Back To Top

Great Barrier Reef For Disabled Travelers

Great Barrier Reef Tours for Disability and Mobility Impaired Passengers

Visiting the Great Barrier Reef is on the bucket list for many people from various parts of the globe because it is such a comprehensive and wondrous World Heritage site.  

It lures visitors of varying nationalities and ages, all of whom have just as varied swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving interests and capabilities.

Even non-swimmers can participate in activities that will have them in awe at the sights of the reef. 

And for those that are sensitive to motion sickness on the open water, there are tours that are available which provide an amazing bird’s eye perspective over the reef by a scenic flight by helicopter or fixed wing aircraft.

So there certainly is a reef tour for everybody! 

If you are a wheelchair passenger, a passenger with a disability or limited mobility or you are travelling with someone in a wheelchair you may find the following information helpful in narrowing down the reef tours available to the ones that will be most beneficial to your requirements and therefore provide optimal enjoyment to your Great Barrier Reef tour experience.

Outer Reef Activity Pontoons

First of all, if your desire is to get into the water to attain an in-water experience by snorkelling or diving, the tours that are going to be the most accommodating to your requirements are the ones that travel to the outer reef activity platforms which are permanently moored on the reef.

They are purposely positioned in areas that are protected and sheltered from strong winds and strong currents.  

They are also more spacious and stable than any dive and snorkel boat on the open water.

The activity pontoons have snorkel platforms from where you can enter the water.  

If you are not planning to get in to the water, an activity pontoon with a Glass Bottom Boat tour is also ideal because they also have minimal steps to enter the Glass Bottom Boat.

Suitable for guests with limited mobility, Other sightseeing opportunities at the pontoons are Underwater Observatories and Semi-Submersible tours. 

It is advisable not to consider these two options unless you can confidently walk up and down approximately 10 to 15 steep steps which are short and narrow.

Even with a carer it can be quite difficult to access.

The best Great Barrier Reef tour for guests in a wheelchair departs from Port Douglas and has a hydraulic lift to enable visitors to enter the water to snorkel.

If you are disabled and you would like to book this tour please call us to ensure we will be using that dedicated pontoon platform on that day as we have two platforms off Port Douglas and only one dedicated to assisting disabled persons.

Please see here for a list of tours we have compiled for disabled persons to enjoy when visiting Cairns.  

Great Barrier Reef Island Day Trips

There is one island that most of the time is suitable for wheel chairs, and that is Green Island.  

The reason that we have worded “most of the time is suitable” is because although Green Island offers a wheelchair friendly boardwalk through the island’s rainforest and wheelchair accessibility around the paved areas around the cafes, restaurants, shops and amenities, it has significant tidal changes which can affect embarkation and disembarkation.  

It depends on the tide movements on the day of travel and how it corresponds with departure and arrival times and the boat we use.

For example, embarkation may be from the top deck or the bottom deck with stairs as the only access in between. 

In particular, our Reef Spirit boat offers a disabled toilet which is located on the lower deck, but this may become inaccessible if embarkation for that day is via the higher deck. 

Again, depending on which deck you disembark or embark from, the gangway may be angled to be quite steep at times where as other times it can be nearly level. 

While at other times  you may be required to access a number of stairs leading from the end of the gangway to the jetty and vice versa. 

Passengers with limited mobility can, with the assistance of a carer or travelling companion to do this by using the hand rails of the stairs. 

A Glass Bottom Boat Tour is available at Green Island. 

Again, the number of steps that need to be negotiated to embark and disembark will depend on the tide.  

There are three steps between several levels of platforms to cater for varying tide levels if you choose to take a Glass Bottom Boat Tour.

We always suggest you talk to a Great Barrier Reef tour specialist to discuss your personal abilities and we can then match all the local tours to suit you so you too can have a wonderful holiday in Cairns and Tropical North Queensland, Australia.   

Dive & Snorkel Boats

Outer reef tours that travel to a minimum of two reef sites by fast catamaran or yacht with access in to the water via the back of the vessel are not suitable for wheelchair passengers or passengers with limited mobility.

As above we only advise considering the interactive activity pontoons where accessibility is more adequate.  

