Small liveaboards are one of the best ways to escape the crowds and enjoy a more personalised, flexible dive service. They offer small dive groups, cruise a range of destinations, and you can charter the whole boat easily with friends.
Find out more in our guide to the best small liveaboards.
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Sitting within the most biologically diverse marine region on earth and with 1500 paradise islands, there is nowhere quite as spectacular as Raja Ampat. The reefs are pristine and have over 1500 fish species, 537 types of coral and 700 molluscs. You can swim with whale sharks at Cenderawasih Bay or meet Misool’s ‘walking’ epaulette sharks. Manta Ridge is the place to go for numerous mantas from October to April each year. Wherever you dive in Raja Ampat, you’ll have a great chance of seeing reef sharks, turtles, plenty of colourful fish and numerous weird and wonderful critters.
Catering to just 8 guests, the Kira Kira is ideal for more intimate dive safaris.
It is an excellent budget-friendly choice and the roof-top double cabin has panoramic views.
With great environmental credentials and a gorgeous wooden interior, there’s a lot to like about this liveaboard.
October to April has highest reef activity and numerous manta rays.
Raja Ampat’s dives are mostly drift dives, so an intermediate certification if helpful.
Another top Indonesia dive destination, Komodo National Park offers exciting current dives and an array of colourful marine life. You can spend all day exploring diverse underwater landscapes including vibrant reefs, walls, pinnacles, sea mounts and deep swim-throughs. The reefs are covered in life. Look closely and you might spot blue-ringed octopi, pygmy seahorses and other macro species. Komodo’s larger animal highlights include walking with Komodo dragons, diving with numerous mantas, and swimming with enormous Mola mola (sunfish).
The Maki caters for 8 guests and is ideal if you’re short on time; offering 2 to 4 night Komodo itineraries.
With a 1:1 crew to guest ratio, the service is personalised and attentive.
Launched in 2018, this liveaboard also has plenty of modern facilities.
The dry season of April to November offer the best sea conditions and minimal rain. That being said, the highest numbers of mantas are seen from December to February. Visit during August to spot Mola mola.
Komodo is best-suited to experienced divers.
Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
Stretching along the UNESCO-listed Ningaloo Coast, this special reef is a must-do when diving in Australia. You can swim with whale sharks, who visit in their hundreds from March to June, and enjoy encounters with dolphins, turtles, dugong and mantas all year. Visit during February or March and you can swim with tiny hatchling turtles as they leave the beaches. For the ultimate Ningaloo experience, go swimming with humpback whales. Tens of thousands of them migrate to the area from July to November each year.
· Catering to 10 guests, the Shore Thing is a great choice for families and groups with non-divers.
· You can easily combine snorkelling, sailing and diving.
Diving is possible all year.
Ningaloo reef is suitable for new and experienced divers.
Recently announced as a new whale shark hotspot, Madagascar is a dive destination you simply must visit. You can dive along pristine islands in the Radama and Mitsio archipelagos, discovering huge schools of barracuda and jacks as you go. There are plenty of reef sharks, plus hammerheads and mantas. Numerous humpback whales also visit the area from July to October each year. Dive around Nosy Be in October and November for the best chance to swim with whale sharks.
· The unique location
· This liveaboard offers a little luxury and privacy for couples, with double en-suite cabins
May to Dec is the main dive season.
The diving is best suited to advanced divers.
French Polynesia has some of the best shark diving in the world, with ‘walls’ of hundreds of grey reef sharks in the deep. You can dive the stunning Fakarava atoll, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and enjoy atoll and drift dives in turquoise waters. It’s a destination for big pelagic fans, where mantas, dolphins, humpbacks, hammerheads and tiger sharks flourish. You can also witness mass spawning of marbled groupers if you visit during June or July.
· This liveaboard is ideal for divers who want to sail and dive French Polynesia
· It offers long safaris up to 17 nights duration with a maximum of 8 other guests
Given the deep dive sites and currents, French Polynesia is best for experienced divers.
The Tuscan Archipelago National Park has some of Italy’s best dives sites and gorgeous Italian coastal scenery. Dive with the Norseman and you’ll be cruising past pretty Tuscan villages and stretches of photogenic coastline before diving in. Elba’s underwater museum is not to be missed and has a collection of statues depicting historical and mythological figures. The Elviscott wreck is a popular shallow wreck and has plenty of fish life. Don’t miss Pianosa Island for the chance to swim with eagle rays.
This liveaboard is good for solo travellers, with 3 bunk rooms for just 8 guests max.
You’ll be exploring hidden coves and dive sites with no-one else around.
The diving is suitable for intermediate divers.