Liveaboard diving is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to eat, sleep, and breathe diving. Except for the people who make it their yearly vacation, it’s a once-in-a-year experience for those folks. They have their gear and diving routine down to a science to make the most of the trip. The question is, how can you go from a liveaboard newbie to a seasoned pro?
The short answer is experience and repetition, but where’s the fun in that? With our 15 tips for liveaboard diving, we’ll give you the basics so that you’ll be safe and having fun from your first dive to your last. There will still be ‘that guy (or girl)’ who dives like a Jedi master, but at least you will not be ‘that guy (or girl)’ that the DMs are always keeping an eye on.
Table of Contents
Don’t Get Hung Up On Dive Sites / Trust Your Crew
One of the most exciting parts about liveaboard diving is that you’re on a boat that can reach the most remote dive sites. When we were diving in the Bahamas on the Aqua Cat, they hung a dive map on the wall and used it as tabletop decorations. We even created a detailed Bahamas dive map specially designed for liveaboard divers.
However, when you’re on the water, you trust your captain. He’s a trained and experienced professional looking out for your safety and enjoyment. He knows the winds and the tides, which dive sites will be good on any given day, and which bays will be sheltered at night. It’s all fine and good to come in with a wish list, but men plan, and God laughs. At the end of the day, you’re going to be diving on incredible dive sites no matter where you end up.
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
You’ve heard this mantra before, but it’s particularly true for liveaboard diving. You’ll be diving up to five dives a day for about a week. Not only is this physically exhausting, but you’ll be loading nitrogen into your body as well. Plus, there will be food, drinks, and interesting people to talk with. Temptations will surround you, but remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Hydrate Hydrate Hydrate
Hydration helps with everything. It helps with motion sickness, sore muscles, and workout recovery. Heck, if your motion sickness has you feeding the fish, you’re going to really need to hydrate to replace those fluids.
However, since this is a dive trip, there’s a very specific reason to keep your fluid levels up. The National Library of Medicine says – “Dehydration is a potential factor that could increase the risk of DCS [Decompression Sickness]. It has been suggested that hydration may enhance inert gas removal or increase surface tension of the blood… Hydration status at the time of decompression significantly influences the incidence and time to onset of DCS”. Your dive computer will not change your no-stop limit, but you’ll feel better and dive safer if you stay hydrated.
Use Sunscreen Early and Often
It might seem obvious to put on sunscreen if you’re on a boat in the middle of the tropics, especially if you’re on a shore excursion. But, often, it’s those hidden moments of sun exposure that get you.
Maybe you have your wetsuit at half-mast during your surface interval or sorting and drying gear on the sundeck before lunch. Or perhaps you’re channeling your inner lizard and sunning to warm up after your dive. There are many little ways you pick up sun exposure, and putting sunscreen on wet skin just doesn’t work well. Instead, get in the habit of applying sunscreen at breakfast and lunch, and it’s one less thing you have to worry about. On the subject of one less thing to think about… Always using reef safe sunscreen when you’re in the water means that you aren’t going to be dripping chemicals onto those pristine dive sites that your liveaboard is taking you to.
Bring Warm Clothes
When you think about beach vacations, you imagine the hot sun and warm sand. However, packing for a liveaboard is different than packing for the beach. On the shore, you’re usually back inside before the sun goes down. On the ocean, you don’t always have that luxury.
Also, about 20% of your dive opportunities will be at night, and night dives are hard to find elsewhere. On a beach vacation, you stay out of the water at night. On a liveaboard, you’ll not only be wet but will have had 30+ minutes of bottom time to drain the heat from your body. So go ahead and pack a layer of warm clothes, particularly tech clothing that will stay warm even if it gets a little wet.
Rest and Restore
The best way to have a good morning is to have a great night. Your best self is your rested self. However, despite needing sleep, it’s sometimes hard to catch your zzz’s on the seas. Between the excitement on deck, the subtle difference between a bed and a berth, the rocking of the boat, and all the new noises at night, insomnia is all too common. Be sure to at least pack melatonin and try to find a winddown ritual that works for you.
Plan Your Dive and Dive Your Plan
You probably heard this saying in your first dive class. If you’re diving for a week straight, you need to know it, live it, and love it. I’m talking about more than just watching your no-stop limits. I’m talking about keeping your stress levels low and coming up with enough mental and physical reserves for the next dive.
Diving with Nitrox, that is to say, a gas mixture with more oxygen and less nitrogen than air, will reduce the amount of nitrogen your body absorbs and give you more bottom time. Scuba Divers International says, “The moments when nitrox will make the greatest difference is when you are doing multiple dives over multiple days and are getting close to some of the no-decompression limits your personal dive computer is telling you about.” Making multiple dives over multiple days is precisely what you are looking for with liveaboard diving, so you should definitely consider diving with Nitrox.
