I’m an experienced overhead-environment and mixed-gas decompression diver. I love fresh and salt-water diving and dive lakes, quarries, caves and mines in and around the UK and abroad including Spain, Greece, Portugal, Malta, Cyprus, Egypt and Mexico.
All photography is dependant on one thing: light.
The aim of taking a photo is to get enough light into the camera and detected by the film/sensor to produce a properly exposed image.
This means shadows are not too dark, highlights are not too bright and there’s a good distribution of light between those two extremes. Underexposing an image will discard shadows in favour of black. Overexposing an image will discard highlights in favour of bright white. For colour photography, in addition to receiving the right quantity of light, we also needs to capture light of the right colour.
Cameras have three factors which control the quantity of light and how it’s detected:
- ISO: the film or sensor sensitivity.
- Shutter speed: the amount of time the film or sensor is exposed to light.
- Aperture: the size of the hole the light travels through towards the sensor.
When there’s lots of light a camera can be set with:
- a low ISO rating (to decrease grain in the image)
- a high shutter speed (to freeze the action)
- a small aperture size (to increase the depth of field which makes more of the scene in focus).
When there’s less light, the opposite needs to be set:
- a higher ISO rating (increasing grain in the image)
- a lower shutter speed (which can make the photos blurry due to camera shake)
- a wider aperture (which reduces depth of field making items in the extreme foreground or far background out of focus).
During the day above water when there’s lots of light, a camera can be left on automatic and you’ll generally get a properly exposed image.
Not all photographers use automatic settings and often isolate and manually set their ISO, shutter speed and aperture to get more creative control over their images.
What is light?
Light is energy that has a wavelength between 400nm (nano-metres) and 700nm. The source of this energy could be a light bulb, the sun, a candle, a hot piece of metal, some uranium etc.
These energy sources will invariably be radiating energy in lots of other wavelengths too (including gamma, x-ray, ultraviolet, thermal, infrared, microwave etc.), but its just the 400nm to 700nm wavelengths that our eyes can detect.
We have red, green and blue receptors (cones) on our retinas that detect these different wavelengths of light. Different proportions of different wavelengths are interpreted by our eyes as different colours. It’s the same principle for film or a sensor in a camera.
Every light source emits its energy at different wavelengths and therefore the colour of the light is different for every light source. This is called its colour temperature.
Whereas paint colours are created by mixing the primary pigment colours: red, yellow and blue (sometimes called magenta, yellow and cyan), light colours are created by mixing the primary light colours: red, green and blue.
The light emitted from the sun has roughly equal quantities of red, green and blue which results in white light with a colour temperature of between 5,000 to 6,000 Kelvins. Fluorescent tube lights produce much cooler, “bluer” light with a temperature of 4,000 to 5000 Kelvins. Incandescent filament bulbs produce warmer, more yellow light with a colour temperature of around 2,700 to 3,000 Kelvins.
Light energy travels in a straight line until it’s reflected, refracted or absorbed (or any combination of the three).
- When light is reflected, it bounces and travels in a straight line in a different direction.
- When it’s absorbed, the light energy is converted to a different sort of energy (i.e. heat).
- When it’s refracted, the light continues in a straight line, but its direction of travel has changed.
There is no known material that reflects, refracts or absorbs 100% of light energy, there’s always some degree of reflection or absorption of light.
Every time light bounces off something, the material of that “something” absorbs some of the energy of the light affecting it’s colour and intensity.
Consider white light hitting a red snooker ball. The material of the ball absorbs blue and green light and reflects the remaining red light. The red light hits our retina and we see a red snooker ball.
The same white light hits the green baize under the snooker ball. The baize absorbs the red and blue light and reflects the remaining green light to our retina and we see the green baize.
The red light bouncing off the snooker ball also hits the green baize, the baize absorbs the red and traces of blue light and nothing perceivable is reflected. Similarly the green light bouncing off the baize hits the red snooker ball which in turn absorbs the green light and any traces of blue light and again nothing perceivable is reflected.
