The Big Difference Between Day Boats and Liveaboards? The Customers

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I do a lot of dive trips abroad, about a dozen each year. I recently enjoyed a two-week liveaboard trip in the Red Sea near southern Sudan, followed by a similar amount of time shore-based in Bali, Indonesia. In each case, my fellow divers were British, French, Belgian, German and Dutch but could have been easily interchangeable starting from day one.

However, as time passed, a distinct difference became apparent. On a liveaboard, we are all in the same boat both physically and mentally. An esprit de corps soon develops because after all, nobody wants anyone else to have a bad time nor, God forbid, an accident. Everyone becomes very co-operative and sympathetic to ever other’s needs. This loyalty towards members of the group does not appear evident during day boat dives.

In Bali, we were subject to some heavy surf that made it hazardous getting out to the boat each time. The dive center rigged a heavy guide line for people to grab hold of as they made their journey out to the boat so that there was no risk of being swept away, and we were guided through the shallows by attentive staff so that nobody fell over or got swept under breaking waves. Leaving the shore, we would then progress the 100 yards out along the line to the boat.

For my own part, I am quite at home in the water. But several times, I experienced fellow divers who had left the beach after I did fighting their way past me in order to get on the boat first. There was an air of panic among some of the participants. I resigned myself to bobbing in the swell until the danger of anyone standing on my head to get up the boat ladder before me had passed. If I might use a French vernacular, I found this behaviour by some other divers “bloody rude” at least and downright dangerous at worst.

On board the crowded boat,  there was a general lack of care of other’s equipment and it was down to each diver to protect his own. Once we arrived
at the dive site, there was a similar fight to be first in the water. I’m pretty slick at getting into my rig, so I cleared the decks in order to exchange the bun-fight for the open space of the ocean.

Too often while underwater, I’d find myself lining up a subject in my camera’s viewfinder only to be pushed aside by someone with a digital camera in a plastic lunchbox who obviously decided that my choice of angle was good.

After a day boat dive, each diver quickly disappears to rejoin his family or friends somewhere on land and you don’t really ever get to know them. On a liveaboard, you spend time cheek-by-jowl with those you dive with. As Stan Waterman, that doyen of divers and gracious old-fashioned gentleman, “When you get to my age, John, ­ liveaboard!” I’m inclined to agree.

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6 comments for “The Big Difference Between Day Boats and Liveaboards? The Customers

  1. June 17, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    OK I see your point, but I am inclined to disagree in so far as there are the cattleboat dive centres and then there are the folks that are prepared to go out of their way to accommodate the more discerning diver….

    Lets compare and contrast. If I go to shopping for shoes I have a choice. I can go to the ‘buy one get one half price’ store, where all the shoes are displayed by size, I don’t have any service but if I rummage around I can find an approximation of what I want at a price that I am prepared to pay, or I can go to the store where I can browse at leisure and a helpful assistant will disappear in to the back, come back with the shoe that I want, fit it for me and I will leave knowing that I may have paid a little more but I received the service that I expected.

    The same is true of the dive sector. If you shop around you can find quality service, attentive crew and a dive shop that is prepared to go the extra mile to ensure that you have a good, productive dive vacation.

    Also, please remember that there is a place at the table for everyone, yes your guy with a camera in a ‘lunch box’ may annoy you. However he has just as much right to be there as you do. He’s paid his money too. And lets face it if you pay for a McDive don’t be disappointed when the other McDivers show up! (And I am not referring to muck with this attempt at a pun…). If you allow yourself to pay for service and it is not forthcoming then you only have your self to blame as there are places that you can go to ask for assistance when considering a location to visit or shop to dive with.

    Not all dive shops are the same. Yes live-aboard diving is great but it is not for everyone, and yes I accept that there are some divers that much prefer live-aboard diving. But equally there are some very dedicated land based operations that will provide you with the service that you would like to receive, so please don’t discount them… and don’t bash the newbies either. We all have to start somewhere and the dive community is going to become more dependent on these new folks as time goes by.

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  2. John Bantin
    June 18, 2009 at 4:56 am

    Of course, I should have added that just as many liveaboards work in conjunction with smaller annex boats, many specialised dive resorts such as Tawali, Layang Layang, Wakatobi, Kungkungen Bay and so on could be considered liveaboards that don’t move and the required camaraderie among participants usually develops equally!

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  3. David Reubush
    June 23, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    I generally agree with John. I have found that, as a general rule, folks who go on live-aboards are much more serious about diving and have had enough experience that they are aware of the common courtesies expected. However, there are always exceptions. I was on a live-aboard in Indonesia where there were several divers who would push past other photographers like they were not even there to be the first to get that special picture. I also frequent Pirates Point in Little Cayman at the same time every year. For the most part the folks that dive there go out of their way to be courteous and will call others attention to interesting subjects.

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  4. August 4, 2009 at 2:49 am

    I recently organized an island-hopping dive program in the Galapagos. I never imagined I could have such a great time with strangers from 4 different countries. We had 3 meals a day together, all dives and still hung out in the evening. We even did land excursions together, took and shared photos of/with everyone and now, are still in touch. Perhaps this experience falls between the cracks because while it’s not a live-aboard, it’s not a daily dive boat either, as you described in your qualification follow-up, John. Still, I have to agree that when I do a day dive, there is no comparison in terms of comraderie or looking out for each other. Granted, I love diving period, but it does indeed seem that on the day trips, you have such mixed groups of dive skills and ages that it just does not afford what can grow in a group all having the same prolonged and amazing experience together. Only twice this year did I have great dive buddies. I’ve been out with some I refused to buddy with second dive. (Usually photographers who are also advanced divers, btw.)

    You have put into words what I had failed to express before. All I could say was that it was the best trip of my life even though I was working. No small part of that was how well we all got along during what later seemed like a magical bubble apart from the entire world. It was sad to see it end and hard to imagine it could ever be that good again.

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  5. Terry Bernstein
    August 6, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    May I suggest a compromise that will improve the experience, not require the commitment or expense of a liveaboard and support the local dive industry? Why not try a group trip with your local dive shop? We’ve traveled all three ways, and the group trips often provide the best of both worlds. A group of like minded individuals who grow closer as the week progresses. Everyone tends to look out for everyone else. A mix of camera and non-camera people. We’ve even worked out systems of “sharing” interesting subjects – passing them along so everyone can enjoy the experience. And your local dive shop benefits from the business. Even the annoying diver’s behavior usually improves using the “peer pressure” approach. Almost no one wants to be a jerk when they might run into their fellow divers back at the shop.

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