Nearly twenty-five years ago, I was a dive-guide on a liveaboard dive boat in the Red Sea. It was then considered to be the doyen of liveaboard dive boats. It was fabulous. Well, I say 'fabulous' only because it was a lot better than some other boats that were available at that time.
It was built in 1936 and had seen better days. It had been a Rhine river cruiser and was originally built for speed although its massive Mercedes-Benz engines had long been replaced with Detroit Diesels that were more modest in performance and far more economical. However, it had a very narrow hull that meant it rolled alarmingly in anything but a glassy calm sea and access to and from the water by divers was only available to the fittest among us, such was the climb up from the inflatable diving tender.
It travelled at a quirky angle because all the heavy equipment such as the crane, the generators, the compressor and even the saloon table, had been fitted on the same side. It was only when the fuel tanks were half full and the remaining diesel was in the ones on the opposing side that it maintained a relatively upright position.
Everything was inclined to fail at a moment's notice and we enjoyed some spectacular breakdowns. Below decks, the cabins were tiny and cramped, with bunk beds. If one occupant was standing on the floor to get dressed, for example, the other had to wait in his bunk or outside in the companionway.
En-suite bathrooms? You've got to be joking! There were three 'heads' for twenty-six people, with manually operated features and these got blocked on a daily basis. The showers were in the same cupboard-sized rooms as the heads. Fresh water supplies usually ran out long before the end of a trip.
Air-conditioning? It sometimes worked below decks but never up in the saloon area, which was significant when one considers Summer temperatures in a sea surrounded by a scorchingly hot desert.
Catering? The tiny galley at the front of the superstructure caught the full glare of a desert sun. It was the province of a very sweaty chef who turned out the most basic of meals. Most crew-members were of backpacker origin. They were not professionals. One itinerant chef, who misunderstood the hardships of a posting on a 'luxurious white yacht' in the Red Sea, decided to abandon ship one night and try to swim back to Britain. He was rescued and I met him recently, 20 years later, living near me in Twickenham no less!
Only one person, the captain, really knew how to drive a boat but we all had to do a shift in the wheelhouse. I wasn't too bad at it but others really frightened me. I marvelled at the way the passengers slept so soundly in their cabins while we drove the boat, in a muddled way, through the darkest hours.
Nevertheless, the diving was phenomenal and many famous and not so famous divers availed themselves of scuba diving trips on board that vessel. How times have changed.
Nowadays, all but a few vessels are veritable luxury hotels on the water. With professional crews and professionally designed facilities, they are a distant cry from 'the good old days'.
Designed with diving in mind, they have convenient access to and from the water at the stern. They have various styles of diver pick-up craft depending upon the area of the world they work in. Some of these annex craft are actually bigger and more luxurious that some of the smaller liveaboards of yore. The saloons/restaurants are spacious and the galleys have professional chefs that know how to provide stupendous meals that cater for all tastes. The cabins are spacious and almost without exception feature beds side-by side, often queen-sized. Almost without exception they have ensuite facilities. Some have suites with bathrooms attached as good as any you would find in a hotel. There is no shortage of water to wash with, because all the boats feature fresh-water-makers.
Professional dive-guides are knowledgeable about the dive sites (more than I ever was!) and air and nitrox (and often technical gases) is readily available from state-of-the-art compressors. Not only that but the diving is as good as ever!
When you stay on a diving liveaboard, you dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat and sleep. Sometimes you can squeeze in even more dives during a day. Surface intervals are used to travel to the next dive site so that your 'hotel' is always near where you are going to dive. Liveaboard diving is for keen divers but also for older divers too because it's far less arduous than day-boat diving since you only have to go to the aft deck, put on your gear and fall into the water. I thoroughly recommend it. Stan Waterman, the underwater cameraman who shot sequences for 'The Deep' and now ninety years old, recently said to me, "John, when you get to my age - liveaboard!"
Ask in store about organised liveaboard dive trips.
Happy Diving - John Bantin