Red Sea Liveaboard tips and tricks

Here’s a brain-dump of everything I’ve learned and experienced during my annual Red Sea Liveaboard holidays.

I’ve written it to help people prepare for their first liveaboard and to give more seasoned travellers some tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way.

Packing

Don’t take a hard case. Take a wheeled soft case as this will take up less room after you’ve emptied it and it’s been stored below deck.

Pack anything delicate or pressure-sensitive in your hand luggage. For me this includes:

  • Regulators
  • Torches
  • Dive computers
  • Camera

This has the advantage of moving some of the weight of your dive gear into your hand luggage. Be careful though if your airline has a weight limit on your hand luggage.

There are urban-myths about diving with gloves and a knife in the Red Sea. This is to deter people from touching or damaging anything. I would say: if you feel the cold, wear gloves. You will be carrying a DSMB and reel/spool so instead of a knife, I would attach a discrete line cutter to the webbing on your BCD. Something like a Trilobite EZCut.

Don’t pack anything with a blade in your hand luggage.

Make sure you weigh your hand luggage and case before you leave home.

Dive Gear

Weights

There’ll be a crate of beaten-up solid “block” weights on board. They’ll be in various denominations and might be imperial or metric (i.e. pounds or kilos). You can either thread these onto your weight belt or put them in your quick-release BCD pouches or dedicated weight pockets.

Weight belts, pockets or harnesses will not be provided. Bring what you need and are practised using.

The Red Sea is much more salty than other oceans so you’ll need another 1-2 kilos on top of whatever you use in salt water. I’d recommend having this extra weight “as far forward” as possible – ideally in trim pockets behind your shoulders or in dedicated weight pockets attached to a cam band on the shoulder of your cylinder.

Mask

Bring a spare mask and a spare mask strap.

If you’re taking a brand new mask, make sure you’ve scrubbed it with toothpaste a few times before using it to stop it fogging up.

Fins

I know people who do all 21 dives in slipper/pool fins and have a great time. The advantage of these is that they’re easy to put on and take off and they’re very lightweight. The disadvantage is they don’t provide much power and can easily fall off.

I’d recommend wearing neoprene dive boots and fins with spring or rubber straps.

Under your dive boots I strongly recommend you wear Lycra socks. These will stop you getting blisters from your fins. Blisters in salt water just don’t heal and will make your dives miserable.

Don’t take rubber “technical” fins as they’re very heavy. Stick to more lightweight fins such as the Mares Avanti Quattro Plus fins. These come with surgical tubing straps as standard.

DSMB & Reel

You will be expected to carry a DSMB/safety-sausage and reel/spool. More importantly, you will be expected to know how to safely use one and be experienced in it’s use. If you don’t yet own one, don’t borrow someone else’s, go out and buy one. Then practice first in the pool, then in open water from varying depths.

You’ll be deploying a DSMB at the end of almost every dive from between 12 to 6 metres.

Wetsuits & thermal protection

I’ve worn both 3mm and 5mm full-length wetsuits to the Red Sea.

3mm is fine for the first couple of days, but as the week went on and I started to acclimatise, I felt cold towards the end of the dives and night-diving was just chilly from the start. Wearing a long sleeve rash vest did help.

On other trips I’ve taken both a 3mm and a 5mm full length wetsuit. I started out in the 3mm, then switched to the 5mm halfway though the week. Although this sounds ideal, it does mean you have to pack 2 wetsuits (which are heavy) and when you switch between them, your weighting will be all over the place.

To keep things simple, I now just wear a 5mm wetsuit throughout the week. I get my weighting sorted on day 1 and never change a thing.

Tool kit

The boat will have a typical dive toolkit, but if you’ve got something unusual that required a special tool make sure you bring it along.

I like to have a few bits and bobs in a small waterproof plastic bag so I can sort myself out if I have a problem.

