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  • Sarah Sisco

"Essential Items for Your Liveaboard Packing List: Lessons Learned from Trial and Error"

Whether this is your first liveaboard or your 10th, we all have to go through the same struggles...what should I pack?? We here at DIVE ARMY have been privileged enough to lead several liveaboard groups to places like Maldives, Indonesia, Mexico, and more. Here is our quick reference packing guide that we have cultivated through trial and error over the years. For the curious traveler, read the "deep dive into our packing methods" below for more detail on my travel hacks and how we regularly travel with dive gear as carry on luggage. All recommended products in this post have been purchased, used, and loved by me. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Standard gear:

BCD, regulator, mask, back up mask, snorkel, fins, boots, wetsuit, hood/beanie, gloves, dive light and charger, dive computer and charger (or back up battery), leggings, rash guard

Specialized gear:

surface marker buoy and reel, reef hook, pointer/stick (why?), nautilus or other emergency gps, din converter,*locking carabiner, zip ties, custom mouthpiece, dive socks


  1. Download dive computer and other technical manuals. Things like setting your nitrox or figuring out random beeps and errors are much easier if you have your instruction manual accessible (and we often don't have internet when you need it).

  2. Change your computer battery before the trip...Even if its user changeable, when you are on a boat and in a rush its easy to unintentionally flood your computer.


Normal packing

Good to Have


Tipping Guidelines

Deep Dive into Our Packing Methods

One of the best pieces advice we can offer you is this: lay out all the clothes and all the cash you are planning to bring along on this trip. Now take 1/2 the clothes and twice the cash! Pay attention to your cash!!! It is very easy to think you have plenty but it can very quickly disappear if you are not attentive. Be mindful of what MUST be paid in cash and opt to pay with a card for larger purchases to avoid hunting for atms. When it comes to clothing, think about packing in layers for breezy evenings or hot days in the sun. For example, we always pack a light rain jacket no matter the climate as it is a great layer for wind, rain, cold, etc. all while being taking up next to no space. You may also wish to pack some “disposable clothes or gear”. After wearing them 2-3 times you can donate them to some of the locals that may not be as wealthy as the US and often greatly appreciate these small gestures.

More often than not, we are able to condense our items down into 1-2 carry on size bags (each) including our dive gear. I personally love my osprey wheeled travel pack as a dynamic carry on that can be wheeled or turned into a hip strap supported backpack! Packing with only carry can save the added stress of lost luggage, missed connections, and damaged items under the plane, or just save the time of not having to wait for your luggage. For those that don't believe it can be done, here is the video proof! If you can, it is best to take things apart, like your bcd, and use other clothing and accessories as padding. I pack my masks inside of the weight pockets and wrap them in my dive socks, gloves, or beanies as added protection. Remember to take your cutting tools off if you are traveling carry on!

For space saving techniques, remember to roll and compress your clothing. Compression cubes can be helpful for storage and organization, although I have found that a combination of both maximizes organization and space optimization. One of my newest and best pieces of clothing is my patagonia nano puff which is a highly compressible jacket that I have worn in temperatures below 30F! This is great if you are like us and like to maximize your travel time by making multiple stopovers and might travel through multiple different climates. Columbia makes an excellent lightweight PFD shirt for men and women that is lightweight, colorful, and can be rolled into long or short sleeve. FYI, the women’s shirts have zippered pockets that are incredible! You might be thinking this isn't quite your style, but this shirt is highly versatile and makes another great layer for lightweight sun protection, warmth layering, or even just coverage for cultural modesty. Here are some ways I have worn mine on our trips over the years.

Leggings is one of the key ways I am able to cut down on clothing that I bring. I pack anywhere from 3-4 pairs of leggings and partition them out. One pair is worn for the entire flight path out, which sometimes is 40 hours of travel, so these are pretty dirty now right? Well they aren't too dirty to be worn as my scuba leggings! Now i interchange them throughout the week so that each dive I always have a dryish pair to put on. I save one pair until the end of the week for the flights home. Tada!

Keep in mind, if we are on a live aboard, you don’t need to think too much about shoes…because we won’t really be wearing any! Bring a cozy pair of flip-flops for any island outings and a good pair of tennis shoes for any land excursions may require a bit more walking. Wear your heavy shoes on the plane to save space and weight.

