Sydney Harbour

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Sydney Harbour (formally called Port Jackson) is a the main harbour of Sydney, Australia's largest city and the capital of New South Wales.


Main Harbour, Health Warning

Due to the manufacture of Agent Orange and other "nice" stuff by Union Carbide in Homebush Bay over 40 years ago, the NSW Government has issued a warning about eating fish caught west of the Harbour Bridge, which should be released back into the water. It is permissible to eat 150gm of fish per month if caught on the east side of the bridge. The levels of dioxins are well over recommended dosages in most cases, especially close to the source of this contamination.

Further details can be found by following [1]


Sydney harbour is a busy place on the VHF channels, and the preponderence of tall masts (headland radio beacons), tall buildings, and tall cliffsides makes HF reception tricky at best, and HF transmission all but useless.

Marine Rescue NSW (formerly the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol and The Australian Volunteer Coast Guard which have since been amalgamated) can be reached easily on VHF channel 16 from anywhere in the harbour, and can provide assistance for yachties in trouble, and also broadcast regular weather reports and tide updates during the day and night. SeaTow provide a useful service for members at a competitive price, when all you need is a battery replaced or started, or possibly a short term fuel top-up.

Other than that, expect to hear a lot of vessel to vessel calling on VHF 16 as well as what amounts to probably far too much chatter for a calling/emergency channel.

See also New South Wales.


The mouth of Sydney Harbour is wide, deep, and well sheltered. The main channel (which splits into two as it turns south into the harbour proper, one either side of Sow and Pigs reef), is dredged to 13 metres deep. You will have no trouble approaching Sydney Harbour from any angle in any weather conditions.

The lighthouse at South Head is visible for some miles offshore. North Head itself is very hard to miss, and is well lit and signed. There are no significant reefs or shoals either at the harbour mouth or inside, except for Gowilland Bombora (off Middle Head) and Sow and Pigs reef (just inside the main harbour), both of which are well marked. Even close to the headlands the waters are quite deep -- get well inside the harbour before attempting to drop anchor (and in any case most of the harbour mouth is a no-anchor zone)!

If you are passing Sydney and simply wish to anchor for the night, in northerly conditions secure anchorage can be found in Spring Cove off either Store Beach or Collins Beach, taking care to anchor outside the restricted areas marked by bouys and shore signs. In southerly conditions swell invades this area and it may be necessary to go in as far as Rose Bay to find comfortable anchorage in a reasonable depth of water.

Obstructions and Restrictions

  • Some overhead obstructions include the Spit Bridge (which can be passed only at opening times, and sails must be down to make the bridge passage), and some of the road bridges in the upper parts of Middle Harbour and the Lane Cove River.
  • Be aware of no-anchor zones, there are many of these. The most prominent (and tempting) are the penguin colony areas inside North Head (which carry heavy fines for anchoring, and are regularly patrolled), the areas near the navy base at Garden Island (don't anchor near a boat with larger guns than yours), and in and around the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
  • Be aware of the recent speed/zoning restrictions introduced around the Harbour Bridge -- 15 knot speed limit (not a concern to most yachties), and there is no drifting, anchoring, etc.
  • The use of lights on the harbour at night is a must. Several incidents have occurred over the years with smaller boats being run down while travelling without lights, one high profile and tragic one in 2006 included.
  • At all times be aware that Sydney Harbour is a busy place, and a careful watch must be maintained at all times. Sydney Harbour Ferries (carrying orange diamonds) and cargo / tanker vessels (restricted in their ability to maneuver, or restricted by their draft) must be given way to.
  • There is also a large population of small stink-boats / pleasure craft, often piloted by inexperienced skippers who have chartered the boat for the day or are members of "walk-on/walk-off" boat ownership clubs (where they may get out on the water only once per year) who may not always obey all of the collision regulations, occasionally requiring evasive maneuvers by vessels that otherwise have right-of-way.
  • Sydney Cove between the South Side of the Habour Bridge and the Opera House is closed to all recreational vessels and non approved commercial vessels.


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

The customs office is in Neutral Bay as is the customs wharf. Telephone contacts are as follows:

Office hours: 02 8339 6607
After hours: 0418 215 192
Facsimile: 02 8339 6281

The customs wharf is in Neutral Bay at approx. 33°50.6'S - 151°12.95'E. If arriving out of hours tie up there and contact customs on the number above. Be aware of the advance notice requirements. On notifying customs of your arrival they may give you further directions depending on the planned use of the wharf.

Updated contact details are on this page.

All other check in / check out procedure is as per the Australian Immigration & Customs notes given elsewhere.


