Destinations & Itineraries,  Scuba Diving

Get the Scoop on Liveaboard Diving! What Is It Like, and Should You Go?

I’m doing something radical in this post.

Typically, I write a post full of resources and information, sum up the content at the end and include my thoughts and recommendations.  But in this post, I will just come out and say it: do it! 

Go on a liveaboard diving excursion, disconnect yourself from the concerns and problems of the world back home and immerse yourself in the magnificence of Mother Nature.  From the star-lit skies at night to the most colorful corals you’d ever seen, a liveaboard experience is something you will never forget.

I have explored the Similan Islands (Thailand) and Komodo National Park (Indonesia) as a guest on a dive safari, and loved every minute of it!  I have also worked on a dive liveaboard in Sulawesi (Indonesia) and joined a 5-day island-hopping (non-diving) liveaboard in the Philippines, all of which were extraordinary experiences.  

So I will start this post by saying that I am a big fan of liveaboard adventures and recommend scuba divers to try it at least once.  In the sections that follow, I will provide you with a complete picture of what it’s like to be on a liveaboard and what you can expect during your dive trip.  As a dive professional, I also feel compelled to share with you some tips and guidance on things you should consider.

liveaboard diving: Komodo
An unforgettable dive trip in the Komodo National Park

Let’s start with the fun stuff and discuss…

Why You Need to Go on a Dive Safari

If you are an avid diver who enjoys the smell and sounds of the sea, seeks adventure and exploration, wishes to be a mermaid and thinks “dive, eat, and sleep” is a dream come true, then you will love the liveaboard diving experience.

I can probably list more things but below are six reasons why a liveaboard diving is simply awesome:

#1: The accessibility to remote, uncrowded, and pristine dive locations

The ocean is a big place.   Even when you go on popular liveaboard trips like Raja Ampat where about 50 known liveaboards are operating in the area, you barely share a dive site with another group.  

Compare that to a thresher shark dive in Malapascua where 30-40 dive boats race to get to one dive site at 5:30 am.  And when you get to the cleaning station 25m below, you see a curtain of bubbles from divers waiting for a shark sighting. 

The point is, with a liveaboard you can reach far and distant locations where there are no other divers, and the reef and marine life are untouched by human destruction.   Some of the most colorful corals, biggest sea fans and abundant schools of fish I had ever seen were off of liveaboards.

liveaboard diving: remote island beach
When you cruise to remote islands, you get to stop here for the surface interval!

 

#2:  The convenience of setting up your gear only once

Most of the dive boats have an equipment “station” where the tanks get filled with a whip hose.  This means that once you set up your BCD and regulator on the tank on Day 1, you don’t have to set it up again until you finish your dive trip!  Of course, you should always do a pre-dive safety check to make sure everything is secure and working. 

You also don’t have to worry about whether or not you brought your mask, anti-fog spray or camera to the dive boat because they are already (and always) there at your station.

liveaboard diving: equipment station
My equipment station where I gear up for every dive (notice the whip hose above my head)

#3:  Sunsets and stars…and more stars

Oh, the skies in the middle of the blue…it is incredible beyond words. Without any city lights interfering your view, the amount of stars you can see at night is like nothing you have ever seen.  On a clear night, you can easily see the Milky Way.  It’s a rare sight that can only be seen far removed from any civilization.

There’s also something special about being in an open blue sea that makes sunsets glow in magnificent shades of red and orange.

liveaboard diving: sunset in Komodo
Did I mention amazing sunsets??

#4:  Healthy Vacation

I have been on resort vacations where all you do is bum around the pool, drink mojitos and catch up on good reads.   While this is relaxing and great for a short while, I usually start feeling restless on Day 2.  

What I love about the liveaboard experience is that you get a healthy balance of physical activity (yes, diving is considered an active sport!) as well as downtime to take naps, read a book or connect with your new friends onboard.

#5:  Disconnecting from the world

Having lived in the hustle and bustle of NYC for 12 years where life never stops, I relished the opportunity to disconnect from news feeds, email inboxes, and social media while on the liveaboard.  It’s a great excuse to seclude yourself from the “real world,” and fully immerse yourself in nature’s peace and tranquillity. 

Imagine a world where there are no sounds of fire trucks, car horns, police car sirens, people’s chatter, or barking dogs.   Yup, that’s what I call a perfect getaway!

#6:  New friends

When you sign-up for a land-based dive trip, you have limited interaction with your dive guide or your dive buddies.  You may exchange a few words before and after the dive, and that’s about it.   You rarely get to know them beyond their first name.

On a liveaboard, you live with fellow guests and crew in a confined space, so you naturally develop a bond and relationship with those people.  Sometimes you share about your families, your goals, and your loves over a glass of wine and it’s a refreshing interaction that you rarely get to experience on a land-based trip. 

liveaboard diving: new friends
Girls bonding over beer and mustaches...

- Before You Book Your Trip -

Make Sure You Are Covered!

