Choosing a Liveaboard

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John BantinNow that your are probably thinking of your next dive trip, have you considered a liveaboard dive boat? What is the point of being trapped on a boat for a week or more? Isn’t it a bit boring?

Not if you are a keen diver because a liveaboard dive boat is able to visit dive sites that would be out of range to a vessel that had to return to home port each night. The vessel moors over or at least within a short boat ride from where you will want to enter the water. You wake up, go diving, have breakfast, go diving, eat lunch, go diving, have dinner and maybe even go diving at night. Then you go back to your cabin to sleep and start the routine all over again when you wake up. Not only that but you are surrounded by like-minded people. It’s like having your hotel on the spot.

But it’s not a hotel. It’s a boat and boats only float thanks to Archimedes and his principle. All boats are all doing their best to get to the bottom. In the meantime it moves at the mercy of wind and waves. So when you select your liveaboard dive boat there are some things to consider.

Is the hull made of wood or metal (steel or aluminium)? Wooden hulls float higher in the water so tend to move more in a rough sea. Steel boats tend to plough through the waves and can stand the occasional bump against a reef when a wooden hull might be damaged. Where is the boat operating? If it is inside the benign conditions of an atoll it won’t have to contend with inclement weather the way a vessel that makes open ocean crossings does. Similarly, if it has to cover any distance in the ocean, you’ll need the security of two engines. An engine failure on a single engine boat can spell disaster.

When you first climb aboard you might be impressed by the luxury afforded by the carpets and upholstery but does the vessel have two generators? A loss of electrical power can spell disaster too, so one generator to run alternately with a second ensures no power failure.

How many diver pick-up boats does it have? Are there sufficient to collect all the divers at one time? These boats should not be considered rescue boats. There should be sufficient life rafts to cater for all the passengers and crew and these are subject to regular inspection and certified as such.

If the worse comes to the worse you’ll need a life-jacket. Is it kept in your cabin below decks assuming any emergency will happen at night? Swimming out of a flooded companionway with a life-jacket is nigh on impossible so check they’ve got some stored near you point of exit from the vessel and know you way out with your eyes closed. Do you keep a portable light near your bedside? Watertight doors in companionways can make the difference between floating and sinking.

mv.Jemaya II at Malpelo (Columbia)

mv.Jemaya II at Malpelo (Columbia)

Know the safety procedures before you set off. Passenger mustering points may be OK for roll calls but a muster point on the upper deck is not the place to be if the ship is on fire. What are you going to do? Wait there until the vessel has burnt down to the gunnels before you decide to get off? How easy is the access to and from the water?

Dive boats often visit remote areas so it’s good to know what other boats might be in the vicinity. An effective marine radio is important but just as important is the person that knows how to use it. You’ll need more than one. What happens if the radio operator is the one who is the subject of an emergency?

Nowadays few boats don’t have freshwater makers but check with the operator first. An ample supply of water to wash in after a dive will keep you comfortable just as a properly sited compressor can make all the difference. There have been cases of even a dive guide being killed by carbon monoxide poisoning thanks to the compressor input pipe being positioned near a diesel engine’s exhaust. That’s something you might have to make a judgement about before breathing from your first tank.

Is the vessel photographer friendly? Does it have a separate camera cabin and a camera rinse tank or will you be expected to open your housing to download the day’s pictures on the salty wet deck of the boat?

mv.Seahunter in the waters of Cocos Island (Costa Rica)

mv.Seahunter in the waters of Cocos Island (Costa Rica)

 

The one thing we haven’t considered is the area of operation and whether the diving is suitable for you. Big fish and big aggregations of fishes are usually associated with strong current so are you up for that? On the other hand if the diving is boring you might be happier to be based on the land so that you have alternative options available to you. There are no snooker tables nor tennis courts on liveaboard dive boats. It’s dive, dive, dive!

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7 comments for “Choosing a Liveaboard

  1. DICK JACOBY
    February 28, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    Wake up.
    Exit cabin
    Gear up
    Fall in water.

    What could be easier?

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  2. March 4, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    EAT, SLEEP, DIVE is the motto of one of my favorite live-a-boards. My wife and my favorite method of diving. More expensive, much the chance to hit more “best” dive spots than any other method. Draw back of popular ones is that they may not get the maintenance they need to stay in shape. Ask to see the O2 and 1stAid kit. On one Belize trip they used three IV bags on one of my guests who had dehydrated badly due to sea sickness. Who would be so prepared as to have IV bags on-board and the staff to put a IV in besides? But sure saved the trip for ALL of the passengers by not having to return to port.

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  3. Debi
    May 17, 2016 at 3:07 pm

    I would prefer the first sentence to be grammatically correct, it is not “your” it is “you are”.

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  4. BOB
    June 3, 2016 at 11:55 pm

    Underseahunter group. going to Cocos Island C.R. best Live-aboard dive operation hands down. You will cry when its time to go home. then start planing your next trip back to the magic of Cocos Island .

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  5. Lenny Zwik
    August 18, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    Don’t believe all the marketing hype either, especially the Aggressor’s / Dancer’s. We’ve been on several of their boats over the last few years. Despite the marketing of luxurious accommodations, etc., we’ve found boats in serious need of upkeep, compressors and / or EAN mixing stations that worked intermittently and lost diving due to the need for the crew to ferry tanks aboard to keep us diving. Not sure, other than check something like Undercurrent, how to avoid succumbing to the hype.

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  6. Jim Rogers
    September 15, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    The best equipped Live Aboard I have ever been on is the Odyssey in Chuuk (Truk Lagoon). It carried a variety of tanks for use by guests at no extra charge. 80′s, double 80′s, 100′s, double 100′s. They provide tech diving mixes. All the meters and gauges for monitoring mixes is right there on the dive deck for all to view. When they tie up at a wreck the dive deck is open and you are treated like an adult. Dive to your experience level. A large percentage of the diving can be technical. The boat was in great shape (before typhoon grounding), the crew was great, the food was TERRIBLE. (It is a lot of money and a LONG trip for lousy food.) My only diving complaint was the last dive on the San Francisco Maru. The deck is at 165 as I recall. They hang an emergency bottle (80) at around 90 feet for those who run low on air. They dive it in groups 10 minutes apart. I asked if someone from the 1st group grabs the emergency bottle is it replaced? The answer was NO. So……

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  7. September 22, 2016 at 3:39 am

    Just back from the Aggressor in Fiji. What a disappointment. They did not even take us to the Soft Coral Capital of the World which we had paid for. Took us somewhere completely different with no prior warning. A week of boring diving not worthy of a shore dive let alone a $3,000 plus Aggressor price tag.

    Seems Aggressor ships are individually owned and only contracted to the Aggressor name so quality is far more unpredictable than you imagine from the slick website. Always dig deeper and check user comments online before booking with Aggressor

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