Red Sea Liveaboard Packing List

 

Here’s the packing list I use when I’m preparing for a Red Sea Liveaboard SCUBA holiday.

I always get everything together in one place before I put anything into a case.

This helps because:

  • I get an overview of what I’m packing
  • I can immediately see if I’m packing 2 of something
  • I can see if I’ve forgotten to put something in a case as it’ll still be out

Also, please read my Red Sea Liveaboard Tips and Tricks article.

Hand-luggage

  • Regs (Apeks XTX 200)
  • Dive computer (primary) (Shearwater Perdix)
  • Dive computer (backup) (Vyper Air)
  • Dive Computer Transmitter (loose, not fitted)
  • Primary Light-For-Me 4-TEC with Dive Rite quick connect for 2” webbing fitted
  • Lip balm
  • Sunglasses
  • Baby wipes
  • Paracetamol
  • Ibuprofen
  • Benadryl blue
  • Macbook Pro
  • Kindle
  • Headphones
  • Powerbank
  • iPhone
  • Wallet
  • “Outbound” Travel documents
    • Passport
    • Scuba qualification card (will this allow for extra baggage allowance with Thomson?)
    • Boarding pass (if printed)
    • Holiday booking
    • Extra legroom booking (if booked)
    • Parking booking

Dive gear

  • Dive rite harness & wing
  • Quick-release weight pockets for harness
  • Custom divers weight pockets
  • 2 x double-ended boltsnaps (1 attached to harness – doubles as tank banger)
  • Line cutter (threaded onto harness)
  • Bungee loop for backup torch on harness
  • Regulators (Apeks XTX200) (in hand luggage)
  • Mares fins
  • Snorkel
  • DSMB
  • Finger spool & double ended bolt snap
  • Mask (black)
  • Spare mask (clear)
  • 1 x Light-For-Me 3XPG torch
  • Primary dive computer (Shearwater Perdix) (hand luggage)
  • Backup dive computer (Suunto Vyper Air) (hand luggage)
  • Transmitter (in hand luggage, but not fitted)
  • Spare torch batteries
  • Dive computer battery kit (Suunto Vyper Air)
  • Spare AA batteries (Shearwater Perdix)
  • 4-TEC charger
  • Boots (Waterproof)
  • Lycra socks (2 pairs)
  • 3.5mm wetsuit (Waterproof W3)
  • 5mm wetsuit (Waterproof W1)
  • Rash vest (Full length)
  • Neoprene bandanna (Scap) and/or Bare beanie

Toolkit

  • Bungee (varying thicknesses)
  • Cigarette lighter
  • Permanent marker
  • Battery kit for dive computer
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Multi-allen key tool – make sure it fits
  • Beaver dive multi-tool
  • Cone spanners that fit Apeks regs

“Save-a-dive” kit

  • O rings (nitrox)
  • Silicone grease
  • Zip ties (small and large)
  • Spare mask strap
  • Spare regular mouthpiece (Apeks)

Electricals

  • iPhone
  • Headphones
  • MacBook Pro
  • Kindle
  • Multi-way USB charger
  • Toothbrush charger
  • Reliable alarm clock
  • Cables
    • HDMI cable

Food/Drink

  • Biscuits/chocolate/snacks
  • Lots of sweets (gummy bears, jelly babies, fizzy things to hand out)

Medicines

  • Decongestants
    • Sudafed blocked-nose spray
  • Sun
    • SPF15 Sun cream
    • Sun stick (1st)
  • Painkillers
    • Paracetamol
    • Ibuprofen
  • Sings/bites
    • Sing relief
    • Hydrocortisone cream
    • Benadryl white (antihistamine)
  • Allergies
    • Benadryl blue+white
  • Ears
    • Swim-Ear drops
  • Stomach
    • Rennie
    • Rehydration salts (lots)
  • Skin
    • Fabric plasters – not the clear waterproof ones
    • Liquid skin

Wash bag

  • Washing
    • Shampoo (duty free)
    • Conditioner (duty free)
    • Shower gel (duty free)
    • Shower scrunchie
  • Skin
    • Nivea (tube)
  • Shaving
    • Razor
    • Shave gel
    • Aftershave (tiny bottle)
  • Deodorant
  • Lip balm (2nd)
  • Hair product
  • Toothbrush + toothpaste

