This post may contain affiliate links.
Port Douglas is a fantastic place for scuba diving with several boats taking divers to the Outer Reef and some sensational dive locations. You also have the option of taking liveaboard dive trips nearby. In this post, we present your options for Scuba Diving trips (including learning to scuba dive) from Port Douglas, and consider whether Cairns would be a better option for visitors wishing to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef.
Chef James Long, the author, works on the Great Barrier Reef on a reef cruise boat and is an Advance PADI diver, he first moved to Port Douglas Australia almost 20 years ago, in part for its great diving opportunities. He has taken many a live-aboard scuba diving trip in Queensland and swum with minke whales on these dive trips.
Cairns vs Port Douglas for Scuba Diving
We think the best dive sites and snorkelling sites are on the Outer Reef from Port Douglas. Some of the Cairns scuba diving boats will take you up here, and further north.
The Great Barrier Reef is closer to Port Douglas than Cairns, but Cairns being a much bigger city and port, has more boats going out to the reef.
For Liveaboard diving you have to go out of Cairns, the luxury liveaboards will take you north to some incredible dive sites. To find a liveaboard in Australia (or anywhere) try this comparison site.
Alternatively, look at this 2 day sailboat scuba trip from Cairns.
For 1 day dive trips, take a scuba trip from Port Douglas, it’s normally better. We list the operators below.
Scuba Diving Trips From Port Douglas
The following operators offer scuba diving from Port Douglas. If you click through you can book online with a best-price guarantee from these companies.
We’ll give you photos of some of the scuba diving boats offering cruises from Port Douglas, too.
All of these scuba diving operators are suitable for beginners holding dive certification. Novices can take trial dives or get certified in Port! Information on that below.
- Poseidon offers full-day scuba and snorkel cruises on Agincourt Reef. Book here.
- Silversonic (also Quicksilver) also provide full-day scuba and dive cruises on Agincourt Reef. Book here.
- The Quicksilver Pontoon is good for families, diving is available. Check it out here.
- Oz Dive are new in Port Douglas, they offer scuba-only day trips from Port Douglas. Their boat is very small, see below, I think if I were a beginner or prone to sea sickness, I’d pick one of the bigger boats. We haven’t tried OzDive yet ourselves, but we will.
Divers Den and ABC Dive used to offer scuba diving from Port Douglas, but at the time of writing, they don’t. Divers Den operates out of Cairns, ABC Dive switched to snorkelling.
Wavelength Reef Tours, our favourite reef operator, do not offer scuba diving.
There are no operators offering scuba diving at Low Isles that we know of. Low Isles supposedly took a fair bit of damage to the corals and wildlife in the cyclone. We haven’t been out there yet to see for ourselves, but the Outer Reef is looking good!
Liveaboard Scuba Diving From Port Douglas
Unfortunately, unless you have a private charter there aren’t currently any liveaboard dive trips out of Port Douglas.
All the main scuba diving liveaboards depart from Cairns.
Some, like Mike Ball may start or finish at Lizard Island and fly you one way to meet the boat. These luxury boats take you to some very special dive sites, like famous Cod Hole.
Best Time of Year For Scuba Diving From Port Douglas and Cairns
You can scuba dive from Port Douglas year-round, with occasional breaks for storms and severe weather events.
Cyclone season is roughly December to May in Port Douglas, and unfortunately, we can’t predict if or when storms will pass through. A big storm can negatively affect visibility on the reef but cyclones hit incredibly rarely. Jasper was the first cyclone I’ve seen here.
Cyclone Jasper in December 2023 stopped boats running for a few days, but scuba diving resumed shortly afterwards. Today, January 2024, the Great Barrier Reef is open to scuba divers and snorkellers from Port Douglas. I’m out on the reef today!
Stinger season in Port Douglas and on the Great Barrier Reef does not stop people from scuba diving.
See The Coral Spawning from Port Douglas and Cairns
There are a couple of boats out of Cairns that go out to see the coral spawning.
Divers Den is one such company. This year out of Port Douglas there weren’t any commercial operators providing scuba diving trips to see the coral spawning.
See Minke Whales From Port Douglas or Cairns
Not just any boat can allow you to swim with Minke Whales. They have to have a special permit to allow you.
Posiedon, which the Quicksilver group owns, has one of those permits and is based in Port Douglas. They only do day trips and there is no guarantee of seeing minkes while out at the reef.
Other boats may have Minkes appear while at their sites, this is incredibly rare but not unheard of.
Most people will take a liveaboard out of Cairns for 3 nights to see the minke whales.
Divers Den, Pro Dive and Mike Ball Dive all offer Minke trips during late May and June. This is the best way to see minkes although, like trips out of Port Douglas, sightings are never guaranteed.
You can be on scuba with the minke whales but the main way to see them is by floating on a rope off the back or front of the boat using snorkel equipment.
The whales are very curious and will normally get closer and closer to you as you hang there. This makes it accessible to anyone who can swim, although it is worth noting that it is in deep blue water where you won’t see the bottom at all.
Read my full post on swimming with minke whales here, it was a great experience!
Learn to Scuba Dive in Port Douglas
The Padi dive course to become a certified diver generally involves pool work, classroom work, and then some easy shallow dives and a simple exam. You can do this in Port Douglas.
You can either watch the educational videos that are part of the course online, or in a classroom.
The dive course normally takes 2-3 days and costs just short of $1000 Au in Port Douglas.
Because all diving in Port Douglas takes place on The Great Barrier Reef, learning to scuba dive in Port isn’t cheap, you’re always going to have to pay for that boat trip.
It’s cheaper to learn to dive on Magnetic Island, (off Townsville, to the south) for instance, where your first dives will be from the beach.
However, taking your first dive on the Great Barrier Reef is a world-class experience, so this makes learning to scuba dive in Port Douglas a great idea!
Other scuba classes, refresher sessions, trial dives, advanced and rescue diver courses are also available in Port Douglas.
The author and his wife learned to dive on Magnetic Island, their children learned in Cairns because of a sponsorship opportunity. Otherwise, they would have learned in Port Douglas for convenience.