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People of any age and swimming ability can go to the Great Barrier Reef, including babies, but there’s no doubt some tour operators are more child friendly and geared up for families than others.

There are lots of different day tours to the Great Barrier Reef and all of the operators take children.

However we would recommend different types of trips depending on their age and swimming confidence and also what you as the adults want to get out of it.

There are essentially three different types of reef trips for snorkelling and diving – island, pontoon or outer barrier reef boat-only trips.

[headline size=”small” align=”left”]island trips[/headline]

snorkeling fitzroy island queensland

Snorkelling off Nudey Beach on Fitzroy Island near Cairns

There are many islands in North Queensland where you can snorkel from the beach.

This has obvious advantages if you’re taking children to the Great Barrier Reef, especially if they’re new to snorkelling and not very confident in the water.

You can teach your kids how to snorkel from the safety and comfort of the beach and if/when they get bored of it, there are other things to do and more space to move around.

Another advantage of island trips, such as Fitzroy Island or Green Island near Cairns or the Low Isles off Port Douglas, is that they’re much cheaper as a daytrip than going to the outer Barrier Reef so if you’re travelling as a family it’s more affordable.

The downside is that the reef and visibility aren’t as good as the outer reef so if you are experienced divers or snorkellers, you may want to choose another option. It really depends on your priority – is it just a nice day out with the family or do you want to see the diversity of the reef?

[headline size=”small” align=”left”]pontoons[/headline]

great barrier reef pontoonSome operators have permanent pontoons out in the ocean.

Once you get there the boat mores up alongside the pontoon so you can get off the boat and move around.

Pontoons generally have all the facilities for diving and snorkelling as well as other options like glass bottom boats or semi-submersibles and underwater observation decks.

quicksilver pontoon agincourt reefSo there’s something for everyone, which makes for a very family friendly Great Barrier Reef trip if you’re travelling as a mixed group of age and ability.

You can even take prams on these trips, which definitely helps if you’ve got a baby or toddler that needs to take naps.

The snorkelling off pontoons is obviously in deep water, which younger, less confident swimmers may not like. Some operators have dedicated areas sectioned off where children can swim in shallow water close to the pontoon (although parents still need to heavily supervise them).

[headline size=”small” align=”left”]outer barrier reef boat-only trips[/headline]

The diving and snorkelling is better on the outer reef so if you are divers you will probably want to consider these. It means being on the boat all day but plenty of parents take their children on these trips and take turns diving and babysitting.


We may look calm and collected here but trust me, there was a lot of faffing about getting used to the snorkel even though she’d been practicing in the pool

Personally, I think these trips are more enjoyable for everyone if your children are a little older and already fairly confident swimmers.

The open ocean is not the best place to teach children how to snorkel.

If your children are old enough to snorkel, shop around for operators who stop at a cay for the first dive/snorkel of the day. One example is Passions of Paradise who stop at Michaelmas Cay first.

We recently took our 8-year old daughter on one of their trips and the cay gave us a good opportunity to build her confidence up before hitting the open water for the second stop.

[headline size=”small” align=”left”]Tips for taking children on a great barrier reef trip[/headline]

snorkeling great barrier reef kids

Taking a rest between the Michaelmas Cay and the boat. Everyone looks ridiculous in snorkel gear.

The crews on the boats do provide assistance to families but they won’t babysit your children for you.

Parents are responsible for supervising them all day, which usually means taking turns diving and babysitting.

Also, while the crew will usually provide some sort of snorkelling briefing, they don’t provide snorkelling lessons for your kids so it’s a good idea to get them to practice in the pool or at the beach before you go.

Depending on your budget, smaller sailboat trips like Aquarius in Port Douglas, provide a much more intimate personalised service, which makes the whole experience with children a little more enjoyable.

[headline size=”small” align=”left”]Travel nq fast facts:[/headline]

  • The Great Barrier Reef is child friendly but do your research and choose a trip that caters for everyone
  • Depending on your budget you could hire a local babysitter to go with you. An extra pair of hands is always helpful.
  • Extra buoyancy equipment is provided for less confident swimmers
  • If you are taking children to the Great Barrier Reef, give them seasickness medication before you leave as a precaution (and sit around on the back deck in the fresh air)
  • If stinger suits aren’t included in your package, pay the extra fee for your children to wear them even if its not stinger season – they provide good sun protection