The Ultimate Guide to Liveaboards

If you’ve been immersed in the scuba diving world for a little while, you’ve probably heard about liveaboards.

Considered by many to be the ultimate scuba diving experience, liveaboards are something every diver must do.

The world of liveaboards is extensive and with locations spanning the globe, from the Egyptian Red Sea to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

With prices ranging from budget to luxury and durations lasting anywhere from a single night to several weeks, saying it’s hard to know where to start is an understatement.

In this complete guide to liveaboards, we’ll explore the numerous benefits of liveaboard diving, important factors to consider, and the most frequently asked questions.

All allowing you to make the best and most informed choice for your ultimate scuba diving liveaboard.

What Is A Liveaboard?

liveaboard
Liveaboard is a word thrown around the diving community a lot.

It’s easy for newbie divers to just go along with it, without fully understanding what they are, or what they entail.

Fundamentally, a liveaboard vessel is a boat designed for living and scuba diving.

With dive decks, dive tenders, and plenty of places to store equipment, these trips are specifically catered around scuba diving.

There is a lot of diversity in scuba diving liveaboards. Typical itineraries last around 7 nights but vessels can be found offering much shorter and much longer trips.

Often, all food and drinks are included as well, making this a very stress free option. Prices can vary widely but for a typical week-long itinerary, between $1000 and $2000 is about normal.

Why Should I Do One?

Ok, so a week of diving and living on the open sea might sound like paradise (it is) but let’s get specific here – why is a liveaboard a great idea?

Into The Wild

liveaboard
When you dive on a liveaboard, you get the chance to dive better and more remote dive sites, as opposed to the crowded sites you sometimes encounter on day trips in popular scuba diving destinations.

Unfeasibly long journey times for a day trip can be taken while you sleep, ready to explore the most off the beaten track dive sites come morning. Why spend long boat journeys on an uncomfortable RIB when you could be napping, reading, or sunbathing?

Lots Of Diving!

This one is pretty obvious – you get to dive… A lot! There are usually up to 4 dives a day with options for night dives too. If you love diving, you will certainly get to your fill on a liveaboard.

Build Confidence

While most divers on a liveaboard have a bit of experience, it is an excellent way for newer divers to build up dive hours and experience. Often new divers wait a year or more between diving trips, spending the first few dives back refreshing skills.

Doing upwards of 20 dives in a week will really embed those skills, leaving you feeling like a much more confident diver. If you’re feeling like a bit of a scuba newbie and want to know a bit more, check out this handy beginner’s guide to scuba.

Meet New Friends

Meeting other divers from around the world is one of the joys of liveaboard diving.

Not only do you get to dive with new friends, but you will also really get to know them through socializing between dives and in the evenings. They say that nothing inspires friendship like proximity and there is plenty of that on a liveaboard!

Every Day is a School Day

Other divers are not just potential new friends, but also a treasure trove of diving knowledge. Whether you’re discussing the best fins you’ve dived with or which diving destination to head to next, you’re sure to learn a whole lot!

Get on My Level

Most liveaboards impose minimum qualifications or a minimum number of dives. This ensures that you will be diving with divers at a similar level to yourself. For many, this leads to a much calmer and more trusting atmosphere as you are not having to contend with brand new divers.

Captain Safety

On a liveaboard, you are constantly surrounded by dive professionals. All dives are undertaken under the supervision of divemasters or dive instructors who are trained in safety procedures and emergency scenarios, meaning that you can rest assured that you are diving as safely as possible.

No Worries Man

One of the key benefits of a liveaboard is the lack of concerns for everyday logistics. Without worrying about day-to-day logistics like getting to the dive shop in the morning, remembering to rinse your gear or even what to have for dinner, you can concentrate on the important things – like scuba diving and relaxing as much as possible!

Feel Alive

Stepping onboard a boat and setting sail into the ocean wilderness is the stuff of daydreams. Feeling the wind in your hair, spending your days exploring the underwater world, and being rocked to sleep by gentle waves beneath starry skies will leave you feeling more alive than ever.

Slowing the pace of life down, spending your days without phone reception (ok, ok, full disclosure that many boats have wifi), and chatting to fellow divers is good for the soul.

What to Consider When Picking A Liveaboard

Cost

Cost is a major consideration for most people. There is a wide variety of liveaboards for all budgets. More cost-effective options include bunk bed dorm-style cabins, like this Australian liveaboard, with fewer amenities.

At the other end of the scale are the boats that rival high-end hotels in their luxuriousness.

This list of the most luxurious liveaboards in the world gives a good representation of what you can enjoy if money is no object! Fortunately for the masses, the majority of liveaboards available tread a solid middle ground between the two.

