The Best Liveaboards in the Great Barrier Reef

7th April 2017   |   Sarah Morlock

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 dugong can occasionally be found in the shallow seagrass beds.

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, but seagrass beds, wrecks and pelagic cleaning stations can also be found. Liveaboard divers will want to stop by Cod Hole where friendly potato cod greet divers, and Ribbon Reefs is a must-visit area due to its amazing biodiversity.

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

Dive safaris headed for the Great Barrier Reef usually depart from Cairns, Queensland in northwest Australia. The typical length of these liveaboard trips is 2 to 5 days, although some operators offer longer 8-day itineraries.

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 minke whales. You’ll also enjoy excellent visibility, reaching 200 feet (60 meters) in the outer reefs.

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

Best Luxury Liveaboard: Spirit of Freedom

The World’s Operator of the Year for 2015, the Spirit of Freedom whisks divers away in luxury to experience the boundless pleasures of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

This luxurious boat boasts 6 types of cabins from an ocean view deluxe to a standard quad. In addition, this is the only liveaboard in Australia with a private bathroom in every cabin. Free WiFi is offered when the boat is in range, and the 10 crew members provide personalized attention to all guests.

One of the best features of Spirit of Freedom 3 and 4-night itineraries is the included low level flight to or from Lizard Island. This spectacular excursion allows you to see the Great Barrier Reef in all its glory.

In the Great Barrier Reef, the Spirit of Freedom offers Australia’s premier liveaboard experience.

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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. 14 air-conditioned staterooms are complemented by 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, giving you the opportunity to explore the Great Barrier Reef as you desire.

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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 fact that the Ocean Quest doesn’t move 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, a new technique which uses special flashlights and masks to create fluorescent underwater landscapes.

At a price point of under $400 for an 11-dive, 2-night trip, you can’t beat the service found on the Ocean Quest.

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The three liveaboards you’ve read about were hand-picked by our scuba diving experts, but there are a few more boats available. To see the full list of liveaboards in the Great Barrier Reef, click the button below.

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