The Top 25 Liveaboards as Nominated by DIVE Readers
As part of the annual DIVE Travel awards, our readers nominate their favourite liveaboards before voting to select the Top 10. Here's the Top 25 that were put forward to the vote...
Amira • Arenui • Bella1 • Bilikiki • Blue Horizon • Coralia • Damai I• Dewi Nusantara • FeBrina • Galapagos Master • Galapagos Sky • Hurricane• Mermaid I • Mistral • Nai'a • Oceania • Palau Siren • Pelagian • Sea Hunter • Shakti • Socorro Vortex • Solmar V • Valhalla • Valkyrie • Whirlwind
Construction of the Amira began in Bira, South Sulawesi in August 2008. The builders, all from the same village, built the vessel entirely from wood according to ancient Phinisi traditions handed down through the generations. Construction of the hull was completed in September 2009 and she was transported to the port of Bira over a six- week process involving 'ancient techniques' to move her from the shore to the water. The interior and final design took place over the final year until the Amira entered service in 2010. The German and Swiss owners planned the liveaboard with emphases on safety, space, premium diving and comfort, offering safaris throughout the Indonesian Archipelago including Raja Ampat, Komodo, Banda Sea and Cendrawasih Bay. Bespoke trips can be booked and arranged if required. The Amira offers nine spacious deluxe double and twin bed cabins plus one single cabin. All the air-conditioned cabins contain en-suite bathrooms, hot water showers and a western-style toilet, plus a full range of amenities.
The Arenui is a traditional Phinisi - a classic Indonesian wooden sailing vessel - launched in 2007. The vessel is made almost entirely from 12 different types of wood, with the brass and copper interior fittings handcrafted in Java. The Arenui takes some traditional elements of Javanese houses and recreates them on the boat, creating an Indonesian experience onboard an old-fashioned 'pirate ship' - but still with all the mod-cons. More than 70 per cent of the vessel is made from recycled and reclaimed materials. Two master suites, two deluxe twin cabins and four deluxe cabins accommodate a maximum of 16 divers, with a crew of 22. The Arenui offers a choice of itineraries throughout the year, based on the best conditions to dive in the various locations around Komodo and Raja Ampat.
Bella 1 Egypt
Bella 1 is based in Sharm El Sheikh and departs from Sharm, Hurghada or Port Gahlib (Marsa Alam), depending on the itinerary. Three to ten-night itineraries are available, including northern routes around the Sinai Peninsula exploring the Straits of Tiran, Ras Mohammed, Abu Nuhas and of course the Thistlegorm. She also does four-night mini-safaris and southern destinations include the word famous Brothers Islands, Elphinstone, Daedalus and St Johns.
Bella 1 can accommodate up to 24 guests with ten twin cabins and two larger double suites. Free wi-fi is available onboard and all rooms are air-conditioned, with en-suite bathroom facilities. A large dive deck allows plenty of room for gearing up and nitrox is available for a small surcharge.
Bilikiki Solomon Islands
Bilikiki Cruises has been operating in the Solomon Islands for 28 years and has a well-deserved reputation for comfort, safety and service. Offering trips from seven to 14 nights around the Florida and Russell Islands, Marovo Lagoon and Mary Island, itineraries include five dives per day for up to 20 guests accommodated in ten air-conditioned ensuite cabins. All trips start and finish in Honiara, the capital of the Solomons and home of the international airport. Bilikiki operates in a way that benefits people in local communities by paying to dive on the ancestrally owned reefs and buying local produce from islanders.
The Solomon Islands are part of the Coral Triangle with a staggering diversity of marine species, coral and dive sites – yet they remain one of the least dived areas of the world. Consistently great visibility and year-round 28-30°C (80-86°F) water temperature plus a great variety of dive sites with huge drop-offs, coral gardens, caves, sandy critter dives, seamounts, points teeming with fish and numerous WWII wrecks.
Blue Horizon Red Sea
Blue Horizon is blue o two's flagship fleet vessel and was the benchmark for a new generation of Red Sea liveaboards. She can accommodate 26 guests in nine cabins and four suites all ensuite with air conditioning, mini-bar and TV & DVD player.
