Everything to Know About Liveaboard Dive Trips

Scuba diving liveaboard boat, North Huvadhu Atoll, Maldives
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If you love scuba diving trips, maybe it’s time to take the next step and try a liveaboard trip. Rather than sleeping in a hotel and taking a boat ride each morning to your dive sites, your hotel is the boat. You’ll sleep, eat, dine, and socialize on your boat while traveling around to various dive sites (and yes, liveaboard ships are much larger than your average dive boat.) 

Liveaboards can be a great way to meet other avid divers, reach destinations that would be too far for a day trip, and maximize the number of dives you’ll do in a single trip. 

What to Expect on Your Liveaboard Trip

A “liveaboard” is a scuba diving trip where you’ll on the boat the whole time—hence the name “liveaboard.” You’ll have all your meals on the boat, usually in a communal setting with your fellow divers. Liveaboard boats can range in length from a few days to two weeks or longer.

Some liveaboards offer extra experiences like snorkeling, kayaking, or even an onboard masseuse, but the focus is always on scuba diving. You’ll usually be able to fit more dives a day in on a liveaboard trip than on a land-based trip. An aggressive schedule can include five dives a day, plus opportunities for night diving

Even “luxurious” liveaboards are informal. Divers will often spend all day in a swimsuit and liveaboards rarely require shoes. Because liveaboards usually cater to more experienced (or at least enthusiastic) divers, it’s common to have presentations in the evenings on niche diving topics like rare local species, photography tips, or marine conservation. Diving isn’t a part of the trip—it’s the whole trip. 

Remember that liveaboards are also social experiences. Even the largest liveaboards will have no more than 40 or so guests. In addition to diving with the fellow travelers on your boat, you’ll also be sharing all meals and, likely, a relatively small common space (it is a boat, after all.) If you’re the type of person who likes to have your own space and keep to yourself on vacation, a liveaboard may not be the best fit for you. If you'd like to give it a try, book a shorter liveaboard as a part of a longer vacation.

How Do Liveaboards Compare to Dive Resorts?

You may have stayed at some hotels billed as “dive resorts,” which usually include unlimited tanks for shore diving or several boat dives built into the cost of your stay. A liveaboard is the same concept: the price includes all your dives (sometimes unlimited dives) in addition to the cost of your room, food, and any additional costs. You may sometimes pay extra for alcoholic drinks.

On a liveaboard, you’ll be able to access dive sites too far from land for a day trip. You may be doing more blue-water diving in deeper oceans. That means you may not be able to see the bottom, and there may not be a fixed point of reference, like a reef. There’s usually a better chance of spotting sharks and whales during blue-water dives. Of course, many of your dives will likely be on reefs, and dive boats should always be able to share the sites they visit, as well as the recommended certification levels, before you book. Liveaboards almost always have multiple dive guides to accommodate divers of different levels. 

You’ll also be able to do more dives on a liveaboard, including night dives. You’ll either dive directly off your liveaboard, or you’ll load into a smaller zodiac boat to take a quick trip to the site. Either way, it’s quick and easy to get in the water. You don’t need to be an advanced diver to go on a liveaboard trip, but you do need to be willing to take a vacation totally focused on diving. You also may be spending a lot of time sitting around your boat if the weather or ocean conditions aren't conducive to diving on a certain day.

How Much Do Liveaboards Cost?

The cost of a liveaboard scuba diving boat depends primarily on two factors: where in the world you are, and what level of luxury you want. In countries where diving is more expensive, like the Maldives and Costa Rica, so too are the liveaboard trips. Countries like Egypt and Indonesia where diving is generally cheaper will have more affordable options.

Liveaboards also range in levels of luxury. Boats like California’s Pacific Star run extremely laid-back two- and three-day trips to Catalina Island in which divers stay in shared bunk-style rooms for around $300 per person. Conversely, in Egypt, $100 a day will get each diver a private room with air-conditioning and gourmet meals.

Budget trips will likely have shared accommodations and shower facilities, while more luxurious options will have rooms more akin to cruise ships, along with amenities like pools, spas, and cinema rooms, or other non-water entertainment options. 

