What we learnt from our first liveaboard experience and why scuba diving will never be the same again.”
If you’re reading this then you’re probably an avid scuba diver like us, looking to take your scuba diving experience to the next level. If not, then don’t worry. We’ve got you covered too. We recently returned from our first liveaboard experience. But before we relive our first experience out at sea, we’ll guide you through some basics about liveaboards which will help you decide if liveaboard diving should be part of your next vacation. We’ll explain what a liveaboard is and help you decide which liveaboard is best for you. We’ll also cover everything else from what they cost and what certification you require, to what you can expect living on board these vessels.
What to Consider When Booking a Liveaboard Diving Trip
If you’re thinking of booking your first liveaboard trip, like any other vacation, there’s plenty that you need to consider before you go. Careful planning and realistic expectations will help you make the most of whatever destination and itinerary you choose. But with hundreds of vessels operating worldwide, the options can seem endless. Don’t worry, we’ll simplify things for you. Asking the right questions, and doing your homework before booking, will help you plan the perfect liveaboard diving trip.
What is a diving liveaboard?
A liveaboard is a boat that has been built to accommodate scuba divers out at sea. Think of it as a floating dive centre with everything you need on board to do recreational diving on demand. Liveaboards are equipped to be out at sea for several days, sometimes weeks, on any given trip. That’s why they are the preferred option for hard-to-reach dive sites. These vessels are also referred to as dive safaris, dive charters or dive cruises. So don’t get confused as they are one and the same.
How to Choose the Right Liveaboard Boat?
Similar to booking hotels, your budget will be the most important consideration. There are a wide variety of liveaboards and their price vary from budget to ultra-luxurious boats, mostly depending on their amenities. Here’s what you may want to consider when choosing a liveaboard:
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How much does liveaboard diving cost?
How to budget for a liveaboard and the price you’ll pay varies quite a bit. Budget liveaboards usually offer dorm style accommodation and shared toilets, and tend to cost way less than luxury liveaboards. Luxury liveaboards are certainly more expensive, but they include all the frills one can expect from paying top dollar. Imagine having your very own private suite with a jacuzzi floating somewhere in the Andaman Sea. There is literally no limit to what you can find on these vessels. But the good thing is that there are an unlimited number of options in-between to cater for any budget.
Liveaboards are usually priced in USD so it’s easier to compare depending on the amenities available. Expect to pay anything from $100 per night for a budget liveaboard to anything over $1,000 per night for a luxury liveaboard. We found that more modern vessels tend to cost more than older remodelled ones. The best way to compare prices is by browsing available charters through Liveaboard.com or PADI Travel to find yourself a suitable one.
What’s included in the price of a liveaboard?
This all depends on the type of liveaboard you choose. More luxurious liveaboards tend to offer all-inclusive packages (including alcohol, Nitrox and even yoga classes) while budget friendly vessels may only include accommodation, food and basic rental equipment. Liveaboard operators will always tell you what they cover and what you’ll have to pay extra for before you book your trip.
Things Not Included in the Price of a Liveaboard
Tipping on a Liveaboard
While it is not mandatory to tip on a scuba diving liveaboard, it is quite common and highly recommended to tip at the end of your liveaboard journey, especially if you were really pleased with the service you received on board. The amount totally depends on you but the going rate seems to be 10% to 20% of the cost of the trip.
How many divers do I need to book a liveaboard?
Recreational scuba diving was built on the premise of the buddy system. We’ve met many divers around the world, and most of them usually travel in pairs. Booking a diving liveaboard is no different as most of them accommodate divers based on double occupancy.
Liveaboard Group Offers
If you’re diving with a larger group (6 or more), you can either book as a group to get a discount or you can charter the entire vessel, allowing more flexibility and control over the itinerary.
Liveaboards for Solo Travellers
But if you’re a solo traveller, don’t despair. You too can book a liveaboard trip. You’ll either be paired with another diver, usually of the same sex, or if you’re lucky, get an entire cabin to yourself. If you’re fussy about sharing your space with a stranger and don’t want to leave things to chance, you’ll be requested to pay a supplement. Just bear in mind that you will have to pay anything from 30% to 100% extra if you want your own cabin. If you’re on a budget, there are also liveaboards that specifically cater to solo travellers, offering dorm room style accommodation in large rooms.
What certification is required for a liveaboard?
Liveaboards will generally inform you what type of certification you require before you book your trip. The certification requirement will depend on dive specific conditions such as the dive location, depth of the reefs and the difficulty of manoeuvring through its currents. It’s totally possible to experience a liveaboard with an Open Water Diver (OWD) certification. But we feel that diving on a liveaboard is an experience that you’d want to make the most of. So you wouldn’t want to limit yourself to certain dives just because you don’t have the required certification. We both have Advanced Open Water Diver (AOWD) certification and it’s the best decision we’ve ever made. There hasn’t been a single dive we haven’t been able to sign up for since we completed the open water and advanced certifications 5 years ago.
