Info Dive Travel Planning

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Dive Travel Planning​


Map of the Caribbean by CIA World Factbook (Public Domain)

Recreational divers enjoy a wide range of underwater environments; local flooded rock quarries to coral reefs, ship wreck diving in the Great Lakes or ocean, kelp forests to shark diving, cave exploration and onward. Many are blessed to live near quality diving, which by cost and convenience bear heavily on choice of site, but most engage in long-distance travel for at least some of their diving. That’s what I’m writing to introduce newcomers to.

I’ll write from the perspective of a U.S.-based diver who may not have traveled internationally before, focusing on the U.S./Bahamas/Caribbean region (what I'm most familiar with). Some aspects of trip planning (e.g.: passport specifics, airline baggage restrictions, expedited trusted flier programs) are nationally specific. Hopefully in time other contributors with regional knowledge of other nations can offer insights into specifics there.

Deciding Where To Go

The stereotypical diver fresh out of open water (OW) or advanced open water (AOW) certification traveling to dive seeks mainstream destinations for tropical oceanic coral reef diving with lush reefs, pretty fish and benign conditions (e.g.: warm, high viz., low current or modest drift diving). For the North America-based diver, that’s usually southeast Florida’s upper Keys (e.g.: Key Largo) or the Caribbean (e.g.: Cozumel, Belize, Roatan, Bonaire and the Cayman Islands). In time many desire large animal encounters (e.g.: reef sharks in the Bahamas or Turks & Caicos, sand tiger sharks on off-shore wrecks out of North Carolina, or goliath grouper and lemon sharks out of Jupiter, FL). The Caribbean is broadly dived into the Greater Antilles (largest islands) and Lesser Antilles (the rest); the most popular have named sub-forums and the rest share the Lesser Antilles section.

Western European divers often fly to dive the Red Sea, I’m told. Should you be ready to move on, there is so much more to diving! Wherever you’re going, ScubaBoard has the Regional Forums & Dive Clubs section with regional forums to search out trip reports and consult fellow divers to find what you need (or use New Posts - ScubaBoard offers different ways to view threads). Some destinations offer diving within MPAs (marine protected areas) where the fight against over-fishing may offer greater numbers and sizes of the animals you wish to see (international list) - a practice worth supporting.

Once you narrow down roughly where you want to go, it’s time to explore how to get there and what you need to know, what arrangements to make and assistance to get. There are questions to ask of specific accommodation and dive services providers. You can research a great deal yourself (e.g.: using ScubaBoard, Undercurrent (a paid subscription online magazine) and Alert Diver online (a magazine by DAN)). That’s where this article comes in…helping newcomers understand the issues common to most dive travel so you know what to expect and are ready when you get there.

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Group Trip, Dive Travel Agent or Independent Travel​

The main components to organizing a trip are determine what you want, research options, find the place with the best overall ‘package,’ book accommodations and diving (and possibly a rental vehicle), book airfare, be sure your passport will be active with at least 6-months left at trip’s end and take care of any specific needs (e.g.: schedule COVID-19 testing or vaccination). Would you like help?

Group trips are organized by dive shop staff, dive clubs and such. They may reserve a number of slots at a dive resort, often with a free slot for ‘x’ number of filled slots. Some may keep the money and some may divide the savings amongst the divers. They may negotiate a lower price or extras. Such trips may or may not be a bit cheaper than you can arrange, but don’t discount the value of ‘Mother Hen.’

The trip organizer can answer logistical questions (e.g.: about flights, where to eat on island), act as ombudsman and deal with vendors when problems arise, lead group activities and help everyone have a good time (e.g.: for the ScubaBoard Curacao Surge in 2019, Roxanne posted packing, travel, resort info. and diving tips. My first 4 dive trips were group trips to Bonaire. ScubaBoard has medium (Surge) and large (Invasion) organized group trips (see more on past trips). Your local dive shop probably has a list of foreign and domestic offerings. You’re not likely to pay much more if any, and might even save some money. If international travel is new to you, I recommend it.

Dive Travel Agents may work for you but get paid via the dive resorts/operators they book you at. In practical terms, it’s likely free for you. Some, like and, serve as nice ‘dive trip stores’ to browse and price myriad offerings. Some are known for expertise and working with divers to customize trips, give logistics advice, etc… If you don’t want to join a group but want professional guidance, ideally from an agent who’s been where you want to go, this is a way. I use it for more complicated foreign trips – like the Galapagos, or planning a Raja Ampat trip. See Undercurrent's free access article Those Internet-Based Dive Travel Websites, and ScubaBoard's Pros & Con.s of using a Dive Travel Agency vs. Booking Direct.

For simple itineraries such as same-day flights to mainstream destinations to taxi or take a rental car to the resort or liveaboard boat, it’s not that hard to make your own arrangements. Here are factors to consider for most any dive travel trip organized into sections so you can skip what you’re already fluent in.


  1. Dive Travel Planning (this post)
    1. Deciding Where To Go
    2. Contents
    3. Group Trip, Dive Travel Agent or Independent Travel
  2. Dive Travel Insurance
    1. More than paying medical bills
    2. A note on auto insurance...
  3. Travel Documents
    1. Passports
    2. Travel VISA
  4. Medical Clearance to Dive & Liability Waivers
  5. Travel by Plane
    1. Customs and Connections
    2. Expedited Travel
    3. Baggage Limits
  6. Travel Time
    1. Driving
  7. Local Considerations
    1. Electricity
    2. Language & Customs
    3. Communication
  8. Money
  9. Budgeting
    1. Medication
    2. Food & Water
    3. Amenities
    4. Rental Gear Availability
  10. Regional Legal Concerns
    1. Crime & Safety
  11. Pests, Diseases & Health Issues
  12. Marine Life Dangers
  13. Dive Logistics
    1. No Fly Time
    2. Certification
    3. Nitrox
  14. Liveaboard Concerns
  15. Tipping
    1. Non-Divers
    2. Warning
  16. Pandemic
    1. Packing
  17. Regional Seasons & Conditions
  18. Know Your Operator & Be Ready for the Boat
    1. Dive Work-flow
  19. Special Interest Groups
    1. Air Hogs
    2. Solo Diving
    3. Extra Assistance Divers
    4. Kid Divers
    5. Cruisers
    6. Technical Divers
  20. Odds & Ends
    1. Study Your Boat's Safety Profile
    2. Have a Plan B
    3. Destination-specific Gear
    4. Know Your Limits
    5. Learning Opportunities
    6. Write A Trip Report