If it Looks Too Good to be True…

It probably is. Look carefully at the small print when costs appear too good to be true. You may end up paying in excess later on for things like food, alcohol, excursions, tank refills, and gear rental.

Tips

It’s customary and polite in most places to tip the crew at the end of your trip. After all, they are at your beck and call for almost 24 hours a day. The amount you tip is very much at your discretion.

Discounts

When you book can have an impact on cost. Like most industries, days like Black Friday can bring big savings. Last-minute deals can also offer savings, as can group discounts if you’re booking with a large number of friends.

What Kind Of Liveaboard?

Another factor when deciding on your liveaboard is the type of boats available.

Companies

There is the option of large liveaboard companies like the Aggressor Fleet which has the benefit of homogeneity across the fleet – if you dived with them and loved it in the Maldives, chances are that your experience with them in the Caribbean will be similar.

The other option is smaller companies which only have one or two boats. Though it can be slightly more difficult to find information for some of these companies, they often offer a more authentic experience.

Types of Boat

Though irrelevant to many people, it may be worth considering your preference for boat style when booking. There are sailing ships like catamarans, yachts built specifically for scuba diving liveaboards, traditional ships like Indonesian Phinisi yachts which have character and charm as well as even ex-scientific research vessels.

Where in the World?

Ah, the big question, you want to go on a liveaboard – but where to go?! With liveaboard locations in the Arctic, the Antarctic, and nearly everywhere in between, deciding where to go can seem like an impossible decision.

Some locations lack liveaboards, either due to a small local diving industry or, like South Africa, due to the tempestuous ocean conditions which might make for a slightly nauseating experience.

The location will often dictate the number of options available to you. For example, Indonesian liveaboards are well established so there are many options, as opposed to the more remote Cocos Island which has fewer boats available.

Season

Is the place you’re looking at good all year round or is it only good to dive in certain months? Alternatively, check where’s good to dive in the months that you can travel!

In addition, if you’re looking for a particular experience, such as a specific wildlife encounter, it might only be present at certain times of the year.

What Do You Want to See?

If you’re looking for a particular experience, whether that is ice diving, coral reefs or manta rays, it may narrow down your search for a location. Think specifically about what you wish to see on your trip and work from there.

Cost

Some locations are more expensive than others and that is unavoidable. The most remote locations are often the most expensive, as are developed western countries like the USA and Australia. Countries with a good exchange rate with your currency may also end up being cheaper.

Skill level

Certain places require a high level of diving experience, ability or confidence in order to enjoy it fully. An example of this is Komodo.

While there are many beginner level sites, those wishing to enjoy the wild currents of Komodo National Park may feel more comfortable if they have a few gnarly drift dives under their belts already.

If a location also involves a lot of swimming against the current, be sure to take into account your fitness level.

How Long?!

The duration of your trip will dictate how long you are at sea.

It may be advisable to start shorter and work up to longer trips, especially if you are a newer diver or you’re unsure about your seasickness tendencies… There are trips starting from one night, with some itineraries spanning up to a month.

Schedule

An important thing to consider is the schedule. Do you want to dive as much as possible or are you hoping to squeeze in a lot of sunbathing and island hopping too?

Itineraries vary in the number of dives and other activities so be sure to check for what you want before you book. That being said, you can always abstain from the day’s dives if you want a more relaxed day – it’s your holiday after all!

Languages

Ok, this might be an obvious one, especially since you are reading this article in English, but be sure to check on the language spoken on the boat. If you are only able to communicate in Spanish for example, then a Spanish speaking crew member is pretty important. Almost all liveaboards function in English.

FAQ

Do I need certain qualifications?

This is very dependent on the specific liveaboard. Some are quite happy to take newly qualified divers with very few dives.

Some even offer open-water courses. However, most liveaboards of any length require a minimum certification level (Advanced Open Water) or number of dives. This is for the convenience and safety of taking all divers to the same sites. If you are concerned, contact individual
liveaboards before you book.

Do I need to take anything?

Most liveaboards will let you rent anything you need but we thoroughly recommend having at least some of your own kit. Masks, fins and dive computers are definitely the best places to start, though having your own
underwater camera to capture these epic memories isn’t a bad idea either!

Safety-wise, you will dive a LOT on liveaboards, and having your own dive computer to keep an eye on your no decompression time is pretty essential. It is also useful to keep an eye on your no-fly time – always remember not to book a flight within 24 hours of your last dive!

What happens day to day?

Again, this depends on the specific itinerary. Most manage to fit in 3 or 4 dives, spaced around meals, and sufficient surface intervals. Some offer additional evening entertainment or bar service to kick back after a long day of diving in paradise while others offer excursions to local towns or islands.