Excellent diving facilities with a technical blending panel and is rebreather friendly. Most of her itineraries are to the Deep South starting from Marsa Ghalib for seven-night trips.
The Coralia, a traditional Phinisi build, was launched this year and is solely based in Raja Ampat. 48m in length, she caters to 16 guests in eight cabins. On the main and upper decks are four large master cabins, each with a double bed, wraparound picture windows and private balcony. On the lower deck are two double cabins and two twin cabins. All rooms are ensuite with air-conditioning and lots of storage.
On the main deck is a large indoor salon and dining area. There is an outdoor lounge, which also has tables set up for al-fresco dining, sun loungers and sofas for chilling out. On the top deck are several comfortable sun loungers and a massage area.
There is a spacious dive deck with personal storage space, free nitrox, two tenders for diving and an extremely large dedicated camera room with charging points. Itineraries vary from seven to 11 nights and explore the Dampier Strait, Wayag, Misool, Batanta and Kawe. Up to four dives a day are available, as well as other activities such as bird-watching, hiking and snorkelling.
Damai I Indonesia
Damai I was built in Tanjung Bira, South Sulawesi in 2009 by Pak Hadji Baso, renowned as one of the most traditional boat builders in the area. It was designed to cater for small groups. With an overall length of 40m (130ft) and a beam of over 8m (26ft), the vessel has seven staterooms with a choice of single cabins, twins, doubles or two spacious master cabins. With sizes ranging from 18 sqm for the single cabin to +40 sqm for the master cabin, all are furnished with either queen- or king-sized beds, en-suite toilets and showers.
The vessel has three large deck areas for relaxing in both the sun or shade and for enjoying massage and spa treatments. Specifically designed for divers and underwater photographers, the vessel offers large dive stations with individual rinse tanks and a camera room with separate camera stations and an integrated 110v and 220v charging station for each photographer. The vessel was the first in Indonesia to offer a dive guide-to-guest ratio of 4:1, ensuring the best service underwater as well as onboard. It has two custom-designed, high-speed tender boats.
Dewi Nusantara Indonesia
Dewi Nusantara, named after the goddess of the Indonesian archipelago, is a 58m, three-masted schooner, handcrafted with attention to detail. There are eight double staterooms (20sqm each) plus one master suite (46sqm). A large diving deck with an extensive camera table caters to the needs of photographers.
She was the overall winner in the 2018 DIVE Travel awards for liveaboards.
Dewi Nusantara sails in the Indonesian heart of the Coral Triangle, including Raja Ampat, Ambon, Banda Sea, The Forgotten Islands, Halmahera, Ternate, Triton Bay, Cendrawasih Bay, North Sulawesi and beyond...
FeBrina, together with skipper/owner Alan Raabe, has been working in Papua New Guinea waters since 1991 when she arrived at her home port, Walindi Plantation Resort. FeBrina is a traditional style, boutique liveaboard dive vessel – comfortable, stable and catering for both recreational divers and underwater photographers. FeBrina’s Papua New Guinean crew are all long-time members of the FeBrina team, dedicated to ensuring guests are happy, comfortable and experiencing the region's diving at its best. They bring an authentic love of the ocean to their roles on board and have incredible eyes for unique wildlife underwater. Itineraries vary throughout the year but most include the three most popular dive areas: Kimbe Bay, Father's Reefs and Witu Islands. Five dives a day featuring lush coral gardens, dramatic and beautiful underwater topography, an abundance of critters, masses of schooling fish, black sand bays full of life, and stunning views topside.
Galápagos Master Galápagos Islands
Built-in 2004, this 32m, steel yacht was fully refitted when she joined the Master liveaboard fleet in 2014. The Galápagos Master has eight cabins for up to 16 guests and has 12 crew. A large lounge on the middle deck with a plasma screen and a dining area and a separate bar. There is an indoor camera room with charging points.
A typical diving day (the Galápagos are spread over a wide area which means long trips to reach to the outer islands of Wolf & Darwin) four dives a day and land excursions. She has both seven and 10-night itineraries.