The one certification we don’t have that we feel is worthwhile getting, especially if you’re planning to dive on a liveaboard, is the Nitrox certification (Enriched Air Diver course). Bear in mind that most liveaboards will charge a slightly higher rate for Nitrox tanks if air tanks are already included in the price. But this is not really a requirement, but more of a “nice to have” for any scuba diver.
Liveaboard Diving Safety
Just like in any dive centre, diver safety on a liveaboard is of paramount importance to the captain and crew. A safety briefing is usually the first order of business while you begin your voyage to the edge of the world. Vessels are usually equipped with a first aid kit, as well as emergency oxygen. You’ll also notice fire extinguishers and axes placed in certain areas of the vessel in case of fire. No operator wants to have an incident on board as this would have a huge impact on their credibility. So every effort goes into making sure that you return in one piece. There’s obviously an element of risk involved not only while scuba diving, but also being out at sea for several days. So just make sure you follow the crew’s safety guidelines and instructions and you should have an enjoyable time out at sea.
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What to Expect on a Liveaboard Diving Trip
So you’ve just booked your first liveaboard safari and you’re excited about your upcoming trip. Before you start jumping for joy, there are a few things you need to consider before boarding a liveaboard. Like, how are you supposed to deal with living on a boat with a bunch of strangers for the next 5 nights? Liveaboards run extremely smooth operations. Since everyone is working in confined spaces, everything has to happen seamlessly, like clockwork. So unless you want to be that person that everyone loves to hate, you’ll need to pull your weight like everyone else on the boat. I’m not talking about lifting tanks and other heavy equipment. That’s all handled by the crew. I’m referring to being a team player and being considerate to your fellow divers.
How to Prepare for a Liveaboard
The unspoken rule on liveaboards is to be punctual at all times. Be it for dinner, a dive briefing or just suiting up for your next dive. It’s probably even better to arrive 5 minutes early so you can brush up on some reading about your next dive site, quiz the dive master about any concerns you may have or just grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the company of your fellow divers. You’ll be spending a lot of time around strangers, so the sooner you open up and let your guard down, the sooner you’ll feel more at home and comfortable on the boat. Some of our most memorable diving experiences have involved making friends along the way. We also stay in touch and occasionally plan scuba diving trips together.
How to Deal with Seasickness on a Liveaboard
If like us, you’re prone to getting sea sick, the thought of being out at sea for a week on a liveaboard may sound like a nightmare. Fortunately, we live in the 21st century. With advances in medical technology, you no longer have to contend with seasickness if you’re a scuba diver. Pharmaceutical companies now have a wide range of sea sickness medication that is suitable for scuba diving. Most liveaboards are equipped with first aid kits and their crew understand all too well that being seasick is a real struggle among scuba divers. We were offered motion sickness tablets before we jumped aboard and we were pleasantly surprised that there were no side effects at all. Our liveaboard experience was simply smooth and enjoyable. Ear infection is also a common problem amongst scuba divers. It’s really important to protect your ears by keeping them clean, dry and shielded from the wind when you’re not scuba diving. We found this out the “painful” way when we had to abort our last dive due to ear discomfort. Luckily the crew had ear drops on hand, which helped us manage the pain.
Sleeping Conditions on a Liveaboard
Not being a morning person simply cannot exist on a liveaboard. We tried really hard to sleep in after the first night. But the excitement of floating somewhere on the Andaman Sea had us reaching for our 5am alarm clock well before the time, so we could catch a glimpse of the sunrise. To be honest, we struggled to sleep the first night or maybe didn’t sleep at all. That’s probably why we woke up early. But after completing 5 dives on your first full day aboard liveaboard, it’s impossible not to sleep like a baby from the second night. The never ending swaying, the sound of the engine powering up in the early hours of the morning to propel you to the next dive site and insistent sound of crashing waves certainly takes some getting used to. But hey, it’s an experience after all.
Diving on a Liveaboard
If you’ve scuba dived before, then you know there’s a dive brief before every dive. The same applies to diving on a liveaboard. As some of the dive sites you’ll likely dive in are very remote and not often frequented by divers, your dive master is the go-to person. They will brief and prepare you as well as possible so you can have the best possible experience on your liveaboard adventure. Bear in mind that certain dive sites are more challenging than others.
One of our most difficult and challenging diving experiences was aboard a liveaboard at a dive site called The Pinnacle off Koh Tachai Island (Similan Islands). The current was easily the strongest we’ve had to endure. But it was right up there with some of the best diving we’ve done. Dive masters will always be forthcoming about how difficult your next dive will be. And if you’re not comfortable doing something, just say so and you can sit that one out. The nice thing is that dive masters will always allow you to attempt a dive and if you don’t feel comfortable they’ll usually come back up with you so you can abort your dive. And on the surface you’ll be greeted by the liveaboard vessel and its friendly crew, and a refreshing alcoholic beverage (only if it's your last dive) to drown your sorrows while the rest continue on their merry way.