Sydney Harbour is loosely divided into three separate areas. These are:

  • North Harbour, the area north of a line drawn between, say, the southern tip of North Head, and the southern tip of Dobroyd Head (Grotto Point). This encompasses Manly, Fairlight, Seaforth, and the bays and anchorages on the western (inside) end of North Head.
  • Middle Harbour. This is the area west and northwest of a line drawn between Grotto Point, and Middle Head. This includes Clontarf, the Spit, the Middle Harbour Yacht Club, and all of the area west and northwest of the Spit Bridge. It is also loosely divided into two areas, these being:
    • Outer Middle Harbour, including the area east of the Spit Bridge; and
    • Inner Middle Harbour, including the area west and northwest of the Spit Bridge. The Spit Bridge is an important dividing line because it is a lifting bridge with a low clearance when closed (lower than the masthead of most sailboats), and it opens only at certain times of the day (the latest opening being at 9:30pm). To get to the Inner Middle Harbour, you must pass the Spit Bridge, which you can only do at opening times.
  • South Harbour, or the main harbour. This is all of the rest of Sydney Harbour, once you pass a line between Middle Head and South Head. This includes the outer harbour (east of the Sydney Harbour Bridge), and the inner harbour (west of the Sydney Harbour Bridge), however note that the Harbour Bridge clearance is over 30m, so even the tallest rigged boats can sail under it at any time. (there are 6 ocean going vessels world-wide that are known not to be able to get under the bridge).

Marinas & Yacht Clubs

See Sydney Harbour Marinas.


Details of all safe anchorages in the area:

Note: Sydney Harbour has pretty good holding all around, but is quite deep. Typically 25 meters or so in the main channels, and can be up to 15 meters deep even quite close to shore. So you have to get well in and look around for anchoring spots. Sydney Harbour is littered with bays and small coves, so many that it's almost impossible to list them all here.

Watsons Bay

Watsons Bay/wiki/Sydney_Harbour#Watsons_Bay
Anchorage icon Watsons Bay [[Sydney Harbour#Watsons Bay|Watsons Bay]] 33°50.651'S, 151°16.774'E
I really like Watsons Bay. Deceptively sheltered for just inside the heads, and you can usually find an anchoring spot just outside the moorings or tie up to an unused mooring for a very short period of time (long enough to grab some fish and chips from Doyle's on the Wharf -- tell them I sent you, although don't tell them I told you to grab someone else's mooring). --Delatbabel

Farm Cove

Farm Cove/wiki/Sydney_Harbour#Farm_Cove
Anchorage icon Farm Cove [[Sydney Harbour#Farm Cove|Farm Cove]] 33°51.637'S, 151°13.083'E
Farm Cove is OK for anchoring, good holding in sand/mud, nice and close to the city with plenty of places to pull up the dinghy alongside, and a 24 hour time limit. Don't overstay your welcome, you're between the water police and the naval base. Also don't be tempted to anchor too far out into the bay overnight as commercial harbour cruise boats do tend to circle the bay and some of them aren't very manouverable.

Sydney Cove and Circular Quay

Sydney Cove and Circular Quay/wiki/Sydney_Harbour#Sydney_Cove_and_Circular_Quay
Anchorage icon Sydney Cove and Circular Quay [[Sydney Harbour#Sydney Cove and Circular Quay|Sydney Cove and Circular Quay]] 33°51.449'S, 151°12.708'E
Warning: If you miss Farm Cove, don't even think about anchoring in the next bay along -- Sydney Cove and Circular Quay, unless you happen to like the water police impounding your boat.

Bantry Bay

Bantry Bay/wiki/Sydney_Harbour#Bantry_Bay
Anchorage icon Bantry Bay [[Sydney Harbour#Bantry Bay|Bantry Bay]] 33°46.757'S, 151°13.868'E
One of the more picturesque anchorages in Sydney is Bantry Bay at the north end of Middle Harbour. You need to pass the Spit Bridge to get there, so check the opening times. There are 8 free public moorings as well as ample anchoring space. During most of the year a mooring should be available if you arrive early in the day, they tend to fill up by evening and are often full all weekend in the summer. In the absence of a free mooring, anchoring space is plentiful on the west side of the bay, away from the moorings.

Other popular anchoring spots for long distance cruisers are:

Blackwattle Bay Anchorage

Blackwattle Bay

Blackwattle Bay/wiki/Sydney_Harbour#Blackwattle_Bay
Anchorage icon Blackwattle Bay [[Sydney Harbour#Blackwattle Bay|Blackwattle Bay]] 33°52.346'S, 151°11.223'E
Blackwattle Bay -- and the nearby Rozelle Bay are very popular anchorages with visiting cruisers. There is a very tight marked anchoring area, easy dinghy landing on a pontoon (although not safe for long stowage periods and you might want to consider locking your dinghy) and right near the fish markets for a good feed. The nearby Glebe offers a wonderful collection of restaurants and coffee shops. Sadly the anchorage is usually filled with long term liveaboards, some of who have been there for years, leaving limited room for visitors.

Balls Head Bay

Balls Head Bay/wiki/Sydney_Harbour#Balls_Head_Bay
Anchorage icon Balls Head Bay [[Sydney Harbour#Balls Head Bay|Balls Head Bay]] 33°50.448'S, 151°11.504'E
Balls Head Bay as mentioned above. Beware of the detritus littering the bottom of the bay, it has been known to foul anchors. In fact an old Sydneysider's story is that to anchor in Balls Head Bay you merely lower your chain, snorkel down and shackle it to whatever you find on the bottom. Other than that holding is pretty good. Note that you should avoid the next (sub-) bay to the west, Gore Cove, because of regular traffic from oil tankers.

These offer no-time-restricted anchoring for boats that are not registered in NSW. If your boat is registered in NSW you must use a marina or mooring for long term storage.

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