--Important Notes--  

  • The gangways used on vessels travelling to and from Green Island cannot accommodate large motorised wheelchairs.
  • The sand on Green Island is very soft and therefore not wheelchair friendly. We don’t recommend it as a reef destination to go snorkelling or swimming if you are a wheel chair passenger unless you have a carer, travel companion or walking aid that can assist you across the sandy beach to the water’s edge. Depending on the tide at the time, that can be between 2  metres to 10 metres approximately.  
  • If you choose to take a Glass Bottom Boat tour from Green Island, you will be required to access stairs from the jetty to a lower platform before stepping on to the Glass Bottom Boat and descending down approx 3 steps to enter the boat.
  • After the Glass Bottom Boat tour has ended you will be then be required to step up the same stairs to leave the boat.
  • The vessel that is most suitable to travel on to and from Green Island is the first departure from Cairns at 8.30am and the last departure to leave from Green Island at 4.30pm - click here to view this tour.
  •  However, it is essential that before making any bookings for a reef excursion that you discuss with your Tour Specialist consultant any personal requirements in advance so that your individual mobility requirements are met and are pre-arranged if necessary.
  •  Alternatively we can suggest another tour which may be more suited to you.

Please see below our ‘Top 5 Reef Tours for Mobility Impaired Passengers’. 

You will find the features listed in point form here for tours best suited to you and/or your travelling companions that require extra accessibility.

#1 - Great Barrier Reef Tour Port Douglas | QS Outer Barrier Reef Cruise

This Great Barrier Reef tour from Port Douglas is the number 1 stand out reef tour for guests with any sort of disability as it was specifically designed to cater for all guests to enjoy seeing the Great Barrier Reef from all angles no matter if you are young or old.

Our Outer Reef Activity Pontoon is suitable for BOTH wheelchair guests and passengers with limited mobility as well as parents with little babies in prams.

Activities For Wheel Chair Passengers

  • Snorkelling  *
  • Scuba Diving *

* Access to the snorkel platform & diving platform will require assistance from a carer or travel companion.

Activities For Passengers With Limited Mobility or a Disability

  • Snorkelling
  • Scuba Diving
  • Underwater Observatory
  • Semi-Submersible Submarine Tour *

*Semi-Submersible Submarine Tours all have a steep decline to enter the vessel .

It is only recommended, dependant on severity of immobility.

Features

  • Water powered lift (the only one of its kind on the Great Barrier Reef) especially designed to access the water for wheelchair bound passengers. 
  • It allows passengers to swim directly off the lift’s chair and into the water with ease so that they can snorkel and explore at their leisure with a carer with flotation equipment.
  • Embark & Disembark from the same deck [no stairs]
  • Pontoon is large and has the most open space out of all the reef boats and activity pontoons in the Cairns & Port Douglas area
  • Pontoon Ramp Access:  Activity pontoon is two levels with each level accessible by a ramp
  • Disabled Toilet is oversized and accessible throughout the day
  • Buoyancy Vests included
  • Buoyancy Noodles included

Stairs

  • Access between upper & lower decks at Pontoon are by a wide split level ramp access to snorkel platform  [5 stairs]
  • Access to dive platform  [5 stairs]

Personalised Services [Solo Tours]

  • Certified Dive
  • Introductory Dive
  • Snorkelling

Note: These personalised services need to be booked in advance and may not be available during peak periods.

Accommodation Transfers

  • Available to passengers with enough mobility to be able to negotiate 3 steps with assistance on and off the bus.
  • Wheelchair taxi can be booked between Cairns and Cairns Beaches at a set rate for boat departure in Port Douglas.

--Important Notes--

  • The chair lift is only available only on one of the two platforms this operator runs as well as wheelchair facilities on one of two vessels that the operator uses.
  • There may be occasions when this vessel may not operate and back up vessels are used that do not have wheelchair facilities.
  • This is often not known till 24 hours prior to departure.
  • It is essential that guests call us 24 hours prior to travelling to confirm their details.
  • Any Scuba Activities will require an AS 4005.1 medical certificate from an Australian dive doctor prior to day of check in and is to be brought with passenger on the day.
  • Personalised services need to be booked in advance and may not be available during peak periods.

Carers Discount Available 50%

Book Here

#2 - Cairns Pontoon Reef Tours | Dive-Snorkel | Helicopter | Glass Bottom Boat 

Departing from Cairns this Great Barrier Reef tour is suitable for BOTH disabled wheelchair passengers and passengers with limited mobility

Activities For Wheelchair Passengers

  • Snorkelling *
  • Scuba Diving *
  • Marine Life Touch Tank Demonstration

* Access to the snorkel or diving platform will require the assistance of a carer or travel companion.

Activities For Passengers With  a Disability or Limited Mobility 

  • Snorkelling
  • Scuba Diving
  • Glass Bottom Boat Tour
  • Underwater Observatory
  • Marine Life Touch Tank Demonstration
  • Semi-Submersible Tour *

*Semi-Submersible Tours all have a steep decline to enter the vessel . It is not recommended, however this will depend on the severity of immobility.