Ultimately, the crew is there to make sure you’re comfortable during every step (or sway) of your journey. So if you have specific dietary requirements, allergies, or you’ve been given two left fins, don’t be afraid to ask for assistance.
Choosing the Perfect Liveaboard Destination
How We Fell In Love with the Ocean
Our scuba diving journey started about 5 years ago. The allure of the open ocean had us hooked after we had experienced our first snorkelling trip together off the coast of Mozambique. Fast forward 5 years, in the process racking up over 100 dives across some of the most sought after diving destinations in the world, you’d think that a “just for fun” hobby would have satisfied our curiosity. Actually, it had the opposite effect! Our scuba diving journey has not only created a void within us, but has sparked a flame that has propelled us to fill the emptiness by venturing to the farthest corners of the planet to seek out the wonders of our seas and oceans. That’s why we decided to take our scuba diving experience to the next level and set off on our maiden liveaboard voyage.
The Best Liveaboard Diving Destinations
So now that we’ve each completed over 100 dives (we’re not bragging, we’re just really excited about scuba diving), we’ve been able to conclude that some of the best scuba diving destinations are the hard-to-reach dive sites, the ones that are mostly only accessible by liveaboard. We’ve been really lucky to dive Sipadan in Malaysia and the Similan and Surin islands in Thailand. These, along with the many other dive sites that appear in the debateable top 10 lists, have one thing in common. They’re usually best dived or only accessible by liveaboard. That’s because they’re more remote and are also less frequented by scuba divers. So if you’re considering liveaboard diving, make sure they tick these two boxes so you get the most out of your liveaboard diving experience.
Here is our bucket list of liveaboard diving destinations (and their top boat) that we’re plotting and scheming to get to in the foreseeable future:
Each diving destination has unique aquatic life, currents and even topography. So do some research and compile a list based on what you want to see and experience underwater when deciding on your liveaboard destination.
Why Liveaboard was the Best Option for Us
From the minute we completed our PADI certifications, we knew diving would always be an activity we would add to our itinerary whilst on vacation. We never imagined scuba diving to be the entire vacation itself. So we started introducing dive-only destinations to our itinerary, breaking up our entire vacation into mini vacations which now included activities such as jungle trekking, island hopping and scuba diving.
Before We Discovered Liveaboard Diving
Initially, it was great. We’d spend a week hiking through a rainforest in Northern Sumatra, spend another week exploring the beaches of a tropical island in Thailand, and for the remaining few days, scuba dive to our heart’s content. But the more we dived, the more our time out at sea felt more and more short-lived. We were hooked! (Excuse the pun.) We were yearning for more from our mini diving vacation. A 45 minute bumpy trip across the bay, in the blistering heat, on a small dinghy, for a double dive, with soggy sandwiches served during the surface interval just didn’t cut it anymore. We had this feeling that there was a hidden level, a secret room, a “by invite only” way of diving that we were missing out on. That’s when we discovered liveaboard diving and why going back to day trip diving seems impossible after having seen the Promised Land.
Scuba Diving Ruined Forever
We’re probably starting to sound like spoilt little brats. Well, maybe we are. Give a kid a tin of sweetened condensed milk and they’ll probably eat themselves into an upset stomach. That’s literally what happened to us. We were given a taste of something so good, so sweet, and so unique, that we couldn’t get enough of. Now we’re left with this bittersweet feeling of knowing that no other scuba diving trip will be adequate unless it’s on a liveaboard. Experiencing a liveaboard for the first time really made everything clear to us. What we have always been after is simple: explore the world's best dive sites, to our heart’s content.
Why You Should Consider a Liveaboard for Your Next Vacation
There is no doubt that a liveaboard experience is one of a kind. Yeah sure, seasickness, bad weather and being confined to a ship doesn’t really sound like the most ideal way of having fun. But on the upside, being able to explore some of the world's best dive sites, while exploring multiple reefs and diving at your hearts content on a given day (up to 5 dives a day) really makes liveaboard diving an experience like no other. What’s best is that you won’t only be scuba diving in some of the world’s best diving destinations, but you’ll also explore new places and meet some of the nicest and like-minded people from all corners of the world. And that’s why liveaboard diving is an experience every scuba diver should try at least once in their life.
Planning you first liveaboard experience? Let us know if you have any other questions. We would be more than happy to help you plan your maiden liveaboard voyage. Let us know in the comments below or send us a message.
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We're Michael & Chloe!
An adventure travel couple from South Africa. We've hiked up mountains, dived the depths of the ocean, free-fell through the sky and finally walked down the aisle together. We love exploring the adventurous outdoors and discover hidden gems. Our dream is to inspire others to travel more consciously and responsibly while having an adventure of a lifetime.