FOR THOSE DIVERS who want access to the very best sites, the liveaboards that deliver can do so at a significant upfront cost.
You need to calculate if it’s worth it, by considering the cost per dive. On a liveaboard, four dives a day is commonplace. Some locations don’t allow, or are unsuitable for, night-diving, in which case three day-dives could be the norm.
In between the diving, meals, soft drinks, and on occasion alcoholic beverages are all included. You know when you book your trip how much it will cost in total.
When you’re land-based, you might spend the same amount or more over the course of the week, as the temptations of a sunny resort and souvenir shops take their toll on your wallet.
How many of us come back from a holiday having spent way more than we anticipated? On a liveaboard, overspending is largely impossible.
So when you consider your entire spend, is a liveaboard better value? Will you spend less time bouncing up and down in a RIB? Will the diving be better? Will you have better bragging rights when you get back home and show everyone your shark photos?
Liveaboard diving has at its heart a certain contradiction: it can be amazingly easy, yet at the same time also be very intense and sometimes exhausting. Let me try to unpick this for you.
Liveaboard crews and dive-guides usually work very hard to give you the best experience possible.
When you appear from your cabin, bleary-eyed and in search of caffeine, the crew have often been awake and working for several hours to put you in the best location for an excellent dive.
You can literally fall off the back of the boat onto a world-class site after someone has helped you kit up and passed you your camera from the dive-deck.
This is liveaboard diving at its best. Yet doing this four times a day can leave some divers quite tired. I’ve often heard people say they’ll need a holiday when they get home.
The diving itself, away from the shore and perhaps on sites susceptible to current, can be demanding (it depends on location and fitness levels, of course).
It can also go beyond the physical. Sometimes on a dive rich with natural wonders – perhaps large numbers of mantas turn up, or you have an encounter with a pod of dolphins – you can be left emotionally charged and full of adrenaline. Liveaboard diving seems relaxing, but perhaps not in the way that you imagine.
I SHOULD OFFER another argument for shore-based diving here. There are many destinations from Indonesia to the Caribbean where you can leave your accommodation, collect your kit and a cylinder and walk down the beach for a dive.
Typically, these are house-reefs, and are a staple of destinations such as the Maldives.
For many, this is perfection – you decide how and when you dive. There might be dive-guides available and there will be safety guidelines to follow, but the sense of freedom that’s offered by this type of diving can be deeply attractive.
If you’re willing to spend an appreciable chunk of your salary on a dive-trip, you should expect some luxury, right?
In my experience liveaboards are getting better and better. The past 10 years has seen boats at best described as “serviceable” retired in favour of vessels with en-suite facilities and a TV in every cabin.
Perhaps more importantly, the quality of food on offer has risen as well, with international as well as local cuisine.
Liveaboards no longer mean roughing it, with operators offering incentives such as “free” nitrox to win your custom.
Making the land-based versus liveaboard decision takes a little thought: scrutinise itineraries, listen to first-hand accounts of fellow-divers and read around the subject.
Try not to make your decision on price alone. Liveaboard experiences can shape the way you dive for years to come. Choose wisely.