The Basics of Liveaboard Diving

In case you are not yet convinced to book a liveaboard, let’s turn to some practical information.

Requirements and Preparation

Before you book your liveaboard diving trip, make sure you fully understand the operator’s requirements.  Depending on the dive route/destinations, some operators may require that you have a particular certification level such as Advanced Open Water and/or a minimum logged dives.

Depending on the operator, you may be able to join the liveaboard as a non-diver/snorkeler.  If you are uncertified and thinking about taking a certification course on the boat, I do not recommend this, as it is not the best use of your time and money.

In general, the cost of diving off of a liveaboard is more expensive than diving from land.  Course prices are also higher than land-based dive centers because you are essentially hiring a private instructor to go onboard with you to do your course. 

You will also spend 3-4 days of your liveaboard trip learning to dive, rather than actually diving to appreciate the marine world!  Learning to dive can be done anywhere – even in the middle of Idaho.  Why spend your valuable vacation time to take a course that could be completed before your trip?   That’s just my two cents.

If you must complete your diving certification on the boat, sign-up for e-learning.  In PADI’s Open Water course, there are three components: theory (classroom session), confined water session, and open water session.   The theory section can easily be completed online before the start of your vacation so that you don’t have to waste a day sitting in a classroom with your instructor. Taking e-learning will free up an extra day to enjoy the liveaboard diving experience!

If you plan to take advantage of the full dive schedule of 4 dives/day for more than a week; and you are not Nitrox certified, I highly recommend that you complete your certification before your trip (although you can most likely do this onboard as well for additional cost).   With such an intense dive schedule, reducing the Nitrox load on your body may help prevent DCS and fatigue.

Aboard the Dive Boat

Most liveaboards offer a full, all-inclusive service meaning that you pretty much don’t need to lift a finger from the moment you step onto the boat until you disembark.  All your diving, accommodation, food and basic beverages (coffee/tea/water) should be inclusive of the trip cost.  

In addition to the trip cost, you will likely incur extra charges.  Confirm with your operator whether additional charges are applied to the following items:

  • Nitrox use
  • Equipment rental
  • Marine Park fees
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Soft drinks

Depending on the liveaboard’s price range, the cabins can vary in style and class.  Cabins can range from a dorm-style bunk bed to a master suite equipped with flat-screen TV, a bathtub, and air-conditioning. 

You should note that you will likely spend very little time in your cabin (unless you are a non-diver).  During both of my liveaboard trips as a dive guest, I did not even sleep in the cabin (which I paid for!)  The cool ocean breeze and the star-lit skies were so inviting at night that I chose to sleep on the deck instead.

So unless you need privacy and/or a comfy bed to sleep on, I don’t think a nice room is worth paying for.   You will be so exhausted from the day’s diving anyway. You will be happy to sleep just about anywhere.   

Most liveaboard dive boats will have common areas such as dining, lounging, and camera room.  If you’re lucky (or rather, rich) you can also have access to a pool or a Jacuzzi!

liveaboard diving: Similan boat
The liveaboard en route to Similan
liveaboard diving: common area
The communal lounge/eating/smoking area

Schedule

Dive liveaboards can range in duration from just a few days up to several weeks, depending on the itinerary and the route.  But no matter the trip duration, the majority of the dive liveaboards adhere to this schedule:

Light breakfast:
~06:00-06:30

Dive 1
~07:00

Full breakfast:
~08:30-09:00

Dive 2
~10:00

Lunch:
~12:00-13:00

Dive 3
~14:00

Afternoon tea and snack:
~16:00

Dive 4
dusk dive or night dive around 18:00

Dinner:
~20:00

You may have heard people refer to the liveaboard experience as “dive, eat, sleep,” and repeat.   That is  the precise representation of your life on the boat.  You don’t do much else. 

I don’t know if there is a scientific explanation for this, but something about diving makes you VERY hungry.  Even though it doesn’t seem like you are exerting much energy in while diving, you will return from every dive feeling starved!  So even though the above schedule looks like you are doing a whole lot of eating – believe me, you will surprise yourself with how much you will want to eat during your diving trip!

Along with eating, make sure you hydrate yourself well during your dive trip.  You are just as prone to dehydration from scuba diving as any other athletic activities.  Dehydration can lead to muscle cramps and in more severe cases, to DCS (Decompression Sickness).

On a liveaboard where you may be hours away from the nearest medical facility, you’d want to make every effort to prevent DCS by hydrating yourself with plenty of water intake. 

Activities

If you are not a hard-core diver or keen on diving four times a day, you may consider booking a liveaboard that offers additional activities and experiences such as:

  • Spa treatments
  • Jet ski
  • Kayak and/or Stand Up Paddleboard
  • Land tours
  • Evening presentations (topics can vary from underwater photography to marine biology)

Cost

Liveaboard diving trips can cost anywhere from $200/night/person (full board) up to thousands of dollars per night per diver (depending on how luxury you want to go).  The cost will not only vary on the class of the boat but also on the trip duration and destination

When comparing liveaboard prices, make sure you take into consideration package inclusions and exclusions.  Some operators will include Nitrox or equipment rental for free, for example.  Others may charge an additional fee. 

