Congratulations, You just reserved your first live aboard dive vacation. If you are like the most divers taking their first live aboard, you have been saving and sacrificing for a while. You still have the buzz produced when you received the conformation that everything is approved and ready for your trip. A few questions may slip into your mind and a little hesitation may enter, wondering if you are up for the trip. Live aboard dive vacations can lead you to the best diving of your life. The boat will take you to dive sites that are less visited than sites you can reach on a six pack. Preparing for a live aboard is not much different that preparing for any other dive vacation. There are two main differences. You cannot just drop into the dive shop or 7-11 to pick up anything you forgot or need. Also everything is centered on diving, there are few off gas activities. No sightseeing, no discos, just diving. On many boats, your evening activities may be having a few drinks as you watch the unedited version of the days dive video. It is not a complaint just the observation. Here are a few things that can help you enhance the experience you have been looking forward to.
1. Check for visa requirements and other administrative items: It is very likely that the trip will require you to have a passport and maybe even a visa. Many countries will issue you a visa at the airport, others like Australia require you to apply online before your trip and some will require you to apply at the country's embassy in your home country. To confuse matters even more, the rules may differ depending on your nationality. Getting a passport if you do not have one can take a few weeks, so take care of it directly. If a visa is needed, apply as soon as you are within the proper time frame. You have been drooling over the brochure or website for a while, but now go really read the fine print. Are there any other items that you need to be aware of and plan for?
2. Join DAN: Two points here. First DAN is an excellent organization that supports diving. A little about DAN from their website: Diver Alert Network (DAN) is the largest association of recreational scuba divers in the world, DAN is supported by membership dues and donations. DAN's mission is to help divers in need of medical emergency assistance and to promote dive safety through research, education, products and diving services. The benefits of DAN membership include emergency medical evacuation assistance through DAN TravelAssist, a subscription to Alert Diver magazine and access to DAN's insurance services. Those are good reasons to join. Membership differs by country so check out the DAN website for the proper information. Second, Most live aboard require you to have some sort of travel and accident insurance. Even if they do not you should have some. Most travel agencies will offer travel insurance, however, many of those plans do not cover scuba diving. Also in the rare case that you need treatment for a DCS, most travel insurance policies have limits that are well below the cost of treatment. The insurance programs of DAN are designed for divers and covers the type of problem that may happen. Depending on the plan you get, the policy can also cover damaged and lost equipment.
3. Extend your holiday: The though of adding an expense to the already pricey dive trip may not feel comfortable at first but it is still a good suggestion. If you are more than five hours flying time away from where the dive boat departs I suggest adding at least two days before and one day after. There are a number of practical reasons for this. Flying and diving do not mix. We all know the no fly rule, do not fly until 24 hours past your last dive. Scheduling time between flying and diving is also a good idea. Flying can cause dehydration and dehydration can be a factor DSC. However, that is really just a minor concern. My suggestion is centered on jet lag. After a long flight most people experience some degree of jet lag. According to Medilexicon's medical dictionary: “Jet lag is an imbalance of the normal circadian rhythm resulting from subsonic or supersonic travel through a varied number of time zones and leading to fatigue, irritability, and various functional disturbances.” Changes in the climate and seasons can also cause hay fever type symptoms until your body adapts. Some people are effected immediately some after 24 hours. So two days can help you recover before you are on board your boat ready for your first dive. Planning in this manner also allows a cushion in case of a late or canceled flight. If cost is an overwhelming factor, then consider staying at a hostel. They are generally much cheaper than a hotel and you can meet many interesting people.
When you are booking your flights for your trip pay close attention to the luggage allocations. They vary from airlines to airlines. Many of the budget airlines have an extra charge for checked luggage. You can purchase your luggage allocation when you get your ticket. Over weight charges upon arriving at the check in counter can be enormous. Generally double the per-purchase price. Many airlines offer a sport equipment package where one price covers the equipment.
4. Update your spares kit: Take a look at your spares kit and make sure everything is in order. Every diver is more comfortable with their own equipment and it be a shame not to be able to use the fins you love because a strap broke and there are no suitable replacements on board. It is very possible that your gear may get more use in a week then it did in the last year. Bring an extra set of batteries for your dive computer. Speaking of your gear, when was the last time your regulator was serviced. If more than six months since your last dive or over a year since it been serviced get it done. The seals in a regulator break down faster when not used. While at the dive shop pick up some wet suit shampoo and BCD conditioner. Rinsing out a wet suit in fresh water is necessary after each days dive, but often it is not enough to get clean and smelling clean. At least every other day on your trip wash it with a cleaner designed for wet suits. In my equipment maintenance I often use a BCD conditioner. It helps keep it in prime shape. The conditioner insures no nasty stuff is growing on or in your BDU. If they are not already a part of your kit, get a set of seals for your BDU.
5. Get a digital camera. Okay this is really a nice to have, but as mentioned before these are often pristine dive sites that you will want to remember. If you already have a camera or just buying ones, review the operators manual and practice using it. Memory cards are getting very inexpensive so pick up a few new ones. Establish a system that you are comfortable with of recording your reaction to each dive. It may help to take a photo of the site briefing chart at the beginning and end of each dive so that you do not confuse dive sites. Purchasing a fish chart for the area you are going is not only a good idea for photographers but for general diving as well. Your notes and photos could be uses after your trip on a review here at divereport. Most live aboard had videographers on board. If your does, plan on buying a copy of the video. Reserve your copy as soon as you can and introduce yourself to the videographer. Not only is it a good way to share your dives with friends and family but it is a good training tool. You can see what your form is while in different situations.