Clothes

  • Sun hat
  • Boxers x 7
  • Swimming trunks
    • At least 2 for under wetsuit
    • At least 2 for swimming/sunbathing
  • Tops
    • Thin fleece (evening/travel)
    • 7 x T shirts  (day)
    • 7 x Lightweight polo shirts (evening)
  • Bottoms
    • Lightweight shorts (day)
    • Travel in denim shorts (rewear in the evening/on shore)
  • Flip flops (wear for travel)

Travel paperwork

  • Passport
  • Flight tickets / boarding passes
  • Parking details
  • Holiday booking confirmation
  • Airport lounge booking confirmation
  • Extra legroom booking confirmation

Dive paperwork

  • Dive qualification cards
    • PADI Tec Instructor card
    • PADI Nitrox Card (40%)
  • Blank dive log book pages (enough for 22 dives)
  • Copy of latest HSE medical
  • DAN Insurance Card

Misc

  • Money for tips (£80 sterling)
  • Money to pay end-of-week balance
  • Money to buy extra-legroom seat at check-in (~60 GBP)
  • Soft wheeled hold-all
  • Swim ear plugs
  • Tinted swim goggles (for last day at hotel)
  • Lip balm (1st)
  • Sunglasses
  • Clothes pegs (non-metal)
  • Large non-marking plastic bulldog/crocodile/alligator clips
    (to secure stuff to railings i.e. wetsuit when drying)
  • Water bottle marking device (coloured bungee)

Stationery

  • Pens x 2
  • Business cards to hand out

Kindle Collection Manager

I wrote the Kindle Collection Manager many years ago to add missing functionality to the Amazon Kindle range of eBook readers.

It’s a Windows desktop app that allows books to be arranged into collections – both manually and automatically based on folders – then the collection configuration is uploaded to the Kindle device.

Unfortunately Amazon locked down the file system on all devices from the Paperwhite onward which renders the app unusable.

For owners of previous versions of the Kindle eBook reader where the collections.json file is still accessible over USB, the KCM will still work.

Here’s a link to download the last version that was released.

Connecting a digital piano, an iPad, an audio mixer and headphones

Yamaha P-115 Digital Piano

I recently bought a Yamaha P-115 Digital Piano (which I love) in an attempt to teach myself to play piano. Its piano sounds are amazing and the graded-hammer-action on the keys really do feel like an acoustic piano.

I quickly discovered there are some really great apps available on iOS for learning piano and the majority of them allow you to connect your iOS device to your digital piano via its MIDI port. This means the app can check which keys you’re playing and help guide you though your piano lessons.

A great example of this is Simply Piano by JoyTunes.

Simply Piano on the App Store   Simply Piano on Google Play

Learning to play with the help of an app is all well and good but to anyone in the house, having to listen to someone bashing away on a piano with some cheesy backing music or the app chatting away, can be pretty annoying.

I’ve read reports of people actually wearing two pairs of headphones – one in-ear and one over-ear so they can hear the app and their digital piano at the same time!

I’ve come up with a solution that allows me to play the piano, listen to its amazing natural sounds and listen to training app on my tablet at the same time – all through a single set of headphones – and without disturbing anyone*.

I’ll go through the kit I’ve used and how I’ve configured it.

* Apparently the sound of me hitting the piano keys still reverberates through the floor and my foot tapping to keep time still annoys the rest of my household.

Here’s a list of the kit I’m using

I must stress here that I’m using an iPad Pro, so some of the information here is iPad specific. If you’re using an Android tablet it should be the same except for the need for an Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter.

Yamaha P-115 Digital Piano
Any keyboard or digital piano with a USB MIDI interface will work here. Most use the larger USB-B connector, but some use the mini and micro USB connectors. Be careful with these as they can be easily dislodged.

If your piano has more traditional 5-pin DIN connectors, you’ll need a MIDI to USB adapter like the iRig Midi 2 UNiversal MIDI Interface.

Male USB-B to male USB-A cable.
If your keyboard or digital piano has a different connector, you’ll need a different cable. Whatever you get, it must have a standard male USB-A connector on one end. This plugs into the Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter.

Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter
This connects to your iOS device through its lightning connector and allows you to plug in a cable with a USB-A connector. It also has a lightning socket so you can charge your iOS device at the same time. You’ll need a second lightning cable to do this.

This is expensive for what it is and there are cheaper alternatives out there. However these cheap versions are very poorly made, have bad internal connections and fall apart. I’ve tried some of them and ended up throwing them away after a couple of days.

