Live-aboard cruises are popular among diving enthusiasts because they offer diving opportunities in remote dive sites, more marine life encounters and equipment for underwater photography and video.
If you’ve never taken a dive vacation on a live-aboard, you may be missing something. The popularity of live-aboards has skyrocketed in the last five years and for good reasons. Live-aboards have developed into the hottest vacation experiences in the diving world.
Before telling you why they are so appealing, it’s necessary to define the term live-aboard. In today’s world of dive travel, a live-aboard is a vessel (large or small) specifically configured for diving, run by divers, with the sole purpose of hosting divers. Luxury cruise ships, bare-boat charters and part-time fishing charter boats do not qualify.
While live-aboards may come in a variety of different configurations, their primary mission is the same – diving, diving and more diving. The features common to most live-aboards are: a well-organized dive deck, ample storage for personal gear, spacious dive platform, sturdy ladders and adequate tenders or skiffs.
Above all, these vessels are crewed a staff of diving professionals – experts who know where to go and exactly what divers are seeking. If you are contemplating a live-aboard for your next dive vacation, here are 10 great reasons you should do it:
1 ACCESS TO REMOTE DIVE AREAS: Live-aboards have revolutionized the way we dive, opening a whole new world of formally unreachable, untouchable sites. Today, divers are spending their vacations in such remote locations as Cocos Island (300 miles off Costa Rica), Galapagos Islands (straddling the equator) or the far out atolls of the Coral Sea (230 miles off Australia).
Live-aboards can go well beyond the operating range of day boats because they are not required to return to the dock the same day. They carry their hotel/restaurant/dive shop with them. Live-aboards are mobile dive resorts that can go anywhere and stay as long as desired.
2 EASY DIVING: It’s hard to imagine people making four to five dives day after day and not becoming totally exhausted. On live-aboards, it happens every week.
Live-aboards offer hassle-free diving: no dragging of heavy gear bags, no lifting or loading scuba tanks, no long walks down the boat pier, no climbing in and out of taxis or rental cars, no climbing over ironshore or rocky coastlines, no long swims to the good diving.
On a live-aboard, your cabin is often just a few steps from your dive gear, dive platform and the water. In many cases, the reef is 20 to 30 feet below your bunk – roll out of bed and into the water. Dive gear remains assembled and ready to go on a moment’s notice. Cameras and video housings remain on the dive deck, ready for the next dive.
3 SMALL GROUPS: Live-aboards are designed for limited capacity, often only 12 to 20 passengers. Smaller vessels operate with six to eight divers – real cozy.
Small dive groups offer many advantages. There are no crowded dive decks, no waiting to make your scuba entry. Everyone picks “their spot” to stow personal dive gear, underwater camera or video housing for the entire trip.
Meals are quickly served, often buffet-style. There are no long lines or long waits for food delivery.
Small groups mean less congestion underwater. There are fewer divers on the reef, less stirring up of the bottom and no long waits at the dive ladder.
4 MORE DIVING FREEDOM: A major advantage of live-aboard diving is personal freedom. During the week two things happen. First, guests become better divers as they fall into the daily routine and become more familiar with the safety rules of the live-aboard. Second, the boat crew becomes familiar with the skill levels of each diver and develops a trust in his/her competency.
On most live-aboards, guests are permitted to go into the water any time the boat is at anchor. There are no strict timetables for dives, unless there is a drift dive or the site is affected by currents. Guests frequently make early morning dives, prior to breakfast, sunset dives and sometimes even dawn dives.
Live-aboard guests make many dives unescorted, thus permitting them to move along at their own pace. If a guest or group of guests wants a guided tour, the crew is happy to accommodate. The general rule on most live-aboards is that guests are responsible for staying within safe diving limits.
Guests experienced in computer assisted diving may plan their own dive profiles, as long as they follow the safety rules of the boat. If guests are new to computer diving, the crew will teach them how to use a computer safely.
5 MORE QUALITY DIVING: Another major attraction of live-aboards is the quality of diving. Today’s divers are less concerned about the number of dives, preferring each to be high quality – exciting, adventurous, beautiful, intriguing and filled with marine life encounters. This is where live-aboards excel.
