Sail Ningaloo: Liveaboard Sailboat on Ningaloo Reef


Last Updated on May 15, 2021 by Amy

I pulled the big picture book off the shelf and leafed through the brightly printed, glossy pages. We’re staying in Adelaide with our friends Tony and Sara. Tony’s an avid diver and diving instructor.  The book I’m flipping through is photographs and stories of the world’s best dives. In Australia, the book says the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef.

“That’s it!” I slam the book shut. “We’re booking Ningaloo.”

I’d been hemming and hawing about what to do in WA. We had booked our flight into Perth about 10 days before we needed to come back to Starry Horizons. We knew that we wanted to get out and explore Western Australia, but it’s tough to choose – the Kimberlies? Broome? Wine country?

Why Sail Ningaloo?

With the decision to dive Ningaloo Reef, you might as well be ON the reef. The only thing I could find for a liveaboard just happened to be Sail Ningaloo, a 51′ sailing catamaran named Shore Thing, operating out of Coral Bay. A stroke of luck, there was a three-night package available over our anniversary.

Disclaimer:  Some of the activities mentioned in this post were received at a discounted rate.  We were psyched to have their support, but this post reflects our honest opinion on the activity.  Don’t just take our word for it.  Sail Ningaloo is rated the #1 Thing to Do in Coral Bay by TripAdvisor and has won a ton of awards.

Arrival into Exmouth

After a two-hour flight from Perth, David and I were whisked away via a nice air-conditioned van to Coral Bay, where our vessel for the next three nights, Shore Thing, awaited us. Along the way, we’d picked up all of the other guests (from the airport or Coral Bay proper), and our driver Georgina had pointed out highlights – termite mounds and willy-willies (tiny tornadoes of sand and air). Georgina prepped us for our upcoming trip, about Shore Thing, and also told us about some of the dive sites.

Shore Thing at the dock in Coral Bay

The crew handled all our gear as we took photos and settled into the cockpit for our safety briefing. Luke, our skipper, introduced us to the rest of our crew – and each other. We had 8 guests aboard: a couple from Sydney, a couple from London, and two solo guys, one from China and one from Adelaide. Our crew was Luke, our skipper; Ty, a skipper trainee; Hayley, our dive instructor; and Rose, our steward.

Sunset Cruising

Once formalities were done, Shore Thing took off for a sunset sail and the crew showed us to our cabins. David and I had the port aft cabin, and we shared a head with one of the solo guests.

We just left the dock and I’m already having too much fun.
Our cabin on Shore Thing
Aw, a nice little touch!

Shore Thing has a well-stocked bar. Instead of having to BYOB, the crew offered us a nice selection of wines and other beverages. All of us sat out on the bow to enjoy the sail and the sunset.  Luke even put David to work!

Hoisting the main sail on Sail Ningaloo.
Watching the sunset on Sail Ningaloo.

One of the things I really liked was that Luke always made sure we knew what the plans were. Activities were always optional. One guest on the boat wasn’t a diver and was only just learning to snorkel, so she often stayed on the boat, relaxing in the sun or reading.

Under the Water in Ningaloo Reef

A majority of our time during the day was spent in the water!  I loved it.  We did four dives and three snorkels.  Read all about our time under the water in Ningaloo Reef.  Here are some photo highlights:

dive briefing
Look at how gorgeous the water is!

back to home base.

shark cleaning station
Me describing nudibranchs

Dining with Sail Ningaloo

The best surprise for us was the quality and quantity of the food the crew served. Continental breakfast was always available, and two of our three mornings Rose cooked a hot brekkie.

After a dive or a snorkel, there was always a snack available too. Sometimes fresh-baked cookies, sometimes cheese and crackers.

Lunch was always hot – burgers, chicken wraps, etc. It was always a big meal too, after working up an appetite diving.

In the evening, everyone had pretty much showered and cleaned up for dinner. Drinks were served, appetizers were put out, and there was a lot of conversation. It was really interesting to talk to everyone. Just like in the cruising community, we automatically had a lot in common with the other guests. Most of us (5 of 8) were divers, and all were well-traveled and interesting people.

Rose cracking herself up in the galley.
Our dining table every night.
Chicken with preserved lemons and olives. So good.
Steak with mashed sweet potatoes and a balsamic reduction.

Why You Should Book 5 Nights

The three-night trip was phenomenal.  It was jam-packed with snorkeling and diving, but there are several reasons why you should book the five-night trip if you can.

  • Wreck Diving:  Ningaloo Reef has a few wrecks that are over 100 years old!
  • Hiking and sand dunes
  • Whaling Stations:  Norwegian Bay’s abandoned whaling station makes for a good shore excursion.
  • More Sailing:  Luke says that with four full days instead of two, the dives and snorkels can be more spaced out.  Luke and crew take advantage of having more time with their guests by sailing to further destinations than what we got to experience.
Photo courtesy of Sail Ningaloo. Looks like fun right?