Worse case, they could damage your Apple device or invalidate your warranty.
Don’t scrimp here – go and buy the right tool for the job.

Male 3.5mm to male 3.5mm stereo audio cable
You’ll need one of these to take the audio from your iOS device to the audio mixer. An angled connector is also a good option and can keep the cables a bit tidier.

 

Male 6.35mm (¼”) to male 3.5mm stereo audio cable
This will connect the headphone output of your keyboard to the audio mixer. If your keyboard has a smaller 3.5mm headphone socket, then you’ll need another 3.5mm to 3.5mm stereo audio cable (like the one above).

If you’re really lucky and your keyboard has an AUX output, then definitely use that instead. My Yamaha P-115 has a pair or mono 6.35mm AUX sockets on the back, so I use a cable with 2 x male mono 6.35mm to a single stereo male 3.5mm connector.

Simple stereo audio mixer
This is the key part of your setup. This is where the audio from your iOS device and your keyboard is mixed and sent to your headphones.

You’ll need a mixer that allows at least 2 x stereo audio inputs and a headphone output. This particular one has 3 x 3.5mm stereo inputs and a 3.5mm headphone output – which is perfect for what we need. It can be powered either by a couple of AA batteries (!) or via a micro USB cable.

Hooking it all up

Here’s how it all fits together

Configuring audio levels

I tend to set the audio on my iOS device to a maximum of 50% using it’s volume buttons. This reduces the strength of the signal to the mixer.

If you’re using the headphone output of the keyboard, you should set its volume to 50% for the same reason. If you’re using the AUX output on your keyboard, this will be delivered at an industry-standard level so you don’t have to worry about the output volume.

The mixer has input volume and gain settings for each channel and an output volume. I’ll assume your iOS device is using channel 1 and the keyboard is channel 2.

Here’s how I set mine up:

  1. Make sure everything is connected-up but turned off
  2. On the mixer:
    • Set the channel balance dials to zero i.e. equal left/right balance
    • Set all the channel volume sliders to zero
    • Set all the gain and AUX dials to 50%
    • Set the output (master) volume slider to 100%
  3. Turn on your iOS device
    • Set the volume on your iOS device and keyboard to 50%
  4. Turn on your keyboard
    • Set your keyboard volume to 50% (or zero if you’re using AUX output)
  5. Turn on the mixer
  6. Put on your headphones
  7. Set some audio playing on your one of your piano apps on your your iOS device
  8. Slide the volume slider of channel 1 (iOS device) up until it’s at a level you like.
  9. Play a few notes and chords on your keyboard while sliding the volume of channel 2 (keyboard) up.

Find a mix of channels 1 and 2 where you can hear the iOS device and your piano notes clearly. I like the piano channel (2) slightly louder so I can hear myself clearly while playing along with backing tracks.

Getting rid of the hiss, hum and crackle

You will hear some hiss, hum and crackle through your headphones.

Before fiddling with the mixer, try changing how your cables are laying and what they’re near i.e. power cables, chargers, adapters, speakers etc. Moving the cables can change the contact between plug and socket and 3.5mm jacks are particularly prone to bad connections.

To reduce any residual hiss, hum and buzzing, use the gain dials of both channels to find the sweet spot where it disappears. Adjust one channel at a time.

Each channel’s gain dial controls the input volume into that channel. Each channel’s volume slider controls the output volume of that channel.  The master slider controls the overall output volume of the mixer to the headphones.

Increased gain will increase the output volume of that channel, so you may need to adjust the channel’s volume slider down slightly to stop things getting too loud.

Once you’ve set one channel, the second channel is much easier. Just turn the gain dial until the hiss disappears completely. Again, tweak the volume slightly as the gain affects the volume.

In this particular mixer, the channels are not completely isolated and insulated from one another. This means changing the gain and volume of one channel can cause hiss and hum in the other. After a couple of minutes of slightly changing gains and volumes, you’ll soon have a nice clean mix.

I’ve included a diagram of roughly how my mixer looks for my setup of a Yamaha P-115 and iPad Pro.

Red Sea Liveaboard tips and tricks

Liveaboard dive deck

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.

What is a liveaboard holiday?

A liveaboard holiday is designed specifically for SCUBA divers where you live on a boat travelling around a specific region that offers good diving opportunities. The Red Sea in Egypt is famous for its liveaboards.

