7 Essentials to Choose a Liveaboard

The other day someone asked me “why did you choose this liveaboard?” Great question, I wasn’t sure. So on my latest trip to the Great Barrier Reef I did a research among fellow divers on their decisions. Apart from the usual reasons there were several interesting answers that are worth considering for future liveaboard trips. In this blog I have listed them: The 7 essentials when choosing a multi-day scuba diving trip.

1. Journey 

First and foremost your destination and desired route must match a Liveaboard’s itinerary. There are slight differences between operators, so check out their schedule and the divespots they intend to visit (weather can always change that of course). On my latest trip I checked the internet for liveaboards and multi-day tours to the Great Barrier Reef and I got loads of search results. When narrowing it down to trips from Cairns to the Outer Reefs (Ribbon Reef, Osprey) my search resulted in only 3 viable options, making the evaluation easier. So be specific in your search.

2. Price

A no-brainer since most liveaboards are pretty expensive. However, don’t look at stand-alone pricing but relate it to other components; you might even go for a more expensive operator after all. Additional cost is sometimes hard to compare, but at least check the following: total number of dives, equipment rental (often not included), Nitrox, fuel and/or other surcharges, meals/drinks (i.e. alcohol) and pickup/drop-off services. On my latest trip we returned to the shore by small aircraft, flying low over the reef; it was really cool and worth the higher cost compared to other operators who weren’t offering this.

3. Liveaboard Facilities & Service

With 4 dives a day on average you’ll spend quite some time on the boat, so think of what’s important to you: sundecks for relaxing, great food throughout the day, a large cabin with daily service, free Wi-Fi?
What I enjoyed on my latest trip was that I hardly had to bring any personal stuff: towels, sunscreen, and shampoo; all of those little things were taken care of. The meals were amazing and after every dive the crew handled the change of tanks. Before every dive they helped putting on your fins before jumping in the water and they cleaned-out your mask with soap. Of course you can all do this yourself and I’m far from lazy, but it felt like they valued their guests.

4. Size matters!

My favorite answer from one of the fellow divers was his comparison of the boat versus group size. We apparently had a bigger boat with less people, providing more personal space than the alternatives. I would never have thought of this, but it makes sense. It allows the crew to be focused on service and safety. Our boat was 37 meters with a maximum group size of 26 (we were with 20 though). Apart from personal attention, it was easy to connect to (and remember the names of) my fellow divers, creating an intimate setting. From now on this comparison is on my evaluation!

5. Quality & Safety

If your equipment is in bad shape you won’t enjoy your dives, so try to find out if the gear is well maintained. Also having strict safety procedures and the number of dive masters will tell you something about the professionalism of the operator. During my trip we had new equipment. On top of that we were given an emergency radio and we had to demonstrate on our first dive that we were able to get it out of our BCD and use it. My concern of being forgotten in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef disappeared right away! Always remember: pricing can never beat safety.

6. Engaged staff

Think about it: when travelling on a crappy boat with a great, enthusiastic (but professional) dive crew, you’ll probably have a better time than when staying on a fancy, full-serviced liveaboard with a crappy team. When your dives are great, the remaining part of your experience is determined by the people. The teaming and enthusiasm of the staff will largely determine the ‘chemistry’ on the boat. On my last journey the crew (10 people or so) were as enthusiastic as teenagers on a fieldtrip which had a huge positive effect on the entire liveaboard experience. This “X-factor” isn’t easy to find out; only word-of-mouth will tell you this, which brings me to my last point: checking reviews.

7. Reputation: online reviews

A lot of points mentioned above are not easily found on a liveaboard’s website, although quite a few can be interpreted from it (no.1 to 4 and partly no. 5). So check online reviews to make sure you make the right choice. Note that quality means different things to different people so decide what fits your personal requirements and read comments of reviews instead of staring at the number of stars of ratings. For short trips I would personally check try to find out the operator’s business-model: low-cost (= cheaper but volume) vs quality/service focus (smaller groups, but more expensive). I’d rather spend 20% more to avoid those operators taking hordes of people out to moored platforms with slides and everything. But as said: it’s always a personal matter and a budget trade-off.

Hopefully this helps in determining your next liveaboard trip.

Comments or other essentials to evaluate dive-trips are welcome; send me an email or leave a comment below.

Roger van der Spek, diving enthusiast, www.TheDivingGuide.com