6. Be dive fit: Fitness is a topic that can cover a whole article even books by itself. A whole industry is involved with the topic. Scuba diving is a sport that has physical demands. These demands are produced by not only by the activity the diver is doing but also by the environment that the diver is in. The increase pressures on the body causes certain muscles such as the chest muscles to have to work harder. While we seldom realize it until the dive is over, we are in almost constant motion once we start a dive. The weightlessness we feel in the water and the pressure that surrounds causes us not to always notice the extent of the physical activities we are doing. The leg muscles are working hard even at a slow pace as they propel us through the water. Ever notice how great we feel in the water but as soon as we step aboard the boat you feel like you got hit by a truck. The weightlessness we felt diving has been replaced by gravity. The fitter we are the better we are able to handle the dive and often it will result in longer diving times. It could make a difference of 10 to 15 minutes a dive.
7. Additional training: Liveaboard's offer outstanding dive site and generally they are in the skill level that anyone can enjoy. Additional training is seldom required. However, the site might be more productive for you if you had some additional training. Nitrox is a good example. Nitrox is available on most boats and on many at no additional charge. Having a Nitrox certification may be something you would want to consider. If you do, then the question becomes do you get qualified before the trip or while on board. Prices on board may be less.
8. Plan your budget: I know you have been doing this, but set yourself some review dates to look over how you are coming. Make a list of items that are required and a list of nice to haves. Then set a priority system on the nice to haves. Consider dropping the bottom third. Key an eye out for sales on airfares. If possible be a little flexible with your dates. Over the course of a week fares may differ by 30% or more. So be creative in your search.
9. Protect your health: I am not referring to any major illness. Just minor things that can cause you discomfort. Whenever I travel, I take along what my friends calls my miniature medicine cabinet. It is a small pouch with an assortment of over the counter drugs. Think of anything you may have taken in the last six months and put in two days supply in a pouch. Mine includes sore throat lozenges, antacids, antihistamine, aspirin, Tylenol, a pack of ginger candies, and something to stop LBM. Antihistamine are frowned upon for diving since they are used to open clog breathing passages. If you are using them for that purpose do not dive. However, they are equally effective to counter insect bites and minor allergic reactions. Ginger candies not only taste great but help control motion sickness. With my dive gear. I normally have a plastic bottle of Aloe Vera Gel. It can often be found with the sunscreens which you will bring as well. Aloe Vera Gel is sold to relieve the itchiness of a minor sunburn. It is also great on scrapes and small cuts. It also helps to moisturize the skin that the salt water has dried out.
10. What to pack: Each boat is different but a typical day would be like this: get up brush your teeth, put on your swim suit and head for the dive deck. Attend the dive brief and dive the first dive. After the dive, swap tanks, rinse your wet suit and hang to dry, take a shower on deck, put on t-shirt over the suit, go eat breakfast. After breakfast, relax awhile so breakfast is settled, attend dive brief, kit up and dive. Repeat for lunch, afternoon dive, and night dive. After last dive, clean your gear, take care of your personal hygiene, change for dinner, eat dinner and hang out till you go to sleep. So the clothing requirements are fairly simple. A couple of swim suits, so that you can start each day with a clean dry one. A few t-shirts or similar cover ups for the day to keep you comfortable and give some sun protection. A baseball style cap is also recommended. While many people will go barefoot during the day, I prefer a pair of aqua shoes. Dinner is casual wear nothing fancy or dressed up. No one keeping track of what you wear so you not need a range of outfits. On one dive boat I was on, the buffet table looked like an operating room in a hospital. Of the 18 divers on board, 12 worked in the medical field and wore scrubs to dinner. Relaxed and casual. A sweat shirt or light jacket is a must. While it may be very hot during the day, it will cool off some in the evening. The boats generally relocated starting after dinner so the speed of the boat and the wind will create a chilling effect. You may find yourself spending time each evening on a quiet section of the deck staring at more stars than you could have imagined.
Your cabin will likely be much smaller than a hotel room, and there will be little space to spread out. In fact, most boats will suggest that you leave your hard cases ashore. To save space when I travel I use vacuum bags. These can be found in travel stores and housewares departments of department stores. They are similar to an oversize food storage bag with a zip lock seal. The difference Is a one way seal. After putting your clothes in the bag and sealing it, you roll it up, forcing the air out of the seal. The result is a compressed bag taking up a third to a fourth of the space. Similar to buying a new pillow, it is flat and thin until you open the package and it fluffs up. Do not do this to your wet suit, it will ruin it. This allows me to use a smaller bag, I often use one that folds into its own pocket. I use a second bag for dirty clothes.
The crowded space can quickly become cluttered. I have a small folding storage box that folds flat. It is about the size of shoe box when unfolded, it is ideal to keep track of small things. Mine I got at a dollar store, two for a dollar. Speaking of the cabins, there may be a limited number of electrical outlets in each. While there will likely be no cellphone coverage, many people will use a cell phone or tablet for other purposes. A solar power bank can help keep it charged, the sun charges the power bank then you connect it to your device.
The photograph shows some of the items I just mentioned. The book is used so you can judge sizes, it is a standard six inches by nine inches paperback. The black item in front is my duffel bag, folded into itself. Folded it is eight inches by twelve inches and about two inches thick. Unfolded it is 32 inches long. The white phone like item is my solar charger. I placed 6 t-shirts, 6 briefs, 2 pairs of shorts and 4 pairs of socks in a vacuum bag. I pressed the air out of the bag and it is sitting in the storage box. The box is 10 by 11 inches and 6 inches deep.
I hope you find these tips helpful and interesting. Please add your own in the comments box if you have any more.