A liveaboard holiday typically includes:

  • Flights
  • Transfers
  • Visas*
  • Accommodation
  • Food
  • Water and soft drinks
  • Cylinders
  • Air and Nitrox fills
  • Weights
  • Power for recharging your electrical items (cameras, batteries etc.)

A liveaboard holiday doesn’t usually include:

  • Equipment hire*
  • Training courses*
  • Tips for crew
  • Unlimited towels
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Trimix*

* Check with your holiday company

Liveaboard holidays appeal to qualified SCUBA divers who want to dive up to 4 times a day and experience as many different dive sites as possible in a short period of time.

A liveaboard holiday is typically 7 days, but some can run 10 or 14 days.

Certifications

Although entry level qualifications (PADI Open Water or BS-AC Ocean Diver) are the required minimum for a liveaboard holiday, there will be dives that exceed the maximum depth of those qualifications.

For PADI Open Water, the maximum depth you’re qualified to dive is 18m. For BS-AC Ocean Diver it’s 20m.

It’s recommended that additional training, certifications and experience dives are cone before departing to ensure you can do all the dives safely and comfortably.

For PADI, the Advanced Open Water Course will qualify you to 30m and the Deep Diver Speciality Course to 40m.

For BS-AC, the Sports Diver Course will quality you to dive to 35m.

Important: If you exceed your maximum certified depth and there is an incident, any insurance you have will not cover any costs incurred.

Insurance

Firstly check the expiry, the terms and conditions and the policy schedule for your current holiday insurance.

Check specifically if it covers you for the diving that’s planned during your liveaboard holiday. Check the exact wording. If in doubt, call your holiday insurance company and explain what you’re planning to do, the country, the gas (if Nitrox) and the depths involved.

If your holiday insurance doesn’t cover you, you must get some insurance cover that does – at a minimum for the duration of the trip.

I can personally recommend the insurance provided by the Divers Alert Network (DAN).

What to bring

Unless you’ve arranged with the holiday company to hire scuba gear, you’ll need to bring everything with you except cylinders and weights.

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. See Airline luggage allowance below.

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 as there are no/few rivers flowing into it, 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.

Cylinders

Cylinders are provided on the liveaboard and you can choose either 12 or 15 litre capacity depending on your preference. One important thing to note is that these will be aluminium cylinders and not steel as is commonly used in the UK.

This means you won’t get the advantage of the extra weight at the start of your dive and will be additionally disadvantaged at the end of the dive as they’ll be more buoyant. To get around this, you’ll need to wear a bit more weight.

Your first dive of the trip will be in shallow sheltered water off the back of the boat. This is the “check-dive” where you can adjust your weighting and kit as necessary.

Dive computer

As a minimum, bring a spare battery kit for your dive computer.

Ideally bring a second dive computer (and a battery kit for it).

Mask

Bring a spare mask and a spare mask strap.

Attach a snorkel to your spare mask and keep it in your crate. When the call goes up for dolphins being spotted, you can just grab your mask and snorkel and jump off the back of the boat.

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.

Burn inside of Scuba maskUPDATE: I’ve just done the thing I said I would never do to a new mask to stop it fogging-up. I used a cigarette lighter to burn-off the invisible residue on the inside of the glass. This really does work but you have to be super-careful not to heat up the glass too much or melt the plastic frame or silicone skirt. The glass will blacken slightly, but this washes out leaving a perfectly clean surface that doesn’t fog up anymore. You can check how thorough you’ve been by fogging up the mask with your breath then watching how it evaporates – you’ll see the bits you’ve missed.

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 (Delayed Surface Marker Buoy – sometimes called a “safety-sausage”) and reel or spool. More importantly, you will be expected to know how to safely use one and be experienced in its use. If you don’t have your own, 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 and 5 metres below the surface.

Wetsuits & thermal protection

Long before you’re due to start packing check the average air and water temperature reports for the area and time-of-year you’re travelling.

In January for example, the air and water is cooler, and its windy. This will chill you during and after the dive. A full-length 7mm suit with base layer and hood is OK, but you’l’l get cold and won’t warm up. Consider a drysuit outside of the summer months.

I’ve worn both 3.5mm and 5mm full-length wetsuits to the Red Sea in September/October. 3.5mm is fine for the first few 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 and neoprene beanie does help.

