The Great Barrier Reef in Australia boasts one of the richest marine environments in the world, with more than 1500 species of fish and 360 species of hard coral. In the outer reefs, you may encounter six different species of sea turtles and several shark species, such as grey reef sharks, whale sharks, silky sharks, and even hammerheads or tiger sharks. Manta rays are usually seen in the southern sections of the Reef, and dugongs can occasionally be found in the shallow seagrass beds.

Where to Dive in the Great Barrier Reef

While diving in the Great Barrier Reef, you’ll find underwater environments to suit every interest. Coral gardens, pinnacles, bommies, channels, and caverns make up the majority of sites. Still, seagrass beds, wrecks, and pelagic cleaning stations can also be found. Liveaboard divers will want to stop by Cod Hole, where the famously friendly potato cod greet divers and the Ribbon Reefs is a must-visit area due to its amazing marine biodiversity.

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living thing on Earth, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. While you may be able to sample the inner reefs on a day trip from the mainland, the outer reefs offer a more pristine experience combined with greater biodiversity, healthier corals, and fewer divers. These remote sections of the Reef are only accessible by liveaboard.

How can YOU help the Great Barrier Reef Turtle

Dive safaris headed for the Great Barrier Reef usually depart from Cairns, Queensland, in northwest Australia. These liveaboard trips typically take 2 to 5 days, although some operators offer longer, 8-day itineraries.

The Best Time to Dive the Great Barrier Reef by Liveaboard

The best time to dive in the Great Barrier Reef is from June to December. During these months, several elements align to create great diving. From June to November, the water temperature drops, attracting pelagic species such as manta rays, whale sharks, and dwarf minke whales. You’ll also enjoy excellent visibility, reaching up to an incredible 200 feet (60 meters) in the outer reefs.

What Certification Do I Need to Dive the GBR by Liveaboard?

It’s important to note that the Great Barrier Reef is one of the best liveaboard destinations for beginners. Some divers even complete their Open Water Diver course on a liveaboard in Australia. A lack of current, comfortable water temperatures and excellent visibility make the Great Barrier Reef ideal for learning.

Great barrier reef liveaboard

Best Luxury Liveaboard: Spirit of Freedom

Voted “Australia’s Best Liveaboard” by readers of Australasia Dive Log, the Spirit of Freedom provides access to the most remote and iconic destinations around the Great Barrier Reef.

Custom-built and comfortable, Spirit of Freedom is a liveaboard to the best diving areas in the Great Barrier Reef with over-water luxury. Explore the mesmerizing Ribbon Reefs, an ecosystem of abundant marine diversity, in style.

The boat is accredited as an Advanced Ecotourism Operator, the highest eco-certification in Australia, ensuring your meetings with turtles, clown fish, dolphins, and more will be in harmony with the natural environment.

The Spirit of Freedom offers 11 cabins and a range of configuration options, from standard double cabins to quads and staterooms.

best liveaboards great barrier reef

Best Mid-Range Liveaboard: Spoilsport

A perennially popular liveaboard, the Spoilsport offers great value for money.

The crew on the Spoilsport knows how to show guests the best of the Great Barrier Reef. Each itinerary is chosen specifically for its visibility and marine life quality. These trips feature an “open dive deck” policy, which allows guests to plan and dive independently with their dive buddies. Plus, the 3-night itineraries are great for those who don’t have much time.

Even while you aren’t diving, you’ll feel at home on the Spoilsport. Their 14 air-conditioned staterooms come complete with ensuite bathrooms and hot water. Some of the cabins even feature large windows with magnificent ocean views.

For the price, the Spoilsport offers the best in liveaboard style and comfort. Explore the Great Barrier Reef as you desire, without breaking the bank.

Best Budget Liveaboard: Ocean Quest

Gracing our list as the best budget liveaboard in the Great Barrier Reef, the Ocean Quest is the most spacious diving vessel in Queensland.

First, it’s important to note that the Ocean Quest lives on the Reef. Transfers are provided from Cairns via speedboat. This provides two advantages. First, divers who suffer from seasickness will enjoy the Ocean Quest, and not moving around the Reef. Second, it means itineraries are flexible. With daily transfers, you can stay for as many days as you want.

In addition to great daily diving, the Ocean Quest also offers Fluoro diving. This diving technique uses special flashlights and masks to create fluorescent underwater landscapes.

At a price point of under USD $600 for a 10-dive, 2-night trip*, you can’t beat the service found on the Ocean Quest.

Coral Sea Dreaming Liveaboard in the Great Barrier Reef

Best Liveaboard for a Quick Trip: Coral Sea Dreaming

If you’re on a tight schedule but don’t want to miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime chance to explore the Great Barrier Reef, then Coral Sea Dreaming is for you. Offering a 2-day, 1-night “sail and dive” liveaboard experience at an affordable price, this is the perfect opportunity to squeeze in some diving while also experiencing the beauty of sailing the Outer Reef.

Accommodating only 12 guests, Coral Sea Dreaming offers an intimate and personalized experience. Plus, this liveaboard is suitable for non-divers as long as they can swim or snorkel. If any non-divers in your group want to try diving in one of the world’s most iconic dive destinations, they can sign up for a Discover Scuba Diving experience on board.

Furthermore, the itinerary is designed with the guests in mind. The dive sites are chosen based on their skill levels to ensure everyone gets the most out of their time on board. Between dives, if the wind is good, you might get the chance to hoist the sails and experience sailing over the Coral Sea.

Even if you only have one night to spare, you can still make your Great Barrier Reef dreams come true.

The four liveaboards you’ve read about were hand-picked by our scuba diving experts, but a few more boats are available. Click the button below for the full list of liveaboards in the Great Barrier Reef to see which one best fits your trip.

*Pricing accurate as of January 2024.

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