operators scheduling several a day to cater to day-trippers. Some of the larger pontoons even operate multiple Glass Bottom Boats and semi-submersibles at the same time. If you’d like to take a Glass Bottom Boat tour, make sure you check the frequency of their departures, where they leave from and what time the last tour will be to ensure you don’t miss out.
Follow these guides to make sure you get the most out of your reef visit:
- Half-day (up to three hours): You will have time for at least one Glass Bottom Boat tour.
- Three-quarter day (up to four hours) – You will have time for one Glass Bottom Boat tour plus one other activity.
- Full Day – You will have time for several Glass Bottom Boat tours plus other activities. If you are still on the pontoon in the evening, the underwater observatory will switch on its floodlights and you can witness the wonder of the reef at night.
Top 5 Tips for Glass Bottom Boat Tours
- Listen and Learn – Each Glass Bottom Boat tour is hosted by an experienced guide with a wealth of knowledge about the Great Barrier Reef. Get the most out of your tour by sitting close to the guide so you can ask questions and discover their tips on where to look. That way, you won’t miss a thing!
- Bathroom before boarding – Glass Bottom Boats rarely have bathrooms so make any toilet trips – especially for those travelling with young children – before you board the boat.
- Avoid the crowds – The reef is popular year-round but tours during the winter months and outside of peak holiday seasons are usually quieter. Winter also brings with it clearer waters, better visibility and slightly cooler temperatures.
- Say cheese – Don’t forget your camera if you want the memories of what you saw lingering long after your holiday has ended. Make sure you turn the flash off before you board the Glass Bottom Boat otherwise it will reflect off the clear panels and ruin your photos. TIP: Use a polarised lens or position your polarised sunglasses in front of your camera to capture the perfect shot without reflections.
- Do your research – Take some time to get to know the kinds of animals you will encounter on the reef before you embark on a tour. That way, when you’re out on the water, you’ll have a better idea of what to look out for. TIP: Most Glass Bottom Boats, semi-submersibles and underwater observatories have posters, signs and plaques showing some of the area’s more common marine inhabitants.
Will I get motion sickness?
It is unlikely. Glass Bottom Boat tours operate in calm, shallow water and travel very slowly so you don’t miss a thing. But if you are prone to seasickness or worry there’s a chance you may fall ill, it’s best to be prepared and bring anti-nausea medication.
Can I travel by Glass Bottom Boat to the reef?
No. Glass Bottom Boats travel very slowly so would take far too long to reach the reef. There’s also not much to see though the viewing panels as you navigate the deeper waters between the mainland and the reef. A ferry, catamaran or sailboat is a much more efficient and faster way to reach the reef, whether your destination is a pontoon or an island.
How big are Glass Bottom Boats?
Boats differ in size depending on the destination and operator. Typically, a Glass Bottom Boat can accommodate between 15-30 people at a time.
How long is a Glass Bottom Boat tour?
Again, the duration varies depending on the destination, operator and the demand for tours. They usually take 20-30 minutes.
Can I go on the Glass Bottom Boat tour multiple times?
If your Glass Bottom Boat tour leaves from a pontoon, you will have the opportunity to do the tour more than once as it is covered in the cost of your ticket. Keep in mind though, this is subject to demand and availability. Tour operators want everyone to have an enjoyable day on the reef so will often give priority boarding to guests who have not already taken a tour.
How much does it cost?
Some tour companies and operators cover the cost of Glass Bottom Boat tours in their travel packages, others offer it as an optional activity at an additional cost. The best thing to do is speak to a travel expert or tour operator about what activities you’d like to try on the reef then explore different tour options together.
Is there any shelter from the sun?
Glass Bottom Boats have an open deck, but most are fitted with a canopy. However, the Queensland sun can be hot, even in winter, so it’s best to apply sunscreen before you go out on the water and wear a hat and appropriate clothing to protect your skin.
Can I take a young children and infants, will they still see things?
Yes! Glass Bottom Boat tours are a safe, fun and enjoyable way for young children to see the reef. They will enjoy unobstructed views from their seats making it the perfect activity for all ages.
Are Glass Bottom Boats wheelchair-accessible?
Unfortunately, no. To board a Glass Bottom Boat, passengers must be able to negotiate two moving platforms – a walkway or gangplank and the boat itself – and climb a few stairs to the viewing platform. No chairs are permitted on the boat other than its fixed seating.
How deep can I see?
What you see depends on water visibility and the weather but in perfect conditions, you may be able to see as far down as 10m. Shallow water offers the best view of coral as sunlight can easily penetrate the surface and light up the reef.
How much of the boat is glass and can I stand or walk on it?
Only the floor of the boat is made of glass and usually only a large panel in the centre. In semi-submersible boats, the walls and not the floor are made from glass. You cannot stand or walk on the glass.
Can we snorkel from the glass bottom tour?
Typically, you can only snorkel from the pontoon or the island, but this does vary between tours. Speak to a travel expert to see what packages are available.
Will I see different things on different Glass Bottom Boat tours?
Yes! The Great Barrier Reef is 2300km long and home to thousands of species of sea creatures and coral. The water temperature varies along the reef, enticing different varieties of marine life. The northern stretch of the reef is home to an abundance of tropical fish and vibrant corals while the southern end is home to colonies of turtles and manta rays.