Affiliate Disclosure: This blog post has affiliate links to liveaboard diving tours for beginners at LiveAboard.com. If you book a tour, I will receive a commission at no additional cost to you. Opinions are my own and based on 12+ years shark diving and my personal experiences on a liveaboard dive boat while going face to face with some huge creature called the Great White Shark.
So you’re bitten by the diving bug and you want to know about liveaboard diving for beginners…
Hey, we all gotta start somewhere, and liveaboards are a great way to make friends and build up your diving resume – to say nothing about being an awesome way to see sharks, pelagics, coral reefs and some of the most stunning waters you can mentally picture.
The quick version of liveaboard diving for beginners: you need to think about the basics of scuba diving. Generally speaking, you want shallow dives with a mild current and to avoid ‘wall’ dives with deep drop offs – at least for now. Also, when you go is just as important as where you go. Your budget matters too, along with boat safety, amenities and let’s not forget the ‘fun factor’ too!
Let’s talk about liveaboard diving for beginners – and what you need to know before your first liveaboard experience.
Dive Boats Vs Liveaboard Diving
First, the basics. A liveaboard in the diving world is a ‘liveaboard dive boat’. It’s different than a day boat because the latter is based from shore and can’t travel far from port. That limits you to dive spots near your base that may be ‘dived out’ with tourists. You’ll also have to carry your dive gear around – a pain in the butt as many divers will tell you.
Day diving also limits the amount of dives you’ll get, For example, if you go shark cage diving in California, you can do a day trip from San Francisco (to the Farallon Islands) but you probably won’t get more than two dives, and if the sharks don’t show, it sucks for you.
However, if you do a liveaboard dive trip from San Diego, in which you ‘live’ on the boat for 5+ days, you’ll get at least three full days of shark diving at Guadalupe – and 10+ dives and chances to see sharks, rather than just one or two.
In other words, your chances of seeing what you came to see just went up.
Liveaboard diving can also get you to some very remote and untouched diving locations around the planet. You don’t have to lug your gear around each day. And, another factor you might not have considered, while live board diving is more expensive than a day trip, you’re NOT spending $150+ a night for a hotel room when you live on a boat.
It ain’t cheap, but it’s a lot more fun. And the camaraderie on a liveaboard can help you bond with other divers.
Liveaboard Diving For Beginners: What to Consider
With that clarified, your first liveaboard will sink or swim according to the trip you choose and where you are in your journey to SCUBA mastery. When choosing a liveaboard dive tour, beginners should think about the following:
Snorkeling Might Be an Option – Don’t be scared off if you’re not a diver. Many liveaboard boats offer snorkelling options. Ask and find out!
Shallow Dives – If you’re a new diver, you’ll likely need to keep it less than 20 metres. This depends on your certification.
Mild Currents – The ocean can throw you around, friend. Forget drift diving for the moment. Liveaboard diving for beginners should dive in spots with mild currents.
Avoid Deep Dives – You’ll want (and be required to) stay away from deep dives when you’re starting out.
When looking for a liveaboard tour, look at the itinerary. How many dives are included each day? Are you diving on the first day (rather than travelling to the dive spot)? How big is the boat? What is the ratio of divers to dive masters?
Also, if possible, see if you can meet some of the divers before heading out. You don’t want to be that rookie diver that holds the group up. However, if many of you are new divers, that’s a great chance to learn together and make friends that you’ll keep for life.
Best Destinations For New Divers
Now you know what to look for. So where do you go? The best spots for new liveaboard inductees have the above factors in common. While Red Sea diving is generally for those with more experience, liveaboard diving in the Caribbean is well-known for its forgiving and less-demanding dive tours – to say nothing about it, well, being the Caribbean.
So where exactly should you do your first liveaboard diving trip?
1 – Belize – Because It’s Calm All Year (and You Might See Whale Sharks)
Belize is paradise on Earth for snorkelers and divers. It’s also perfect if you’re still getting your diving credentials. Belize is over 400 islands throughout the Mesoamerican reef.
You’ll see beautiful coral reefs here, along with sea turtles, eagle rays, reef fish straight out of Finding Nemo and, wait for it – possibly…whale sharks as well.
The Great Blue Hole is in Belize too, although that’s for divers with a lot more experience.
Why It’s Good For Beginners: Calm waters (year-round), lots of marine life, great scenery and low lighting to practice your underwater photography. Visibility is good and, hey, Whale Sharks if you time it right. Belize, please!
