If you’ve been reading Alex in Wanderland for a while, you know one thing for certain — packing light is not one of my strengths. But never has it been more important than when boarding a liveaboard dive boat! Tight quarters in the cabins, a specialized sport involved, no access to stores to replace anything you missed… it’s never been more crucial to tighten up and perfect a packing list.
This is my surefire liveaboard packing list — let me know if I missed anything in the comments.
Clothes To Pack for a Liveaboard
• Swimsuits. Duh! Pack several, as I know I love putting on a dry one after every dive (and it’s the best way to prevent both UTI’s and diver’s bum — those red bumps that appear if you spend too long in a damp swimsuit.) One pieces or high-necked bikinis are perfect for getting in and out of a wetsuit without worrying about flashing the crew when you get out — avoid ties and flashy hardware, which can be a pain under a wetsuit. Check out a few of my favorites here!
• Cover ups. From the moment you wake up to the last dive of the day, you’re likely going to spend the entire day in a rotation of swimwear. Depending on the climate and the conservativeness of the culture you’re visiting, you may want to cover up while out of the water. Anything from a sarong or a simple kimono to a basic romper to shorts and a t-shirt will do — and you definitely don’t need a different outfit for every day.
• A pair of flip flops. You’ll be barefoot essentially the entire time, but you do need something to wear on and off the boat. I’m a huge fan of Havaianas and Ipanemas — no one does flip flops like the Brazilians!
• A set of warm, comfy clothes for evening. Think leggings or sweats, a t-shirt, a hoodie, and socks for cold toes. Even in warm climates you may be surprised by how chilly it can be at night between the wind and possibly the onboard AC! If you’re on a very high-end liveaboard, you could pack a comfortable maxi dress to feel a little more fancy at night (or, let’s be real, look cute in photos), depending on the vibe of the group.
• Sunglasses and a hat. No surprise here — you’ll be spending loads of time in the sun.
• Packing cubes to keep it all organized. You knew I wouldn’t do a packing post without talking about packing cubes, right?! While there’s purposely little to keep in your cabin in this packing list, it’s essential to keep it all organized in the limited space you’re likely to have.
Dive Gear To Pack for a Liveaboard
Most if not essentially all liveaboards offer gear for rent. Depending on how long your trip is, you may choose to rent a fair amount of it. That said, I’d recommend you strongly consider packing at least some of the following. I’ve put these in order of most essential to pack, right down to things you might consider renting:
• Mask. A mask should be perfectly comfortable and fitted to your face. You need to have one you love! If you buy a new mask before a liveaboard, make sure you take the proper steps to pretreat it before your first dive. Once that’s done, many divers will be happy with the saliva method for keeping their mask clear (which is by far the most eco-friendly choice.) Others, like me, sadly, will have no choice but to use chemical defog — I never get on a boat without it.
• Wetsuit — or even two. I’m still fuming with myself that I didn’t invest in the Bare Evoke wetsuit when I had the chance. I tried it on in Florida last year and fell in love — and I thought of it while I was freezing my ass off on every dive in Egypt! It was designed by an all-female design team, and has this crazy infared heating technology that makes it the warmest on the market. While a 5mm was recommended for this trip, I think with the Evoke you could get away with a 3mm.
If you have room and own two wetsuits, bring them both — you’ll be grateful every time you get to zip into a dry one! Rental wetsuits are, on the whole, horrible and generally “unisex” — AKA designed for men and bulky and ill-fitting on women.
• A rash guard and neoprene hood to layer. Regardless of how tropical your destination, after repetitive dives over repetitive days, you may start to feel a bit chilly. Bringing these little extras along to chuck on for the third or fourth dive of the day will give you the perfect heat boost! But, superficial warning ahead: ladies, it is hard to look good in photos in a hood. These items are rarely available to rent.
• Dive computer. Dive computers are a financial investment, for sure, but it’s an absolute essential piece of your dive safety — and they can be very expensive or sometimes unavailable to rent. I have the Oceanic Geo 2.0 and I love it — it has a small watch face perfect for women, and is straightforward and easy to use.
