By Jean Rydberg
Liveaboard diving is the preferred method for a lot of the Ikelite staff. There’s minimal equipment setup and breakdown, you’re diving anywhere from 3-5 times a day, and you’re getting a variety of subjects and settings for underwater photo and video. Combine that with all inclusive food and beverage packages and a constant view of the ocean and it’s hard to imagine you’d need much else for a dive trip.
What to Expect
Dive liveaboards range from camping at sea to floating five-star luxury resorts. The beauty of liveaboard diving is that you can access more remote locations than you would be able to on a day boat. The boat travels during surface intervals and overnight to the best sites available based on the current sea conditions. This which maximizes the quality and quantity of diving. You can typically expect to be offered as many as 4-5 dives a day, though you’re not obligated to make all of them.
If you're arriving day of, check with the liveaboard company to see if they offer a taxi service from the airport to the dock. © Denise Pietsch
When to Arrive
Find out the boarding time for the boat. Often it is in the late afternoon or early evening. Plan to arrive at least 2-3 hours before boarding to give you enough time to account for late flights, luggage delays, and transit to the dock. When traveling farther and to more remote locations it may be a good idea to arrive up to 12-24 hours in advance. Consider renting a day room at a nearby hotel so that you don’t have to wander around all day like a zombie traveller.
What to Pack: Essentials
Think about the things you would need if your luggage was lost. Pack those things in your carry-on. This list typically includes:
- Prescription and non-prescription medications
- Change of clothes and underwear
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Contact lenses and glasses
Try to find out before you go how much luggage space you will have on board. Some boats have spacious closets and drawers, and some have you sharing a bunk with all of your belongings. Even on luxury liveaboards you don’t need to over-pack. Most guests will be going for some form of “island casual” and you can probably plan to be barefoot most of the time.
Many liveaboards have a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) or a representative that can give you feedback on what they have available for use. Do they provide towels? What about shampoo? Will there be a port night where you visit a restaurant? Will you be renting your dive gear? Are you going to buy a t-shirt when you get there? Some items to consider:
- Headache medicine
- Nasal decongestants
- Water shoes
- Cash and credit card
- Books (paper or electronic)
Typically, other than the day you arrive and the day you depart, you won’t have access to metropolitan shopping areas where you can just grab some sunscreen you forgot to pack. Some liveaboards will have a limited selection of toiletries for sale on board, but it’s best to make a list and check it twice before you go.
Renting gear from a reputable liveaboard company means saving space and weight in your luggage and not having to worry about gear rinsing and breakdown after a week of diving.
What to Pack: Dive Gear
Most reputable liveaboards provide a very up-to-date line of dive gear to rent for the week, often at very reasonable prices. Weigh out the cost vs comfort of bringing your own gear or renting it on board. We like to save our luggage space for extra camera gear. It’s always nice at the end of the week to walk away and let someone else handle the gear rinsing and maintenance.
If you bring your gear, it’s a good idea to have backup for the essentials or at least check that the boat has gear available in case of a problem. We’ve arrived on location with computers that think we’re still on the surface, snapped fin straps, and even cracked masks.
Check the average water temperatures of the location and time of year. Do you get cold on your dives? This can be amplified over 4-5 days throughout the day. Don’t be afraid to pack an extra wetsuit, skin, or even a drysuit shell to make sure that you won’t be sitting out dives to warm up.
If you have a friend or a partner who's not a diver, no worries - there are plenty of other things to do. One of our favorite shore excursions available to divers and non-divers alike is the Swimming Pigs in the Exumas, Bahamas. © Annie Cordoso
Dive Certifications and Non-Divers
You don’t have to be a diver to enjoy a dive liveaboard (though it helps). Some liveaboards offer other activities like snorkeling, stand-up paddle boarding, fishing, and shore excursions. And we love mixing salty sea air with a good book. Usually because of the limited number of passengers, non-divers generally pay the same rate as their scuba diving pals.
Many liveaboards offer scuba classes. This can be a great way to turn an earlier Discover Scuba experience into a lifelong certification. It can also be a good time to add a specialty like Enriched Air Nitrox to your repertoire.
You'll typically spend the first day doing a boat tour, a safety briefing, and unpacking. Use this time to get your camera gear set up and ready to roll for the next day's first dive.
What to Pack: Photo Gear
Do your research on what type of aquatic life you can expect to encounter during the season you’re traveling. Is the location best for wide angle, macro, or both? The operator’s website is a great place to start for this info. If it’s not clear, just ask.
Are strobes ok? There are some scenarios - for example when shooting big animals like whale sharks - that strobes are a no-no.
To really elevate your underwater photography game, come prepared with some shots in mind. We like to create Pinterest boards of other peoples’ photography from similar locations to what we are planning to dive. Take the time to prepare and know the basics of how to get the shot you want.
Hedge your bets by using our exposure settings cheat sheets or getting advice direct from a pro. You can always reach out to us at Ikelite directly by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition to gear recommendations we are happy to share location-specific exposure settings and techniques that will help you be ready to make the most of your dives!
Do carry back-ups for your photo essentials. Extra batteries, spare o-rings, additional SD cards, an external hard drive, extra fiber optic or electrical sync cords. It could be the difference between shooting or missing out on once-in-a-lifetime photos.
You should find rinse tanks on the dive deck of the liveaboard which are important to help prevent salt from drying on your housing between dives. The crew on board the Aqua Cat are extremely hands on helping divers manage their camera gear for safe entry and exit during dives.