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Pests, Diseases & Health Issues​

Mosquitos are a common annoyance in the Caribbean, but usually not a major hazard. At some destinations taking medication for malaria prophylaxis may be recommended, but that’s not something you’re likely to see in those new divers tend to choose. There are other problems you ought to be aware of (since if you get sick, your physician back home may not be). Note: SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 has its own section later.
  • 🦟Dengue Fever – mosquito-borne viral illness (there are 4 types of dengue virus), often mild and most recover within a week or so (per Mayo Clinic) but can be serious and potentially fatal. Vaccine development is underway but we don’t have a widely available one yet. Info. from Mayo Clinic.

  • 🦟Chikungunya – mosquito-borne viral illness with no vaccine or cure associated with fever and joint pain (that can be severe). Can be miserable and you have to tough it out. Info. from CDC.

  • 🦟Zika – mosquito-borne viral illness with no vaccine or cure, usually mild in adults but has increased risk of miscarriage and serious birth defects (e.g.: microcephaly). Pregnant women or those of either sex who plan to cause conception should read up on Zika, including current recommendations on how long after travel to areas with prevalence to wait before conceiving. Info. from Mayo Clinic.

  • 🦟Malaria – a mosquito-borne protozoan-induced illness with no vaccine; there is medication for prophylaxis and cure, but it can be hard to treat (the organism (there are 4 types) gets inside red blood cells). Symptoms may include high fever, shaking chills and flu-like illness. Brought to the Americas by Europeans, there’s been an effort to eradicate it from the Caribbean. In 2018, the CDC noted Hispaniola (Haiti + Dominican Republic) to be the last Caribbean island with malaria (see story). In this day of wide-spread long-distance travel, you never know, and malaria is a hazard in parts of the world (including Central and South America), and per CDC about 2,000 cases are diagnosed in the U.S. annually (CDC Malaria FAQ) (the vast majority acquired abroad).

  • The CDC has a page on Preparing International Travelers dealing with Yellow Fever and Malaria; put your destination in the drop-down menu for text on areas of risk and view a map showing where med. prophylaxis or mosquito-avoidance is recommended.
For off-the-beaten path destinations, consult CDC guidance on regional infectious disease. Yellow fever is mosquito-borne and occurs in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America; cholera is a fecal-oral and contaminated water-borne bacterial disease primarily in Africa and South and Southeast Asia but also elsewhere; Typhoid is a fecal-orally transmitted bacterial disease widespread but particularly in southern Asia. Tuberculosis is an airborne bacterial illness, sometimes drug resistant and can strike anywhere. Vaccination is available against cholera, typhoid and yellow fever; some nations other than the U.S. have a T.B. vaccine given in infancy.

  • Ciguatera Poisoning – food poisoning caused by a heat-stable (i.e.: cooking doesn’t break it down) toxin produced by the dinoflagellate Gambierdiscus toxicus that enters the food chain and gets concentrated in upper level predators such as grouper and barracuda, who pass it to humans who eat them. This is a regional concern; barracuda from some places is fine to eat. G.I., cardiovascular and neurologic symptoms are possible (including reversal of hot and cold sensation). Info. from CDC.

  • 👂Swimmer’s Ear (a.k.a. Otitis Externa) – infection of the ear canal. Problematic with multi-day repetitive diving. Use of over-the-counter drops (e.g.: with isopropyl alcohol) or a ‘home-made’ mix of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol every few dives daily can save you pain. Much better to prevent than have to treat. I sometimes use Ear Shield. Read more at Ear Problems in Scuba Diving.

  • 🧦Blisters due to chafing from dive boot friction on water-softened skin during repetitive diving – common with high volume multi-day diving. Wear lycra socks! Makes a big difference!

  • 🌞Sunburn – as you move south toward the equator, sunlight intensity mounts and burning fast is more a hazard. Please use a reef-safe sunscreen!

  • ❄️Hypothermia – with multi-day repetitive diving, core body heat may get depleted. Pack exposure protection with that in mind. Pieces like a cap, hood or vest you can ‘layer’ are helpful. Cold-tolerance is very individual; a chubby man may dive a 3-mm shorty while a lean, petite woman shivers in a 5-mm full wetsuit. In windy conditions topside, evaporative losses after diving can cool you quickly; in California I needed to strip my 5-mm wetsuit and towel off.

  • Sand Fleas – a.k.a.: ‘noseeums’ – tiny biting pests infesting some shore regions of Roatan in particular. They ignore some people and feast on others; itchy bites crop up later on the unlucky. Can be largely kept away by insect repellent such as those with DEET (note: DEET can dissolve plastics, so be careful what you use it around). In Roatan, use in advance; don’t wait to find out you need it.

  • 🌊Water-borne illnesses are a concern in some places. Aside from Montezuma’s Revenge, there are other diseases…such as amebic dysentery. Not all diarrhea is created equal, nor can all types be treated with the same drugs. Antibiotics don’t work on viruses. Cipro nailed my enteroinvasive E. coli, but you might want Flagyl for amebic dysentery.

  • Lost at Sea – not common but serious, a higher risk in higher current diving (e.g.: Cozumel, Galapagos Islands, Palau). Always have a surface marker buoy (SMB or dSMB) when boat diving large water bodies. A precaution most don’t use but a dedicated minority do – Nautilus LifeLines and PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons), to signal location if lost at sea. Detailed discussion is beyond my scope, but be aware. See Nautilus Life Line from a Diver’s and Captain’s view. For remote sites, some operators offer free loaner Nautilus LifeLines; Humboldt Explorer loaned me one (and a Dive Alert) for Wolf and Darwin Islands, and I'm told the Palau and Rock Island Aggressors did. On a Jan. 2020 Raja Ampat trip on the Amira, Dan reported divers were loaned (at no charge) an ENOS Rescue Device (Post #9).