On other trips I’ve taken both a 3.5mm and a 5mm full length wetsuit. I started out in the 3.5mm, then switched to the 5mm halfway though the week. Although this sounds ideal, it does mean you have to pack two wetsuits (which are heavy) and when you switch between them, your weighting will be all over the place.

Some people take two wetsuits that they rotate between dives so they always have a dry suit to put on. Very nice if you’ve got the weight allowance.

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

Tool kit

The boat will have a typical dive toolkit, but if you’ve got something unusual that needs 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 or defogging a new mask)
  • 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
  • Spare fin strap

Dry-bag

Bring a small dry-bag with you to store anything you might need in a hurry but don’t want to get wet.

An example of this would be your toolkit, spare batteries or save-a-dive kit.

You can store the dry-bag in your crate on the dive deck.

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” or “dressing for dinner”. 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).

Electrical items

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.

The sockets on a liveaboard will be the European 220 volt 2-pin style. Either bring EU chargers/cables or bring suitable EU adapters.

Remember to bring chargers for everything! If possible bring a multi-port USB charger. If you have a device that supports quick-charge, make sure the charger you bring supports it. I can personally recommend this charger from Anker. It has 5 x high-power USB ports including 2 x Quick Charge 3.0 ports which will charge GoPro batteries in half the time.

If you’d like to listen to music in your cabin, you could bring a bluetooth travel speaker. Remember to bring whatever charger and cable it needs.

Anker 63W 5-Port USB Wall ChargerMaking calls or using data while at sea is usually problematic. Network coverage near populated areas is good, but travel off-shore and coverage is bad – particularly in the Ras Mohamed National Park.

The liveaboard will usually have a Wifi router with a 3G data card so you can make a data connection. The quality and speed of the 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 other people can give you their photos.

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. I can personally recommend the Sandmark Pole. It’s lightweight and tough and extends to 64cm.

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 re-hydrate you after your flight or illness. I take 2 x 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:

  1. It’ll get in your eyes and there’s nothing you can do about it under water
  2. It makes putting on your wetsuit difficult
  3. 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.

Sun protection

The sun in Egypt is strong all year round and especially so at the height of the dive season (August/Sept/Oct).

Go for something sweat/waterproof with a high SPF and 5-star UVA and UVB ratings.

To reduce the weight of this in your luggage, buy it at the airport.

Documentation

PADI Medical StatementRemember 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. There probably will be dives deeper than 18m, so remember to bring your appropriate certification. For PADI, this is your Advanced Open Water card, for BS-AC it’s your Sports Diver card.
  • Log book showing previous dives (with 21 blank pages 🙂
  • Gas certification. If you’re using Nitrox, bring your relevant card. For PADI, this is your Enriched Speciality card, for BS-AC it’s your Nitrox card. Remember to buy your Nitrox card as soon as you’ve got your BS-AC Ocean Diver cert.
  • This is the PADI Medical Statement you will complete when you get on-board. Read it now. If you have any medical condition that means you answer “yes” to any of the questions, you’ll need to 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.

Packing

It’s a good idea to put together a list of all the stuff you want to take before you actually start packing.

Here’s my Red Sea Liveaboard Packing List I use every time I go on a liveaboard holiday. You could you it as a starting point for your own list.

Here’s some tips:

  • Get everything together in one place before you put anything in your suitcase or hand luggage.
  • Weigh your luggage before you leave for the airport. A set of bathroom scales or a luggage scale is useful here. See Airline luggage allowance for more info.
  • Make sure the documentation you need for your journey to the airport and your flight is in your hand luggage.
  • Remember to pack whatever you need during the flight in your hand luggage. Especially things like headphones, lip balm, u-shaped neck-pillow-thing etc.
  • It’s a long flight to Egypt (from the UK it’s 5½ hours to Hurghada) so make sure you’ve got stuff to entertain you. Load up your tablet or smartphone with films, music and podcasts. Make sure you’ve got books on your eBook reader. If you know you’ll be using your tablet for the duration, you might want to pack a USB powerbank* so you can recharge en-route.
  • Charge up your phone, tablet, powerbank and anything else you want to use on the flight and (where practical) switch them to flight mode and power them off to conserve battery.

I can personally recommend the Anker PowerCore 20000 Portable Charger. It has 2 x USB ports and 3 different fast-charging technologies built-in including Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 which will charge GoPro batteries in half the time.

Travel

Airline luggage allowance

In the last few year airlines have significantly reduced their luggage allowance to as little as 20 KG.