• Boots and fins. I get it, hauling fins can be a pain. That said, I’ve found that even dive shops with top of the line BCDs and regulators can have fairly crappy rental fins, so I prefer to bring my own. I’d only ever owned full foot fins for warmer climates, but this trip required investing in my first pair of dive boots and open-heeled fins. A bit more bulk to pack, but worth it for the extra warmth and the ability to do shore entries in Dahab! Now, one of the things I always loved about full foot fins was that they were so tiny and didn’t require packing a pair of dive booties. However, on a liveaboard, whether you’re renting or packing full foot fins, I’d consider packing a pair of thin 1mm neoprene socks — they’ll prevent the blistering that would be inevitable after so much repetitive diving.
• Surface Marker Buoy. Many liveaboards will require each diver to dive with their own SMB as a safety precaution — if you don’t own one, it will be a mandatory rental. As I dive with a big camera rig and would only deploy my own SMB in a true emergency, I just bought a cheap used one to fill the requirement. The one that I linked to is top of the line, however, and comes with a dive whistle for an additional auditory signal should you find yourself in need of pickup.
• Dive Light. Again, if you want to do a night dive on your liveaboard, this will be a mandatory (and often expensive) rental, so consider bringing your own Look for a lightweight torch with high lumens.
• Regulator. While it’s technically perhaps the most essential piece of equipment in diving, regulators are expensive and very heavy, leading many to rent them. A custom molded mouthpiece might be the perfect compromise — just pop off the rental version and put this one on. If you do pack your own regulator, be sure to have it serviced before departure.
• BCD. While it’s certainly more comfortable to have your own perfectly fitted BCD, there’s some wiggle room for some wiggle room, if you know what I mean. Again, most BCDs are “unisex,” so many sure the liveaboard will have your size onboard, especially if you’re petite!
A few things you don’t need? A gear bag — you’ll likely keep your gear set up the entire liveaboard, and keep anything you aren’t using regularly in a personal gear box — and dive gloves, which I think can encourage bad behavior and personally recommend against unless the water is so cold they are absolutely required. There will also be plenty of towels onboard, which saves you packing one.
Take a further peek inside my dive bag, here.
Electronics To Pack for a Liveaboard
• An underwater camera. I use the Canon G7X and Waterproof Housing, but if you aren’t ready to make that big of an investment (which is actually a pretty basic setup as far as underwater rigs go!), you can always pack your trusty GoPro, which captures decent underwater footage with a red filter. I also packed a strobe for the first time for my most recent liveaboard adventure… but we all know how that turned out!
If you do pack an underwater camera, be sure to pack o-ring grease (ideally, the brand that came with your camera) and some kind of moisture muncher — my recent discovery for an eco-friendly version, courtesy of a Filipino divemaster? A tea bag! Seriously, it works.
• A non-underwater camera. Since taking your underwater camera in an out of its housing is always exposing it to risk, I prefer to keep that camera in its housing for the duration of the trip, unless I’m swapping batteries and downloading memory cards. I have my Canon 6D dSLR onboard to take photos of the boat, the sunset, on deck, etc.
• A laptop for photo editing. A backup hard drive to back up — every day. Extra memory cards, especially if you aren’t bringing a laptop to dump your cards onto. A memory card reader for dumping your photos.
• Headphones for zoning out when you need some alone time.
• Chargers + extra batteries. Have a charging station — bring your own power strip so you’re never fighting for an outlet. I love that this one has USB slots, too. Get into a routine of plugging everything in the moment you get up from your last dive! That said, back spare batteries for your camera and strobe, for sure. Bonus! You can pack just one converter.
One thing I didn’t bring? My drone! Even having bought one of the more budget-friendly versions, I didn’t feel comfortable flying it on the open sea, where signals can be fuzzy and there’s a limited landing zone. More advanced pilots may feel differently.
Toiletries To Pack for a Liveaboard
• Eco-friendly toiletries. Especially on a liveaboard, anything you put on your body will end up in the ocean! You guys know that I’m normally loyal to my solid shampoo and solid conditioner, but this might be one time where I make an exception, since I always pack a leave-in conditioner for a dive trip anyway.
I’ve been testing different reef-safe products and have recently become enamored with Stream2Sea, due to their wide and comprehensive line of products and their true commitment to sustainability. They have tinted reef safe sunscreen to offset the white color that affects mineral sunscreens, as well as a combo shampoo and bodywash (fabulous for packing light), leave-in conditioner (perfect for popping on after a dive or a brief, boat-length shower), body lotion, lip balm, and, if you’re prone to burns or stings, a relief gel. Want a sampler pack of travel-friendly versions of each? They’ve got that too!
