Packing for a Liveaboard Diving Trip

So you finally booked your first liveaboard adventure! Congratulations. You’re in for a treat. Liveaboard diving is one of the very best ways to experience scuba diving at its best. We’ve just returned from our fourth liveaboard. We were in the Maldives aboard the Emperor Leo. It reminded us of the liveaboard dive trips aboard the Raja Ampat Aggressor and with Dive Komodo in Indonesia a couple of years ago when we weren’t sure what to bring. We thought it would be helpful to write a post on packing for a liveaboard for first timers.

The Emperor Leo in the Maldives
The Emperor Leo in the Maldives

It’s not that we didn’t pack the stuff we needed the first time. It’s really that we over-packed! Seriously, half the crap we brought with us we didn’t even use – including most of the clothing!

When packing for a liveaboard boat, don’t overdo it!

If your vacation only includes being on the boat – in other words, flying in, getting on the boat, diving, then going home – then for the love of all that is holy, keep your clothing to a bare minimum. The only “regular” clothing you’re going to wear will be on the airplane. So if you wear pants and a nice shirt/blouse on the plane, just wear that in both directions and air them out in between. You can even rinse the shirt out on the boat and dry it for later. You absolutely will not need anything else with you besides t-shirts, shorts, and swimwear. Everyone on a liveaboard is relaxed, always. So pack a few pairs of swimming trunks or whatever you wear to lay in the sun or swim plus a few t-shirts.

The bow of the Tatawa Kecil in Komodo
The bow of the Tatawa Kecil in Komodo. Hang your clothing out to dry!

The good news is, you can easily rinse all this stuff out, hang it on the deck or on a clothes rack, and wear it a couple of times each. If your liveaboard is 7 days, as is pretty standard, you can easily get away with a couple of pairs of shorts and a few t-shirts and/or tank tops. There’s no need to even pack a bunch of underwear or socks. Why bother when you’ll just be in the water and on deck most days anyway?

Women: On the four liveaboards we’ve been on, the women wear makeup at the bare minimum – if they do at all. Pack as little of this as you absolutely need! BUT, bring women stuff! We’re guys, so we don’t pretend to know all the feminine stuff you need. Bring plenty of feminine products. They don’t have this stuff on the boat.

Here’s another good idea – mostly for women. Bring a sarong. It doubles and triples as so much. A headscarf, a neck scarf, a shoulder scarf, a skirt! Women are lucky in this – one accessory and so many uses! Even men can use a sarong. We always carry one each – just in case.

Don’t bring towels

Unless you’re staying in a hostel or someplace you know doesn’t have them the night before and after your trip, don’t pack towels. All decent liveaboards offer towels in your room and to use on deck. You won’t need them and they’re some of the biggest space wasters in your luggage.

Our room aboard the Emperor Leo
Our room aboard the Emperor Leo

If you do think you’ll need a towel, we recommend these microfiber towels from Amazon. They’re cheap and take almost no room in your luggage. We have similar ones and we love them. When packing for a liveaboard, leave bulky items like regular towels at home.

Bring proper footwear

Bring a pair of flip-flops with you. Most liveaboards will not allow you to wear shoes/sneakers in the dry area (which is basically everywhere except the dive deck). You’ll be required to either pack your shoes away or put them in a box for the duration of the trip. Michael’s old flip-flops were worn out, so he recently purchased a new pair of Teva Flip Flops for just over $20. They’re good quality and he likes them so far.

Many liveaboards will stop in certain places for excursions. For example, when we were in Raja Ampat, we stopped on an island where we had to hike through the woods and then up 300 stairs. We were so glad that we brought our sneakers. It was still hot as hell, but it was better to do this in sneakers than in flip-flops.

Electronics

Emperor Leo power outlets
Emperor Leo power outlets: Remember to bring a converter or adapter!