Features

  • Embark & Disembark from the same deck [no stairs], however in some cases there may be times where disembarkation is from another deck. At these times wheelchair bound passengers will still be catered for and will not affect them.
  • Disabled Toilet accessible throughout the day
  • Glass Bottom Boat Tour [less stairs than semi-submersible options]
  • Motorised wheelchairs can be accommodated for **overall weight will need to be supplied in advance of booking for in the case that it is needed to be lifted.

Alternatively a motorised wheelchair can be stored at the Great Barrier Reef tour operators office with passenger being provided with a more manageable collapsible wheelchair for boat travel and on the pontoon.

  • Buoyancy Vests included
  • Touch Tank area is Wheelchair is accessible.

Stairs

  • Access to snorkel platform  [5 stairs]
  • Access to dive platform  [5 stairs]
  • Access to Glass Bottom Boat [3 stairs]

Accommodation Transfers

  • Available to passengers with enough mobility to be able to negotiate 3 steps with assistance on and off the bus.
  • Wheelchair taxi can be booked between Cairns and Cairns Beaches at a set rate.

--Important Notes--

  • If using a motorised wheel chair, please advise the overall weight in advance of booking in the case that it is required to be lifted.  Alternatively a motorised wheelchair can be stored at the Great Barrier Reef tour office with the passenger being provided with a more manageable collapsible wheelchair for boat travel and on the pontoon.
  • Any Scuba Activities will require an AS 4005.1 medical certificate from an Australian dive doctor prior to day of check in and is to be brought with passenger on the day.
  • Personalised services need to be booked in advance and may not be available during peak periods.

Carers Discount Available 10%

Book Here

#3 Great Barrier Reef Tour from Cairns | RM Outer Reef Activity Pontoon

Suitable for disabled and wheelchair passengers and guests who may have limited mobility and perfect for young families.

Activities For Wheelchair Passengers

  • Snorkelling  *
  • Scuba Diving *

Sea Bob Jet Snorkel Tour * [via snorkel platform]

* Access to the snorkel & diving platform will require the assistance of a carer or travel companion.

Activities For Passengers With Limited Mobility 

  • Snorkelling
  • Scuba Diving
  • Glass Bottom Boat Tour
  • Sea Bob Jet Snorkel Tour
  • Underwater Observatory
  • Semi-Submersible Tour*

*Semi-Submersible Tours all have a steep decline to enter the vessel . It is not recommended, however this will depend on the severity of disability.

Features

  • Motorised chair lift between upper and lower decks
  • Sea Bob – Jet snorkel tour - no leg movement required to use Sea Bob
  • Glass Bottom Boat Tour [less stairs than semi-submersible options]
  • Disabled Toilets  One on lower level
  • Buoyancy vests included
  • Buoyancy Noodles included

Stairs

Access to snorkel platform - [5 stairs]

  • Access to dive platform  [5 stairs]
  •  Access to Glass Bottom Boat [4 stairs]

Personalised Services

  • Certified Dive 
  • Introductory Dive 
  • Snorkelling

Motor Scooters

Can be left at reservations and a collapsible wheelchair will be provided for the trip

Accommodation Transfers

  • Available to passengers who are able to negotiate 3 steps on to the bus
  • Disabled Taxi Service available

--Important Notes--

  • Any Scuba Activities will require an AS 4005.1 medical certificate from an Australian dive doctor prior to day of check in and is to be brought with passenger on the day.
  • Personalised services need to be booked in advance and may not be available during peak periods.
  • Chairlift takes 30 seconds and can take up to 200kg

Carers Discount Available 10%

Book Here

#4 Green Island Tour from Cairns | Full Day Great Barrier Reef Tour | Australia

Departing from Cairns this Great Barrier Reef tour to Green Island is suitable for BOTH wheelchair passengers and passengers with limited mobility.

Families with younger children and older grandparents also love Green Island as it offers visitors so many options on ways to see the Great Barrier Reef.   

Activities For Wheel Chair Passengers

  • Island Boardwalk  Green Island has wheelchair friendly jetty and boardwalks along the interpretive rainforest walk around the island and  inside the Marineland Melanesia Crocodile Habitat and Tribal Museum.
  • Swimming Pool-Use of Island’s swimming pool *
  • Scenic viewing from the Island’s Jetty
  • Snorkelling  *  Passenger will need assistance from a carer to get from the paved area across the beach sand to the water’s edge to participate in this activity.
  • This is due to the sand being very soft at Green Island which can cause a wheelchair to become stuck. 
  • The distance between the paved area to the water’s edge will be determined by the time at the time. Approx 5 metres to 10 metres.

