We are fully into the winter dive season now and for some of you, this may mean diving down South. Since some of my new diver friends have also asked, here are some thoughts on taking an affordable liveaboard trip.
Diving off a liveaboard is a great way get your dive on. For non-divers, a liveaboard is simply a dive vacation on a boat. In my case it was like camping on the high seas with Blackbeard’s Cruises and for my first time, it was absolutely FANTASTIC and great diving value for the money.
It wasn’t a five star cruiser and I can’t stress enough that it’s like “camping” on a boat – adventurous, outdoorsy, at the mercy of the weather but with cozy quarters (albeit a little like roughing it for anyone accustomed to more pampered accommodations). If your goal is to dive, then that’s what Blackbeard’s is all about – diving. If you have a problem with pumping your own waste down the ship’s head (toilet) then perhaps choose a more genteel liveaboard. There are plenty to suit each traveller’s and diver’s style including some real showstoppers as far as boats!
In my case, our boat – the “Morningstar”, sailed out of Nassau Bahamas and although the winds weren’t too kind to us for the first couple of days, the trip was full of wonderful diving, warm clear water, great company and excellent home cooking.
Many, if not most of the passengers aboard the Morningstar were repeat Blackbeard’s divers but for my first time on a liveaboard, I put together a list of things to keep in mind if you decide this is a dive vacation you want to experience.
1. Bring a dry bag. This sounds so obvious but I left mine behind for the sake of making room for more dive gear in my luggage and that was a mistake. EVERYTHING gets wet up on deck. Keeping a dry bag in the cubby assigned to you will keep your t-shirts, shorts, books, anything you want to keep dry – dry. There’s nothing like being able to actually get out of your wetsuit, use a DRY towel and throw on a DRY t-shirt after a dive (at least until you get hit with spray). If you have a dry reg bag then use it as a dry bag for your things while your regs are hooked up to your tanks for the week. If you want to be super economical and thrifty, at least bring a larger Ziplock bag. They work wonders for smaller items.
2. Bring a good book or two or three. There is a lot of time to be killed during surface intervals and if you’re not a sun worshipper, then getting caught up on your latest novel is a great way to spend an hour or two topside each day. I’d also recommend a book on the reefs and underwater life in the area you’ll be diving. It creates more interest when you can identify the aquatic life you’re looking at down there. It also makes macro photography more interesting when you know what to look for.
3. You won’t be able to shower every day. It’s ok. You will survive. There is a freshwater shower on board but they ask that you use it sparingly. Again, think of it as camping on the high seas. You are in the water every day as it is! Besides, taking that first shower in a real washroom when you get back on land will seem like best shower you’ve ever had – guaranteed!
4. Keep your camera in its housing and in a freshwater rinse bin. It’s usually provided on deck and will help rinse the damaging salt off your precious camera housing. It will also help keep it out of that salty air. All of the salt collects and can damage on contact.
4. Rinse off your gear. It may not be possible but if it is, rinse off whatever you can. Just as with your camera and camera housing, the saltwater eats up everything. I kept a small Trilobite line cutter on my wrist computer and forgot to rinse it off after just one dive. A couple of days later I already noticed small rust spots. The saltwater is great for the skin but just murder on dive gear (especially gear that’s used to freshwater diving).
5. Don’t forget the motion sickness medication (and any other meds or vitamins). Even the seasoned boaters couldn’t fight off the nausea with the rough winds and waves in which we were tossed around. There was plenty of chum in the water in the first couple of days at sea! Plus, being sick while on a dive trip is brutal (I know first hand which I’ll share in another post) so keep some vitamins, and any cold medications handy for quick remedies.
6. Consider taking a course and upping your dive skills while you’re there. There were several divers who got their advanced Open Water certifications while on our trip. It’s a great way to keep your skills up and learn some new skills. There’s plenty of surface interval time during which you can do your course readings and your homework. I even managed to do my Underwater Photography course while away.
7. Bring two towels – If you have the luxury of space in your backpack and cabin to stuff an extra towel in there – go for it. One is for while you’re deck and drying off after a dive and one is for in your room. By keeping it in your room, you’ll keep one salt-free and it’s a nice treat when you’re washing up at night and want to towel off feeling fresh. Pack the chamois style towels if you want one that takes up very little room in your bag.