Galápagos Sky Galápagos Islands
Galápagos Sky is a custom-built 33m (100ft) liveaboard, designed for diving in the Galápagos Islands. It was built in 2001 and renovated in 2014 and has eight cabins (four with twin beds on the lower deck and four doubles on an upper deck), all en-suite and air-conditioned.
Galápagos Sky is the only liveaboard in Galápagos that is completely owner-operated and is managed entirely by Ecoventura, a family-run company from Ecuador founded in 1991. Meals include Ecuadorian and international specialities using locally sourced and organic foods.
Ecoventura has partnered with the Charles Darwin Foundation and Galápagos National Park Service, establishing the Galápagos Biodiversity and Education for Sustainability Fund to bolster conservation in the region.
Itineraries include the remote Wolf and Darwin Islands with trained marine biologist dive guides.
Hurricane Red Sea
Hurricane launched in 2004 and was designed specifically with Southern Red Sea diving in mind. Her steel hull cuts through the water with speed and provides a stable dive platform from which to explore even the most remote sites in comfort. The Southern Red Sea offers a diverse selection of sites and marine life from high-energy offshore islands such as the Brothers and the wild coral gardens of St Johns.
Last year Hurricane underwent an extended drydock period to upgrade and refit the cabins and communal areas. At 36m in length, she accommodates 22 divers within eleven twin ensuite cabins. Each cabin provides a comfortable chill-out zone when divers are not socialising in the saloon, dining area or bar. Fully tech-diving friendly.
Mermaid I Indonesia
The 28m, steel-hulled Mermaid I has eight cabins with air-conditioning, TV & DVD players, single, twin or double beds, a large wardrobe, plenty of storage room and an ensuite bathroom with showers. With one single cabin, she takes 15 guests.
Itineraries include Komodo, Raja Ampat, the Banda Sea, Alor and Ambon.
The most recent addition to the well established Tornado Marine Fleet in the Red Sea, the steel-hulled Mistral was launched this year. She takes 20 guests in 11 cabins. Dedicated camera room and lots of space throughout. Kitted out for tech diving. Free Wifi (when in range).
Itineraries include the northern wrecks and various options on venturing further south. Special wreck tours with experts are available.
The NAI’A ran its first charter in 1993, when few European or American divers had visited Fiji. The 38m steel ship built in Holland has luxury accommodation for 18 passengers and a crew of 14.
Fiji's reefs and rainforests are lush but tame: no malaria, box jellyfish, crocodiles, nor deadly spiders and snakes. Since Nai'a began voyaging to the country’s furthest and richest regions, guests from all over the world have enjoyed spectacular soft coral, diverse reef fish, bizarre critters, schooling pelagics and genuine Fijian hospitality.
The Oceania is the sister ship to the ever-popular Febrina and launched its first cruise in April this year after an extensive refit. The 27m catamaran has tons of space. All eight cabins (three doubles, five twins) have ocean views.
For the peak diving season in the region (September, October & November and April and May) it will cover Kimbe Bay, Witu Island and Fathers Reefs with 10 or eight-day itineraries. The rest of the year will be slightly shorter routes taking in two of the main diving areas.
Palau Siren Palau
The wooden, 40m Palau Siren was launched in July 2012 to offer year-round diving trips in Palau and is part of the Worldwide Liveaboards fleet built with the same specifications as her sister yachts, the Philippine Siren and the Indo Siren. She has eight cabins (a mix of doubles and twins) all on the lower deck and can cater for 16 guests. Lots of space for photographers and with three dive guides can run dives with small groups. There is an onboard masseuse.
She runs six, seven and 10-night itineraries covering the German Channel and Ulong Channel. The diving season runs from November to April. High points including the spawning of bumphead parrotfish and exciting night dives in open water/
The 36m Pelagian caters for just ten guests with a crew of 12. She is owned by the Wakatobi Resort in Sulawesi in Indonesia. There is a spacious salon and a separate dining area, media centre and dedicated camera workroom, while shaded decks offer additional space for privacy and relaxation. Cabins are designed for comfort with spacious floor plans, luxurious shower rooms and modern décor; the master suite offers all the comforts one would expect of an upscale hotel.
