Liveaboard diving adventure: A first timer’s guide to eat, sleep, dive and repeat

Whether you’ve just become certified or you’ve been doing day dive trips for a lifetime if you truly want to live your passion it’s time to take the plunge on a liveaboard diving adventure on the Great Barrier Reef.

For the avid scuba diver, a single day boat trip just whets the appetite. By the time you’re getting into the swing of things, its time to get out and get dry for the return trip home. It’s hugely frustrating.

But if you want the reward of clearer water, bigger fish and less crowded dive sites – far beyond the reach of the day tour boats – and bragging rights for exploring some of the most remote reefs in the world, a liveaboard diving experience rewards with total immersion.

And on a liveaboard trip, you might just tick off some of the sites you have to dive before you die.

Why liveaboard diving?

Spoilsport | Liveaboard diving

Photo by @mikeballdive

Seven days bobbing up and down in the open sea may sound like hell to some, but for others it’s the chance to reaffirm their love of the ocean, see every angle of the Great Barrier Reef and spend time with people from all around the world who want to do exactly the same: dive, photograph and learn.

To say you’ve really dived the Great Barrier Reef and understood how it changes by day and night, in differing tides and weather conditions, requires a commitment of both time, money and making new friends.

To infinity and beyond… okay, maybe just the outer reefs

There are three types of reef experience to be had here in Queensland but on a liveaboard, you will be spending most of your time on the outer reefs, far from the site of land. Perfect for those with flippered feet!

The first step is to brush up on your reef types below:

  • Fringing Reefs – found around the inner islands, perfect for snorkelling and an ideal place for those who wouldn’t consider themselves natural water babies to get exposure to the natural wonders of the reef.
  • Coral Cays – formed over thousands of years and scattered throughout the middle reef. This type of reef typically offers sheltered diving with little to no current and calm waters offering the perfect opportunity for less experienced divers to hone their skills and become more confident in the water.
  • The Outer Reef and beyond– the dive mecca for enthusiasts on the very edge of the continental shelf. This is where day boats stop and liveaboard expeditions start. Cruising along the steep drop-offs of the Continental Shelf, you will quickly realise that deeper water means bigger fish, adrenaline-packed drift diving and an opportunity to get close to some of the reef’s more elusive species.

Where to go for your liveaboard adventure

Cairns is the home of liveaboard diving in Queensland. A number of operators offer trips between three and 14 days long, heading to some of the most diverse and beautiful parts of the northern Great Barrier Reef.

Offering crystal-clear waters, the outer reefs are home to the greatest diversity of coral, fish and marine life anywhere in the world. Vertigo-inducing sheer walls see the ocean floor dropping away to over 1000m deep.

Joining other underwater explorers, you will eat, sleep and breathe diving for as long or as short as you like.

Perhaps one of the most famous operators in the region, Mike Ball Dive Expeditions have been operating for over 40 years and offer the ultimate in marine adventures.

Life Onboard

Onboard Spoilsport, your home for this diving adventure, feels more like a floating hotel, complete with a classroom and a dive platform equipped for 28 people.

There is a choice of 14 rooms, from budget bunk cabins with a shared toilet to private queen rooms with an ensuite. Don’t worry about bunking with a roommate if your regular dive buddy isn’t joining you, as you will be spending more time below the waves rather than below decks.

Spoilsport is no school camp either as there are hot showers, the vessel is air-conditioned throughout and rooms are serviced daily.

The exertion of diving several times a day is hungry work so once you’ve emptied your scuba tank you can refuel on a smorgasbord of food options. In fact with menu items like wasabi-crusted barramundi and Middle Eastern braised lamb your taste buds will thank you for this week-long holiday too.

Crew who?

We’ve established that there is a chef but who else is along on this adventure with you? Depending on the length of the trip there can be up to 14 staff to ensure your liveaboard is memorable in every way.

The captain and trip director will hop between islands and reefs, cherry-picking sites according to tide and weather allowing you to take the giant stride onto the best dive available. If you are relatively new to diving there are three divemasters to lead groups underwater, along with two general hands who can assist you off and onto the dive platform.

Improve your photo game

Dive liveaboards are home to the geekiest of all divers. Most have their own kit, some bring cameras as technical as the Mars Lander, and all seem to talk incessantly about critters and close calls with sharks – but their passion for the underwater world is unrivalled.

So even if you end up rooming with a professional cameraman and feel your lack of expertise stands out like a sore thumb, it’s actually the perfect place to hone and further your skills. The advice comes readily when you have them backed into a corner for a week!

When to book a liveaboard?

Any time of the year is perfect really. As you are far out into the Coral Sea the normal stinger season isn’t an issue and if your book for June – July there is the possibility to snorkel with minke whales on their annual migration.

Keep an eye on special expeditions, such as Mike Ball’s ‘Turtle Spectacular’, which run at various times of the year.

Have BCD, will travel

While some divers will have all their own gear, it isn’t a pre-requisite to joining a liveaboard trip. Rental options are numerous and weight belts and tanks are supplied on board due to the bulky weight of these.

And while this is the tropics and the water is warm if you are spending hours in the water every day it’s advisable to wear a wetsuit. To encourage good diver behaviour, and to protect the fragile reef, a no gloves policy is in place.

Life onboard

What is life really like on a liveaboard? Well, it revolves around the hours of daylight. Up at dawn for a wake-up dive and to bed a couple of hours after dark.

At night, motion of the ocean rocks you to sleep sometimes as softly as a baby’s bassinet, sometimes as harshly as a theme-park ride.

Whichever way you look at it, getting into ‘wet’ wetsuit is NOT a fun thing to do, but there are plenty of fresh water showers to rinse off after your dive. Bring on the invention of the eternally ‘dry’ wetsuit we say!

Bye bye to bottom time

Diving is fun whichever way you look at it, but being onboard a vessel that’s custom-built makes the experience even better.

The result is seven days of exquisite aqua-adventures, eye-to-eye encounters with a huge medley of marine life and a refreshed love and appreciation for the oceans and fragile coral-reef systems on the planet.

As you pull into the marina back in Cairns and say your farewells, you will be left with new friends, an expanded dive log and the ability to brag to your friends about close encounters with big pelagics.

Have you taken the plunge on a liveaboard diving experience?

*This post was first published in 2012 and updated in July 2018.