And, of course, a razor — still looking for the most eco-friendly version of that. Any suggestion?
• Toothbrush and toothpaste. I’ve recently switched to bamboo toothbrushes to cut down on plastic consumption and love them! Looking to go organic, cruelty-free and plastic-free with your toothpaste — plus support a fearless female entrepreneur? Check out my friend Lindsay’s company, Bite Toothpaste Bits. Use the code WANDERLAND for 10% off!
• Applicator-free tampons or the most waste-free option, a menstrual cup. We learned this the hard way when Kat and I both boarded our Egyptian liveaboard with no feminine hygiene products whatsoever — oops (I have an IUD in and don’t really need them but still, things happen). Kat ended up having to ask our mortified boat crew if they had anything on board, which they responded to by sweetly giving her the first aid kit and saying, “maybe there’s something in here you can use?!” After laughing our way through fashioning homemade pads like frontierwomen for a few days, I’m sure none of us onboard will ever forget an emergency tampon again.
• Seasickness meds and decongestants. I’m a fan of Dramamine’s Non-Drowsy Naturals, which are essentially ginger pills, and thus won’t have any messy side effects. That said, if you get seriously seasick, you may consider something with a little more oomph, at least as a backup. You do need to be careful about mixing diving and both these medications, however, so talk to your divemaster about how and when to pop pills around the dive schedule.
• Painkillers. I never leave home without ibuprofen!
• Imodium. Not to get too graphic, but I typically am of the let-it-all-out-when-your-stomach-isn’t-right school of thought. That said, when you’re diving, that’s really not an option. Pack something to bind you up in an emergency.
• Ear drops. Many divers are plagued by ear issues. Pack a drying ear drop to prevent problems, and bringing medicated ones aboard if you know you’re likely to end up with an issue anyway, is a wise idea when you’re far from the nearest pharmacy. In many countries around the world, like Egypt and Thailand, you can grab them prescription free before you board.
• Anti-bacterial powder. Those dreaded diver’s bum bumps I referenced before? It can be prevented fairly effectively by swapping into dry swimsuits ASAP, and applying powder to your bum after showers and dives. I’m addicted to a mysterious version they sell in little yellow bottles in Thai pharmacies and stock up whenever possible, but as that’s not available on Amazon Prime (weird, right?) I found a comparable version.
• Earplugs. Compressors, engines and AC can be loud, and you need your sleep! If you think you’ll keep different hours than your cabin mate, you might want to throw in an eye mask, too.
• Rehydration salts. I know, you’re probably sick of everyone telling you you should be chugging water all day every day (but like really, you should be chugging water all day every day.) Never is it more important though, than on a liveaboard — dehydration is a culprit in a huge percentage of decompression sickness cases, which you’re already at higher risk for when repetitive diving. I don’t love taking them (I’d much prefer going to a natural source like a fresh coconut, when possible) but you might consider bringing electrolytes onboard.
Miscellaneous Items To Pack for a Liveaboard
• Logbook, certification cards, proper visas, etc. The true essentials! Carefully check your booking confirmation for all required documentation, and keep it all in an organized folder. Don’t rely on digital versions when you may be at sea without service for days.
• Snacks. Honestly, most liveaboards will massively overfeed you and you won’t need them, but if you’re a super picky eater, have special dietary needs or worry about keeping your energy up, a few protein bars won’t be a bad idea. I’m a tea fiend and picky about it, so I packed my own.
• Booze. King Snefro sells beer and wine, but allows you to bring your own liquor on board for free. Some other liveaboards may charge a corkage fee — find out ahead of time. While again, dehydration is a concern and it’s risky to mix booze and repetitive diving, we loved having a sundowner on the deck after chugging water all day.
• A water bottle. Ask ahead what kind of drinking water will be available. Filtered water that you can refill your own bottle with? Or only bottle water in single-use plastics? If the answer if the second option, consider packing a Lifestraw bottle so you can reduce your use of single-use plastics.
Read more about reducing your use of single-use plastics when you travel, here!