There are a few dive-related topics you may wish to bone up on – Decompression Illness (including skin bends) (DAN info.), Immersion Pulmonary Edema (DAN info.) and Immersion Diuresis (DAN info. - diving makes you pee; I've read elsewhere water's buoyancy also contributes to moving more blood to the trunk).

If you have special health requirements, check the natural and regulatory environment you'll dive in. If you're a high falls risk, shore diving over loose dead coral rubble and jagged iron shore in Bonaire might be a bad idea (but Curacao's sandy entries might work). If you need gloves, be mindful some MPA (Marine Park Areas) may forbid them to discourage touching; whether they make exceptions for medical reasons (even with a letter) you'd best ask in advance. I'm hefty and not built for fighting current (but I can drift with it).

🏥Health care resources vary widely and your needs may, too. If traveling with a young child or frail senior, you may want ready access to ‘first world’ class medical facilities, etc…and choose U.S. destinations (e.g.: Key Largo, FL) or the Cayman Islands; I’ve heard some good things about Cozumel. Consider regional access to hyperbaric chambers for DCS treatment (DAN Alert Diver article: Where's the nearest chamber?) - DAN notes only a small percentage have the ability, training and desire to treat diving illness or injury. Prompt treatment can make a huge difference (read what happened without it!).

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Marine Life Dangers

Discussions about safe diving tend to center on out-of-air emergencies, drowning, dehydration and decompression illness-related concerns or being lost adrift. If you don’t spearfish, or go on baited or feeding shark dives, shark attack is way down your risk list. But depending on where you go, there are creatures you ought to know about.

Jellyfish – From tiny thimble jellies that cause rash-like effects in Cozumel to the Ziplock sandwich bag-sized Caribbean sea wasps that stung me on a Bonaire night dive (intense, like a cross between getting cut and burned), to Australian’s ‘sea wasp’ (Australian box jelly) and Irukanji (tiny but deadly), jellyfish are a hazard you can’t always see coming. Many aren’t serious, but be mindful which are in your area. Some are drawn to lights at night; a full wetsuit (per DAN something as simple as pantyhose over skin can prevent jellyfish stings) on night dives in risky areas may be wise.

In the Caribbean, ‘sea wasps’ (like I encountered in Bonaire) and Portugese Man o’War are concerns and per Bonaire’s STINAPA (per DiverVince) more abundant 8 – 12 days after a full moon. Moon jellyfish are much less concerning but can be abundant (as in my Key Largo trip).

Sea Urchins – Wide-spread, many kinds and spines may break off in your skin. A menace for shore divers.

Bristle Worms/Fire Worms – Slow-moving bottom crawlers resembling millipedes with tufted bristles along the sides; one diver likened the venomous sting to feeling like his hand got hit with a hammer. Mantis shrimp are quick, and can club or stab (depends on species) with great speed (you might find one in a burrow).


Stingrays – More apt to be seen on sand flats (or free-swimming eagle rays) than coral reef, a potential hazard wading in and out of sandy shallows and swimming close to sandy bottom. Watch for the eyes sticking up. The barbed, venomous sting can be excruciating. At the Stingray City site in Grand Cayman, there are excursions to hand feed them. If you aren’t careful, your finger can get a hard pinch and you might get a ‘stingray hickey.’


Moray Eels – Respect personal space and even big green morays aren’t likely to hurt you. Morays don’t see well, often have their mouths open to breathe (not threaten), and prefer to flee. They seem to have a good sense of smell and may go after a speared catch (e.g.: lionfish). There are reports of green morays in areas fed lionfish swimming out to divers; usually harmless but alarming. Morays are a hazard for spiny lobster hunters sticking hands in holes (so they wear special gloves). Morays have spike-like teeth that angle back, plus pharyngeal jaws, and inflict severe bites. Some guides handled them to entertain divers and it didn’t always go well. Stay at least arm's length away, watch the body language and even big greens aren't apt to attack.

Lion Fish – Indo-Pacific fish of which 2 species are invasive in the Caribbean region, with venomous fin spines that inflict excruciating pain sometimes complicated by localized tissue necrosis (DAN article). They may stand their ground or move off slowly, so you could get stung in the leg if near bottom and not paying attention, but the main risk is handling them. Some areas allow lionfish hunting with a small spear (e.g.: the ELF); some divers dispatch with a knife and/or stow the body in a container, which can put you at risk. Note: some reef sharks have been fed lionfish and check out divers to see if they have any; if you don’t, it’s a good chance for photos. If you do, be careful (see Alert Diver Magazine – A Shark Tale).


Scorpion Fish – Many species; in the Caribbean the spotted scorpionfish is common, a well-camouflaged bottom-dweller with venomous spines. I saw one hardly visible on an algae-covered wreck about a yard from where I held on during a current dive.

Scorpion Fish.png

Some guides do this. I suggest you don't.

Stone Fish – Indo-Pacific fish (not U.S. or Caribbean) similar to scorpionfish but often less ‘fish-like’ in form, with venomous spines capable of agonizing pain, medical complications and death. DevonDiver’s 2012 account of a finger sting.

Cone Snails – Widespread group of over 900 species of predatory snails who spear prey and inject venom. There’ve been fatalities. Cone snails are non-aggressive bottom dwellers; don’t pick up strange shells.

Barracuda – Attacks in clear water are rare, but feeding can make individuals riskier and murky water is a risk factor. It’s wise not to wear flashy, silvery jewelry that may look like a fish. There are many species; in Florida and the Caribbean the great barracuda gets more attention. Barracuda charge faster than you can react; their jaws can slice a fish in two. Occasionally one gets curious and follows a diver. Respect their space and watch the fish’s body language. Undercurrent MagazineBarracuda Attack (the discussion section is key).

