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Boat Diving: The Ultimate Guide

Scuba divers on a boat.

Whether it is your first time on a boat or your hundredth, boat diving is an amazing experience.

Boats allow you to dive into sites that are inaccessible from the shore which all you from the East Coast of the U.S. like me understand. 

If it is your first time on a boat dive or you are going on an unfamiliar boat, it can be intimidating. This is normal and happens to us all.

I will give you all the information below on boat etiquette, what you should bring and the terms you should know.

What are the Different Types of Dive Boats

diver doing a backroll off a boat

Small Inflatables and RIBs (Zodiac)

They go by many names and there are a lot of different types of these small Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBS) but they all do the same job.

They are meant for you to get to the dive site and back again quickly and safely.

Since they are smaller in size it would be wise to get on your suit and go to the bathroom before you get on the boat. It is can get very crowded and your gear is usually stored in the middle of the boat and you sit on the floats.

You get your gear out of the racks and enter with a backward roll-in and will have to climb back in after handing off your gear.

You will see these more on liveaboards for shuttling people and day trips and are more common in the U.S and Europe.

man with a small wooden dive boat at sunset

Small Wooden Boats

While in the US and Europe you will mostly see the Zodiacs and other similar vessels. In Asia and other parts of the world, these are not common.

For instance, in Thailand, they use longtail boats and in The Philippines, they use whatever is handy or you will have to have a boat made for the specific dive shop. They are usually a bit bigger than a zodiac but slower and prone to breaking down. The etiquette and entries are the same as a zodiac.

Day Boats

A dive boat at dock

These are larger than the small inflatables or wooden boats and are made of steel, wood or fiberglass and hold up to 30 people.

You use day boats when you leave from shore and are doing two or three dives. You will go to the furthest dive first and work your way back using time traveling between sites as your surface intervals.

These are very basic boats, they usually only have a toilet, rinse tanks, some storage, and shelter from the sun. The most common entry for these is the giant stride and you reenter from a ladder.


Andaman Queen liveaboard on the ocean in Thailand

These are the big boats and have full living quarters, compressors for filling tanks, kitchens, and living space to hang out. The larger and fancier liveaboards may even have a small boat for shuttling you to the shore or dive sites.

Liveaboards can last from a few days to several weeks, and you dive off the boat almost every dive. You will use a giant stride to enter or go up and down the ladder for entry and exit.

Tips and Etiquette for a Boat Dive

Next, we will be outlining all boats in general but you should take note that a zodiac and liveaboard have very different protocols.

Bring Only The Essentials

Even with a big boat or a liveaboard all boats have limited space. Make sure you have everything packed and check that everything is there. Having a dry bag and a mesh bag is pretty helpful for keeping track of everything and keeping it dry. 

During surface intervals, you will also want to keep warm but not get sunburnt, so a windbreaker can be good too.

Double Check Your Gear

Save yourself the trouble of going back to the land to get something or even worse, missing your dive. Check your dive gear before you leave and again before your dive.

If it is rented gear you should also make sure that it fits. It may seem redundant but redundancy is key when diving for peace of mind and safety.

Scuba divers doing a Gear Check

Be Tidy

I love mesh bags, dry bags, and old mask boxes, these things keep your gear together and dry. 

You can hang these or stow them away with ease. On crowded or small boats things get mixed up, broken, or even can fall overboard. On day boats and small boats you usually have a set area or box that is yours, stick to it and if you have any issues speak to the dive guides or captain.

Don’t be Late

You don’t want to be late for your dive or the dive boat. Holding up the crew and other guests is rude and impolite. 

Also, if they do wait for you it can mess up the dive as currents and weather are fickle.

This also goes for setting up your gear, holding everyone up when they have they have their gear is not the nicest thing to do. 

The best thing about this is when you are on time you will have ample time to assemble your gear and avoid the feeling of being rushed. The more relaxed you are the less air you use.

Talk to the Crew

Be kind they are people too. It will be a better time for all involved when you ask questions about the dive and what to expect from it. 

If you are in a foreign country learn about the local wildlife and customs. Other things to know are if the dive boat crew will assemble your gear for you when you should start getting ready, can you help out in any way.

divers preparing for a boat dive

Listen to the Crew

The captain, instructor, or guide will give directions and listen to them. Often people are on vacation and having a good time which is great, but when diving you have to be cognizant and know what is going on. This is not only for safety but for your enjoyment. 

The dive briefing is crucial and you will want to know about the dive site, changing currents, wildlife, etc.

Know Your Surroundings

From confined spaces to misplacing your gear, know where you are and what’s around you. There are different rinse buckets on the dive boat for a reason, one for masks and dive computers, one for cameras, and usually one for dive suits. 

Where is the ladder, the first aid kit, and most importantly the coffee? While you are taking off your gear and such, be mindful of wet and dry areas. 

In the water when ascending know what your boat looks like and any obstructions that could be around.

How to Manage Seasickness

diver feeling seasick on a dive boat

I rarely get seasick, but it happens to the best of us. If you never have been on a boat before or bad weather is predicted take seasick medicine. The medicine is cheap, easily accessible, and comes in a variety of applications from patches to pills. 

There are holistic medicines as well, but when taking any medicines especially when diving check with your doctor. 

To prevent seasickness stay hydrated, get good rest, eat a solid meal, and avoid alcohol and other drugs. If you do get seasick or feel it coming on focus on the horizon, and get plenty of fresh in the middle of the ship.

What to Look for in a Dive Boat

For those looking to purchase or deciding if your boat is a good dive boat here are a few things to consider.

  • Type of Transportation – Is it a zodiac or do you need a liveaboard, what type of diving do you need it for.
  • Shelter – For a day trip does it provide reasonable shelter and has space for food and water.
  • Sufficient Space – Is there enough space and stability to take the divers and their equipment?
  • Stowage – During transit does the boat have safe stowage for passengers and dive equipment?
Welcome to our blog!
I am a PADI Divemaster based in South Florida. With nearly 10 years of diving experience, I have accumulated the knowledge to help readers become better divers, buy their next piece of gear, and plan their dream dive vacation! Please contact me if you have any questions.

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