What To Expect On A Liveaboard In The Great Barrier Reef

Diving in the Great Barrier Reef has always been on my bucket list. Now that I’ve finally made it to Australia, I wanted to make sure that I made the most of this opportunity. I booked a 3 day 2 night liveaboard with  Pro Dive in Cairns. During this trip I got the opportunity to dive in the Great Barrier Reef eleven times, two of which were night dives.

It was an incredible experience that totally lived up to my expectations. As with most new experiences, I worried about things that were non-issues or never happened. I worried about being the lone inexperienced diver on the boat, I worried about not having a dive buddy and of course I worried about running into Jaws.

In the end, my diving experience and finding a buddy weren’t an issue. As for Jaws, turns out the Great Whites prefer the cold waters of South Australia and don’t exist in the warm tropical waters of Queensland. All that worrying was just wasted energy. I wish someone had told me what to expect on a liveaboard, to prepare and encourage me for this experience. So to help others trying it for the first time, this is my list of things you should know about liveaboards in Australia.


Liveaboards Cater To Everyone

As a general rule, popular (touristic) dive sites attract a mix of divers from the newly certified and inexperienced to the most advanced divers. You should confirm prior to booking, but it’s safe to say that most of these dive operators will cater to all levels of diving experience.

The boat that I went on was full and had people doing their open water PADI certifications, a large number of certified divers with limited experience and 2 or 3 expert divers. My fear of being the only inexperienced diver on the boat was unfounded.

Pro Dive did a great job of giving an orientation to everyone onboard on the rules and safety procedures. They also made sure everyone had a diving buddy. Now who you get as a diving buddy is a complete crapshoot. I was lucky, my diving buddy was an experienced diver and my roommate on the boat. He was extremely friendly and we got along great. On the flipside, I had a friend (an experienced diver) who did the Pro Dive liveaboard a month earlier. He didn’t get a long with his assigned buddy and (after some drama) ended up switching his diving partner.


Expect Tight Quarters

Unless you splashed out on a high end liveaboard, expect the living quarters to be tight. I mean micro tiny. Most liveaboards will request that you bring the minimum amount of baggage onboard due to limited space. Pro Dive had a storage area in the back of their office for people to place their bigger baggage while they were out to sea.

Below is a video from my first day on Pro Dive liveaboard, it shows the room size you can generally expect on these boats.


Setup Your Gear Once

The great thing about a liveaboard is you’ll only have to setup your gear once,  allowing for more dives during the day. Each of us was assigned a space and an air cylinder. Every time we returned from a dive, we placed out equipment in a reserved slot. Our air tanks would then be refilled by the crew, allowing for quick turnarounds between dives.


More Diving Variety

Being on a boat for an extended period of time opens up the possibilities of dive sites you can visit. Over the course of the 11 dives we got to do shallow, wall and deep dives, allowing us to see different fish, corals and marine animals. It was amazing.


Dive. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.

Dive. Eat. Sleep.  That’s all you’ll be doing on a liveaboard. With Pro Dive we were doing 4 dives a day. So we were literally diving, eating, diving, eating and more diving until the end of the day when we would crash and sleep. Continuous diving is physically demanding and it surprised me how hungry I’d get between dives.

A major plus, the cook on our boat was incredible. He baked and cooked up a storm and kept everyone well fed.


You’ll Learn Self Reliance

Australian liveaboards don’t provide guided dives. Meaning you’ll dive only with your buddy.

Prior to each dive there’s a briefing with the group to go over the dive site, we’re given navigation instructions and we were expected to navigate our way underwater. This shocked me. I’ve never dived without a guide and I found the prospect of doing so immensely disturbing. In hindsight this was one of the greatest lessons learned during this trip. It taught us to be self reliant underwater.

In my case, since my diving partner was experienced, I felt like I already had a guide and it didn’t impact me the first two day. The third day I had to switch partners because my buddy was flying within 24 hours and couldn’t dive the last day.

I won’t lie. It was a challenge, I had hard time differentiating underwater landmarks and found myself getting lost frequently. But by the third dive I found that my underwater bearings were improving. Like anything, all you need is a little practice.


You Must Do The Night Dives

Most liveaboards will probably have the option to do night dives over the course of your trip. Those who’ve never experienced it before may hesitate out of fear of diving into the dark black waters of the open sea.  Don’t let your fear stop you.


Trust me. I had the same hesitation and I almost backed out last minute. I would’ve cheated myself out of the greatest experience I’ve had in a long time. It was unbelievable. Yes, diving at night you’re enveloped in complete darkness underwater, with only a sliver of light coming from your flashlight. I’m not a brave person, but I quickly adjusted to the darkness and was OK with it.

During my night dive I saw a lot of reef sharks, which come out at night to feed. Large fish would swarm around our lights looking for prey that they couldn’t see without our lights. Best of all we came across a school of bait fish. When we shone the lights on them, a feeding frenzy of large fish and reef sharks attacked.

You must try it once. Night diving is amazing.

Water Is A Limited Resource

While on board a liveaboard fresh water is a precious commodity. So one of the rules given to us was 10 seconds to rinse between dives and I think they said 30 seconds or a minute for showers. I skipped the rinses between dives so that I could justify taking a little longer at end of day in the shower. At least I could go to bed and not have the sticky sea salt on my skin.


You’ll Make Friends Out At Sea

With any overnight tour, the odds are in your favor that you’ll make at least a couple of new friends. There’s no way to predict the group you’ll end up with in a boat, but generally these tend very social settings. People on my Pro Dive trip were great and happily mixed together. Even if you end up with the worst group of people on a diving trip, one would hope that you at least make friends with your diving buddy.


Morning After Sea Legs

This is something no one warned me about. While you’re at sea your body gets used to the boat rocking with the sea waves. I was surprised to find that once I got back to shore my body still felt like it was in the ocean. I felt my body sway to imaginary waves. It took about 1 or 2 days for that feeling to go away.


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