Sharks – Too diverse to generalize much. In the greater Caribbean region, if you don’t participate in baited or shark feeding dives, you may see nurse sharks and Caribbean reef sharks. If you don’t spearfish and you’re not the shark feeder, little chance of harm. If you dive off-shore wrecks out of North Carolina, sand tiger sharks are a feature but very unlikely to harm you (assuming you don’t corner or grab one). Or maybe the lemon shark aggregation out of Jupiter, FL in winter. Shark feeding dives are controversial and beyond this article (as is spearfishing). If you unexpectedly encounter a potentially dangerous shark, keep your distance but don’t flee quickly, assume vertical posture and maintain eye contact – sharks know when you see them. Cocos Island is an exception; you may see large tiger sharks despite no baiting, and a diver was killed.

Sea Snakes and Sea Kraits – Immensely venomous (often non-aggressive but varies by species) with neurotoxic venom but likely little threat if not handled. Not in the Caribbean (but many mistake the bottom-dwelling, flexible sharptail eel for one).

Blue-ringed Octopus – Small with blue rings and extremely toxic bite, but avoidant and highly sought after for photos. Don’t handle and you should be fine.

Titan Triggerfish – An Indo-Pacific fish up to 30 inches; females defend their nest with a cone-shaped territory, so flee horizontally without rising. They can hit hard and gouge out what someone reported a nickle-sized piece of meat.

Pinnipeds – Many enjoy the antics of seal and sea lion pups, but territorial adult males and protective mothers can be trouble and large, with serious bites at risk for infection. Stellar sea lions are roughly bear-sized. Diving with playful young California or Galapagos sea lions is a joy, but read up on it before you go.

Salt-water Crocodiles – In the Solomon Islands, Raja Ampat and some other areas it’s not a common issue but can happen. See discussion.

Some ‘harmless’ animals can do damage in the right circumstances. A porcupine puffer bit half Randy Jordan’s finger off. Steve Irwin was killed when a stingray spine impaled his heart. In both cases, the men were engaging the animal.

Dipping the sting in very (short of burning) hot water you can barely stand can break down venom, reduce pain and speed recovery – good for lionfish, scorpionfish, stonefish and stingray stings. For Jellyfish stings, see DAN article – Stopping the Sting.

Don’t forget the topside; you can blunder into a venomous snake on a land tour!

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Dive Logistics​

No Fly Time​


Commercial flights pressurize their cabins but at a lower pressure than sea level (equiv. to ~ 6,000 – 8,000'/1,800 - 2,400m altitude), which could in theory precipitate decompression illness. Over the years, recommendations on how long to wait after diving have gotten shorter, though some operators may still cut you off around the 24-hour mark. If you’re shore diving heavily in Bonaire, or diving in Hawaii before driving to high altitude, or similar adventures elsewhere, keep in mind there’s some risk if you’re not careful.

DAN’s Guidelines for Flying After Diving as of Oct. 21, 2021 recommend a minimum surface interval of 12-hours after a single no-deco. dive, 18-hours after multi-day repetitive diving and substantially > 18-hours after diving involving compulsory decompression or using heliox and trimix.


Most dive operators want to see at least Open Water level certification; for some destinations or some dives a given operator may demand at least an Advanced OW level certification. If you intend to dive Nitrox, they will probably require a nitrox certification. Have the exact credential they require on hand! Dive operator staff may vary in sophistication level; you may consider it absurd to deny nitrox to someone certified for trimix, or believe a person credentialed to teach a course ought to be considered ‘same as certified’ in it…but counter staff unfamiliar with technical or pro. diving may have a different opinion. Their website and/or forms tell you what credentials they need; bring them. If you plan to bring something other than the original physical cert. card (e.g.: a photocopy of a digital 'e-card' on a smart phone), ask in advance if that's accepted.

It’s not unknown for a Captain to offer to review someone’s log book (e.g.: diver with OW but not AOW cert. for a deep dive). But many don’t carry log books and they’re easily faked. You’ll probably want an AOW cert. at some point for some of the diving you want to do. Some divers with an OW have hundreds of dives and superior ability to many with an AOW cert. Be that as it may, your life may be easier if you have one.


Caribbean region liveaboards offer up to 2 morning, 2 afternoon and 1 night dive/day most days, with a trip total of 25-27 dives (conditions and travel times depending; some operators, like Blackbeard’s Cruises and the Juliet, may offer close to 19-20). Some land-based operators offer both morning and (if they have enough customers sign up) afternoon dive trips, so 3-4 dives/day may be feasible (e.g.: I’ve done 4/day in Cozumel and St. Croix). Typical guide-led group dives catering to early divers in the tropics may end back under the boat at around the 45-minute point, if everyone’s gas consumption allows, for total dive times around 50-minutes (give or take), max. depths perhaps 60 to 80+'/18-25m but average depths around 30-40'/10-12m. I found doing 4 dives/day on air that I needed to watch my NDL a bit closer on dive #4. If you plan > 3 dives/day, consider nitrox.


If you dive deep, you may need nitrox. It both extends NDLs and reduces recommended max. depth. I found nitrox needed diving even 2 dives/day out of Jupiter, FL (e.g.: nearly square profile drift diving along a short, raised ledge with sandy bottom about 90'/27m deep) and Morehead City, NC (e.g.: near square profile diving at offshore wrecks sitting on sandy bottom about 110'/33m deep). If your destination plan includes > 3 dives/day and/or sustained deep diving, consider nitrox…and you will need to show nitrox certification.


The wreck of the Aeolus is a fine place to dive nitrox.
The expectation in nitrox courses and many dive operators is that you test your tanks personally and record the O2 %. You may encounter situations where you don't see that happening. For discussion, see Nitrox Certification Protocols: Real World.

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Liveaboard Concerns​

Imagine spending a week (or more) on a yacht with up to 15 fellow guests who share your passion for diving, can dive 4 to 5 times/day, lounge around and eat too much when not diving, and only have to set your gear up once all week (after a dive, disconnect your 1st stage and they refill the tank in place). Welcome to the wonders of liveaboard diving! All-in-one, ‘turnkey’ simplicity, often with loads of good food. Is there trouble in paradise? See First Liveaboard Advice.

