A beginner’s guide to liveaboard diving

Liveaboard diving takes the recreational sport to the next level, where you’re living off a boat and going dive spot-hopping. No, it’s not exactly like a cruise. The boats are smaller and are meant for R&R between dives (although a luxurious boat can be chartered, if you’re spending more). The rest of the time, you’re underwater and having the time of your life.

For technical diving instructor Nicholas Attenborough, it can be a rewarding experience, particularly for avid divers. Nicholas, who co-owns Moby-Tek Dive Centre on Malaysia’s Tioman Island, has dived in sites around East Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Maldives, and toured on liveaboards around Tioman, Komodo and Raja Ampat. He gave us the low-down on liveaboard diving.

#1 Liveaboards come with food and accommodation

Liveaboard diving boat
Okay we can’t resist it, but ahoy, matey! Photo: Oliver Sjostrom/Unsplash

“The term “liveaboard” is quite self explanatory. You live on a boat and dive. The duration usually depends on the location. The more remote or larger the area covered, the longer the trip will be. It’s usually the ones that go for a week or more that are best.”

#2 You need a diver’s license

Liveaboard diving
No noobs allowed. Photo: Mahdis Mousavi/Unsplash

“Anyone with a diving license should be able to join a liveaboard trip,” Nicholas says. “However, it may be prudent to first ask the operator how challenging the sites are to know if you have sufficient experience.”

#3 Start a checklist, do your research

“The best liveaboards are not difficult to find. Start by asking yourself, what do you expect from a good hotel? Great liveaboards start with good food, amenities which you think you will enjoy while spending your time onboard. Think hot tubs and massages. Next: what is offered on dives? Ask the operator what the dive-to-guide ratio is (the number of divers to one guide). Less is best. If you’re certified to dive with Nitrox, find out if it’s included in the package or charged as extra.”

#4 Don’t take reviews too seriously

Liveaboard diving
Be like a nonchalant turtle and take reviews with a pinch of salt. Photo: Nicholas Attenborough

Nicholas’ advice? “Read reviews, but always take them with a pinch of salt. Just because someone’s had a bad experience, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the boat is bad. It could have been something as silly as the person not enjoying being in close quarters with other guests.”

#5 Liveaboards are great! Here’s why

Liveaboard diving
This over sitting through bad traffic, any day. Photo: Pixabay

“Liveaboards let you explore remote locations that would take a small boat too long to reach comfortably. The best thing about being on a liveaboard is the fact that you quite literally eat, sleep and dive! Don’t be surprised if you do more dives than you usually would during land-based trips; diving straight off a boat is a lot less tiring because there is a lot less walking!”

Read also: 19 underwater photos that will terrify you or make you want to go freediving

#6 That said, they’re not really for everyone

Liveaboard diving sea slug
Creatures of the sea will do well on liveaboards. Photo: Nicholas Attenborough

“People who are prone to seasickness should probably avoid these trips. That said, liveaboards are usually quite large (think yacht size) and do not rock as much as smaller boats. People who are introverts may not enjoy it as much – you’ll be spending a lot of time in close quarters with strangers, unless you’ve chartered the whole boat for yourself and a few close friends.”

#7 Pack for a holiday! You’re on holiday!

Pack your usual travel essentials, but Nicholas has a few more things to add: “Consider packing a poncho or windbreaker in case it rains and you want to go above deck. If you have time to kill in the evenings, you may want to pack a laptop to edit all those photos you’ve been taking. Also consider purchasing and bringing a marine rescue GPS personal search & rescue device on the dives in case of emergencies. It would also be a good idea to purchase dive insurance, as medical evacuation from a remote location due to a dive accident can be costly.”

#8 How to avoid nightmare liveaboards: again, research!

Liveaboard diving boat
But also, have fun! Photo: Tom Grimbert/Unsplash

Even pro divers have had their fair share of memorable experiences. For Nicholas, it was a liveaboard at the Raja Ampat Islands in Indonesia. “Not so much because of the dives (which were spectacular) but because of the boat we were on,” he said. “The roof of the cabins was leaking so I had to sleep in the saloon from the first night, the toilets wouldn’t flush, there wasn’t enough food packed so we had only instant noodles on the last few days. There were even cockroaches scurrying around the deck. It did make for some funny camaraderie but it was an experience best avoided in the future. Note to self: do more research before going!”

Read also: These are the best diving destinations in Malaysia

Featured image credit: Grand Komodo

Andrea Tim

Andrea is a serial kopi peng drinker (for fun, not for the caffeine; coffee doesn't wake her up) and believer in keyboard shortcuts. She sees The Dress as blue and black, and hears both Yanny and Laurel. Make of that what you will.

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