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Port of Entry
16°55.244'S, 145°47.010'E Chart icon.png
lat=-16.92073 | lon=145.7835 | zoom=13 | y
Cairns Pier.jpg
The Cairns Pier

Cairns is a well known tourist town and the activities and places to see in the surrounding area are many and well described on the web so I will concentrate on Cairns from a cruisers point of view.

In the past Cairns was built on the sugar industry and still much of the town is cane fields, as the city of Cairns is fairly flat and low it is subjected to flooding in the heavy rain fall that Cairns receives annually. The lofty mountains that surround the town are the highest in Queensland and four of the highest can be seen from the town on a clear day. Placed as it is on the far north coast it has a tropical climate with daily temperatures in winter from the low twenties to the mid to high thirties in summer and very high humidity. Because of the mountains along this part of the coast the warm moist south-east trade winds that tend to blow in off the Coral Sea for most of the year are elevated by the mountains into the cool and rain is formed and this is made more so by the by the monsoon trough which moves south over the north bringing warm moist tropical air down along the coast. This rain is often very heavy and may be phenomenal on occasions causing widespread flooding to North Queensland and the top this is not a good time to be a cruising yachtie and most of the yachts have gone south with the first north easterlies by the time the wet arrives.

The wet season is also the cyclone season November to April but some years cyclones don’t arrive and the weather can often be quite fine right through summer.

One of the really good things about summering in Cairns is the local waterway known as the Inlet which is actually a blocked off river is huge and there would not be a better place on the north coast to shelter from a cyclone. On occasions during the approach of a cyclone the Harbor Master orders that all vessels take shelter in the upper reaches of the inlet and declares the harbor closed, it is quite a spectacle to see over one thousand boats of all descriptions heading up the inlet to shelter, and the amazing thing is there is room for all these vessels plus many more as the Inlet is huge.

Cairns was established as a major fishing port throughout the last century and still is the main port for the north servicing the top of the country plus PNG and islands, it is a major supply link for the Torres Strait communities and all of the remote islands across the top and up Cape York.

Having a long association with all things marine there would not be a better place to repair, refit or undertake any work to a yacht as Cairns caters to any size vessel up to 5,000tons.

The first port of call for most visiting yachts is the Marlin Marina which is located on the approach to the inlet. There is nearly always a berth available and if one is not required it is OK to anchor opposite the marina as this area is designated as a visiting yacht anchorage, once anchored a short dinghy ride into the marina and there is a dinghy berth right in front of the pier complex but this is locked after 1700hrs so beware if your late getting back as you can’t access you dinghy.

Fuel is available in the marina for several hours in the morning and evening. Everything is in walking distance from the marina. Further up the Inlet to the right in Smiths Creek is the Cairns Cruising Yacht Squadron which is very visitor friendly as you would expect. The clubs facilities are as good as anywhere and in some cases better than most with berthing, hardstand, laundry ect.

A little way along the coast just north of Cairns is Yorkey’s Knob Marina, a little further out of town but a lovely, friendly marina.

Visiting the Great Barrier Reef is a true delight in your own boat and it’s not far off Cairns so a few hours sailing and you are at some of the closer reefs. The general rule when anchoring at the reef is to approach the reef with the sun behind you and aim to be anchored by 1600hrs.

Many of the reefs and islands have public moorings placed by the marine parks authority and are quite convenient, they also prevent damaging the coral with your anchor which is their main function


Australian Hydrographic Service
Aus262 Australia East Coast - Queensland - Approaches to Cairns
Aus263 Australia East Coast - Queensland - Cairns (Northern Sheet)
Aus264 Australia East Coast - Queensland - Cairns (Southern Sheet)

See also Queensland.


The weather in this area is as explained earlier is often wet in summer but Cairns has a dry season which is some years very short as rain can be heavy any month of the year.

The main feature with the weather in this area is the prevailing south east trade wind that some years blows right through the monsoon season, November to April which is the north west trade season. When the monsoon moves south along this coast in summer it brings a lot of rain and if this system meets the southeaster lies it brings flooding rain quite often.

Because of the persistent south east trades along this coast it makes it very difficult for any sail boat to make their way south against it. It’s normal to see a large flotilla of yachts arrive up north in early winter and scamper back down south at the first hint of a northerly wind in spring.

One feature with the Barrier Reef is that most of the anchorages are on the north side of the reef, sheltered from the south east winds but in the calmer summer months when the winds are light the skipper should keep an eye on local thunderstorms which can spring up during the night and put you on a lee shore without much warning. I must point out that the south east winds are constant and vary little. If you anchor in a southeasterly tonight you will almost certainly wake up with one in the morning but a wind from any other direction should be watched as this is the where the unwelcome surprises will come from in the middle of a calm tropical summer night.

The persistent south easterlies emanate from high pressure systems in the south of the continent and as a general rule the stronger the high, the stronger the wind. When these systems move across the Great Australian Bight at any time of the year they effect the north coast to some extent. As winter moves in these systems cross the continent from west to east but they will move across further north which is the windy season, as the continent warms up later in the year the highs will cross further south affecting the north coast less. A 1020 Mb. High in the bight will not have much effect on the weather up north but a 1038 Mb. High most probably will and it may blow for weeks with the wind strength and direction not changing much at all.

Sources of Weather Forecasting Information:

  • The local Bureau of Meteorology transmits the local forecasts every few hours on VHF channel 81 which is a duplex channel with the antenna positioned high up on the mountains opposite Cairns so the coverage is very good, the other option is to tune in to the weather on HF.
  • Weather times and frequencies: Frequencies 2201, 4426, 6507, 8176, 12365, 16546 Khz. Eastern Standard Times 0330, 0730, 1130, 1530, 1930, 2330 Hrs.
  • Weatherzone


See also Queensland.


Cairns is a jumping off point for flights to many resort islands in the Whitsunday group.


See Queensland.

All vessels entering the Port of Cairns are required to contact 'Cairns VTS' on Channel 12 VHF prior to entering or exiting Cairns Harbour. A VHF radio service is maintained by Ports North on Channel 16 (156.8 MHz) with the call sign "Cairns Marlin Marina" for marina activities and call sign "Cairns Harbour" for all other Seaport activities.


Deep water passage to Cairns through the Great Barrier Reef is via the Grafton passage from the East, or the inner reef passage via the Torres Strait.

Cairns is an all-weather port outside the cyclone season which runs from approximately November through to April. Access to the port is via a channel 10km west of Cape Grafton with Lowest Astronomical Tide (LAT) depth of 8.3m, width of 90m and length of 13km.


Cairns is a port of entry for Australia. For details see Entrance: Australia.


Marinas & Yacht Clubs

Key to symbols: |Port of entry icon – port of entry |Marina icon – marina |Needs data icon – needs data ||


See individual marinas.


Give the names and locations of supermarkets, grocery stores, bakeries, etc.

Eating out

Give the name of recommended restaurant, tavernas, pastry stores, etc.


List transportation (local and/or international.)



Give a short history of the port.

Places to Visit

List places of interest, tours, etc.


Contact details of "Cruiser's Friends" that can be contacted for local information or assistance.


List links to discussion threads on partnering forums. (see link for requirements)



See Australia.


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