Recently, one of my articles on this site was about remote liveaboards. Most of the destinations in that article are for very experienced divers. Unfortunately, that article helps reinforce the myth that liveaboards are for experts. The reality is that there are many liveaboard destinations that are suitable for beginning divers including Open Water Diver Training.
The Great Barrier Reef is a dream destination for many divers and Cairns is the center of most of the diving. Cairns also has the second highest number of Open Water certifications in the world. The majority of the scuba diving liveaboards in Australia sail out of here as well. So it is a good destination to use as an example about liveaboard diving for the student or novice diver.
Cairns Australia’s Scuba Diving Hall of Fame member, Mike Ball is considered the father of the modern liveaboards. His innovations moved liveaboards from converted fishing boats with cramp cabins and limited space to purpose built dive boats with sometimes luxurious conditions. Others adapted his vision and we now have an industry that offers divers quality dive vacations at destinations suitable for different skill levels. The Cairns liveaboard industry is still making invocations in the liveaboard industry.
Cairns is the bucket list destination for many divers for its location on the Great Barrier Reef. Travel time to the outer reefs from the mainland is about 90 minutes. The outer reef offers outstanding diving with the possibility of seeing pelagics such as sharks or tuna and other large marine life such as whales and dolphins. The marine park has a number of permanent moorings some of which are for the exclusive use of a single company. They can, of course, allow other vessels to use the moorings when they are not. Only one vessel can use a mooring at a time. Daily dive boats, many carrying over a hundred divers and snorkelers, offer a day of outstanding diving. The liveaboards provide opportunities and smaller numbers that the daily boats can not.
The more “traditional” liveaboards such as Mike Ball’s Spoilsport and the Spirit of Freedom provide one-week dive vacations. These vessels are home ported in Cairns and travel a round trip route that visits the outer reefs, the Ribbon Reefs, Lizard Island and Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea. The Osprey Reef is more than 10 hours past the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. The Osprey is known for great shark dives, perfect visibility, and pristine reefs. It is a destination for skilled divers. However, the portion of the trip between Cairns and Lizard Island is suitable for both experienced divers and diver training. Both of the liveaboards mentioned can have the trip split into a three day or four-day segment. The three day is between Lizard Island and Cairns. Lizard Island is a national park with a scientific research station and a small luxury resort. The park does have some camp grounds but no other improvements. A simple airstrip allows divers, resort guest, scientist and those visiting the park a means to fly in. Divers taking only a segment can join or leave the liveaboard for a flight to/from Cairns. The plane is not pressurized and flies below 1,000 feet, so there is no need for the no fly delay.
Other ways to Train
The Open Water Diver training, like most recreational dive training, is made up of three components. The knowledge portion also called the classroom portion deals with the theories and critical topics needed to dive safely. The confined water portions walk you through the basic skills a diver needs to know and gives you a chance to practice them in calm waters. The open water portion expands on the previous task and takes you into the natural environment. There is some flexibility on how these steps are completed. The knowledge portion is now done mostly by distant learning. The student completes the training online either on a computer or tablet device. Upon completing the online portion, the student schedules the confined water sessions with an instructor. That instructor reviews the knowledge portion and teaches the skills portion. The third section, the open water portion, can be done with the same instructor or transferred to another instructor. This transfer is called a referral. The referrals are done over two days.
One innovation in the Cairns area is what I call the “any day” liveaboard. A few liveaboards stay out at the outer reefs for extended periods of time. Shuttle boats from Cairns bring guest and provisions out to the liveaboard. Often these shuttles are daily dive boats owned by related companies. An arrangement like this allows a diver to join on the day most convenient to them. It also allows them to select the number of days they wish to stay. This flexibility on yacht style vessels makes the stay enjoyable for a non-diving companion as well. The typical day on a liveaboard is four or five dives a day including the possibility of a sunrise and twilight/ night dives. So while the land base diver is waiting for the daily boat to head out, you will be sitting down to breakfast after already having your first great dive of the day.
Cairns has some liveaboards that are on a two-night schedule. Scubapro I, II & III are offering every day departures for 2-night and 5-night trips. These are ideal for completing an open water course or an advanced open water course. As mention above, The theory and confined water portions of the training are done on land before boarding the boat. The open water dives are done out on the outer reefs. Divers will have the opportunity to do a night dive as a certified diver as well as some fun dives.
Thailand is another destination that offers some shorter liveaboards, however, many in the industry feel that the quality of the training and the comfort of the liveaboards are not at the same standard as the Great Barrier Reef liveaboards.Still everyone has their own comfort levels so it might be another destination to check out.