Liveaboard diving 101: Everything you need to know before you go

by   Profile Kathryn   When 11th September 2023
Raja Ampat underwater
Raja Ampat underwater
Raja ampat
Raja Ampat
Red Sea
Red Sea
Boat diving
Boat Diving

Imagine waking up to the gentle rocking of a boat, the sun rising over crystal-clear waters, and the promise of thrilling underwater adventures just a few paces away. Welcome to the world of liveaboard diving, a unique and exhilarating way to explore the ocean's hidden treasures. In this comprehensive guide, we'll walk you through everything you need to know before embarking on a liveaboard diving trip, inspiring you to dive into this extraordinary experience.

Choosing the right liveaboard

Before you set sail on your liveaboard adventure, it's essential to choose the right vessel for you. Consider factors such as how many people the liveaboard caters for, whether you get motion sick, and how remote your destination is.

  • Sailing yachts offer slow-paced, relaxed dive experiences worldwide.

  • Catamarans offer more intimate experiences with small groups of divers.

  • Modern steel-hull boats are designed for open-ocean conditions and allow you to reach remote dive destinations.

  • Phinisi and steel-hulled boats are great choices if you get motion sick.

There is a huge variety of liveaboard boats to choose from. Reading reviews and seeking recommendations can be invaluable in finding the perfect liveaboard that aligns with your expectations.

Finding the right destination

Liveaboard diving takes you to some of the world's most captivating underwater destinations that you simply can’t reach by shore or day-boat diving. Experience the thrill of drift diving in the Maldives, the vibrant coral reefs of the Red Sea, or the biodiversity-rich waters of Raja Ampat. The choice is yours when you go liveaboard diving.

Timing your trip is key; research when marine life migrations and weather conditions are optimal to make the most of your underwater encounters. And take your dive experience level into account when you make a shortlist of where to go.

Top liveaboard destinations for new divers include:

  • The Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

  • The Bahamas.

  • Egypt’s Red Sea.

Top liveaboard destinations for experienced divers include:

  • Raja Ampat & Komodo, Indonesia.

  • The Maldives.

  • The Galapagos Islands.

  • Cocos Island, Costa Rica.

  • The Socorro Islands, Mexico

Booking your liveaboard trip

Booking your liveaboard adventure requires careful planning. Secure your spot well in advance, especially for popular routes. Some popular liveaboard itineraries get booked up over a year in advance.

Make sure you understand the booking process, payment options, and cancellation policies to avoid any surprises. Be aware of additional costs as well, such as marine park and equipment rental fees.

Diving certification and experience

Dive certifications and experience levels vary among liveaboard trips. Ensure you meet the prerequisites for your chosen itinerary, which might include certifications like Advanced Open Water or Nitrox Diver. Speaking of nitrox, consider earning a nitrox certification before your trip; it offers extended bottom time and quicker surface intervals, enhancing your overall diving experience. Some divers also report feeling less tired when they dive with nitrox.

Pack smart and light

Packing smart but light is essential for liveaboard travel. Boats have limited space and you want to make sure you have everything you need before you leave the shore behind. Your packing list should include:

  • Comfortable clothing.

  • Dive gear.

  • Eye mask and ear plugs for a good night’s sleep.

  • A solar charger.

  • Lightweight jacket for chilly evening (even at tropical destinations).

  • Multiple swimsuits so you always have one dry.

  • Reef-safe sunscreen such as MooGoo, Stream2Sea, and Raw Elements.

  • Sunglasses and sun hat.

  • Books or a kindle for your downtime and ocean crossings.

  • Cash for crew tips.

  • Sneakers for land trips.

  • Proof of your dive certifications and insurance.

  • Signed dive medical paperwork if needed.

  • A metal or glass water bottle so you can say no to single-use plastics.

Pay close attention to luggage weight limits to avoid excess charges at check-in.

Dive gear rental vs. bringing your own

Decide whether you want to rent dive gear on the liveaboard or bring your own equipment. Renting can be convenient, but using familiar gear may boost your confidence and comfort level. If you use rented gear, make sure it is in good condition, and consider bringing essential items like masks, snorkel, fins, and a wetsuit with you.

If you want to bring your own dive kit but you are concerned about weight, invest in some travel dive gear. You’ll be in the water a lot when you go liveaboard diving; for added warmth, pack a 3mm hooded vest to go under your wetsuit.

Pre-trip health and fitness

Being in good health and physical shape is vital for a fun liveaboard trip. You don’t want to find yourself exhausted and unable to dive part-way through your vacation. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and proper hydration are key to staying fit, so make sure they feature in your daily life.

Travel insurance and dive insurance

Prioritize travel insurance that covers trip cancellations, medical emergencies, and lost luggage. Additionally, make sure you have dive insurance which covers hyperbaric treatments and emergency evacuations. Look for policies that specifically cater to divers and never dive beyond the depth that your certification and insurance allows; it can invalidate your dive insurance and puts you at risk.

Dive safety briefings

Safety briefings are a fundamental part of liveaboard diving. Make sure you attend these sessions to understand emergency procedures, dive site information, and boat protocols. These briefings enhance dive safety and your overall experience.

On-board facilities and services

Liveaboards offer various amenities, from dining options to cabin types and social areas. Check them out before you book, so you know what to expect. Some vessels provide Wi-Fi, charging facilities, and laundry services. Other do not, so make sure you understand what's available to ensure your comfort during the trip.

Diving itinerary

Liveaboard itineraries vary, so familiarize yourself with the planned dives and schedules. Find out how many dives are offered daily, the dive sites you'll visit, and the flexibility of the itinerary to accommodate your preferences.  As well as diving, some liveaboards offer land-based trips, activities for non-divers, and a variety of water sports as well.

Dive safety protocols

You dive safety is even more important on liveaboards; you may be far away from the mainland. Adhere to buddy systems, mandatory surface intervals, and emergency procedures to stay safe. Following these protocols ensures not only your safety but also the safety of fellow divers.

Marine life and dive sites

Liveaboard trips take you to remarkable dive sites teeming with marine life. From vibrant coral gardens to encounters with big pelagic species, your underwater experiences will be unforgettable. Maximize your encounters by listening to your dive guide’s top tips and respecting the marine environment.

Photography and videography

Underwater photography and videography are fantastic ways to capture your liveaboard memories. Be prepared by taking an underwater photography course to learn about the right equipment and techniques to document your dives.

Environmental awareness and conservation

Liveaboard divers play a crucial role in marine conservation. They support eco-tourism and pay marine park fees that sustain remote communities and fund marine conservation research.

Dive responsibly, refrain from touching or disturbing marine life, and pick up any litter you encounter during your vacation. By minimizing your impact, you contribute to preserving these underwater wonders for future generations.

Tipping and crew gratuities

Show appreciation for the hardworking liveaboard crew by tipping accordingly. Customary practices vary, so inquire beforehand to make sure you are prepared.

Feedback and reviews

After your liveaboard journey, share your feedback and reviews. Your insights can benefit future divers and help improve the industry, ensuring high standards of service and safety.

Liveaboard diving offers a unique and immersive way to explore the beauty of the underwater world. Now that you're equipped with the knowledge and inspiration to embark on this incredible journey, it's time to take action. Check out SSI’s MyDiveGuide to find your next dive adventure. This dive travel website features thousands of dive sites, worldwide destinations, and bucket-list marine life experiences. Happy diving!

Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.

For liveaboard dive adventures, check out!

Written by
Profile Kathryn
When 11th September 2023
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