White yachts in Red sea not far from the Hurghada city, Egypt
igorbondarenko / Getty Images

What Are the Best Destinations for Liveaboard Trips?

The best places to do liveaboard trips are areas where either access from the shore is difficult or impossible (like the Red Sea) or where the best dive sites are too far to reach on a day trip (near Komodo, in Indonesia.) Most popular scuba diving destinations will have various liveaboard options, but here are some of the most popular:

  • Sea of Cortez, Mexico: For a chance to see super rare giant squids, sea lions, and huge manta rays, book a boat in the Sea of Cortez. The body of water is a protected marine area and has the potential to see a huge range of marine life on a relatively short five-day trip. Try the Nautilus or the Rocio Del Mar.
  • Komodo, Indonesia: The islands around Komodo like Raja Ampat have some of the healthiest reefs and the most amazing marine species in the world. Come here for rare creatures, adventurous drift diving, and great opportunities for shark sightings. The various dive sites are practically inaccessible by other means—and you won’t find Komodo dragons anywhere else, of course. The Mermaid II is a modern, luxurious option while the Samambaia has more of a traditional sailboat feel.
  • The Maldives: In a country of 1,200 islands, it's no surprise that liveaboards are a great way to get around. Since there are so many small island resorts dotted among the atolls, you may be able to spend an afternoon on land at a luxurious island spa or enjoying a resort restaurant. Being able to spend so much time on land is a rarity with most liveaboards. Try the Emperor Explorer or the more budget-friendly (and smaller) Maldives Aggressor II.
  • Red Sea, Egypt: Most boats on the Red Sea start from Sharm-el-Sheikh, one of the few relatively safe places for Westerners to currently visit along the waterway. Short three- or four-day trips are available in the north part of the sea, though taking a longer seven- or eight-day trip will bring you to some of the clearest water in the world in the southern Red Sea. Liveaboards here are also some of the world’s most affordable. Both the Sunlight and Emperor Echo start at under $100 a day.
  • Cocos Islands, Costa Rica: Love hammerhead sharks? Head to Costa Rica’s Cocos Islands, far off the coast of Costa Rica. The islands are so far, in fact, that there’s no other way to reach them and once you’re there, you’ll want to do dozens of dives. It’s a reliable spot for huge schools of hammerhead sharks. Consider the Undersea Hunter if you're keen to maximize your time with sharks.
  • Fiji: It’s not cheap, but a Fijian liveaboard will take you to uninhabited islands completely unreachable by other means. You can encounter a variety of different types of dives in Fiji, from dives with feeding bull sharks to dives in coral gardens and reefs where giant mantas feed. Liveaboards are a fairly new concept in Fiji so expect more routes and options to develop in the next few years. The Nai'a is a posh ship worth the splurge.
  • Galapagos Islands: Another destination known for shark diving, the Galapagos Islands are where Darwin first discovered how species evolve in isolation. Just like how Darwin saw some of the world’s rarest species here, so too can liveaboard divers. From whale sharks to penguins, you’ll see it all underwater in the Galapagos. Dives here tend to be for more advanced divers as currents can be unpredictable and you’ll likely need a thick wetsuit or a dry suit. It's not the cheapest place to do a liveaboard, but the Archipel is fairly reasonable with a starting rate of around $250 per person per day.

How to Book a Liveaboard Trip

Booking a liveaboard is akin to booking a hotel, though you may be limited on your dates as most boats have set schedules. You can do an online search for the destination you want to visit plus “liveboard,” or check out dive-specific booking sites like PADI Travel or Liveaboard.com. Liveaboard boats have small groups and welcome questions in advance, so feel free to ask about everything from the room selection to dive sites and crew-to-guest ratio before you book. Many liveaboards for expert divers can accommodate beginners with a little notice, so if you’re considering a more “advanced” destination, reach out to your boat of choice before you rule it out. 

As with any scuba diving destination, remember to tip your guides, especially if they help you get a once-in-a-lifetime view of schooling hammerheads or baby whale sharks.