Disclosure: This blog post has affiliate links to liveaboard diving tours I’ve researched and think are pretty darn epic. If you book a tour, I will receive a commission at no additional cost to you. As usual, I try to keep it real and only recommend liveaboard diving tours that will truly rock your world and put a big ole’ smile on your face for the rest of your life!
A liveaboard dive boat is a diving boat that divers live on while diving in remote locations not accessible on a day trip. They’re navigated by a professional sailing crew and typically house their guests in cabins and state rooms. Meals are served in the ship’s galley, and the boat will typically have a diving air compressor and emergency oxygen.
Some liveaboard diving boats have advanced diver facilities, like gas blending services. Some may even have a recompression chamber.
Rough translation? Liveaboard diving boats cater to the whims and needs of Scuba divers, on diving trips that can take anywhere from overnight to several weeks.
If you live in California, shark cage diving at Guadalupe is a good example of liveaboard diving. While you can see Great White Sharks at the Farrallons on a (very long) day trip, you’d need to spend 5 days on a specially built liveaboard dive boat to make the 260 mile journey from San Diego to Guadalupe and back again, with three days of diving in between.
Life on a Liveaboard
This varies according to boat, location and length of the tour. Generally, though, you’ll leave your port of departure and spend 12-24 hours getting to your dive location, although remote dive spots may take longer. Before diving, the crew and your dive master will typically brief you of safety and special instructions unique to the spot.
Once you’re briefed and suited-up, you’ll enter the water by stepping off a dive platform on the stern or side of the boat. You might also be transferred to the dive spot from a tender launched from the liveaboard.
You’ll typically return to the boat by ladder or a mechanical lift.
Liveaboard boats are typically large-ish, at between 80 to 100+ feet and hold between 16 and 30 divers. As they’re basically hotels for divers, they can be quite fancy too, with cabins that run from basic cabins to full-on 5 star state rooms.
Case in point, the Ocean Sapphire, where you won’t exactly be staying in slum-like conditions…
Most liveaboard dive boats will need you to be PADI-certified. There are exceptions though. When cage diving with white sharks, you’ll likely breathe surface-supplied air from the boat to your cage, which will probably be mounted off the stern. As well, some liveaboards may offer a combination of Scuba and snorkelling or even snorkelling only.
This will vary according to boat, location and type of tour.
Your Typical Liveaboard Diver
Scuba diving is a broad discipline and with a variety of styles for different purposes. Live aboard diving caters to pretty much all of them. They’re well-suited for:
Cold Water Diving
You can do pretty much any kind of diving on a liveaboard – often in the kind of luxury you’d expect from a hotel.
Popular Liveaboard Destinations
Liveaboard diving, while gaining popularity in the United States, is more common in well-established dive spots and countries south of the equator. Your average diver is from Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and, ironically, Switzerland, although it’s gaining traction in other countries as well.
I should mention the following are affiliate links. If you book a tour through them, I’ll receive a commission at no additional cost to you. I promote Liveaboard diving tours because, well, they’re a world of awesome. And speaking from experience, a lot of fun.
With that clarified, popular liveaboard diving locations include:
Indonesia – A country with excellent diving. Notably, many liveaboard dive boats in Indonesia are combined sail and motor power. If you want to dive on a sailing yacht, this is an excellent place to do it.
Thailand – Liveaboard dive boats in Thailand tend to be a little bigger than in other areas. There’s a big dive scene at Koh Tao, in the Gulf of Thailand – a place I’ll always remember as the spot where I saw my first shark (yup, even more Great White Shark diving at Guadalupe).
Maldives – The Maldives have some of the best diving on the planet and are quickly becoming a hot spot for European divers, often whom charter, you guessed it, a live aboard dive boat.
Australia – Australia is huge, and it’s got some of the best diving on the planet. Rowley Shoals, Western Australia and the Great Barrier Reef are some of the liveaboard diving highlights for divers Down Under. Plus, um, ever heard of shark cage diving at Port Lincoln?
Galapagos – The Galapagos are on many a diver’s bucket list, and for very good reason. Live aboard diving is ideal for getting close with and experiencing these volcanic islands off Ecuador. This is where Charles Darwin observed the natural selection among animals that eventually led to the theory of evolutionary biology.
Egypt – Interest in Red Sea diving has skyrocketed of late thanks to a Netflix film called The Red Sea Diving Resort. While the film appears to be pretty underwhelming, the Red Sea is a suprisingly rich in marine life and diving highlights. Reef diving, wreck diving, caverns and sharks – there’s a bit of everything in the Red Sea.
Live Aboard Boat Companies
Spend any time looking for liveaboard dive boats and you’ll likely see several names that keep popping up. Aggressor is on of them – a name you’ll see repeatedly at the Galapagos. These are liveaboard diving fleets. While there are plenty of independent boats that offer liveaboard diving experiences, some divers prefer to go with an established fleet that has boats at different spots under a common name. Liveaboard diving fleets include:
Aggressor (Most Diving Hot Spots – 20+ Boats)
Siren (3 Boats – Phillippines, Indonesia, Palau)
Emperor (9 Boats – Egypt, Indonesia, Maldives)
Mermaid (2 Boats – Indonesia)
As for which boat and location is the best, well, you’ve got a lifetime to find out.
Why I Recommend Live Aboard Diving
Live aboard diving gets divers to unique and remote dive locations you otherwise couldn’t reach. It’s combined diving and a vacation, as most boats are draped in all the luxuries you’d expect with a four-star hotel. They’re also staffed with very capable chefs that can satisfy pretty much any request and leave you salivating for a second round.
And a third, and a fourth. You get the idea.
So I recommend diving for the diving, the service, the experience, and the fact that it’s a whole new kind of unique.
This is the kind of experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
Full disclosure, I am an affiliate of LiveAboard.com because I think it’s pretty epic stuff. I’ve done a liveaboard, at Guadalupe, in Mexico. The experience stuck with me and inspired me to start this website.
Dunno about you, but I value experiences over material goods. Whether you’re a diver, keen to see sharks, or just want a very unique travel experience, it’s safe to say liveaboard diving will stay with you and get in your blood. And, from experience, leave you grasping for more.