Well, yes. There’s a popular saying that’s very true; if it’s not on the boat, it’s not on the boat. If you need something, and it’s not something they routinely carry…bring it or contact them in advance. The chef can likely accommodate reasonable dietary restrictions if given plenty of warning. Ironically, a very common criticism in liveaboard threads is packing too many clothes. You’ll probably be barefoot onboard, no socks, alternating shorts and shirt with swim wear and a wetsuit. If you’re diving 4 or 5x’s/day, makeup and fancy hairdos get messed up pronto…so why bother? Do wear lycra socks diving to prevent blisters. You likely won't be in your cabin much, which is good - (cheaper) quarters can be tight.
Historically, once away from port you could assume cell service was unavailable, and most boats don’t offer affordable broadband wifi service onboard. The boat may have a satellite phone available (expensive!), but outside emergencies, you’re probably cut off from the world. There are exceptions…at times the Humboldt Explorer in the Galapagos had texting and notifications only; at some areas you may get some cell signal. It’s usually best to assume you’ll be off the grid on the boat, unless told otherwise. Make certain at least 2 people back home have the number to call the liveaboard and reach you if there's an emergency.

The magic of liveaboards is you're 'just there.' The boat moves while you sleep or eat, you're right by the dive site (unless they use pangas) and it's as close to 'fall in the water' easy as diving gets. The flip side is the boat's loaded with likely over a dozen divers who may've paid thousands to commit to spend the trip at sea. Nobody wants to go back early. Minor medical issues and such aren't grounds to cut other people's vacation short. Some boats stay closer to populated areas, some go more remote. Be aware.

Sea-sickness can be trouble on liveaboards; while some destinations are more worrisome than others, there may be a rough deep water crossing at the start and/or end of a trip, getting from home port to where the diving is. I’ve yet to be on a boat that rocked all week, but your first and last day could get interesting. If you take medicine for this, start well in advance and have it in your system before you get sick.

As noted under Amenities, liveaboards vary widely between basic/budget and luxury/expensive (e.g.: Blackbeard Cruises offers a popular, very inexpensive experience referred to as 'camping at sea,') but it seems most are quite comfortable. Some boats were repurposed from non-diving roles. Mainstream liveaboards I've seen tend to assume 2 divers/room, and if you accept a same sex room mate you pay no single supplement.

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Tipping is a near ubiquitous and essential part of dive boat staff pay in the U.S. and Caribbean region. Many are underpaid on the assumption they make it up in tips. Liveaboard staff work long hours and extended tours of duty. Many boat staff and guides on day boats make little money. Some people despise the institution of tipping, but please don’t stiff these guys. I’m well aware some people virtue signal how well they tip, and I have no interest in upping the ante’ on anyone. Here are my impressions of mainstream, reasonable tipping practices in the American and greater Caribbean region:

For day boat trips, at least $5 per tank for ‘taxi service’ (e.g.: haul your own gear aboard and off, set up your own gear; basically, they take you to the site, say ‘pool’s open,’ etc…but there’s still more topside support than you may be aware of) or $10 for ‘valet diving’ (e.g.: staff set your gear up, change tanks, guide the dive, etc…). For liveaboard trips, 10% of the base trip cost.

Some tip more or donate an old piece of gear, but these guidelines should keep you from being a Scrooge. I don’t feel a need to tip for unguided shore dives where I set up my own gear, and shore dives are often cheaper than boat dives.


Planning a trip for only divers who care mostly about diving and little else is pretty easy. Bring a non-diving spouse or kids, or travel with family friends who don’t dive and it gets messy fast. Or maybe you want bars and nightlife, or cultural experiences with ‘authentic indigenous peoples,’ or to roam rainforests visiting Mayan ruins. Maybe you want to work on your Spanish or French in an immersive environment. This is a destination-specific topic, but here are some general guidelines.


Non-divers often want/need some mix of sandy beaches, shopping opportunities, all-inclusive resorts (so the food and maybe alcohol are pre-paid; on-site entertainment and a kids’ club may be nice), civilized amenities (e.g.: zip lines, parasailing, the Curacao Sea Aquarium, other topside excursions), snorkeling, etc...


Not all Caribbean islands have abundant nice, sandy beaches. Neither Bonaire nor the southern coast of Roatan are known for this, but Grand Cayman and Curacao are. St. Thomas is a big Caribbean shopping center, and San Miguel in Cozumel fun to browse, but Grand Turk or Saba might be too rustic for a shop-aholic. Some places have more all-inclusive resorts than others.

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Make a list describing the kind of diving and non-diving activities you want. If you bring a child, a good kids' club at your resort can be great for parents' downtime, and they like a wade-worthy sand beach.

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If you go off diving most of the day a few running, you run the risk of the dreaded 'stink eye,' and "I thought you were going to spend more time with us." My wife called some of our trips a 'dive trip disguised as a family vacation.'

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I’m not going into detail because details can change any day. Whether COVID-19 or some other disease, be mindful of requirements to board your plane and travel to another country…and return home. This condition is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, symptomatic disease is termed COVID-19, it affects humans and a wide range of mammals, transmission is mainly airborne, mitigation strategies include social distancing (e.g.: 6-feet plus) and wearing masks in public, and vaccination is highly recommended.

💉There are several vaccines; those approved in the U.S. markedly reduce the risk of serious disease with hospitalization or death, but even fully vaccinated people can contract, harbor and transmit the virus. Periodically new variants arise with different contagiousness and vaccine susceptibility characteristics. At this writing we are in an evolving pandemic where sweeping changes can occur within a few months.

📄If a negative test result is required to fly into a country, make sure you have the right type (e.g.: don’t show up with an antigen test if they demand a PCR test). A positive test during your trip can derail your flight home, and require quarantine on-island, so consider what that may entail.

