The reason for the growing popularity of diving from larger vessels is not hard to find. It is usually more comfortable and convenient. In some ways it can be likened to living in a hotel and jumping out of a window for a dive, followed by clambering back in, stowing the equipment, showering and being warm and comfortable again. These vessels provide a hassle-free means of diving amidst pleasant like minded company.
Larger vessels usually have reasonably sophisticated navigational capabilities such as radar, GPS and bottom finder. These allow for offshore dive sites, such as wrecks and reefs, to be pinpointed more easily.
On some large dive boats a tender vessel may be used to access dive sites from the primary dive boat, usually they are the Rigid Inflatable Boat type. The primary dive boat should also have an air compressor / dive cylinders, dive weights / weightbelts and other equipment. This type of vessel, in spite of its cost, is ideal for the majority of adventurous diving.
Chartering Dive Vessels
The range offered by these vessels can be hundreds of miles and many remote sites can only be reached safely in such boats. Diving Safely, especially on deeper dives, is substantially increased by having a large platform from which to operate from.
It is more natural and also more cost effective to explore dive sites from the sea. Diving trips aboard large vessels are naturally sea-based rather than land based like car-and-inflatable boat dive trips. A week spent aboard such a vessel is a most effective way of achieving many big dives in a few days.
There are a number of hirers operating in waters around the world, however they are found in large numbers around popular dive regions like The Caribbean, The Bahamas, S.E Asia and the Mediterranean. Some of these vessels tend to be converted fishing vessels and the like, the transition can often be a rough and ready one with some having plenty of character. Generally the best ones are those which are custom-built vessels. These tend to be most convenient, because their features are customised to divers requirements. Some of these vessels can be quite luxurious!
When booking these vessels it is imperative to check up in advance how far the skipper will take you, it is wise to obtain written acceptance of your plans (what he will and won't do etc), what his attitude (and that of the cook/crew) is to heavy weather and remote dive sites, what duties (if any) are expected of you and the other divers. Experience of hiring the same skipper and vessel in two different seasons will show their true colours. An uncooperative skipper and crew can make or break and entire expedition, and no amount of wrangling afterwards can redeem a lost holiday.
A second way to achieve the freedom of more distant areas is to hire a self-sail motor sailor or cruiser (Day Tripper). If you are a competent sailor, and if you can convince the hirer of this, then you have the capacity to sail and dive wherever you feel the weather conditions will allow. The space on such vessels is limited, and you should check how the hirer feels about loading his vessel with diving equipment. Obviously, however, these vessels do not usually have the robustness and range of the larger charter vessels.
There is a third (perhaps the best) solution, and that is to club together and buy a diving vessel! If the price is too high consider forming a syndicate with other dive clubs and then sharing the usage. This could be a fishing vessel, these make good conversion projects. Or you could be a little more ambitious and aim higher! If so it could be many months before it's ready for action. Some diving groups have taken this path and tackled the enterprise successfully, although the costs can be high.
The Charter Vessel in Action
It is futile to pretend that large vessels do not roll in the heavy seas experienced offshore. Sea sickness can be a problem, especially in the first few days of diving. Mercifully seasickness tends to fade when underwater or medication is consumed. Some divers will adjust to the conditions naturally or 'get their sea legs' as some would put it! One of the experiences welcomed by most divers is helping with the running of the vessel. This allows them to gain experience in a wide range of skills from navigation to helming, although anchor watches rapidly become less than popular!
Diving from a Charter Vessel
Equipment is best stowed in bags or bins, and these should be well secured in anticipation of heavy weather. There is a lot more space on a charter vessel in which divers can kit up. Nevertheless, tidiness is still important otherwise the whole deck space becomes cluttered with diving and underwater photography equipment.
The skipper's knowledge of divers' abilities is very important. Some are divers themselves, or have worked with divers, and have an excellent approach. Others have little concept of how powerless a diver can be when up against the might of the ocean. It should be clearly pointed out to such skippers that divers usually want to be dropped within a few meters of their dive site, that they only move at about 1 knot or slower, that they cannot catch a boat being blown by a moderate or strong wind, that they can see very little from their eye height when at the surface. Generally they desire to be picked up smartly when they are exposed to a significant swell. They are also not very tolerant of a boatman who is not competent at handling his vessel or who appears to want to play games with it. Some of these questions should be poised carefully though, after all you want to gain rapport and a trusting bond with the skipper, not made to walk the plank!
Time is at a premium on these vessels, as they more from dive site to dive site, It is advisable to have all the first wave divers in an advanced state of readiness as the site approached. Consequently, they should be prepared and ready for the dive in good time so that (in theory) as soon as the vessel moors up at the dive site the divers are about to enter the water. Meanwhile the second wave will handle the cover boat / topside cover and generally assist the first wave of divers entering and exiting the water. On the second waves return the roles are reversed.
Entry into the water is usually by means of a forward jump or Giant Stride entry into the water from the gunwale. Advanced divers may attempt and pull off fancy diving entry moves, there are several and generally they are done to look good in front of the others but some have merit by their own right - the forward roll entry is used by some photographers to shield there camera systems from water impact. On hitting the water its best to ensure you are a few yards from the vessel just in case you get dashed against it (The skipper should have the boat in neutral but you never know!)
Exit from the vessel can be via the tender boat (RIB) first then transferring divers and equipment to the primary dive vessel. This can be a real boon in bad weather, with the parent vessel approaching the tender and offloading gear onto it. In calmer water and in general a dive ladder is usually lowered, mind you don't slip! The ladder should extend at least 2 meters for comfort but 1 meter is acceptable. It's not to be underestimated how awkward it is to clamber up a dive ladder fully laden with kit. If no ladder is available then you may well have a real ninja test on your hands! Pass up your weight belt and scuba gear before gaining a purchase on whatever is within reach and hoist yourself aboard! At the other end of the spectrum some dive boats have a dive lift capable of lifting divers out of the water! An absolute bonus when it comes to tech diving!
After the dive and everything's been stowed and secured its off the next dive site or homeward bound. A smart and efficient crew and divers can fit in at least two dives per day, three if you include an evening/night dive. Just be aware of your nitrogen load!
An elite among dive boats are the liveaboards, these tend be the titans of the diving vessels, amid the run-of-the-mill dive boats seen at a dive site they are the envy of many. Usually seen in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Australian and Asian waters they can do everything a Charter Dive Vessel can do only better. Faster, sleeker and generally impressive to look at than the usual dive vessels they usually evoke a presence. Diving off a Liveaboard is a holiday in itself, on some no expense is spared and guests will not forget their stay in a hurry. The liveaboard crew will tend to your every need, from taking care of and preparing equipment to serving food and drinks in the lounge and galley areas. Built from scratch they are a purpose built dream to many divers. Very expensive to buy, costly to charter, they offer a whole range of options to divers. Style, comfort and an experienced crew capable of anticipating the divers needs, be it dive site intel or assistance of a more mundane matter. Resident Dive Masters / Instructors may be based on the liveaboard giving expert dive tours to divers unfamiliar with the dive sites. For rookie divers learning to dive or club divers treating themselves to a liveaboard trip it remains an item on many a divers wish-list!