Passage Planning Guide: Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait - (PPG - GBRTS 2023-24 Edition)

Number of Pages:
Published Date:
June 2023
Book Height:
305 mm
Book Width:
255 mm
1.7 kg
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This publication has been revised to incorporate the latest guidance and practical advice for ships transiting the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait. All the data contained within this Guide has been reviewed and validated by Auriga Pilots, drawing on their considerable experience in all areas of the Marine Park and beyond.

It offers additional clarity on subjects such as maximum draught, ECDIS, ballast water management and Australian MARPOL areas. This is a valuable resource for any crew navigating the region.

In addition, a companion publication ‘Passage Planning Notes – South of Cairns, Whitsundays and Hydrographers Passage’ has been made freely available to download here. This contains passage notes and chartlets for the following routes:

  • South of Cairns
  • Whitsunday Passage
  • Hydrographers Passage.

The Passage Planning Guide is designed to be used as part of the ship's pre-entry procedures and as a tool for refreshing the bridge team each time the ship is planning a passage through the GBRTS. This edition has been restructured to consolidate key information for both the Master and the bridge team.

The pull-out chartlets, which now feature satellite imagery and inset photos of key navigational marks, allow the book to be used in real time, enhancing situational awareness and giving the navigator an overview that can be lost on ships where ECDIS is the primary means of navigation.

Updated traffic information, including high density hotspots and case studies based on accident reports, effectively illustrate best navigational practice. New features also include an Auriga Pilot Ladder Checklist, to assist crews in preparing for pilot boarding, and a two-page overview chart of the controlling depths in the Torres Strait.

Additionally, the Guide includes two loose leaf copies of the Pre-Entry Bridge Team Meeting checklist to effectively aid bridge teams in planning their passage of the GBRTS.


The Great Barrier Reef is an area of global environmental, cultural and economic importance. As early as 1975, the Australian Government recognised its significance by creating the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) to regulate all activities that take place within the Marine Park. Its scientific, cultural and historic importance led to the Park being added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List in 1981, with the adjoining and connected Wet Tropics of Queensland added in 1988. The Park, and the adjoining areas encompassing the Torres Strait and Great North East Channel up to the border with Papua New Guinea, was designated a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) in 1990 and the following year compulsory pilotage was introduced for the areas North of Cairns. With the creation of the Coral Sea Marine Park in 2015, further protection was afforded to the diverse array of habitats such as coral reefs, sandy cays and deep-sea plains and canyons that lie beyond the Great Barrier Reef, totalling almost 1,000,000 square kilometres.

Consequently, passing through these areas can be a cause of concern for the mariner, particularly if the bridge team is unfamiliar with the region. The Torres Strait and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park lie within the state of Queensland. Regulation of activities within this area is covered by both State and Federal legislation. Source information is not always easy to locate and interpret, particularly if the ship has not been able to obtain all the necessary documentation prior to departing their last port. This Guide contains the information the bridge team will need to properly prepare for the ship’s transit through the area.

All the data contained within this Guide has been collated and validated by Auriga Pilots, drawing on their considerable experience in all areas of the Marine Park and beyond.

Auriga Pilots strongly recommend that this Guide is used not only as part of the ship’s pre-entry procedures, but also as a tool for familiarising and refreshing the bridge team each time the ship is planning a passage through the area. Its design, with pull-out chartlets, allows this Guide to be used in ‘real time’, giving the navigator the overview that can be lost since the adoption of electronic navigational charts.