:sbtinylogo:Presently on ScubaBoard, you need to opt in for Access to COVID & Pandemic Discussions to view its threads. Click your little avatar pic beside the notifications envelope and alerts bell icons, select Preferences in the pop-up, and scroll down to Additional Forums.


The usual scenario is 1 personal item (e.g.: large purse or backpack, must fit under seat in front of you), 1 carryon bag (e.g.: small suitcase) and 2 checked backs (large suitcases, up to 50 lbs. each, often for a fee). Paying to ship more is expensive, so most stay within these restrictions. Over-weight checked baggage fees are also expensive – a small electronic luggage scale is handy. Note: foreign airlines (such as the smaller carriers servicing the Galapagos Islands) may have different volume and weight restrictions on luggage, including your carryon!

The 2 checked bags are for dive gear and clothes. An entire set of dive gear and accessories may exceed the 50 lbs./23 kg (many divers put their regulator and dive computers in a carryon bag), so spreading it over 2 bags keeps the weights down. Remember: airlines can and do lose bags, and bags miss flights and show up days later. Checked bags are for things you can live without in a pinch.

Your passport and money (e.g.: credit cards) are the 2 most important things to pack, and should be on your person or in your personal item or carryon, as should prescription medication, your scuba mask (if you’re a tough fit), dive computers, camera and regulator (if possible).

🔋🎒Lithium batteries not inside equipment are packed in carryon luggage with care to avoid touching each other or metal that enables current flow and a fire hazard – see How do you handle Li-ion dive light batteries…on an international flight? Mexico may (or not!) be an exception in some ways (check before you go) – Post #22 Advice requesting: Packing scuba gear for air travel?

If you are packing a cylinder (e.g.: Spare Air (has travel pack options) or pony bottle as redundant gas source for solo diver), you can’t take it pressurized – the valve must be off and security staff able to look inside it (you can put a removable cap over the hole to keep out contaminants).

Liveaboards often have limited onboard luggage space and may request divers keep it compact. For such trips, I bring 1 hard-sided checked bag (to protect gear) and check one large duffle bag (for clothes and other things rough handling won’t break). See Packing for Liveaboard.

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Regional Seasons & Conditions​


Some destinations are accessible all year with little variation (e.g.: Bonaire and Curacao), but many vary seasonally. Bahamas waters are often warm but in winter turn chilly. Off-shore wreck diving out of North Carolina is seasonal, and many liveaboards only visit Raja Ampat part of the year. In an arid region the ‘rainy season’ may be mild, in another a multi-day downpour. @Akimbo noted Haboobs (dust storms) can affect visibility in North Africa, the Red Sea, Mediterranean and Canary Islands.

Water temperatures vary enough to change exposure protection needs in some places. California and the Galapagos Islands come to mind, but even the northern Caribbean islands may be a few degrees chillier in winter. Water temp. doesn’t always equate to latitude; yes, the Galapagos Islands are equatorial, but their waters aren’t warm all year.

💨Hurricane season runs from late June through Nov. in the Caribbean, an issue for northern and central islands usually sparing the extreme south (e.g.: ABC Islands, though Bonaire got hit hard by Tropical Storm Omar).

Characteristic sea conditions can ruin your day if prone to sea sickness. For off-shore wreck diving out of Morehead City, NC, you should know it may be a 1 1/2- hour boat trip over the Atlantic Ocean (not the Caribbean Sea).

Many hope to see big animals, which are often seasonal; whether goliath grouper or lemon sharks out of Jupiter, FL, whale sharks in the Galapagos or cage diving with great white sharks out of Guadalupe.


Special events like the Ironman competition in Cozumel can disrupt topside access to services. You may wish to ask your dive operator if any events are scheduled during your vacation.

Don’t forget conditions back home; my biggest fear planning winter trips is that ice will keep me from reaching the airport or the plane taking off.

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Know Your Operator & Be Ready for the Boat​

Request permission to board. Have all needed gear with you. Plan to stow gear compactly at your dive station. Check your tank pressure before departure. The boat may or may not have a sheltered, dry area for personal items (e.g.: cell phone, wallets); consider a dry box. Staff will conduct a boat briefing (e.g.: where life vests are) and dive briefing (e.g.: describe the dive site), and may review common hand signals for 'okay,' 'need help' and specific animals (e.g.: shark, turtle). Review common hand signals before the trip (Dive Division, Curacao has a really nice YouTube! video How To: Scuba Signals - How Divers Communicate UNDERWATER! and JCA Elite Scuba walks you through with diagrams at Hand Signals for scuba divers. Underwater communication).

In the unlikely event of a crisis, it can help to know some seamanship. In his article Diving & Seamanship, Akimbo noted people have died because the captain was out of commission and no one knew how to turn on the radio.

You don’t know what you don’t know. Dive operators vary by and within regions. Review ScubaBoard threads to get a sense of the local culture where you wish to go. Many dive operators catering mainly to tourist divers and/or newer divers provide free guide service; the guide conducts a dive, often returning to the boat at around 45-minutes (if everyone’s air holds out), he may point out and have you signal tank pressure during the dive, and there may be another staff diver monitoring the group. Sometimes they ensure all divers have buddies. Giant striding into the sea is intermittent and slow, and everyone floats until everyone’s ready and the guide gives the signal to descend.



Many others don’t ensure all divers have buddies, not everyone wants a buddy, some people follow the group as a whole, and the guide may not ask your pressure, rather saying let him know when you’re at half a tank, etc… Some operators or destinations (e.g.: California) catering to more experienced divers don’t routinely put a guide in the water; you may be able to hire one.

Land-based operators of dayboats may offer large boats which are more stable but may carry more divers than some prefer, or smaller boats with fewer divers (e.g.: ‘6-packs’). Caribbean liveaboards are yachts from which divers dive off and re-enter the stern, but in other parts of the world (e.g.: Galapagos Islands, Raja Ampat), divers step down into smaller boats (e.g.: RIBs, pangas) and are taken to/from dive sites.