Additional Packages

Sail Ningaloo can help you arrange several packages to add to your Ningaloo trip:

  • Dive Navy Pier
  • Whale Shark Swim
  • Glamping at Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef

About Shore Thing

Shore Thing is a 51-foot sailing catamaran.  She’s a Roger Hill design and has four double cabins and two single bunks in total. Luke converted Shore Thing for her charters.  She’s got kayaks, tons of dive gear and a dive compressor.  Luke and team converted the cockpit for water activities.  We were all able to suit up in the cockpit and then put our backs to the dive gear mounted on the lifelines on either side and slip into our gear before proceeding to the transom.

Shore Thing’s helm station is a flybridge, and there’s a ladder going from the cockpit up to the helm.  With seating for at least 8 up there, plus a bean bag chair for the decks, this was obviously my favorite place to hang out while underway.

What makes Ningaloo Reef so great?

Ningaloo Reef is Australia’s largest fringing reef.  That means, unlike the Great Barrier Reef, you don’t have to go offshore to see it.  The area we cruised is often no more than 3-4 meters deep.  The sand is very fine, and the coral is healthy.

Shore Thing on Ningaloo Reef

About Sail Ningaloo

I got a chance to chat with Luke about how Sail Ningaloo came to be.  Luke and Lannie arrived in Coral Bay in 2007, and absolutely fell in love with it.  They started operating Sial Ningaloo in 2010, and it was really obvious to me that the years of experience have served them well.

Luke and Lannie have a history of marine conservation; he spent four years in the Seychelles, including work with Marine Conservation Society Seychelles, and Lannie spent time with Ningaloo Turtle monitoring program.

Luke, the owner of Sail Ningaloo.

Watch Sail Ningaloo’s Video

During every trip, Luke and his team capture the activity too.  On your last day, the crew gives every guest a thumb drive with a customized video of their trip!  Most people aren’t lucky enough to have the sweet videography skills that we do (*ahem*) so I think it’s awesome that everyone gets to take home a video.  And there are even inside jokes in it!

Watch the Video:  Cheating on Starry Horizons in the Ningaloo Reef

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  1. Wow, this looks like the ultimate way to experience this region, it seems that over that time on the water you really get to live it rather than just see it. I love that cabin too, it looks like a fun place to stay.

  2. This would be an absolutely dream trip for my husband and me! We have never done a dive liveaboard but really want to at some stage. Such a brilliant way of getting in lots of dives in exciting places. Ningaloo sounds amazing, and an awesome place for wreck diving too! Looks like they looked after you really well.

  3. That sounds like a dream adventure! I’ve been wanting to dive on coral reefs since quite some time, and the sailing trip you had to go with it sounds just perfect (and that food looks reaaaly good, I can only imagine how good it tasted after a long day at the sea). I will be saving your post, just in case. 🙂

  4. This looks like a dream five days! I love the water! I think we would really enjoy a Ningaloo sail. I had never heard of it before….yay! Something more for the “list”!

  5. I’d love to live an experience like this one, especially because you end up getting to know lots of interesting people! Also your cabin looks pretty cozy, I thought they’d be smaller and less… cute! They were so nice to leave you flowers!

  6. I love that you took a boater’s holiday! But in all seriousness, I can see why. Not only does this sound a great place to explore, but the crew were excellent and really helpful too. I loved that whiteboard illustration of what to expect underwater; it was really painstaking, and good to see such great briefings.

  7. What an interesting, unique trip! I had never heard of Ningaloo Reef before! Although I’m not a diver (but I want to learn and get certified), I do snorkel and I think I would really like this! The food looked amazing as did the waters. I do worry since I can get seasick easily that I would sick on a smaller boat like this (vs a cruise ship where I seem to do fine), but it looks amazing!

  8. Makes me want to move home to Australia to try this out. Western Australia is a magnificent part of the world. The water and the sand is different to the Great Barrier Reef and Queensland where I am originally from. This looks like the place to be and with Luke and Linnie. Thanks for such a great post!!

  9. What a great trip!! I’ve never been to Australia, and I’ve never been diving, but I would love to do both one day! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Answers my question, where do full time cruisers go on vacation. Interesting. Thanks for sharing the fun.

  11. Not about the recent trip. This is a repeat of my last comment on your troubles with the genset water pump. Look for the video In Cataraman Impi on how they fixed their water pump problem. Sorry for the repeat if you have already seen the video.

    1. Hey Chris. Thanks for the heads up. I’ve seen the Impi video and actually talked with Brent about this issue when we met them in New Caledonia. They way that he modified their system is actually the way that FP set up our genset water intake. We already have the electric lift pump installed down at the thru-hull. However, I think we have a much further run up to the genset than Impi because when I tried removing the impeller, we still got a ‘Raw Water Flow Alarm’. So unfortunately, I think we just require both!

  12. Wow. What an amazing adventure – but an even more phenomenal way to celebrate your anniversary. . .Congratulations! (Funny auto correct – when I reread what I wrote, you were celebrating your rosary). 🙂

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