Going on a liveaboard trip is arguably one of the best experiences one could have when it comes to diving. It combines adventure and comfort (at most times luxury) in an action-packed week at the most beautiful and bio diverse spots on earth.
But even in this small bubble of paradise a lot of small things can go wrong. As such, here are some small tips that can make a huge difference in your liveaboard experience. This article serves more as an add-on to the standard precautions and preparations that are requisites for any extended dive trip, as well as focus more on routes within the Philippines.
1. Consider the Moon Phases: Weather is usually the primary consideration when scheduling a liveaboard trip, as conditions greatly impact the whole experience. An additional factor one should consider is the moon phase, as it has a direct bearing on the encounters you will have underwater. In Tubbataha, it is best to go during full moon when currents are strong and when fish are spawning. The abundance of nutrients in the water provides a feeding ground for fish and filter feeders. This means higher chances of encounters with whale sharks, mantas, schools of jacks, and everything in between.
2. Know the season: The Philippines has only two seasons: wet and dry. Dry months are from March to May while the wet season sets in around July but settles down around October. There is a higher risk of typhoons during the wet season, and seas are calmer during the dry months.
3. Pick your Airport: This may seem like a very straightforward tip, but it does have a profound effect on your trip. Most visitors flying in from abroad would pick Manila as the logical choice as the destination, but flight delays and traffic conditions (should they choose to go around the city) may become unexpected challenges. For the Tubbataha routes, it is best to go straight to Puerto Princesa, while Mactan (Cebu) would be the optimal airport for the Visayas trip.
4. Opt for Sports Equipment Luggage: As of this writing, most plane fares already include 20kg of luggage allowance. One can then avail of an additional 20kg of luggage on top of this, but no more. If you’re an underwater photographer or are thinking of bringing a drone, 40kg of luggage will be woefully inadequate. One way to circumvent this is to purchase “sports equipment”, which covers golf bags, surfboards, and yes, scuba gear. This should bring your total allowance to 55kg.
5. Get Insured: While most liveaboards already require dive and travel insurance before you can step on board, availing of one for yourself is a smart move. Plans from dive insurance agencies such as DAN and Dive Assure give you a lot of peace of mind. They can cover evacuation, rescue, and even the fees of the compression chamber should you—knock on wood—need it. They also prove useful for other in-water activities. For example, I went to the UK for some blue shark diving and the operator cautioned me that his insurance only covers incidents and accidents while I’m on the boat, and not in the water. Thankfully, my dive insurance bridges that gap and provides coverage for when I’m in the water.
6. Respect personal spaces: I can’t stress this enough. Liveaboards can have very tight common areas such as camera rooms, and work areas can be tightly packed. Resist the temptation to plug in another diver’s extension cord out of convenience or take a bit of o-ring grease without asking for permission. It ruins the atmosphere when you are discovered. One may think that this is standard but let me tell you that one time I caught someone using my laptop to view my photos as I was having dinner! Most would more than be happy to assist and lend items to you if you just ask. It’s also the polite thing to do.
7. Invest in an SMB: If you haven’t yet, buy a Surface Marker Buoy (SMB). In some cases, there is a chance that you’ll be separated from a group and would need to ascend alone. Having a personal SMB ensures you won’t get hit by chase boats on the surface and that you’ll be easily found by the crew of your liveaboard. Sure, you can borrow/rent from your operator, but it’s an essential piece of gear that doesn’t cost much that it is only practical to have your own. You’ll also be confident that it is in perfect working condition because well, it’s yours.
8. Bring topside essentials: Most would focus on bringing items for diving when packing for liveaboard trips, but I push it further and consider topside time. If you think about it, you only spend about 4-5 hours in the water a day if you do 4 dives. The rest you spend on the boat with other divers. For this I usually bring chips, dips, probably copies of films, and sometimes even gaming consoles. They’re good for passing surface interval time and are perfect for breaking the ice with other divers.
So there you have it, 8 tips that can make your liveaboard trip a little better. It is by no means complete, but based on my experience, their effects are exponential. How about you, do you have tips that can improve liveaboard experiences? Share it with us in the comments!