Light is bouncing around all the time constantly having its colour, direction and intensity changed by anything it interacts with.
Light and water
When we try and take photos underwater, we have an additional medium to deal with, which affects the colour and intensity of light: water.
In order for our retinas (and camera film/sensors) to see something, here’s what happens:
- White light is emitted by the sun and hits the surface of the water above you.
- Some of the light is reflected back up into the air.
- Some of the light energy is absorbed and increases the temperature of the water.
- Some of the light is refracted by the water surface and travels down into the water at a slightly different angle.
- As the light travels through the water, it starts losing energy. It’s red energy is absorbed first, followed by green, then blue. The more water it passes though, the more energy is absorbed.
- The reduced energy light hits an orange fish in front of you.
- The orange fish absorbs some of the blue parts of the light (orange = red + green) and reflects the remaining red and green light to your retina.
- Unfortunately there wasn’t much red and green light left after it travelled through the water above you, so the fish appears a dull blue instead of its vibrant orange.
If you had a dive torch and shone it at the orange fish, here’s what would happen:
- You shine your dive torch (which emits white light) at the orange fish.
- There’s not much water between the torch and the fish or between the fish and your retina, so very little of the red part of the spectrum is absorbed by the water.
- The orange fish absorbs some of the blue parts of the light and reflects the remaining red and green light to your retina (orange = red + green).
- There’s now lots of reflected red and green light hitting your retina, so you now see the fish as a vivid orange.
If you’re near the surface, then the water won’t absorb too much red light and your photos will usually look OK. They might have a very subtle blue cast.
If you’re deeper underwater and not using a light source such as a dive torch or underwater flash gun (called a strobe) then your photos will definitely have a blue or green cast to them.
Although the absorbed red data can never be recovered, the remaining few scraps combined with an approximation of what might have been can be generated using photo manipulation software such as Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.
I’ll be focusing on Adobe Photoshop CC in this article.
What is a digital image?
A digital image is a graph with X and Y axes. These are the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the image expressed in pixels.
Each X and Y location on the graph has three values: red, green and blue (RGB) each typically expressed as a value between 0 and 255. When these three values are combined, they are interpreted as a single point of colour of varying brightness and saturation (the strength of the colour).
When the graph is filled with all this RGB data, a digital representation of the image is visible.
A properly exposed image has a good spread of red, green and blue data with varying intensities. This can be seen by analysing an image’s RGB data on a set of charts known as histograms. In Photoshop, these are termed levels.
Here’s a photo taken at depth without additional light along with its RGB histograms.
The histograms show the quantity of red, green and blue data at varying levels of brightness in the image. The X axis is pixel brightness left to right, black to white. The Y axis is the quantity of pixels starting with zero at the bottom.
The red histogram shows there’s a lot of dark red data, but very little mid-level or bright red data in the image.
The green and blue histograms show there’s a good distribution of green and blue data across the image with the majority being at mid-level without too much dark or very bright data.
Blue and green data is good, the red is lacking. This is why the image has a blue/cyan cast (blue + green = cyan).
Here’s an example of a well-balanced image:
In this instance, the red data has a good spread of intensities from dark to light. Although there’s more dark red in the image, the image is balanced as the rest of the red data is in the mid tones and highlights.
Its blue and green data is similar to the previous image with a good spread, lots of mid-range and not too much very dark or very light data.
The effect of all three channels having a good spread of data, results in a pleasing image with no discernible colour cast.
We need to do something about the red data in the first image so it looks as good as the second image.
The missing red data
There are two methods for adding red data back into your underwater photos:
Method 1: Spread out the red data
We need to brighten the red highlights and mid-tones while leaving the shadow data untouched.
This will have the effect of stretching the existing red data out across the histogram to look more like the green and blue histograms.
Here’s how to do it:
- Open your image in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements
- Select Image -> Adjustments -> Levels
- Change the Channel dropdown to Red
- There are three sliders under the histogram, black, grey and white. Drag the white slider left to where the red data ends in the histogram. As you drag the slider, your image will be adjusted in real-time. Also try dragging the middle (grey) slider left or right to change the distribution of the mid-level data.