The type/amount of electronic stuff you take on board will really depend on your personal tastes and needs. When Michael packs for a liveaboard, this constitutes the bulk of his luggage. We take a lot of underwater photos, so Michael needs to bring a large-ish camera, strobes, lights, his laptop (for processing and offloading pictures), an external hard drive, and the cords necessary for charging and transferring images. Most people won’t need all of this, so you’ll be able to pack lighter. At a minimum, you should bring:

– Smartphone
– Charging cables
– A power adapter that is compatible with the region you’re visiting.
– Headphones/earbuds

Editing a photo in the dining room on the Emperor Leo
Editing a photo in the dining room on the Emperor Leo

Most non-photographers we see on liveaboards come with just those items and maybe a point and shoot camera if they don’t want to use their smartphones. Some may even bring a tablet or Kindle to watch TV or a movie during downtime. But that’s it. Again, unless you’re continuing your journey on land after your liveaboard, you won’t need things like curling irons and blow-dryers. No one cares what you look like!

Wear your sunscreen

This is a big one. Most liveaboards take place in areas where the sun is constantly beating down on you. Even in the off-season, when it might be cloudy, don’t assume your skin isn’t sizzling. Wear a good sunscreen. More importantly, wear a good sunscreen that is also environmentally friendly. We use Burn Out Broad Spectrum sunscreen. It’s ocean and reef friendly. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s reef safe. Regular sunscreen kills coral. Don’t use it. In fact, even on land you should use a reef safe sunscreen. Every good diver knows that everything makes its way to the ocean eventually.

Pack your medication

Don't forget to pack your medication!
Don’t forget to pack your medication!

It goes without saying, we think, but bring your meds on your dive trip. Include any over-the-counter stuff you think you may need. This includes anything you might wish to take for motion sickness. If you think you may be prone to getting seasick, you’ll want a supply of medication like Dramamine/Gravol. One solution, available by prescription only (in the US anyway) is a small patch called scopolamine. It’s a transdermal patch marketed under the name “Transderm-Scop.” You wear it behind your ear and it delivers controlled amounts of medication. This is becoming more and more popular, especially on cruise liners, and seems to work well for Halef.

Diving Equipment

We prefer to bring our own diving equipment on a liveaboard. After all, we paid a lot for it, so we want to use it. That said, we have yet to find a liveaboard that doesn’t have everything you need for rent. Keep in mind that diving equipment is quite heavy. If you don’t have status on an airline, you may be forced to pay to bring it on the flight if it’s over the weight limit. That cost can add up. Some airlines charge $150 each way for excess baggage, so it might be worth it to you to just pay the company $250 to rent their gear and not worry about it at all.

Packing for a liveaboard - Dive equipment
Dive equipment – take only what you need

When we’re packing for a liveaboard, we always look at exactly what we’re going to need for the trip. If the water temperature is above 27 Celsius, for example, we’ll leave our wetsuits at home. We also have a lot of extraneous items that, while tempting to pack, we know we don’t need to bring (e.g., a dive knife). Some people like to bring gloves, but generally, dive operations won’t let you use them. Keep your scuba diving gear to a minimum.

Here are some things you definitely need on your scuba diving equipment list – either to bring with you or consider renting:

  1. Dive computer and an extra battery – Most liveaboards won’t let you dive without one. And if they do, you might want to reconsider their commitment to safety.
  2. BCD, fins, and mask
  3. Snorkel – Some liveaboards only allow snorkeling with whale sharks, for example, so you’ll need a snorkel if you’re on a liveaboard where whale sharks are on the agenda.
  4. Booties
  5. Reef hook – This is often overlooked by newer divers, but if you’re going to be checking out manta and shark cleaning stations, you may want to hook on if the current is strong. Here’s the one we have. It’s inexpensive and works well. We also like that it’s a single hook and not dual. Personal preference and minimal contact.
  6. Surface marker buoy (safety sausage) and reel – You never know when the current will move you away from the group. Or, you and your buddy may just want to dive on your own. We use this one. It’s inexpensive, easy to use, and high visibility.
  7. Flashlight/torch
  8. Batteries

Other things to include

C-cards: Bring your card for the highest level you’re certified for. And don’t forget your Nitrox card if you have one

Dive Insurance: Many liveaboards won’t let you dive without insurance. We recommend DAN insurance. At a minimum, we recommend travel insurance that covers diving, like the Explorer policy from World Nomads.

Log book: You don’t have to bring your book. You can write it down and record the dives later. But if you want the liveaboard company stamp in your book, bring it. We have a three-ringed dive log, so we just bring a few pages along with us.