Best Time to Go: Between March and June
Trip Length: 7-10 Days
What You’ll Pay: $2,500 – $3,500
2 – Bahamas – Because Sharks, Shipwrecks and Kick-Ass Visibility
Don’t underestimate the importance of visibility. You need to see where you’re diving – and that’s generally not a problem in the Bahamas, with shallow water, plenty of shipwrecks, beautiful blue water and mild currents.
Also, wanna know where to dive with sharks? Tiger Beach, friend. One of the best places on Earth to see Tiger Sharks, along with Hammerheads, Duskie Sharks, Reef Sharks and more.
Liveaboard diving for beginners doesn’t get much better than the Bahamas.
Why It’s Good For Beginners: Great visibility, beautiful blue water, sharks and shipwrecks. Plus, that whole Bahamas thing. I’ll take one of those.
Best Time to Go: October to July. May to July is the best time to see sharks at Tiger Beach. Note that summer and early autumn is hurricane season in the Bahamas (and the Caribbean in general).
Trip Length: 6 – 10 Days
What You’ll Pay: $1000 – $4500. You’ve got a good range of choices for liveaboards in the Bahamas.
Try This Boat: Blackbeards Morning Star – a beloved liveaboard sailboat in the Bahamas that’s quite budget-friendly (dorm-style sleeping arrangements). For your own guest cabin, try Bahamas Aggressor. Both boats are Scuba and Snorkel-Friendly.
3 – Cuba – Because It’s Uncrowded and Undisturbed
Communism ain’t all that and a bag of chips, but you can’t say it wasn’t good for the waters of Cuba. Think everything you dream of when you think ‘Caribbean’ – clear blue water, shallow dives, beautiful marine life and plenty of reef sharks.
Now add ‘undeveloped’ and ‘saltwater crocodiles’ to that list and you begin to see why Cuba should make any list of the best liveaboard diving destinations for beginners.
The diving is excellent here, and while equipment rentals can be a little substandard, if you can ditch Wifi, Nitrox and diving in luxury, your reward will be something you won’t see much on this planet: a generally undisturbed underwater utopia.
Thanks for that, Castro.
Why It’s Good For Beginners: Visibility, shallow dives, few crowds and enough marine life to make you wanna dive over and over again.
Best Time to Go: November to April
Trip Length: 6 – 9 Days
What You’ll Pay: $1,500 – $5,500
4 – Great Barrier Reef – Because It’s the Biggest Aquarium On Earth
Wait a sec – didn’t I just reference Nemo and Belize? Well yes I did because I was reaching for a good way to describe colorful fish and a drew a blank just then. But if you really want to trace his footsteps (er, do fish have footsteps?) you need to hit up Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which is so big, you can see it from space (yup, really – look it up).
So why is the Great Barrier Reef such a great spot for new liveaboard divers?
Because it’s got everything that got you stoked about diving in the first place. Whales, fish, sharks and something about a reef? While the reef is huge and suitable for all skill levels, beginner divers can do very well at the Great Barrier Reef.
Choose your boat wisely. The Great Barrier Reef lives up to its name and can be overwhelming at times – a 1 to 3 day tour might be a option if you’re new to the diving world. But do it though, because in the world of liveaboards, the Great Barrier Reef is up there.
Well OK, it’s Down Under, but you get the point.
Why It’s Good For Beginners: Great year-round diving, excellent visibility, shallow dives, plenty of marine life and that whole ‘Reef’ thing. If there’s a Holy Grail for diving, the Great Barrier Reef is no doubt a contender.
Best Time to Go: June through August to see whales, December to February for warm weather (although January through March can be humid and wet).
Trip Length: 1 – 7 Days
What You’ll Pay: $500 – $3,500
Try This Boat: Spirit of Freedom – a perennial favourite among liveaboard divers at the Great Barrier Reef. It’s Scuba and Snorkel-Friendly.
5 – Similan Islands, Thailand – Because It’s Budget-Friendly (and You’re Already in Thailand!)
The first time I saw a shark in the wild, it was in Thailand. And if you’re a new diver or looking to get certified without dropping a wad of money, you’ll want to hit up Thailand as well, and the Similan Islands in particular.
Manta Rays, Whale Sharks, great diving year-round – you get it all in the Land of Smiles.
The slight caveat with liveaboard diving for beginners at the Similans is the currents. They can be quite strong here. That puts the onus on you to find a spot with milder currents and/or take a liveaboard tour that can train you in drift diving.
Still, don’t let that scare you off diving in Thailand. This is a great place to learn how to Scuba. Among marine-loving backpackers, it’s practically a ritual.
Why It’s Good For Beginners: Whale sharks, turtles, coral reefs, excellent year-round conditions and the fact that Thailand is one of the cheapest places in the world to learn how to dive. Also, if you’re backpacking across Southeast Asia, this is a very convenient place to do it.