Pelagian cruises to sites in the Tukang Besi archipelago where no other dive operation ventures, with itineraries that are built around guests’ preferences. Each dive is a rewarding experience – from the mandarinfish at Magic Pier to the shrimp breeding grounds of Cheeky Beach at Pasar Wajo to the seamounts at Karang Kaledupa.
Sea Hunter Cocos Island
Many have crowned Sea Hunter as the paramount liveaboard – the gold standard for all other dive boats. She was crowned Top Liveaboard in the DIVE Travel Awards 2017. She combines the large-platform, functionality and powerful machinery of a workboat with the comfortable and relaxed interior of a modern yacht. This ship is 35m of flexible capacity and convenience – a dedicated dive cruiser with a global reach, specifically designed and built for long-range expeditions to remote destinations such as Cocos Island. Featuring ten guest cabins with private baths, the Sea Hunter caters for up to 20 passengers.
This spacious vessel is everything that a serious diver or photographer could want – individual gear storage, private camera/strobe storage shelves with 110 & 220-volt AC power, zero-speed stabilizers and even a private washer and dryer for clients' towels and bathing suits.
Skippered her owners David Pagliari and Bob Brunskill, this lovingly maintained 32m-long Phinsi style yacht has six large cabins and caters for up to 10 guests. The team are expert on Raja Ampat with a depth of knowledge about the area and the Shakti is a favourite with television crews such as the BBC's Natural History unit.
Socorro Vortex Mexico
The sister ship to the Solmar V (see below), the Sorocco Vortex is the latest addition to the Pelagic Fleet based in Baja California, Mexico. This 42m former Canadian Coast Guard vessel is perfect for hardcore, but luxurious, expeditions and runs trips to the Revillagedidos for some of the world's best large pelagic diving and to Guadalupe to cage dive with great white sharks. It has recently been refitted caters for just 14 guests with lots of space and plenty of pampering.
Solmar V Mexico
This tough but luxurious 37m ocean-going ship cruises at 11 knots and is perfect for trips out to the Revillagigedo Islands for some of the world's best large pelagic diving and for Guadalupe to cage dive with great white sharks. Beautifully maintained with stunning mahogany interiors, she was beeing running adventures cruises for more than 20 years. She has 12 cabins (including two singles) and can cater for a maximum of 22 guests with a crew of 10. Lots of space and storage for photographers - the ship even has its own self-propelled cage to get you in the perfect position to shoot the great whites.
A former Royal Navy patrol boat, the Valhalla was relaunched as a go-anywhere dive boat in 2017 by Orkney and Shetland Charters. She is a stable base to explore the wrecks of Scapa Flo and the diving around Shetland Island. She also makes regular trips over to the fjords of Norway for wreck diving expeditions. With a length of 24m and a beam of 7.2m, she has six cabins (five twin bunks and ensuite showers and one with twin bunks with an adjacent shower on the main deck). There is an onboard system for blending gases which includes a booster for 200bar+ CCR O2 fills.
This former fishing boat was converted to use as a diving liveaboard in 2003 and is the sister ship to the Valhalla. The 22m long vessel with a beam of 6.3m caters for up to 12 guests in six twin bunked cabins. The cabins are centrally heated and each has a washbasin. There are two showers and two toilets on board.
Whirlwind Red Sea
Built by Tornado Marine Fleet in Rasheed close to Alexandria, Whirlwind sailed her maiden voyage to Sharm el Sheikh in May 2006, taking her place among the elite of Red Sea liveaboards. Focussing on the northern Red Sea, Whirlwind is a perfect platform for diving the spectacular reefs and the historical wrecks in the area such as Ras Mohammed and the SS Thistlegorm. The northern Red Sea offers truly world-class diving, hence its popularity worldwide.
At 36m in length with an 8m beam, Whirlwind easily accommodates 20 guests in her ten luxurious twin en-suite cabins, which were designed specifically for comfort. Whirlwind, as with the whole of the Tornado Marine Fleet's vessels, was designed by divers for divers. Whirlwind caters for every need of both technical and recreational diving, hence her popularity with both. A haskel pump and large, well-thought-out kitting-up area easily accommodate additional tanks and photography equipment.