* Access to swimming pool and to water’s edge for snorkelling will require the assistance of a carer or travel companion.

Activities For Passengers With Limited Mobility

Features

  • Embark & Disembark from Mid Deck [in the case of an extremely low tide at Green Island this could change to the Lower Deck passengers can use the motorised chair lift to transfer between upper and lower deck if this is the case.
  • Island Boardwalk  Green Island has wheel chair friendly jetty and boardwalks along the interpretive rainforest walk around the island and  inside the Marineland Melanesia Crocodile Habitat and Tribal Museum.
  • Scenic viewing from the Island’s Jetty
  • Swimming Pool-Use of Island’s swimming pool
  • Scenic Helicopter Flights  - 10 min & 15 min scenic helicopter flights over the reef from the island.
  • Disabled Toilets on the Island

Stairs

  • Access to Glass Bottom Boat Tour [3 steps] depending on the tide level it could be 3 steps/flat platform/ another 3 steps to a lower platform.
  • Access in to the Island’s Swimming Pool [Approximately 4  Steps]
  • Access into Helicopter [2 steps]

Transfers To Marina

  • Available to passengers with enough mobility to be able to negotiate 3 steps with assistance on and off the bus.
  • Wheelchair taxi can be booked between Cairns and Cairns Beaches at a set rate.

--Important Notes--

  • The chair lift is only available on one of the three vessels which is mostly  used for the first departure from Cairns and the last departure from Green Island. 
  • There may be occasions however,  when this vessel may not operate and back up vessels are used that do not have the chair lift. 
  • This is often not known till 24 hours prior to departure.
  • It is requested that guests call The Tour Specialists 24 hours prior to travelling during business hours to confirm their details if the request for the chair lift is necessary.
  • Two out of the three vessels used to travel to Green Island have disabled toilet facilities. 
  • It is recommended that guests call us 24hours prior to travelling to confirm their details if the request to travel on one of these boats is necessary.
  • Any Scuba Activities will require an AS 4005.1 medical certificate from an Australian dive doctor prior to day of check in and is to be brought with passenger on the day.
  • Personalised services need to be booked in advance and may not be available during peak periods.

Carers Discount Available 50%

Book Here

#5 Great Barrier Reef Cruises Cairns GA | Dive-Snorkel | Scuba Doo | Pontoon

Departing from Cairns this Great Barrier Reef tour is suitable for wheelchair passengers that are NOT reliant on a disabled toilet

This trip uses one of three vessels to the outer reef – The regular vessel has a motorised chairlift between middle and lower deck on the inside of the boat but has no oversized disabled toilets

On occasion one of their two other vessels can be used which does not have the chairlift but DO have oversized disabled toilets

Activities For Wheelchair Passengers 

  • Snorkelling  *
  • Scuba Diving *
  • Scuba-Doo *

* Access to the snorkel platform, diving platform & Scuba Doo platform will require assistance from a carer or travel companion.

Activities For Passengers With Limited Mobility 

  • Snorkelling
  • Scuba Diving
  • Scuba-Doo
  • Underwater Observatory
  • Semi-Submersible *

*Semi-Submersible Tours all have a steep decline to enter the vessel . It is not recommended, however this will depend on the severity of immobility.

Features

  • Embark & Disembark from the same deck - in some cases this may change however, passengers can use the motorised chair lift to transfer between upper and lower deck in this case as long it is their main vessel
  • Scuba-Doo Scooters or Underwater Scooters no leg movement required to use scooters.

Other Useful Equipment: Buoyancy vests

Stairs

  • To access snorkel platform  [6 stairs]
  • To access dive platform  [6 stairs]
  • To access Scuba Doo platform [6 to 8 stairs]

Personalised Services (Solo Tours)

  • Certified Dive
  • Introductory Dive
  • Snorkelling

Transfers To Marina

  • Available to passengers with enough mobility to be able to negotiate 3 steps with assistance on and off the bus.
  • Wheelchair taxi can be booked between Cairns and Cairns Beaches at a set rate.

--Important Notes--

  • No disabled toilet available .Only standard toilet cubicles on the vessel with an approximate 10cm raised area to step over in to cubicle
  • The platform has decking where wheelchair wheels could become stuck.
  • Motorised chairlift is only available if travelling on the operator’s RKV Vessel.
  • Assistance is required to get in and out of wheelchair and on to chair lift.
  • Any Scuba Activities will require an AS 4005.1 medical certificate from an Australian dive doctor before the day of check in and is to be brought with passenger on the day.
  • Personalised services need to be booked in advance and may not be available during peak periods.

Carers Discount Available 50%

Book Here