Best Time to Go: November through April has the best conditions. The best time to see whale sharks in Thailand is February through May.
Trip Length: 3-7 Days
What You’ll Pay: $500 – $3,000. Yup, this puts liveaboard diving within the grasp of your average backpacker on the well-trodden route through Southeast Asia.
Try This Boat: Manta Queen 1 – a great budget-friendly liveaboard dive boat in the Similans, or The Junk, which is a luxurious liveaboard sail boat in the Similans and one of the best values for the experience in the business. Both boats are Scuba and Snorkel-Friendly.
6 – Maldives – Because Mantas, Whale Sharks, Luxury and the Maldives
Many of the places we’ve discussed here put you in a good position to see whale sharks. While they’re high in many places, they’re likely highest in the Maldives. Dive the Maldives and you’re also pretty much guaranteed to see Manta Rays, if that’s your thing, along with hammerhead sharks, turtles, beautiful coral and the whole experience of diving the Maldives.
There are more reasons why the Maldives has some of the best liveaboard diving for beginners – the year-round conditions are excellent. You’ll find plenty of shallow dive spots in the Maldives too. And, very notably, if you take your liveaboard diving with a little (well, a lot of) luxury, the Maldives is where you want to do it.
As with diving in Thailand, currents in the Maldives can be strong. The same guidelines apply here; choose a site that’s suitable for beginners and/or a boat that offers on-board training in drift diving.
Why It’s Good For Beginners: Everything you love about diving draped in a whole lot of luxury. South Ari Atoll (in the Maldives) has some of the best whale shark diving on the planet.
Best Time to Go: November through April is typically the best time for liveaboard diving at the Maldives, although it’s good here year-round.
Trip Length: 7 – 10 Days
What You’ll Pay: $1,500 – $5,500. The higher end gets you more luxury.
FAQs About Liveaboard Diving For Beginners
This is a huge topic, and we’ve barely scratched the surface about liveaboard diving as a new diver. You likely have further questions – for which you may find your answers here:
How is Liveaboard Diving Different Than Day Diving?
Day diving means a day trip from a port. Liveaboard diving means you ‘live aboard’ the boat for typically 3+ days and reach more distant (and more rewarding) dive locations. It’s more interactive, lasts longer, and as many divers will tell you, generally a more fun experience.
Do I Need Open Water and/or PADI-Certification to Do a Liveaboard?
Not always. Some liveaboard dive boats do snorkelling tours as well, either combined with diving or even snorkelling only. Please look at each boat’s tour itinerary for details.
How Much Does Liveaboard Diving Cost?
Anywhere from $500 – $5,000+.
Are There Extra Costs Involved?
Some dive destinations may require diving permits for protected marine parks, equipment rental and/other other costs that may arise. Please check with each boat for details. I’ve linked to good liveaboard dive boats in each destination mentioned in this post.
Also – and this is important – on most boats, it’s good form to tip your crew. The amount will vary according to country, boat and the experience in general. This is good karma – your typical liveaboard dive boat crew feeds you very well, puts you up, cleans after you and helps make your dive experience something you’ll remember forever.
A monetary ‘Thank You’ goes a long way – especially when you consider they don’t make a lot of money.
Is Liveaboard Diving Safe?
You’re diving, and you’re on a boat. The industry in general has an excellent track record, but I’m not going to tell you it’s completely safe and nothing adverse will happen to you. You might find this article helpful about what to look for when choosing a dive boat.
Now, do I think the crew will take very good care of you? Yes – very much so. Look at each boat review and how long it’s been in the industry. Do your due diligence and I think you’ll be fine.
Have YOU Ever Done a Liveaboard Dive Tour?
Yup – I was on a liveaboard while diving with Great White Sharks at Guadalupe Island, off Mexico. It’s no stretch to say that it changed my life, and it’s what inspired be to create the website you’re reading today.
What’s the Best Destination For Liveaboard Diving For Beginners?
All the spots we’ve reviewed here are excellent for new divers looking to do their first liveaboard tour. But if you’ve got something specific in mind, here’s your guide:
Cheap Liveaboards – Try Thailand
Untouched Marine Ecosystem – Try Cuba
Sharks – Try the Bahamas (and Tiger Beach in particular)
Whale Sharks – Try the Maldives
Luxury – Try the Maldives
Coral Reefs – Try Australia
For a Good General First-Time Liveaboard Dive – Try Bahamas
Where ever you choose, live board diving for beginners is an exciting, engaging and fun way to take up diving and see the world while you do it. In my personal experience, it’s someone you’ll cherish for life.