- Click OK when you’re happy.
You’ve now adjusted the distribution of the image’s red data. You can verify the change by viewing the red data histogram again.
The image looks a bit better but the updated histogram shows what happened. The small amount of red data was stretched out across the dynamic range which has resulted in some nasty fringing and obvious red pixels. It doesn’t look very natural.
Photoshop can’t fill-in the gaps in the histogram because it can’t know where the red data should have been in the image. The histogram only shows the distribution of light and dark data in an image, not it’s exact X and Y placement.
Method 2: Generate new red data
A new red channel can be generated by doing the following:
- Create a grey channel based on the average luminosity of the pixels in the original image.
- Remove the blue and green data from this new grey channel leaving only a red channel.
- Replace the red channel in the original image with the new luminosity-based red channel.
- Auto-balance the new composite image.
- Create a grey channel based on the average luminosity of the pixels in the original image.
This is quite an involved process, so I’ve created a Photoshop action which will work with a flattened image (i.e. a Background) and apply all these processed in one click.
You can download the action here
Unzip the file and drag and drop the contained .atn file into the Actions panel in Photoshop.
The action will come up as colourcorrect_red in the Underwater folder.
Double click the action name (colourcorrect_red) to run it or alternatively, select the action and hit the play triangle ► in the Actions panel.
Method 3: Use Photoshop’s new Match Color -> Neutralize function
There’s a new feature in Photoshop and Elements that approximates the effect of manually generating red data based on the luminosity of other channels. This is Photoshop’s new Match Color function.
Here how to use it:
- Open your image in Photoshop or Elements
- Select Image -> Adjustments -> Match Color
- Click Neutralize. The colour cast will be reduced.
- Click OK
The filter can be controlled by using the Luminance, Colour Intensity and Fade sliders.
Filters for Adobe Premiere CS6 and CC
I’ve made available to download some filters I created for Adobe Premiere CS6 and CC (I don’t know if it works in other versions) for colour correction of underwater images.
These filters enhance the colour of videos made during dives. You should test multiple filters to see what is best for your video. Sometimes the filter is good at the start of the shot, but it can get bad as the light changes. So it’s good to go through each clip with the filter applied before finalising it.
Underwater at depth, the colours fade due to light being absorbed by the water. Many people use a physical filter in front of the camera lens: usually red or magenta. I do’t really like this technique because it makes the video more red when there is light.
The best result can be obtained with continuous artificial light, so even at depth the colour capture will be accurate. It really is amazing the colours of fish, crustaceans and corals from the bottom of the sea.
To install the filters go to the effects tab of your Adobe Premiere CS6/CC and import them (one by one).
Here’s an example of the filters in action:
The filters can be downloaded here:
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.
- 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
- Baby wipes
- Benadryl blue
- Macbook Pro
- “Outbound” Travel documents
- 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 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
- 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
- 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
- O rings (nitrox)
- Silicone grease
- Zip ties (small and large)
- Spare mask strap
- Spare regular mouthpiece (Apeks)
- MacBook Pro
- Multi-way USB charger
- Toothbrush charger
- Reliable alarm clock
- HDMI cable
- Lots of sweets (gummy bears, jelly babies, fizzy things to hand out)
- Sudafed blocked-nose spray
- SPF15 Sun cream
- Sun stick (1st)
- Sing relief
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Benadryl white (antihistamine)
- Benadryl blue+white
- Swim-Ear drops
- Rehydration salts (lots)
- Fabric plasters – not the clear waterproof ones
- Liquid skin
- Shampoo (duty free)
- Conditioner (duty free)
- Shower gel (duty free)
- Shower scrunchie
- Nivea (tube)
- Shave gel
- Aftershave (tiny bottle)
- Lip balm (2nd)
- Hair product
- Toothbrush + toothpaste
- Sun hat
- Boxers x 7
- Swimming trunks
- At least 2 for under wetsuit
- At least 2 for swimming/sunbathing
- Thin fleece (evening/travel)
- 7 x T shirts (day)
- 7 x Lightweight polo shirts (evening)
- Lightweight shorts (day)
- Travel in denim shorts (rewear in the evening/on shore)
- Flip flops (wear for travel)
- Flight tickets / boarding passes
- Parking details
- Holiday booking confirmation
- Airport lounge booking confirmation
- Extra legroom booking confirmation
- 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
- 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)
- 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)
- Pens x 2
- Business cards to hand out
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:
- Water and soft drinks
- Air and Nitrox fills
- 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
* 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.