If you are traveling solo (which I highly recommend – being on a liveaboard is such an excellent opportunity to meet, interact with, and make friends with fellow ocean lovers!), you will likely incur a “single supplement charge” for booking a cabin alone.   You can inquire about sharing a cabin with another female traveler if you want to avoid this additional fee.  I booked a shared cabin with another girl in Komodo, but I ended up never using it!  Instead, I slept on the deck under the stars every night 😉

While a budget is undoubtedly a concern for most people, don’t go with the cheapest option without doing due diligence.   Cheap packages are usually cheap for a reason.   One thing you should not compromise on is the safety equipment and emergency procedures.  Make sure you inquire about the operator’s supply of life raft/jackets, GPS, first aid kits, satellite phone, marine radio, and emergency oxygen.   As an added safety precaution some operators also provide underwater Nautilus GPS devices for divers.

liveaboard diving: Labuan Bajo
Labuan Bajo harbor - en route to Komodo!

What You Should Know About Living On A Boat

As with anything in life, nothing is perfect.  While the benefits of liveaboard diving far outweighs the potential flaws, I will disclose some potential down-side to a life on a boat.

#1:  In my experience, fellow divers make a great company, as they share the same interest and passion, and have some fascinating travel stories.  But of course, there is always a possibility for an exception.   You may end up on a dive trip with someone who is not as sociable, engaging, or charming as you’d like. 

The unfortunate side of a liveaboard cruise is that you are stuck with the group and forced to share limited space with them, however pleasant or unpleasant they may be.

#2:  Due to the intense diving schedule on a liveaboard, your body is more prone to exhaustion and dehydration compared to an ordinary vacation; and your ears are exposed to bacteria which can lead to an infection. Furthermore, depending on your sensitivity to the waves and the sea conditions you may experience motion sickness.  

Once you are on the liveaboard, you cannot disembark until the trip is over (unless it’s an emergency).   You do not have access to a pharmacy or a convenience store to pick up items you forgot to pack.  Pack a full medical kit and be prepared for all illnesses/conditions you may encounter (Imodium or similar for upset stomach, sleeping aid, electrolytes, Dramamine, etc.)

#3:  As I mentioned in the section above, an internet connection is mostly unavailable during the sail.   Some people (including myself) will welcome this lack of connectivity – but if you are the type of person who needs constant access to the internet whether for personal or professional reasons, then a liveaboard vacation may not suit you.

#4:  There is no nightlife on a liveaboard, nor can you start drinking alcohol until you have finished diving for the day. So if you are looking for the kind of vacation where you can enjoy an ice-cold beer with your breakfast, or an opportunity to party at the end of the day, you should look for an alternative dive vacation.

#5:  No matter how much you pay for your liveaboard cabin, a boat is more confined than a dive resort. If you are claustrophobic or don’t do well being surrounded by people 24/7, you may consider a land-based resort where you have more space and freedom to roam around and seek solitude.

liveaboard diving: dive guide briefing
Our local guide in Thailand, giving us a dive site briefing

At the End of Your Journey

If you had an incredible dive vacation on your liveaboard – meaning food was to die for, staff took care of your every need, safety was never an issue, dive site selection and dive briefings were top notch, and your dive gear and tanks were prepared for your every dive – please consider tipping the team at the end of your trip.

Having worked on a liveaboard myself, I know that the boat crew works extremely hard and long hours (usually 14-16 hour days) to make sure that the service is impeccable, the operation is seamless, and your experience is superb.

While your primary interaction may be with the dive guides, there is an entire team of staff working behind the scenes (engineer, captain, stewards, chef) to serve you.  If your trip went without a hitch, it’s because the “invisible” team worked hard to make that happen.  Please express your gratitude by tipping, even if that is not a custom in your country.

Scuba Diving | PADI Diving | PADI Scuba | Diving | If you are a scuba diver and a fan of diving holidays, you will love a liveaboard cruise! Get all the scoop on what it's like to dive, eat and sleep on a boat. #liveaboard #scubadiving #scuba #PADIdiving
Scuba Diving | PADI Diving | PADI Scuba | Diving | If you are a scuba diver and a fan of diving holidays, you will love a liveaboard cruise! Get all the scoop on what it's like to dive, eat and sleep on a boat. #liveaboard #scubadiving #scuba #PADIdiving

4 Comments

  • Alma

    Great blog and good advice. My previous blog was partially about a liveaboard in the Red Sea, and we’ve done a few others, so I know what it’s like. Great read and I know how long the staff work on the liveaboards – it’s a long day for them.

  • Mayuri

    Thank you so much for writing this. It’s like I was living those moments! I have never done scuba diving and the thought of living overboard is insane and exciting at the same time

    I’m glad you had so much fun!

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