  • Bungee (varying thicknesses)
  • Cigarette lighter (for sealing cut bungee)
  • Silicone grease
  • Permanent marker
  • Battery kit for dive computer and one for your transmitter (if worn)
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Allen keys/hex wrenches (that fit whatever kit you’re taking i.e. 1st-stage blanking bolts)
  • Cone spanners that fit your regs/transmitter.

“Save-a-dive” kit

  • Zip ties (small and large)
  • Spare mask strap
  • Spare regular mouthpiece
  • Double-ended boltsnap

Clothes

Clothing needed on a Red Sea liveaboard holiday is very different to an Egypt shore-based holiday.

Don’t worry about “being seen in the same thing twice”. Everyone will live in the same swimsuit, shorts and t-shirts all week.

I tend to bring more swimwear and rash-vests than I think I’ll need, then find I wear them all and don’t wear all my regular “dry” clothes.

For a week’s liveaboard (and because I like clean t-shirts), I bring:

  • 7  x  t-shirts
  • 2  x  quick-drying pairs of shorts
  • 7  x  sets of underwear
  • 2  x  swimsuits
  • 2  x  long sleeved rash vests
  • 2 x pairs of Lycra socks

I wear a warm hooded top, a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops to the airport (no socks). You’ll wear your flip-flops around the hotel on your last day (see later).

Electronics

Personal electronic devices like phones, iPods and eBook readers are useful to have on board. They can be charged in your cabin while you’re in there or on deck in a special charging rack on the wall.

Remember to bring your own charger!

Making calls or using data while at sea is usually problematic. Network coverage off-shore and particularly in the Ras Mohamed National Park is very poor indeed.

The liveaboard will usually have a Wi-fi router with a 3G data card so you can make a data connection. The quality and speed of your connection is entirely dependent on the network coverage in the area, so don’t depend on it. Most of the time you’ll have no data and when you do, everyone will be trying to use it.

If you’re taking a camera, bring lots of batteries, a charger and lots of data cards. Also if possible, bring some sort of storage device which you can empty your cards onto. This is useful for also taking copies of other people’s photos and videos.

If you’re not taking a camera, take a USB pen drive so you can take copies of other people’s photos and videos.

If you’re taking a GoPro (and most people do nowadays) you might want to take an underwater selfie stick. There are some tough neutrally buoyant telescopic versions that are popular.

Medicines

If you suffer from sea-sickness, bring whatever works for you and take them.

Bring electrolyte / hydration powders. These weigh nothing and are great to rapidly rehydrate you after your flight or illness. I take 2 doses as soon as I get on board and take some every day along with gallons of water.

Wet skin is easily damaged and only starts to heal when left to dry for a few days. This isn’t possible on a liveaboard, so bring fabric plasters (not the thin waterproof ones – as they’re not) and “liquid skin” to seal up cuts and grazes.

Sun screen is a must if you’re in the sun, but don’t use it before diving as (a) it’ll get in your eyes and there’s nothing you can do about it under water and (b) it’s harmful to sea animals and plants.

It’s up to you if you bring decongestants or antihistamines. Standard “medication-before-diving” precautions apply here, but if you’re on a liveaboard for a week and have paid for 21 dives, you need to make the decision whether to sit them out or self-medicate.

Documentation

Remember to bring the following essential documentation:

  • Passport
  • Flight tickets/boarding passes
  • Money as Sterling – don’t bring US Dollars or Egyptian Pounds
  • Dive agency membership card
  • Dive certification. If there are dives over 18m, remember to bring whatever certification shows you can do this.
  • Log book showing previous dives (with 21 blank pages 🙂
  • Gas certification. If you’ve decided to use Nitrox, bring your relevant cert.
  • If you have any condition that mean you answer “yes” on your health disclaimer form, bring a doctor’s certificate showing you’re fit to dive.
  • A copy of your dive insurance certificate or card. I would recommend getting DAN insurance before travelling.

Travel

Flights

Check before you fly, but some airlines will give you a few extra kilos of luggage allowance if you show them your dive certificates. I know Monarch give you 3KG extra taking you up to 23 KG for hold luggage.