Sherie Evans
General Manager – Reef, Auriga Pilots Pty Ltd




Explanation of Routes Shown on the Chartlets in this Guide


PART 1 Background and Supporting Notes to the Guide

Reference PDFs to Download for the Region

1.1 Introduction to PPG – GBRTS

1.2 Masters’ Guidance for Arriving Ships (Notification and Papers)

1.3 Route Selection Through the Torres Strait/Great Barrier Reef

1.4 Designated Shipping Areas (DSAs)

1.5 Overview of Main Shipping Routes in GBRMP

1.6 Controlling Depths in The Torres Strait

1.7 Maximum Draught and the UKCM System in the Torres Strait

1.8 The Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait Ship Reporting System (REEFREP) and REEFVTS

1.9 Planning Overview Charts: From Torres Strait (10° 30’S) to Sandy Cape (24° 30’S)

1.10 Pilotage and Regulations for Operating Cruise Ships in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP)

1.11 Pilot Booking Procedure and Contact Details

1.12 Pilot Boarding Grounds

1.13 Pilot Boarding Arrangements

1.14 Navigation with Pilot On Board and PPU

1.15 Auriga Pilots (AP)

1.16 Passage Planning

1.17 Guidance for OOW/Bridge Team in the Torres Strait/Great Barrier Reef

1.18 ECDIS Safety Settings

1.19 Use of ECDIS in ‘Two Colour/Four Colour’ Depth Shading Mode

1.20 Traffic

1.21 Tidal Streams and Currents

1.22 Winds

1.23 Tropical Cyclones

1.24 MARPOL and Environmental Considerations

1.25 Ballast Water Management in Australian Waters

1.26 Emergency Towage Vessel (ETV)

PART 2 Groundings, Incidents and Near Misses – Case Studies 53

2.1 Groundings, Incidents and Near Misses: Torres Strait

2.2 Groundings, Incidents and Near Misses: Off Cairns

2.3 Groundings, Incidents and Near Misses: Hydrographers Passage

PART 3 Traffic Hotspots in GBRTS 57

3.1 Traffic Hotspots

3.1.1 (Hotspot – E-Bound): Torres Strait, Varzin Channel

3.1.2 (Hotspot – E-Bound): Appr. Gannet Passage

3.1.3 (Hotspot – E-Bound): Transit Through Herald and Alert Patches

3.1.4 (Hotspot – S/N-Bound): Sunk and Frederick

3.1.5 (Hotspot – S-Bound): Gubbins Reef and Hope Islands

3.1.6 (Hotspot – S-Bound): Rounding Fitzroy Island

3.1.7 (Hotspot – S-Bound): Ferris Shoal to Bugatti Reef

3.1.8 (Hotspot – N-Bound): Between Tern Reef and Scawfell Island

3.1.9 (Hotspot – S/N-Bound): Appr. Cairns/Yorkeys Knob Pilot Boarding Grounds

3.1.10 (Hotspot – S/N-Bound): North Channel, Between Howick Island and Megaera Reef

3.1.11 (Hotspot – N-Bound): Piper Island to Inset Reef

3.1.12 (Hotspot – N-Bound): Clerke Island

3.1.13 (Hotspot – W-Bound): Torres Strait, East Part

PART 4 Passage Notes

Section 1 Great North East Channel

Great North East Channel – Eastbound

Great North East Channel – Westbound

Section 2 Inner Route

Inner Route – Southbound

Inner Route – Northbound

Section 3 Hydrographers Passage

Hydrographers Passage – Westbound

Hydrographers Passage – Eastbound

PART 5 Annexes

Annex 1 – Pre-Entry Bridge Team Meeting GBR and TS

Annex 2 – Approved Cruise Transit Corridors

Annex 3 – Authority Contacts in Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait (GBRTS)


Witherbys titles are developed using scripts developed by technical experts that are peer reviewed within work groups. Typically, they seek to improve understanding of the regulations, recommendations and guidelines issued by Industry.

Witherbys staff have significant expertise in the fields of navigation and hazardous cargoes as well as in the presentation of complex subjects in a graphic and easy to understand manner.


Auriga provides pilotage services essential to the movement of Australia’s trade. Auriga has evolved into a sophisticated state-of-the-art operation, with safety, professionalism, innovation and customer satisfaction our highest priorities.

Maritime Industry Australia Ltd (MIAL)

MIAL is Australia’s national shipping industry peak body. MIAL represent maritime interests nationally and internationally for any organisation that owns or operates a ship in Australia. MIAL provides dedicated maritime expertise and advice for members, and represents industry more broadly to promote a sustainable, competitive and agile Australian maritime industry.

Number of Pages:
Published Date:
June 2023
Book Height:
305 mm
Book Width:
255 mm
1.7 kg

Maritime Industry Australia Limited, Auriga Pilots and Witherbys

Publication Date:
June 2023