Some airlines used to give free extra luggage allowance on production of your dive cert on check-in. Monarch certainly used to do this and (at time of writing) Thomson are granting an extra 5 KG on production of your dive certEasyJet don’t offer free additional luggage allowance.

All airlines will allow your to purchase extra luggage allowance under the heading Sports equipment but this can be as expensive as an additional case. Also be aware that if you’ve bought additional luggage allowance, that you’ll have to lug all that extra weight:

  • to the airport
  • around the airport
  • on and off conveyor belts (multiple times)
  • across the marina
  • onto the liveaboard
  • to your cabin

and then all the way back home again.

Your case(s) aren’t going to get much lighter on the way home, so I’d advise to stick to the restriction imposed by the airline and get creative and ruthless about what you pack.

Don’t forget about your hand luggage. Some airlines also impose a weight restriction here too. I’ve heard reports of a 5 KG limit being imposed and hand luggage was actually weighed and travellers were charged excess luggage.

The best thing to do is stay within the limits imposed and weigh your cases before leaving the house (ideally using two different scales) so you know you’re OK.

Flights

Egypt Immigration FormCheck before you fly, but some airlines will give you a few extra kilos of luggage allowance if you show them your dive certificate. I know Monarch used to give you 3 KG 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 🙂

All airlines have restrictions about carrying knives, so if you’ve packed one, make sure it’s in your hold luggage and not your hand luggage otherwise it’ll be confiscated. Similarly, check the airline’s regulations about carrying lithium Ion batteries. Some insist that they must be carried in your hand luggage and not checked-into the hold. Here’s easyJet’s page as an example.

Make sure you’ve packed a pen in your hand luggage so that you can fill in your Egypt Immigration Form. This will be handed out during the flight. Fill it in straight away and put it inside your passport.

Arrival

Egypt Tourist VisaAt the airport arrivals area before security you’ll be met by your travel company representative and asked to gather in a group so you can be issued with your tourist visa. These are necessary as you’re travelling out of Sharm El Sheikh. They cost around 25 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. If you do need to buy a visa, bring cash in in either USD, Euros or Sterling.

The visa is stamped by security and then (for an unknown reason) 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’ve 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 holiday there’s always someone who has either not been issued a visa or hasn’t had it stamped. These poor guys are then frog-marched back to arrivals by the rep to get things resolved. It’s late and hot and this makes everyone a bit more grumpy. 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

Liveaboard dive deckOnce 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.

If you know for sure that the boat isn’t full, have a quiet word ASAP with the Dive Master and politely ask if you can have a room to yourself. It’s always worth asking.

You’ll take your suitcase to your cabin and empty it completely. Now fill up your suitcase with all your dive gear and take it to the dive deck. Find a spot on the benches you like, and fill your crate with your dive gear.

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 from 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 marina.

The cabins

Red Sea Liveaboard CabinThese invariably contain two narrow but full-length beds.

All cabins will be air conditioned and are en-suite with toilet, basin, mirror, shower and bin.

There’s a drawer under each bed. One bed will have a smaller drawer because of the air conditioning. There’s also a small wardrobe with a high shelf and a drawer.

Between the beds is a bedside cabinet containing life-vests with a drawer for your use.

All cabins will have a window which can be opened. Lower cabins have portholes and are a bit darker. Upper cabins have larger windows but they open onto the walkway that goes around the outside of the boat so you might get people walking past.

If you’ve paid for single-occupancy (about 50% of the cost of the holiday) or you’re lucky enough to have been allocated a cabin to yourself, you’ll have all the space to yourself – which is wonderful. You’ll also get an extra towel to use (which is a luxury).

If you’re sharing, remember to:

  • Be tidy and considerate at all times
  • Share the space equally
  • Communicate with your cabin-mate and talk about how you’re going to use the space available
  • Get into a routine with the bathroom and stick to it
  • Don’t take forever in the bathroom
  • Consider using the shared toilet to free up your bathroom for your cabin-mate
  • Take 2 sets of new unused ear-plugs. One pair for you and the other for your cabin-mate.

Your daily routine – Eat, Sleep, Dive, Repeat

You’ll be woken with a shout of 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. There are ice-cream/beer-fines for divers who don’t report back.
  • 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

Food

The galley crew do an amazing job of feeding 30 people 3 times a day with hot freshly prepared food. There’ll be lots of it and after all that diving you’ll be ready for it.