I’ve never had my hand-luggage weighed (fortunately) but after the x-ray scanners, I’m often asked what’s in there. I guess it looks pretty weird on the screens. My umbilical torch and canister usually gets quite a lot of interest. Once I switch it on to demonstrate it’s a torch, they wave me through 🙂

Make sure you’ve packed a pen in your hand luggage so that you can fill in your immigration. This will be handed out during the flight. Don’t put it off, fill it in straight away and put it inside your passport.

Arrival

At the airport arrivals area before security you’ll be met by a liveaboard rep and asked to wait around so you can be issued with a tourist visa. These are necessary as you’re travelling out of Sharm El Sheikh. They cost 20 USD and come in the form of a full-page sticker that’s goes in your passport (make sure there’s a free page). Some liveaboard operators will have built this cost into your holiday price, so it’s just a matter of being handed one.

The visa is stamped by security and then (for a reason I’ve never been able to fathom) is checked again by a chap sitting on a plastic chair on the other side of security. So don’t put your passport away until you’ve cleared both checks.

Transfer

Once you’d got your luggage you’ll be herded onto a couple of coaches outside the terminal.

At this point you’ll be asked to double-check that you’ve got a visa in your passport and it’s been stamped. Every time I’ve been on a liveaboard there’s always someone who has either not been issued a visa or hasn’t had it stamped. These poor individuals are then frog-marched back to arrivals by the rep to get things resolved. This delays the coach by half an hour. Please don’t be “that guy”.

The coaches will transfer you to where the liveaboard is berthed. For Sharm, this will be Travco marina. On the way there you’ll get a load of information in heavily accented Egyptian about your options for your last day. This is just what you don’t want to think about before you’ve even started your holiday!

You will spend your last day at a hotel and be provided lunch and given use of all the facilities (pool, sunbeds etc). What they’re telling you is: you have the option to buy a room for the day at the hotel. This is extremely useful and isn’t expensive at all. It’s a great way to securely store your luggage, experience lovely air conditioning, have a snooze, have a hot bath/shower, use lovely clean dry towels and a toilet that you can flush paper down (and doesn’t involve a hosepipe). The rooms are usually twins and you can share the room (and the cost) with up to 4 other people.

While on board and towards the end of the trip, you’ll be asked to decide whether you want to buy a room for your last day and this will be phoned through to the hotel.

When you arrive at the marina you’ll need to queue up (again) and have your passports checked (again) and all your luggage and hand-luggage x-ray’ed (again) by the port authorities. You then carry your own luggage onto the boat.

Life on board

Getting settled

Once on the boat, your shoes will immediately be confiscated. You’ll then find out which cabin you’re in and who you’ll be sharing with. I’ve been extremely lucky on all my liveaboard trips to have always been allocated a twin cabin to myself. I think it’s because I’m a solo traveller among groups of dive-club members who know each other.

You’ll take your suitcase to your cabin and empty it – completely. Your case is then stowed below-deck and – like your shoes – will not be seen again until you leave the boat.

There’s also some paperwork to do so have your dive certs, logbook and doctor’s certificate (if required) ready.

Most people assemble their dive gear now and fill up their crates before dinner.

After an exhausting day of travel, a late arrival in a hot country and dinner on-board, you’ll sleep while berthed at the marina.

Your first “check” dive will be the following morning at a site just outside the marine.

Your daily routine – Eat, Sleep, Dive, Repeat

You’ll be woken with a “MORNING” and a knock on your door between 5:30 and 6am every day!

The ship’s bell is rung whenever it’s time for a briefing or food!

Before each dive, remember to:

  • Analyse your gas and if using Nitrox, log the mix
  • Attend the pre-dive briefing
  • Write your buddy pair names on the whiteboard

After each dive, remember to…

  • Rub your name off the whiteboard on the dive deck. This tells the crew that you’re back on board.
  • Disconnect your first stage from your cylinder
  • Log your air out, max depth and time in the log book in the saloon

The crew will refill your cylinder with either air or nitrox and put tape around the pillar valve when it’s full.

