Overview of Scuba Diving

Ever wondered how fast a turtle can swim or dreamt of playing hide and seek with a clownfish? Scuba diving allows you to discover the underwater wonders of the Great Barrier Reef and see firsthand the thousands of sea creatures who call it home.

What is Scuba diving?

Scuba diving gives you the freedom to really explore what lies beneath the surface of the ocean. With an air tank on your back, fins on your feet and a mask on your face you can swim among schools of fish, see giant clams opening, watch the sunlight reflect off multi-hued coral and even hear marine life as they scurry about their business.

A Scuba dive takes you deeper than snorkelling and gives you access to parts of the Great Barrier Reef you can’t see from boats, offering a spectacular, fresh perspective to this natural wonder.

Where can I Scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef?

The three major departure points for Scuba diving trips on the Great Barrier Reef are:

  • Cairns and Port Douglas: dive the northern reaches of the reef as well as remote outer reef sites in the Coral Sea.
  • The Whitsundays: the central section of the reef is home to 74 islands, hundreds of fish species and spectacular gardens of coral
  • Bundaberg: the southernmost tip of the reef and gateway to the idyllic coral cays of Lady Elliot and Lady Musgrave Islands.

What will I see on a Great Barrier Reef Scuba dive?

The Great Barrier Reef covers 2300km so what you will see depends on where you dive; from shipwrecks to swim-through coral caves. We can help you choose the best Scuba diving tour to explore this natural wonder with options including:

  • Introductory dive: perfect for first-time divers with an instructor by your side, guiding you through the entire experience.
  • One-day tour: spend a day on the reef enjoying a host of activities including Scuba diving, tailored to your skill level and diving experience.
  • Liveaboard tour: a great option for serious divers, stay on the reef overnight and enjoy night time and early morning dives at multiple sites.

Fortunately, some of the reef’s best dive sites are in relatively shallow water so sunlight easily penetrates the surface to provide clear visibility. The reef is home to more than 600 species of hard and soft coral and amid these vibrant underwater gardens live starfish, molluscs and giant clams.

Thousands of species of marine animals have made their home in the reef from the tiny striped clownfish made famous in Finding Nemo to the huge Queensland groupers, Maori wrasses and potato cods. You may also glimpse turtles, dolphins, reef sharks, manta rays and even migrating whales.

10 Unmissable Scuba Diving Sites

  1. Agincourt Reef, Port Douglas
  2. Cod Hole, Lizard Island
  3. Osprey Reef, Cairns
  4. Flynn Reef, Cairns
  5. Norman Reef, Cairns
  6. Moore Reef, Cairns
  7. Green Island, Cairns
  8. Hardy Reef, Whitsundays
  9. Lady Elliot Island, Bundaberg
  10. Lady Musgrave Island, Bundaberg

What is the difference between Scuba diving and snorkelling?

  • Scuba divers explore underwater while snorkelers stay largely on the surface of the water.
  • Scuba divers carry their own air supply on their back while snorkelers do not require additional air.
  • Scuba divers breath through a regulator attached to their air tank while snorkelers breathe surface air using a J-shaped plastic tube, called a snorkel.
  • Scuba divers can explore several metres underwater for longer periods of time while snorkelers can swim a few metres below the surface, holding their breath, for very short periods of time.

When is the best time to go Scuba diving?

The tropical Great Barrier Reef is temperate even in winter, so you can Scuba dive all year round. The water temperature averages 24C in winter, climbing to a maximum of 30C in summer. Always check weather forecasts before heading into open water as occasional high winds or summer storms make the reef unsuitable for diving.

TIP: If you are lucky enough to dive later in the year, you may witness the spectacular mass coral spawning. The rare reproductive event only happens once a year and has been likened to an underwater fireworks display or a multicoloured snowstorm. Spawning occurs a week after the first full moon in October for inshore reefs while outer reef spawning happens in November or December.

Who can Scuba dive?

It doesn’t matter if you’ve never dived before, Scuba is a fun adventure activity suitable for most people. Divers must be 12 years or older with those under 18 requiring parental consent.

Do I need medical clearance to dive?

Dive operators will ask you to fill in a medical questionnaire prior to your dive. If you have any health concerns or medical conditions – for example surgery, pregnancy or a recent illness – you should consult a doctor and have them complete a Dive Medical Assessment.

How soon after Scuba diving can I fly home?

It is not safe to dive immediately before or after flying as there is a chance the changes in altitude may lead to decompression sickness. Check with our expert staff when you book that you’ve allowed enough time between flights to safely dive – 24 hours is usually ample time for an introductory reef dive – and work out a safe diving depth with your instructor.