“No one wins an award for finding out they don’t get seasick.”
We have seen even experienced sea goers and crew get sick on rough passages. Unfortunately once you’ve become sick, the only guaranteed cure is getting off the boat.
Many boats board in the late afternoon and travel through the evening. You’re probably going to be relaxing and sleeping anyway, so it’s typically a good idea to take a dose of seasickness medication about an hour before you board. The worse thing that could happen is you go to bed a little early and wake up feeling ready to dive in the morning.
The over-the-counter seasickness medications like Bonine and Dramanine have worked great for us, but you may alternatively have your doctor prescribe a patch to wear throughout the voyage.
Whether you're on a bigger or smaller boat, there's a chance you might experience sea sicknesses with all of the traveling you'll do. Prevention is the best medicine, so don't forget to pack your preferred anti-nausea medication.
Cell Signals and Wifi
Prepare yourself (and your loved ones!) for the event that you will be unreachable for your stay on the liveaboard. There’s often no wifi available and you’ll likely incur roaming charges during the days you are cruising close enough to cell towers.
Trust us- there are benefits to going off the grid every once in a while. Think of this as a good time to decompress and disconnect from our often over-stimulated and constantly-connected daily lives. You’ll probably find that you’re bit happier without the constant need to read the latest work email or see what’s happening on social media.
Emergencies at Sea
Modern liveaboards do maintain communication with the mainland for safety reasons. So rest assured that if there is an emergency, the crew will be able to make contact with land for help. We’re not talking about finding out the score of the playoff game. The crew is trained on safety protocols for medical and situational emergencies.
It's always nice to share a liveaboard experience with folks you already know, but even if you don't you're sure to make at least a friend or two after a week of diving together. © Annie Cordoso
Who to Bring
Liveaboard diving is a truly communal experience - you’re all on the same boat in confined quarters for a week. It’s nice to share this space with people you know, who are from the same city, or who share similar interests. Watch for group trips through your local dive shop or underwater photography retailer.
You don’t have to be a part of a group. Some operations like the Aqua Cat in the Bahamas also offer individual bookings. Sharing an activity like scuba diving can turn people from strangers to friends in just a matter of a couple days. You may wind up learning some new skills or photo techniques from someone who has a different background than you. Who knows - you may even wind up making a lifelong friend!
Pelagian Liveaboard salon. Relax with a book, review and edit your underwater images, or just grab a drink with your dive buddy in your liveaboard's salon.
Here’s a sampling of some of the awesome locations you can visit by dive liveaboard around the world.
We particularly like the Bahamas destinations which are easy to get to from the US. The Bahamas are full of interesting coral formations, sharks, turtles, and rays. Nobody does the Bahamas better than the company and crew of All Star Liveaboards. They’ve been in the business for over 40 years and they consistently have the warmest, most fun crew members.
- Blackbeards If you want to feel like a pirate with intimate communal quarters, high exposure to the elements, and big adventures at sea then the Blackbeards cruise in the Bahamas is the way to go. It also happens to be one of the most affordable liveaboard experiences available.
- Aqua Cat All Star also covers the luxury end of the spectrum with this massive 102-foot catamaran. With two hulls instead of one, the Aqua Cat is more stable and more spacious than the traditional single-hull dive boat. Aqua Cat also accepts individual bookings.
The Aqua Cat's double hull means smoother sailing and five drop-in points for drift diving. © Annie Cordoso
We don’t know the origin of the word Wakatobi, but based on our experiences there we’re going to assume it means “luxury.” This resort built on a private island in Indonesia is also home to the 114-foot luxury dive yacht.
- Pelagian This ship takes only 10 passengers and treats them to the ultimate experience of high-end accommodations, fine dining, and high-touch service. If you’re not ready to go home when you get back to land, you can bookend your trip with a stay at the Wakatobi resort.
The Pelagian cuts no corners when it comes to luxury accommodations.
This operation runs several boats off the coast of Baja Mexico and specializes in the big stuff like giant mantas, whales, mobulas, and sardine runs. If places like Socorro or Sea of Cortez are on your bucket list, then this is a good place to start. Nautilus accepts direct bookings and individual reservations.
This is a destination where it’s critical to dive from a liveaboard. There are several great options with experienced crew including the Galapagos Master, the Galapagos Aggressor III, and the Galapagos Sky.
Truk (Chuuk) Lagoon
This WWII graveyard is the forever home of more than 50 ships that were bombed by the US and its allies in this small section of Micronesia. This is one of our favorite mixtures of history, beautiful ‘artificial’ reefs, and colorful marine life and it’s ideally explored by live aboard. You may run into Ambassador Brandi Meuller captaining the Truk Odyssey, a 132’ vessel that expertly navigates these amazing dives. Technical diving is not necessary to appreciate a week here.
Ikelite Ambassador Glenn Ostle returns to the dive deck after a morning dive in the Exumas.
Jean Rydberg, daughter of Ike Brigham, became President & CEO of Ikelite in 2006. Prior to that, she wisely pursued a degree in Astronomy & Astrophysics to prepare herself for the challenges of running a technology-driven manufacturing business with global distribution. Jean fully embraces the need to travel outside of her hometown of Indianapolis to experience good diving. She believes that any camera is capable of amazing results in the right hands, and anyone can become a great photographer given the right advice. When she's not working she's spending time with her husband, cats, and two daughters (though not necessarily in that order).