The lack of individual navigational competence amongst certified divers is one of the biggest ‘open secrets’ in the hobby, and while many regions and operators compensate for this…some don’t.🧭

If spearfishing or lobstering bother you, find out if that’ll happen on your boat. Some people may not count spearing invasive lionfish, so ask if it’s an issue.


Your dive operator’s website should specify details for certification (e.g.: may require AOW and nitrox) but may or may not for dive limits (e.g.: max. depth not > 110'/33m, no deco. diving), but there may be non-publicized limits – a dive boat doing only morning trips can get back a little late, but one that has to be back in time to ready for a scheduled afternoon trip may be strict in limiting dive times (e.g.: 50 minutes). Whether a dive guide leading a group should take them all up together when the first diver runs low on air, just send up the buddy team or the diver alone has been debated and varied amongst fans of different dive operators in Cozumel.

Sign on Turks & Caicos Aggressor II

Dive Work-flow​

Some destinations have practices you may not be used to. Due to the potential for separation in current, it’s common in Cozumel for the group to back roll in simultaneously rather than giant stride in singly. In Jupiter, FL, which also has current and drift diving, we giant strode in singly but quickly – the captain yelled ‘Dive, dive, dive’ and we got in and got down. In the non-drift but current diving of the Galapagos Islands, we back-rolled in negatively buoyant and immediately started finning for the bottom at some sites (and Humboldt Explorer loaned us a Nautilus LifeLine and Dive Alert at no charge for diving Wolf and Darwin). Also in the Galapagos Islands, you need durable gloves (like these) that don’t get shredded holding onto rocks in current. In Palau divers commonly use reef hooks to hold position in current and observe. In some shark diving, it’s advised to wear full wetsuits and avoid brightly colored gear. Nitrox tends to be 32% at most Caribbean destinations (with multi-day repetitive diving)…but on my trips I saw the default was 36% in Jupiter, FL and 30% in Morehead City, NC (both with deep diving).

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Special Interest Groups​

Air Hogs​

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An 80 Ft³ AL tank (actually holds around 77 Ft³) just isn’t enough to many divers. Newer divers, big divers, for whatever reasons, some just won’t last 50 minutes on a typical multi-level Caribbean reef dive. This leads to fear of running low on air and cutting other people’s dive short and dubious practices like skip breathing (which can lead to CO2 retention and intense head ache). While the 80 Ft³ AL tank is the standard in North American diving, you have options.

The most common option I see is the 100 Ft³ AL tank (sadly often filled to 3,000 PSI despite a rated fill pressure of 3,300 PSI, so you may get closer to 90 Ft³, not 100). Even so, 90 beats 77 and might get you by! In some places they’re common place (e.g.: Cozumel), sometimes for an upcharge, and sometimes there’s a limited supply (e.g.: some live-aboards) – so reserve yours early! V.I.P. Divers in Bonaire has 100 Ft³ tanks, as does CocoView Resort in Roatan.

A few destinations offer really big tanks. With Jupiter Dive Center and Olympus Dive Center, I rented 120 Ft³ steel tanks. In Cozumel, Aldora Divers, Living Underwater and Liquid Blue Divers offer 120 Ft³ steel tanks. In California for reasons I never knew the 95 Ft³ steel was the main big tank option.

Solo Diving​

Solo diving acceptance and support vary widely, even within destinations and providers well-equipped to support it. Often their web site will clarify but you may have to ask. Some require solo certification (e.g.: SDI Solo Diver or PADI Self-reliant Diver) and may require (and may rent) solo gear (e.g.: redundant gas supply). Some liveaboards forbid it, but the Turks & Caicos Explorer II allows it (with certification), as do a number of land-based operators in Bonaire. In Curacao when I checked it was mixed (e.g.: Ocean Encounters and Dive Bus forbade but Bas Harts (no longer available) supported; Go West Diving as of Aug. 18, 2019 supported if properly equipped); Grand Cayman’s long been inexplicably resistant to solo diving (as of Oct. 26 I see Dive Tech and Ocean Frontiers offer the PADI Self-reliant diver course) but Brac Scuba Shack on Cayman Brac supported it. Check out our Solo Divers section.

Extra Assistance Divers​

If you need extra help getting in or out of the water, gearing up or other concerns, contact the dive operator and see what they offer. Also consider the boat (e.g.: size and distance to hit the water). You may find operators offering ‘concierge’ level service – such as V.I.P Divers in Bonaire. Dive Heart is a non-profit volunteer-driven organization with stated mission to build confidence, independence and self-esteem in children, veterans and others with disabilities using ‘zero gravity, adaptive scuba and scuba therapy.’

Kid Divers​

If you plan to get your minor OW-certified on a vacation trip, check ScubaBoard (e.g.: Search or start a thread and ask) for current recommendations. Good instructors great with kids can make a big difference. For more challenging environments (e.g.: drift diving Cozumel), you may want to hire a private dive guide for professional supervision the first few dives after certification.



If diving at port stops on a cruise, you have a few logistic concerns. The cruise ship will likely offer a paid excursion option with a vendor they contract with (it may take digging to find out who); in the event of an unexpected delay, the ship is more likely to wait late for your return, or the cruise line take more responsibility to catch you up with it. Or you can book independently with a dive operator on-island, which may offer a brand name you’ve read good reviews on, tanks larger than 80 Ft³ or other customizations. Cruisers often get off the ship later than morning dive boats go out, so not every dive operator accommodates cruisers. Since many cruisers are very sporadic divers unknown to the boat staff, they may be taken somewhere ‘safe’ (e.g.: where there’s less concern poor divers will kick the reef, etc…). On the other hand, cruising can give you an ‘appetizer sampler’ of a few islands on one trip and keep non-diving fellow travelers entertained.

Technical Divers​

For decompression diving, dive times well over an hour, diving manifolded doubles or side-mount, or helium or specialty gas mixes or rebreather support, you’ll find some operators don’t support it. Those who do may offer technical training courses. Do a search or start a thread and ask on ScubaBoard for current reputable providers at your destination. You may need a dive boat trip dedicated to technical divers. Jupiter Dive Center (FL), Divetech (Grand Cayman) and Buddy Dive Resort (Bonaire) support tec. diving.