Vegetarian choices will always be available but if you have specific dietary requirements, you’ll need to speak to the holiday company before you book to check that the galley will be able to cater for you.

Red Sea Liveaboard Food Red Sea Liveaboard Food Red Sea Liveaboard Food

If there’s a birthday or anniversary (diving or marital) on board, make sure you tell the divemaster and the galley will prepare something special – and often produce a huge cake!

Toilets

Liveaboard bathroomThere’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.
    You wash yourself with the hose.
    You’ll get the hand of it – try not to get water everywhere 😉
  3. Here’s the key part: you dry yourself with toilet paper
  4. You put the toilet paper in the bin
  5. Now wash your hands

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

Keeping things dry

There are a few things that will get repeatedly that you’ll want to dry out throughout your week on a liveaboard.

For me, these are:

  • Wetsuits and boots
  • Swimwear
  • Towels

Then at the end of your trip, you’ll need to dry all your dive gear before packing it back into your suitcase for your journey home.

Wetsuits and boots

Immediately after your dive:

  1. Get out of your wetsuit and boots
  2. Turn the wetsuit inside-out
  3. Dunk the wetsuit and your boots in the freshwater tank (not the camera wash tank)
  4. Hang up the wetsuit on the provided wooden hangers
  5. Hang your boots upside down on the edge of your crate

The breeze should dry the inside of your wetsuit ready for the next dive in a few hours. If you get the chance, go back and check on your wetsuit to make sure it’s drying properly. You might find you can turn it right-side-out and dry the the outside too before your next dive.

If you’re wearing Lycra socks, rinse these in the dunk tank and knot them onto a railing somewhere to dry.

Swimwear

Back in your cabin:

  1. Take a shower in your swimwear and rinse it out to get rid of the salt
  2. Get dry and dressed
  3. Clip or knot your swimwear to an external railing somewhere breezy to dry

Remember to bring more than one set of swimwear with you so you always have something dry to put on while you’re waiting for your other set to dry out.

Towels

Each person will receive a single bath towel at the start of the trip and a replacement halfway through the trip.

If you shower before breakfast and again after each dive, you’ll be using each towel 14 times (7 mornings + 21 dives divided by 2 towels).

The air in the cabins is not good for drying towels because:

  • the outside air is very salty
  • the cabin windows are small and don’t offer much ventilation
  • the doors and windows are usually closed
  • the shower makes the air damp
  • you’ll be using the air conditioning overnight

To dry and air your towel, clip it to an external railing on an upper deck – away from the sea spray. Don’t try and dry it in the cabin as it’ll get stinky really quickly.

An alternative is to bring your own microfibre towel. These can be washed in your bathroom sink and dried quickly clipped onto a railing.

Tool Clip

Clips and clothes pegs

I bring a set of tool clips with me so I can securely attach clothing and towels to the railings on the side of the boat. These can be picked up cheaply from hardware stores. I bought mine from Wilcos for £0.75 GBP each.

If you can’t get these clips, bring a few clothes pegs.

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 after a dive otherwise it won’t get filled
  • Remember to analyse your gas and log the result before you 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 honesty-bar in the 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
  • Don’t 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
  • Don’t be a know-it-all and tell everyone else what-to-dohow-to-do-it or tell people their kit is no good. Be nice.
    There’s always one guy on a liveaboard that’s a PITA. If you can’t spot who it is after a few days, it’s probably you

Remember to rest

Diving four times a day is great but can be exhausting.

Make the most of the time between dives to rest, re-hydrate and eat lightly

Don’t feel bad about retiring to your cabin, setting an alarm for an hour and getting some quality sleep before the next meal or briefing. You’ll feel so much better for it.

Preparing to go ashore

The boat will be moored-up back at the 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.

Remember to dry your wetsuit inside and out – you don’t want to be packing a damp wetsuit.

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 town. I would definitely recommend the latter. Egyptian towns are bright, loud and a mad cross between Benidorm and Marrakesh with some great restaurants and bars.

It’s a wonderful contrast to the serene week of diving you’ve just done.

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.

At the airport

As you’ll now have seen, Egyptian airports are chaotic, hot and full of bureaucracy, security and lines of people queuing because of one or the other.

Bring your trusty water bottle you’ve been clinging-to to all week and your eBook or headphones and chill out.