Each day will go like this:

  1. Wake up
  2. Pre-breakfast dive
  3. Breakfast
  4. Pre lunch dive
  5. Lunch
  6. Afternoon dive
  7. Night dive
  8. Dinner
  9. Bed
  10. Start again at #1

Toilets

There’s no septic tank on a liveaboard, so whatever goes down the toilet eventually goes into the sea. This means you should never put toilet paper down there. Instead, put it in the small bin next to the toilet.

Now, to us Westerners who are used to robust sewage systems, and flushing away all sorts of things, this rule raises a few questions – specifically “what do I do then?”. Well, taking a pee shouldn’t pose any problems, but what about “the other thing” ?

OK, here’s what you do…

  1. You do what you need to do.
  2. There’s a hosepipe on the wall next to the toilet with a hand-operated jet on the end.
  3. You wash yourself with the hose. You’ll get the hand of it – try not to get water everywhere 😉
  4. Here’s the key part: you dry yourself with toilet paper
  5. You put the toilet paper in the bin

There you have it. This means no smell form the bin and everyone’s happy.

Liveaboard Etiquette

DO…

  • Remember to tell the dive guides whether you’re doing the morning dive or not, otherwise you’ll get woken up when you want a lie-in.
  • Remember to take the 1st stage off your cylinder otherwise it won’t get filled
  • Remember to Analyse your gas and log the result before your dive
  • Remember to put your name on the buddy pairs whiteboard after the briefing
  • Remember to rub your name off the whiteboard when you’re back on board
  • Remember to write down what you’ve had from the bar in the honesty book and pay the bill at the end of the week.
  • Stick to the dive plan and stay with your buddy

DON’T…

  • Don’t ignore the briefing or think “I’ve done this one before – I’ll do what I want”
  • Don’t wash any of your dive kit in the “cameras only” rinse tank on the dive deck.
  • Put paper down the toilet.
  • Don’t take forever to get ready for a dive. Do as much checking and fiddling with kit before the briefing.
  • Don’t spread your kit out or get in other people’s way during kitting up
  • Don’t skip the buddy check – for any dive on any day

Preparing to go ashore

The boat will be moored-up at Travco Marina for your last evening and overnight.

 

Drying your kit

After your last dive of the week, you’ll wash all your dive gear in fresh water and take it to the top desk and hang it all up to dry. This will stay here overnight drying in the warm windy Egyptian air.

The next morning you’ll retrieve all your dry kit, pack up your suitcase and take everything off the boat.

Your last evening on board

You’ll be given the choice to either stay on board or go into Naama Bay. I would definitely recommend the latter. Naama Bay is bright, loud and a mad mix of Benidorm and Cairo with some great restaurants and bars.

It’s a wonderful contrast to the serene diving you’ll have done all week.

Your last day

You’ll be taken from the boat on a coach to spend your last day at a hotel in Naama Bay – probably the Sharm El Sheikh Mariott Resort.

You’ll have already decided whether you want a room for the day. If you do, it’s important that you do the following:

  1. Get the passports of everyone who’s sharing the room.
  2. Get the money or payment method ready.
  3. Designate a single member of the sharing party to run to get near the front of the queue at the hotel reception desk taking the money and passports. The rest of the group can look after the luggage.
  4. Remember to ask for a room key for each sharing party so you can all come and go.

You’ll be allocated a room right at the far end of the complex. There’s another smaller pool up there and a pool bar which we’ve often commandeered.

You can have lunch at the hotel but nothing else is included. If you want drinks or water from the bar, you’ll have to pay for them.

You can leave the hotel, cross the main road and use the facilities of the other half of the hotel too – next to the beach. There are also some good bars on the beach.

You’ll be picked up from the hotel late afternoon and taken to the airport.