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Odds & Ends​

Whether fighting the spread of zebra mussels or stony coral tissue loss disease, or avoiding contributing to reef degradation by using reef-safe sunscreen, be mindful of regional environmental concerns and cleaning your gear. You can learn more with DAN’s article Environmental Considerations for Disinfection of Dive Gear.

Study Your Boat's Safety Profile​

Sept. 2, 2019, the popular California liveaboard Truth Aquatics Conception caught fire and sank, killing 33 passengers and 1 crewman in a bunk-room below deck, which had 1 main exit stairway (to the enclosed salon area). The ceiling escape route appeared quite limited to the demands of such a situation. This triggered scrutiny amongst industry and the diving public. Some lessons brought positive change, and some aren't fixable but you should be aware.
  1. The passenger room area should ideally have 2 separate exit paths opening to the outdoors (and not both into the same enclosed space). That's often not the case. When you board, figure out your escape paths.

  2. Modern divers charge a lot of equipment that contains lithium batteries, and for a range of reasons this is a fire hazard. Some operators now limit charging to dedicated stations and/or set times. Even if allowed to charge an item in your room, don't leave it unattended.

  3. A passenger-carrying boat at sea with passengers bunking (e.g.: a liveaboard where people sleep overnight) is (at least in U.S. waters) to have a 24/7 roving watch person patrolling the boat, monitoring safety. This sometimes does not happen.

  4. Fire on a boat can spread with a speed and intensity that may shock you (and could block your escape before you know there's a fire) and smoke alarms are no guarantee (Conception had them...).

  5. Going back in to grab something during a fire can get you killed. It was alleged this happened to Trish Kessler (see Tales from the Red Sea Aggressor I Fire free access in Undercurrent).

  6. Older boats may be 'grandfathered in' so some regulations may not apply.
Where U.S.-flagged vessels are concerned, they may be Coast Guard inspected or un-inspected - for more see Wookie's article What Kind of Boat are you Diving From?

“ You should always be prepared to discover a new wreck, including the boat you came out on ”


Have a Plan B​

You get a sinus infection and can’t equalize or get skin bends and DAN says don't dive. You’re in Cozumel and a Norte wind leads the harbormaster to close the harbor a couple of days. Bad weather lead most boats to cancel in Jupiter, FL, or your boat needed service. Some dive operators cancel trips if not enough people book! Despite your mightiest efforts, the diving may not happen. Have an idea what topside excursions you might enjoy if laying on a lounger by the pool isn’t your thing. Your accommodations provider may have excursions; TripAdvisor has a Things to Do section for many destinations.

Destination-specific Gear​

Some places call for niche gear. Due to threat of petty theft from rental trucks during shore diving (e.g.: Bonaire), you likely won't have your cell phone, but what if you have a flat? With a tank and regulator, this tire inflator can help (and have a plan for what to do with your truck key while you dive). Walking geared up over Bonaire's jagged iron shore makes medium or thick-soled dive boots preferable to thin-soled 'booties,' and open-heel fins are often better than full-foot for shore diving. Kevlar gloves for holding onto abrasive rocks in the Galapagos or a reef hook for Palau are other examples (see Diving Inspiration's Drift Diving - How to Use a Reef Hook). Dive sites with higher-than-usual 'lost at sea' risk may call for a Nautilus LifeLine and/or PLB.

Know Your Limits

The most common scenario where divers following a guide balk at the plan is swim throughs. OW training strongly condemns overhead diving (soft - deco. diving, or hard - physical (wreck/cavern/cave)) without proper training. If there's not much current, you can likely swim above the swim through following the group's bubbles. Current can change things. Some wrecks have been opened up and made safe enough to act as swim throughs (e.g.: Grand Cayman's Kittiwake). Factor in your willingness to go on these and discuss with the guide beforehand.

A popular Cozumel swim through is Devil's Throat, a sloping passage about 130'+ at the deep end, pushing the maximum recommended depth for EAN 32 Nitrox (111'/33.8m for pO2 1.4, 132'/40.2m for pO2 1.6), a popular mix. One diver found himself on a dive with EAN 32 where the guide intended to drop down to start the swim through. It would be a brief time very deep, but what do you do? One diver stayed high as he could at the deep end had had max. depth 113'/34m.


See DAN - Hazards of Wreck Diving.

Learning Opportunities​

On the boat, notice other divers’ gear. This may be your chance to get a close look and ask about a back plate/wing setup, side mount rig., long hose regulator setup, various dive lights, a camera or a lion fish spear.


The left-most BCD is a BP/W setup rather than jacket-style.


Inflation is a progressive drain on buying power coupled with a compound interest effect, so dive trip cost estimates get dated quickly. You may find this U.S. Inflation Calculator (or one similar) useful to estimate costs.

I cite figures in U.S. dollars; here's a currency calculator to give numbers in your preferred currency.

While educated in metric, I was raised using imperial units and that's my comfort level and mainstream at home. Here's a conversion calculator. Some handy rough equivalents:
1 m = 3.3 feet (hence 10 m = 33 feet).
1 km = 0.6 miles.
1 kg = 2.2 pounds.
30 cm = 1 foot.
28° C = 82° F.

European scuba cylinders are rated by floodable volume in liters, U.S. cylinders by gas volume in Ft³ at a rated fill pressure in PSI. An 80 Ft³ tank is roughly equivalent to a 12 L tank, and a 100 Ft³ tank to a 15 L tank. The U.S. and much of the Caribbean use yoke tank valve connectors; many Europeans use DIN connectors (and with an insert can use yoke tanks).

Write A Trip Report​

Help the next person researching a trip. Whether you have 15 dives or 1,500, somebody with a similar perspective can benefit from hearing your experiences. Don't forget accommodations and topside offerings matter. If I want to dive where you dove, do I want to stay where you stayed and dive with the same operator? When you make the post, there's an option to add a Trip Report pre-fix. And remember...we like pictures.


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