A guide to safe boating around marine animals

Winter is an exciting time in the waters along Australia's east coast. As whales make their annual migration north from Antarctica to the warmer waters around the Great Barrier Reef, boaties have a much higher chance of coming across these great mammals. 

Having respect for the marine environment is important for boating enthusiasts, and this includes operating your vessel with respect around sea life, in accordance with the Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching. 

If you're not familiar with these regulations, here is a handy guide on how to enjoy whale and dolphin sightings safely.

Respecting approach distances for dolphins and whales reduces the risk of harming or distressing them.

1. Know and understand approach distances

Respecting approach distances for dolphins and whales reduces the risk of harming or distressing them. These distances apply to boats and jet skis.

Keeping a respectful distance between you and whales isn't only for their safely. A fully-grown humpback whale can weigh up to 45 tonnes, and you don't want to risk putting your boat in front of something that massive, or you could do some serious damage.

Caution zones

In caution zones, your vessel should be travelling at no more than six knots, or at any speed that creates a wake. For whales, the caution zone is within 300 metres and for dolphins it's 150 metres. 

No approach zones

Within the caution zones around whales and dolphins are no approach zones, in which you should never enter. For whales, the no approach zone is anywhere within 100 metres of the animal - but if you see a whale with a calf, keep that to 300 metres. The areas extending 300 metres directly in front and behind whales are also no approach zones.

For dolphins, the area within 50 metres of an animal 150 metres in front and behind them are no approach zones.

Number of boats in the caution zone

If several other boats have spotted a whale and are close to it, you may have to hang back, as there should be no more than three boats within the caution zone of a marine animal. When you are within the caution zone and notice other boats that want to get closer to have a look, you should share the water and move away after you have had a chance to observe the whale. 

Show your respect for whales by keep to a safe distance. Show your respect for whales by keep to a safe distance.
2. General rules

As well as paying close attention to approach distances, you should also observe some general rules when you're near whales and dolphins. 

You might have a whale or dolphin swim up to your boat. If this happens, slow down to six knots or less. If it swims into the no approach zone, turn off your engines or try to manoeuvre into the caution zone. If you notice changes in a marine animal's behaviour or if it seems to be acting aggressively, slowly move out of the caution zone to give it some space. If you see a whale acting in a way that suggests it is sick or in extreme distress, you can report it to NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. Don't deliberately harass or disturb the animals, or make any loud noises. Don't circle the animals or try to cut through a group. Avoid any sudden changes in speed or direction when you know you are around marine animals. 

If you stick to these rules when you are lucky enough to come across marine animals, you will be able to enjoy their company to the fullest while ensuring they remain happy in their habitat. 

For more information on marine safety and how to get maximum enjoyment from your boat, feel free to reach out to our expert team