How do I breathe underwater?

Scuba stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. You wear a compressed air tank on your back containing a mix of oxygen, nitrogen and other gases and breathe this air through a mouthpiece attached by a hose to the tank, called a regulator. There is no need to take deep breaths or concentrate too hard on your breathing. Just inhale and exhale naturally and the regulator will take care of the rest.

Do I need to be certified to Scuba dive?

No, even first-time divers can enjoy the Great Barrier Reef. We offer special Introductory or Discovery Scuba Dive experiences for people with little or no Scuba experience. We can also help you enrol you in a short course to attain internationally-recognised Open Water Diving certification if you’d like to continue Scuba diving.

Do I need to know how to swim to Scuba dive?

While you need to be confident in the water and relatively fit and healthy, you don’t need to know how to swim to Scuba dive. Buoyancy control devices keeps you at a steady depth underwater so the only “swimming” you do is a simple freestyle kick to propel yourself forward or up to the surface. You do not need to use your arms at all.

TIP: If you would like to attain Open Water Diving certification, most Learn to Dive courses require you to swim 200m in a pool and tread water for 10 minutes.

I am a certified diver, are there Scuba tours or packages for me?

Absolutely! The World Heritage-listed reef draws divers from across the globe. If you haven’t dived in a while, we can help you book a refresher course. If you are an adept diver, the reef is your oyster. Tours depart daily to spectacular and more challenging dive sites along the reef, or we can help you book a liveaboard tour that visits multiple dive sites over several days. Charter boat companies are also happy to ferry groups of divers to less-frequented dive spots. You can elect to use your own equipment or hire from one of our reputable dive operator.

I’ve booked a day or half-day trip but I’m not sure I want to Scuba dive. Is there anything else for me to do?

Some reef trips are specifically tailored to Scuba divers while others offer Scuba diving as just one of many activities. As these can cater to both divers and non-divers, they are a convenient option for people who may decide not to dive or for groups with members who would prefer not to dive. We can help you book a reef trip with plenty of options for your entire group.


How long does each Scuba dive last?

An Introductory Scuba Dive generally spends about 30 minutes underwater. Instructors will tailor the experience to each diver’s confidence, level of skill and – of course – air supply.

I have booked a half-day reef trip; will that give me enough time to Scuba?

That’s plenty of time! A half-day tour is ample time for a leisurely Scuba dive. Those on full-day trips can even squeeze in a second dive.

How deep will I dive?

Certified divers are permitted to dive to 18m but most introductory dives stay at 12m or shallower.

What specialist equipment does Scuba diving require?

Scuba requires a compressed air tank; a regulator which is connected to the tank and delivers air through a mouthpiece; a gauge to measure air supply; a weights belt and buoyancy control device to maintain a steady depth; a face mask; fins and either a wetsuit or stinger suit. Most operators issue divers with a dive computer, worn like an oversized wristwatch, displaying information such as depth, distance and time.

Do I need to bring my own equipment?

No. Dive operators supply the equipment needed for an Introductory Scuba dive. If you are a certified diver, you can certainly bring your own equipment or hire what you need.

Can I Scuba dive from the shore?

Yes! While most of the Great Barrier Reef’s top diving spots are located several nautical miles off the coast, some can be accessed directly from the beach.

TIP: The coastline surrounding Bundaberg, at the southernmost tip of the reef, has intriguing coral formations and an abundance of turtles. Great Scuba spots are also found off the beaches of Lady Elliott Island and Lady Musgrave Island.

How far offshore do I need to travel to Scuba dive?

It doesn’t matter where you stay on the Great Barrier Reef, you’re sure to find a fabulous dive site only a short boat ride away. Inner reef dive sites and islands can be reached in as little as 15 minutes and generally no longer than 60-90 minutes while outer reef sites usually take two hours. Boats depart daily from major cities and towns with travel time dependent on where you stay and the speed of your boat.

Are there waves?

The Great Barrier Reef does a wonderful job absorbing large waves from the open ocean. This means many of its popular dive sites are usually calm and protected. The water can also be quite still in shallow dive sites, such as Lady Musgrave Lagoon and the coral gardens skirting Lady Elliot Island, as well as those sites surrounds by the reef, including Heart Pontoon on Hardy Reef in the Whitsundays.

Will I see sharks?

You may but there is no reason to be scared! Reef sharks are often spotted swimming along the coral shelves but many of the Great Barrier Reef’s introductory dive sites are too shallow for larger sharks to navigate. If you see one, stay calm, alert your instructor and marvel as this awe-inspiring creature swims past.

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