Most liveaboard dive boats have instructors on board who can train you if you’re not already certified, but you might need to arrange ahead of time to have the appropriate tanks brought on board. Then again, if you find yourself running into your no-stop limits while you’re underway, it doesn’t hurt to ask. There’s no such thing as a dumb question to your divemaster.
Prep For Your Next Dive
When should you start preparing for your next dive on a liveaboard? As soon as you get back on the boat. Here’s a quick checklist to prep for your next dive, but you should be building your own:
- Make sure you tag yourself and your buddy back on the boat
- Put your gear back where it belongs as you take it off
- Make sure your tank is set ready for a refill (On the Aqua Cat, this means taking your first stage off)
- Hang up your wetsuit up to dry after your last dive (but be sure to bring items in after sunset, or the morning dew will soak them). This goes double for the last dive of the trip, so you can pack dry gear for your flight.
- Check your nitrox mix before the dive briefing begins (and before you go to bed to be ready for the next morning’s dive)
Be Kind To Your Ears
Ear care is one of the most important things you can do to feel ready for the next dive. Or rather, ear problems could ruin an entire trip. Given the aggressive dive schedule of a liveaboard, you should take a few extra steps to be kind to your ears:
- Enter the water from the lowest deck possible. A giant stride from the top deck might look cool, but your ears are more important than your image.
- Ascend and descend just a little bit slower than usual.
- Apply swimmer’s ear drops after every dive
Really, those three steps can save you and your ears lots of wear and tear and keep you on the good side of happy. Oh, and remember tip #4…don’t forget to rub those ears down with sunscreen, or you’ll feel the pain every time you rock your mask.
Bring or Buy Your Gear
Given the price point of most liveaboards, you should consider getting your own dive gear if you’re going on a liveaboard trip. You probably already have your own mask and fins, but a good-fitting wetsuit and dive computer will go a long way to turning a good trip into an extraordinary one. There are a few other items that are worth their weight in your suitcase:
- A pointer stick if you’re a photographer
- A hood or cap that you’ll actually wear
- Your favorite defogger
- A custom mouthpiece (even if you don’t own your own regulator)
Own Your Attitude
There will be trials and tribulations throughout any adventure. No matter how hard you prepare, you will encounter unexpected setbacks. The only thing you have 100% control over is your attitude.
Make a point to celebrate the experience. Revel in each new discovery and embrace every hardship. Look out over the endless horizon and count your blessings. You are in paradise exploring the last great unknown. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Make New Friends
A particular type of person would choose to sail on a boat out of sight of land. They would prefer to wear wet neoprene all day instead of sitting by the pool reading a book. Chances are, if you’re on a liveaboard dive boat, you’re one of them, and these are your people.
They’ve traveled around the world and had amazing adventures. Take a moment to talk with them and hear their stories. Listen to their advice on diving, underwater photography, gear, and even mixed drinks. You might just make a life-long friend. Also, don’t forget to talk to your crew. They’re pretty special people too.
Pick Your Level of Luxury
We say this about cruise ships and boutique travel, but it applies double for liveaboards – pick your level of luxury. For any all-inclusive experience, you need to find something that suits you in terms of food and service. It ensures your comfort and also helps you get along with your fellow travelers. However, for diving, it also determines how good the gear is and how supportive your dive staff can be. It’s not only about service; it’s about safety.
Unplug and Enjoy
This might come as a surprise to you, but it’s sometimes hard to get cell service when you’re island hopping through remote waters. There are two ways you can look at this. 1) OMG, I miss my email, or 2) Good, nobody will be bothering me. Go for the latter. You don’t need to be glued to your screen. In fact, one of the things we appreciated the most about liveaboard diving was that we broke our habitual checking of emails and social media apps.
This might date us a bit, but we remember when phones were mounted on the wall, and there were only three channels of free tv that you tuned in with a rabbit ear antenna. Believe it or not, you could leave the house for the day and have no way to reach anybody, and it was ok. If you really feel disconnected, take a moment and write a pen and paper letter. It might be the most poetic mail you’ve written in a long time. What’s more, you’ll send it with a stamp and not a swipe .
Wrapping up Our Liveaboard Diving TipsWith these liveaboard diving tips, you’ll be well on your way to the adventure of your dreams. Liveaboard diving is a chance to leave the shoreline and sail out into the unknown. You’ll explore rarely visited dive sites and discover things you can only imagine. This is an adventure like no other, and it’s best to be prepared.
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