What is included?

Very dependent on the company. Most include all food and board as well as diving. Some have surcharges for equipment rental, nitrox refills (standard air refills are usually free), alcohol, wifi, and other luxuries. Check the small print carefully before you book so you’re not stung by unexpected costs later on.

Do I need insurance?

When going on a diving trip, you should always purchase insurance. Though accidents are rare, bear in mind that hyperbaric chambers are pricey at the best of times, without factoring in the cost of the helicopter from the remote location in which you have found yourself. We have compiled a list of the best diving insurance on the market at the moment, to save you a bit of stress.

I’m a solo traveler, can I still go on a liveaboard?

Definitely! Liveaboards are a great option for solo travelers as you get the chance to meet lots of new friends. In terms of accommodation, some boats offer single rooms, while others offer dormitory-style rooms or the chance to share a twin or bunk with a fellow diver to avoid a surcharge. Single rooms can sometimes come with an additional charge.

Should I dive Nitrox?

Diving nitrox over multiple dives can be beneficial in terms of increasing your bottom time on deep dives and reducing tiredness if you’re diving several times a day. Some liveaboards offer nitrox courses but generally, it’s a good idea to have a few nitrox dives under your belt before diving on it 4 times a day. If you’re not sure whether to take the nitrox plunge, check out our handy guide to nitrox diving here.

My husband/partner/wife doesn’t dive – can they come?

Many liveaboards allow non-divers to join the cruise and there are sometimes other activities for them such as kayaking or snorkeling. Please bear in mind that if you’re diving all day and your partner is not, they may get a little bored after a week…

There’s a big group of us, do we get our own boat?

There are lots of liveaboard charters available throughout the world which are ideal for families or groups of friends. With the whole boat to yourselves, you can really kick back and relax! If you’re not such a large group, or don’t wish to charter your own, many companies offer discounts if many people book at once.

Do they serve alcohol?

Some do, some don’t. Some vessels don’t have the required licenses or operate in countries where alcohol consumption is forbidden, but the majority of vessels do serve alcohol.

On some, it is included in the price and others require payment on board. Naturally, you will be diving every day so alcohol consumption should be kept to a minimum, and should never be consumed just before a dive.

What food do they serve?

Depending on the vessel, it may be a buffet for each meal or family-style meal. Most offer western-style food alongside the local cuisine.

Many liveaboards are happy to cater for specific diets like vegetarianism but catering to severe allergies may not be possible so be sure to inquire ahead of time if this is likely to be an issue.

How do I book?

You can either book directly through individual liveaboard companies, or through larger websites like liveaboard.com.

Will I get seasick?

Well, that depends on if you normally get seasick! Many ships have counterweights in order to keep boat movement to a minimum but unexpectedly rough conditions can always occur. boats normally have seasickness tablets and natural remedies like ginger tea available, but taking your own medicine is never a bad idea.

What should I pack?

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to pack pretty light. On many boats, space is at a premium. You will be spending most of your time in your swimwear so take loose, light clothing to go over the top as well as warmer clothing for the evenings.

Sun protection like rash guards, hats and sunglasses are vital – sunlight glinting off water is bright! And of course, all your dive gear! If you are a keen photographer, you can always take a laptop to edit photos on the go.
With any battery-operated equipment (cameras, torches), it’s a good plan to bring spare batteries in case your charger malfunctions.

How should I look after my gear?

While you’re probably used to cleaning your gear in fresh water after every dive, resist the temptation to do so on a liveaboard – unless told otherwise by the crew. Freshwater is usually at a premium onboard, so save the deep clean for when you are back on dry land.

Conversely, make sure to wash all electronics thoroughly with fresh water after every dive to ensure the seals do not erode and flood your expensive equipment!

Will I enjoy being stuck on a boat with 20 strangers?!

Yes! It can seem daunting at first but we are certain that you will make at least a few really good friends on any liveaboard you choose. Remain considerate and open-minded and remember that you’re all there for the same reason, because you love diving. Most boats have plenty of private spaces available for when you need some alone time too.

Conclusion

So, now you’ve read through our ultimate guide to liveaboards, you should have a much better idea of what to expect and what to look for in your perfect liveaboard holiday.

Here are our favorite liveaboard locations:

Ready to dive in?

Austin Tuwiner Administrator

Austin is the website owner, and began scuba diving at just 16 years old. After traveling and diving all over the world, he is dedicated to bringing the hobby to more people.

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Comments

Dan

What do you think about coronavirus?
What will be the impact of this situation on liveaboards in 2020 ?

Hey Dan,

Thanks for your comment.

Definitely think liveaboards will be off to a slow start for 2020. As the year goes on interest should start to increase.