The camera table aboard the Rocio Del Mar
The camera table aboard the Rocio Del Mar

Camera gear: If you’re planning on taking underwater photos, be sure to bring camera gear that is good down to at least 30 meters. You’ll want to make sure you have a couple of extra SD cards as well!

Entertainment: These days, a lot of liveaboards have flat-screen TVs in the common areas. Some even have them in your room. Most of them can accept a thumb drive, so bring some movies and TV shows. You might not watch them if everything is going great. But on days when the weather isn’t cooperating, it’s nice to have something to watch.

Reading: You’ll probably relax on the deck or in your room between dives. If you’re a reader, bring a couple of books or your tablet with your favorite reads pre-loaded.

Cash for Tips and incidentals: In most cases, you’ll leave a tip for the crew of the boat. Most people like this in cash, so bring enough US currency for a tip. As for how much, that’s up to you. If your liveaboard doesn’t accept credit cards and charges for things like alcohol, you’ll need cash for that, too.

When packing for a scuba trip, be an editor

Packing for a liveaboard is like writing an essay in history class. It’s far easier to just throw as many words on the page as you possibly can, hoping that everything is in there that you need to include. Like that essay, the more you edit it, the better it will be. Basically, you want to get right to the point and not throw in a bunch of irrelevant information just to fill up space.

My room aboard the Raja Ampat Aggressor
My room aboard the Raja Ampat Aggressor

Rooms on liveaboard boats are small, but usually comfortable. So you don’t want to pack things that are just going to be lying around. When you over pack, you’ll find out very quickly that a lot of what you brought will just sit in the suitcase in your room. Bring only what you need. Nothing more. Liveaboards are about diving and meeting new people. Nine times out of ten, the motto is “Eat. Sleep. Dive. Repeat.” That’s the beauty of it. If you’re packing for a liveabord thinking you’re going to be doing much more than that, you’re about to get a wake-up call!

There will be no galas to dress up for. The third and fourth pair of shoes will just take up space. There won’t be a reason to wear make-up. You’ll be too tired at the end of a 3-4 dive day do much else.

Our fellow divers int he Maldives
Our fellow divers and guides in the Maldives

Pack light. Pack only what you need. Liveaboards are about the diving, the food, and the people you will meet when you are there.

Happy diving!

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8 Comments
  1. I’ve never been diving so this is completely new for me. So interesting and thanks for the detailed information. I’d really like to try it out someday.

  2. I really enjoyed this! I’ve never heard of a liveaboard but it looks like an awesome way to spend a vacation. Is it expensive? I’d love to see a follow-up to this that talks about life on board a liveaboard!

    1. Liveaboards can be expensive and some can be cheap. I guess it really depends on your circumstances and what YOU consider to be expensive. Our liveaboard in Komodo was just a few hundred dollars, but it was also very bare bones – no AC, small boat. Our Raja Ampat liveaboard was about $2700. That’s super cheap for that area, but I got in on sale for almost half price.

      Good idea about the life on a liveaboard post. I think I’ll write that! 🙂

  3. Wow, what an extensive guide! Unfortunately I’ve never been diving, but I’m glad I came across your guide. I’ll know exactly what to pack and will be ready for when I go one day!

  4. I really know what you say with it ” then for the love of all that is holy, keep your clothing to a bare minimum.” 😀 😀 😀 I just can’t stop laughing! Even I never packed just for a scuba diving liveaboard I see a lot of people traveling with their home in their back!

    Awesome tips here, I never have been in Maldives but go to Indonesia often, thinking to do it in Komodo or Flores!!

  5. This is so helpful for people who are going on their liveaboard diving trip. I haven’t been on one but I will keep these packing tips in handy. Which place would you suggest for a first timer Scuba diver?

    1. Hmmmm, it really depends. Most times, liveaboard sites will have a recommended amount of experience. But if they don’t, you can probably just pick one and go on it. It really depends on your budget. I live in Atlanta and I am going on one in August in the Turks & Caicos. Three hours on a plane! Budget will be the biggest decider, I think. It is for me anyway. Except when I went to Raja Ampat. That was a dream come true and I would have paid double. 🙂

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