8. The ship’s divemaster is not your divesitter. Keep an eye on your gauges. Keep an eye on your dive buddy. Chances are you’ll wander away from your divemaster during a dive. Be a self-reliant diver. The divemaster will always give you a briefing of the dive site before the dive so pay attention. They don’t always go down on every dive and won’t always be your guide so take a compass reading before descending and be aware of yourself, your buddy and your surroundings.
9. Bring chewing gum and minty snacks or hard candies. Not only will you be popular for having candy to share, minty snacks can also help stave off any nausea if you’re not in urgent need of actual tablets.
10. Bring a dive light. For obvious reasons, it’s absolutely necessary for the night dives (though the boat will rent you one) but also, for day dives, it’s great for seeing the little critters in the walls, swim-throughs and inside little nooks and crannies of the reefs.
11. If you’re shy, be adventurous and step outside of your comfort zone. Socialize with the other passengers. Get to know the crew. You’re on a boat with them for at least a week and there are few places to retreat to in solitude unless you want to spend all your time in your bunk. Besides, it’s fun meeting new people and getting to know them – especially listening to each other’s dive stories.
12. Bring clothespins. Again, I’m offering up my tips based on a Blackbeard’s trip – not a high-end liveaboard. Clothespins will help keep your drying bikinis, shirts and towels on the lines instead of wrapped around some coral head.
13. Take advantage of at least one night and one dawn dive. It can be tempting to pass on the night dives or early morning dawn dives since you’re diving all day but the sea creatures that come out at those times will make it worthwhile for you.
14. Don’t be cheap. Set money aside for a tip for the crew. Unless the service was lacking, your crew deserves it. They work hard to make sure everything is in working order and are up long before you and I and in bed only after everyone else is fast asleep. They cook, clean, entertain, divemaster, keep you safe and make everything possible for you to have a good time. Just as with anything in the service and hospitality industry, they often make their living through tips so budget for that. What you decide to tip really depends on you but here’s some additional food for thought when tipping your crew from Natalie Gibb.
15. Enjoy the night stars. Weather -permitting, hopefully you will be blessed with some beautiful sunsets AND night skies. For a city girl like me, seeing the night sky is a special treat. It’s a great way to refocus and hit your own internal reset button at a much quieter and slower pace than during the day time. I like to picture what it would’ve been like for those ancient mariners sailing the seas. It’s a special experience so relish it.
16. Bring a light jacket or windbreaker. The wind will cool you off very quickly in the evenings and if you’re wet after a long day of diving you’ll welcome the warmth of a jacket while on deck.
17. Leave the fancy jewelry at home. Being on a boat where everything is pitching and rolling or getting washed around just increases the odds of you misplacing something – not to mention you may get stalked by a scary barracuda attracted to your shiny bracelet or watch. (Ok, so that last bit was a bit gratuitous but it could happen.)
18. Don’t forget your certification card. It’s an easy one to forget so keep it with your dive log book if you carry one. You will need to provide evidence of your certification before the boat leaves.
19. Bring a log book. Many people opt to download their dive logs via computer software but I still like to log my dives manually as well – more as a souvenir for myself. I record the more “colourful” aspects of each dive as in – any interesting or funny things that happened on the dive or I draw out any interesting features I want to recall later on. Your dive operation will also stamp the logs with their own custom stamps as another souvenir for you. It’s also easy to forget the names of each dive site and this is a nice ritual to get into at the end of the day after dinner for example – record the day’s dive sites in your logo book. It’ll come in handy when you’re trying to recall the name of a particular dive site or are looking through all your vacation pics and are trying to jog your memory. It’s also a great way to save new dive friends’ email addresses or contact info.
20. Bring back ups of whatever you can. O-rings, batteries, memory cards, spare mask and more – whatever you can manage within reason. When you’re out in the middle of the ocean on a dive boat, you just never know what you will need to save a dive!
21. Bring your sense of humour. In any group there will be the odd ball diver or two. Chances are you’ll end up with a great group especially if you go with your dive shop but as anywhere else in life, there will be people you may not “gel” with. So don’t forget to pack your sense of humour, be flexible and remember – you’re on vacation! It’s all good!
If you have any other tips or ideas on things to consider for a diver’s first time on a liveaboard, share it here!