As far as toiletries, its great to just bring travel sized tubes that can be condensed or even tossed after they are used. Depending on the lodge/boat, most often they will provide soap and shampoo. Some provide conditioner. We use the shampoo and conditioner bars along with bar soap due to the lack of packaging and they will shrink as you go. I also bring a travel size bottle of stream2sea leave in conditioner that is reef safe and can double as my daily conditioner.

You can usually cut down on weight by minimizing the amount of charging cords/ports you bring along. On boats especially, we won’t necessarily need to charge everything at the same time, and sometimes we cannot charge overnight for safety reasons. Therefore, pay attention to the types of chords and attachments your cameras use. You may be able to bring 1-2 cables for multiple things. An extra battery for your camera and an extra sd card or two is an excellent idea as well so you don’t miss any of the action! Depending on your destination you may also need to pack universal power adapter.

We definitely understand that traveling carry on isn't everyones cup of tea. If you do decide to check your bags, look into a travel insurance policy that includes rental fees for delayed sporting equipment. When you can, take soft sided luggage as this is great for reducing weight and maximizing space. Chris and I are able to fit both our scuba kits into one 50 pound checked bag using our North Face duffel bag. You can add a little extra peace of mind by popping an air tag in to monitor your precious cargos journey. I also really appreciate that my chase sapphire preferred and chase business preferred credit cards both offer additional travel protections like lost or delayed luggage on top of accruing bonus points that can be transferred to many different airlines (this is how we have no flown in lie flat business class to 3 different countries).

Medications...I cannot stress this one enough. It is no fun being in a foreign country and trying to find a drug store with the things you need...or worse stuck on a boat and at the mercy of whatever is there. Make sure to refill your prescriptions prior to travel and pack a healthy mix of things like pepto, immodium, tums, motrin, benadryl, and motion sickness medication, bring extra contacts, or whatever you need. We also like to travel with antibiotic ear drops and a generic antibiotic like a z pack incase things really start to go south. For example, did you know you aren't meant to fly with an ear infection? It turns out this can lead to a pretty severe perforated ear drum!

I learned about locking carabiners thanks to a friend that has been on several liveaboards with us...and from some costly mistakes. While each dive boat is different, it is not uncommon to get to the dive site via a small zodiac. This means when being picked up you will have to take your gear off and hand it up. My husband and I have both been diving and teaching professionally for years and have always had our gear clipped on using double enders (hands free is the way to be!) so we didn't foresee any issues. On our fifth liveaboard in Socorro Islands our first problem arose. While the donnie captain was pulling up my husbands gear, the clip holding our nautilus emergency gps was accidentally and unknowingly opened...and the ocean claimed her prize. Thankfully we were able to file a trip insurance claim under lost baggage for this and my departed gopro 10 (RIP) and we received full reimbursement for the items and chalked the incident up to some bad luck. That is until the exact same thing happened to my nautilus 1.5 years later while exiting a dive in Raja Ampat. This time one of our divers saw it happen and attempted to grab it but apparently they sink pretty quickly and it couldn't be saved. Now we had established a pattern and reputation for losing things which deeply frustrated me to my core. I submitted yet another claim to my travel insurance and purchased my new nautilus but I was not going to repeat this cycle again and was working hard to problem solve this when our buddy piped up and showed us the simplest solution. Locking. Carabiners.

Ok the "pointer" or tickle stick took me awhile to get on board with. I truthfully felt like it wasn't a useful piece of gear but after all our dive travel I have changed my tune. It is super helpful for underwater photography to give yourself a stabilization point on an otherwise covered reef but we have found some new uses for it too. Most notably, we tend to travel to areas that have strong currents and we are often using reef hooks. However if the current isn't unidirectional or the bottom is just sand your hooks become useless. This is where the stick comes in! It's perfect to put down as a quick handhold in a dynamic current or to dig deep into the sand to pull your way up the current. It is now on our mandatory packing list for all our travels.

My last thing is a simple public service announcement. If you don't already own a pair of lycra socks for your diving you should absolutely get some. It is one of the pieces of gear I can dive without but I am quite grumpy to do so. They make sliding things like your wetsuit and boots on and off amazingly easy on top of the fact that they save your feet from sores and sand blisters. Same thing with the moldable custom mouthpiece. I am always floored at how many of my friends and instructors have been diving for years and they don't have one. I got my first one when I started professionally diving in 2013 and I have never looked back. People tell me things like "it doesn't fit my mouth" "it didn't work for me". I promise if you take the time to cut it, boil it, and bite it properly you will never want to dive without one again!

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