High quality diving is partly owing to the fact that live-aboards travel to remote sites inaccessible to day boats but there is much more to this higher level of excellence. There is less personnel turnover among live-aboard captains and crews. Crews are, therefore, more experienced at finding the very best sites – and, they keep a log of these select spots. Live-aboards go to the best dive sites for the clearest water and hottest fish action.
At popular sites frequented by both live-aboards and day boats, the live-aboards often have first pick of the best spots because they arrive early. They can also pick the best time to dive, waiting for the most favorable tide conditions.
The quality of divers is also better. People who book live-aboard trips are generally more skilled, requiring less hand holding and being more considerate of their fellow divers.
6 MORE NIGHT DIVING: Live-aboards have a decided advantage for night diving. They are parked over the reef or wreck for the entire evening and guests have plenty of time for a leisurely night dive at their discretion.
Night dives are conducted practically every night the vessel is anchored. Night dives can be later (after dinner) when more creatures are out. Night dives are generally better because the live-aboard crew is so experienced and knows the best sites.
7 MORE WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS: Live-aboard guests have a 300 percent better chance of seeing something unusual. This is because the live-aboard can be on a dive site morning, afternoon and evening – three to four times longer than day boats.
Live-aboard divers are always ready, with regulators and BCs connected and fins nearby. They can be in the water in minutes – to film a passing Whale Shark, pod of dolphins or school of Devil Rays (Mobula). Since live-aboards are diving farther out to sea and visiting remote atolls and pinnacles, they are more likely to encounter more stunning wildlife – creatures you would never expect.
Several live-aboards have reported encounters with pods of four to five Killer Whales (Orca), swimming in tropical seas off Belize and Little Cayman Island. They allowed snorkelers to videotape the action. Live-aboards cruising the Sea of Cortez and the waters surrounding Cocos Island have frequently encountered Sailfish – and have the underwater photos to prove it. Humpback Whales are seen on the Silver Banks, off the Turks & Caicos.
8 GREAT PHOTO/VIDEO SUPPORT: Today’s live-aboards are equipped with the latest photo and video facilities. Most offer rapid E-6 color film processing, either same day or overnight. They have light tables for viewing processed film.
Many live-aboards have a photo pro aboard, ready to assist guests. Photo pros provide helpful advice, assistance with equipment problems, shooting tips and photo critiques. More important, the photo pro and live-aboard crew assist guest photographers in setting up great underwater shots because they know where the creatures live.
For underwater videographers, live-aboard vessels are furnished with large color TV sets, 8mm or Hi-8 videotape decks, VCRs, battery charging stations and other support facilities. You can review your underwater video footage after every dive.
Evenings are often devoted to color slide shows identifying local marine life and providing creative photography ideas and suggestions. Another favorite pastime is viewing a collection of the best U/W video footage shot during the day.
9 VERY RELAXING: Because of the efficient dive deck and hassle free diving, guests have ample opportunity to rest, nap or read between dives. Logbooks are filled out in great detail, often over a warm beverage while divers contemplate the adventure they have just experienced U/W.
If you are living and working in the fast lane, with tons of pressure and daily stress, a live-aboard trip can be a welcome relief. Live-aboard life is a different world – no pressure, no problems, no worries. The absence of depressing TV broadcasts and newspaper scandals brings a certain calm and happiness you rarely find back home.
On a live-aboard, everything is done for you. You don’t have to wonder or worry about where to have dinner, calling a taxi, waiting for a table or any of the typical vacation hassles. You find yourself going to bed earlier and waking at 6:00 am to watch the sun rise over a calm sea.
10 SAME DIVE BUDDIES ALL WEEK: By Vacationing on a live-aboard provides a unique opportunity to make new friends, people who share your love for diving and the undersea world. By spending the week together, you really get to know each other. Many live-aboard passengers end up exchanging Christmas cards, letters and snapshots taken on the trip. In some cases, the group finds such harmony that members often re-book the next year, on the same boat and at the same cruise. It is a wonderful experience you will want to repeat, year after year.