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 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.
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.
Pack anything delicate or pressure-sensitive in your hand luggage. For me this includes:
- Dive computers
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.
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 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.
As a minimum, bring a spare battery kit for your dive computer.
Ideally bring a second dive computer (and a battery kit for it).
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.
UPDATE: 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
- Zip ties (small and large)
- Spare mask strap
- Spare regular mouthpiece
- Double-ended boltsnap
- Spare fin strap
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.
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).
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.
Making 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 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.
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:
- It’ll get in your eyes and there’s nothing you can do about it under water
- It makes putting on your wetsuit difficult
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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 cert. EasyJet 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.
Check 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.
At 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.
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
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.
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.
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:
- Wake up
- Pre-breakfast dive
- Pre lunch dive
- Afternoon dive
- Night dive
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.
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!
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…
- You do what you need to do.
- 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 😉
- Here’s the key part: you dry yourself with toilet paper
- You put the toilet paper in the bin
- 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
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:
- Get out of your wetsuit and boots
- Turn the wetsuit inside-out
- Dunk the wetsuit and your boots in the freshwater tank (not the camera wash tank)
- Hang up the wetsuit on the provided wooden hangers
- 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.
Back in your cabin:
- Take a shower in your swimwear and rinse it out to get rid of the salt
- Get dry and dressed
- 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.
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 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.
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.
- 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 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-do. how-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:
- Get the passports of everyone who’s sharing the room.
- Get the money or payment method ready.
- 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.
- 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.
Here’s a list of all the kit I’m currently using along with links to either buy or find out more information.
|Drysuit||Otter Britannic Mk 2||Otter Watersports|
|Boots||Otter rock boots||Otter Watersports|
|Dry gloves||Kubi||Kubi Store|
|Wet gloves||Fourth Element 5mm|
|Fins||Apeks RK3 (High Density)|
Bare SB System Mid Layer full length
|Wing||Dive Rite Classic XT|
Custom Divers TDB
|Cylinders||Apex manifold twin 12 litre Faber steel|
|Regulators||Apeks DS4 + Apeks XTX50|
|Cutting tools||EEZYCUT Trilobite|
Wenoka Squeeze Lock knife
|DSMB||Bowstone "mini" marker buoy||eBay|
|Stage||7 litre Faber steel with Apeks DS4 + Apeks XTX50|
|Wetsuit||Waterproof W1 5mm|
Waterproof W3 3.5mm
Waterproof W30 2.5mm
Waterproof W Overvest 5mm
|Wing||Dive Rite TransPac-XT|
|Fins||Mares Avanti Quattro Plus (black)||Amazon|
- Discover Scuba® Diving
- PADI Seal Team
- PADI Skin Diver
- Open Water Diver
- PADI Scuba Diver
- Discover Local Diving
- ReActivate™ – Scuba Refresher
- Adventure Diver
- Advanced Open Water Diver
- Rescue Diver
- Master Scuba Diver™
- Dive Master
- Emergency First Response Provider
- Enriched Air
- Underwater Navigator
- Peak Performance Buoyancy
- AWARE® Coral Reef Conservation
- Project Aware® Specialist
I teach Tec courses using back-mounted twins from the start. I hope to extend these courses to cover sidemount later this year.
Although I’m an independent instructor, I usually run my training through Fin Divers in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.