Relax and keep your cool. Don’t get frustrated, angry or stressed-out, it won’t make the queues go down quicker or the plane leave earlier.

 

The Magister Trilogy by Celia S. Friedman

I’m working my way through the Magister Trilogy by Celia S. Friedman.

Friedman, Celia S - Magister 1 - Feast of Souls     Friedman, Celia S - Magister 2 - Wings of Wrath     Friedman, Celia S - Magister 3 - Legacy of Kings

Here’s the summary of the first book “Feast of Souls” taken from it’s Wikipedia page:

In this fantasy, the first of a new trilogy, the world’s magic comes at a terrible cost: a witch’s own finite life force, which drains away with each spell. The sole exceptions are the immortal Magisters, who secretly tap a more murderous fuel for their power. No woman has ever found its source, until young Kamala, hardened by life as a child whore, insists on an apprenticeship and secretly becomes an unheard-of female Magister. Meanwhile, Prince Andovan, third son of the avaricious King Danton, is expiring from the baffling Wasting disease, which can only be caused by a Magister. When the enraged king banishes his right-hand Magister, the mysterious and sinister Kostas takes his place, much to the dismay of Andovan’s mother, Queen Gwynofar. As an ancient, monstrous power stirs and threatens to drag the world toward a dark age, Kamala and Andovan find their fates entwined.

It sounds a bit like cheesy fantasy chick-lit, but it’s actually very good and has some really delievable and well-thought-out “high fantasy” ideas.

I’m onto the next book “Wings of Wrath” and it follows on nicely from the first with more of the same.

Recommended Scuba Equipment

Here’s a list of all the kit I’m currently using along with links to either buy or find out more information.

Cold Water

Warm Water

General

Blocking web trackers and cookies to help protect your online privacy

Ghostery Logo

I’ve just discovered a really good browser extension that blocks web tracking cookies, code and images.

It’s called Ghostery and versions are available for Chrome, IE, Safari and Firefox.

When active, Ghostery watches web pages being loaded and blocks, removes or replaces tracking cookies, code and images to protect your privacy.

It has easy-to-use and intuitive configuration pages which allow you to specifiy what you want to block and how you want notifications to work.

At time of writing, it recognises and can block 2,080 different trackers in 5 different categories:

I choose to block all trackers except Gravatar, Worpdress Stats and Google Analytics.

You can find out more information from the Ghostery home page at www.ghostery.com

It can also be installed as an extension for Chrome from their Web Store.

You can compare Ghostery to other anti-tracking browser extensions here: http://comparitech.net/private-browsing

Swimmo Swim training watch

I’ve been following the Swimmo project for a while now – ever since I backed their Kickstarter project last year.

“Swimmo is a next-gen smart swim watch. Monitor your swim. Set goals to stay on track. Swim smarter with IntensityCoach™, PaceKeeper™ and heart rate monitor”

 

Swimmo blackSwimmo Black & WhiteSwimmo White

I already swim with a Swimovate PoolMateHR which counts my laps and lets me download the data to my PC. It has a heart rate strap but I’ve never been able to use it as it instantly falls off while swimming, so it’s only usable under a wetsuit. The watch however doesn’t work in open water (it relies on a push-off-the-wall action to determine distance), so I’d have to wear a wetsuit in a pool to use the HR monitor. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg failure.

Swimmo HR LEDsThe Swimmo is different though. It detects your heart-rate through your wrist using LEDs. I’m really interested to see this in action.

The Swimmo also has a beautiful curved OLED display which really makes it stand out from the crowd. I do hope it doesn’t drain the battery too much and that it can still be used as a watch throughout the day like my PoolMateHR can.

The Swimmo also has no buttons at all. It works by detecting sharp rotating motions of the wrist (turning your hand so it’s palm up and back again) and taps to the watch body. I’m not sure how intuitive this will be in the real world.

Swimmo Apple Health IntegrationOne of the other features I’m looking forward to using is the integration with the Apple Health feature on my iPhone 6.

My other swim watches have a dedicated USB dock which is used to download the data to a computer. The Swimmo uses Bluetooth so this process should be much smoother.

The software I currently used to analyse my swims is pretty clunky and full of annoyances. I’m hoping the Swimmo software and Health app integration is an improvement.

The quote and images in this article are the property of Swimmo Inc. and were taken from their website Swimmo.com. If you want to get involved in the Swimmo Kickstarter campaign or pre-order a Swimmo, go to the Swimmo Shop