IF YOU’RE ANYTHING LIKE ME, your annual liveaboard trip is the highlight of your year. It’s that one week when everything is about diving and the everyday world with its stresses, strains and worries is several time zones away – bliss!
A liveaboard trip is quite an intense experience, however, and can take us by surprise.
I remember my first Red Sea trip more than 10 years ago. I had some amazing experiences, but I was knackered by the end of it – and I was fit in those days.
Flying, getting up earlier than normal, kitting up and diving four times a day, loading up on nitrogen and possibly being more physically active than usual can leave us massaging sore muscles and feeling in need of another holiday.
We spend a lot of time and money maintaining our kit and ensuring that it is rigged to our advantage, lightweight for travelling, streamlined for ease of finning and set up to make comfort, safety and enjoyment our priorities. Do we prepare the most important component with the same meticulous care
Listening to a set of middle-aged and largely unfit divers kitting up on a dive-deck can be hilarious – a soft chorus of groans, sighs and strangely functional noises that accompany our squeezing into neoprene. More sounds of protest, knee-cracks and discs slipping will accompany standing up with lead in the BC, bending over to attach fins, stretch-grunting to grab torches and so forth. I’m reminded of a seal colony.
The thin, lithe and honed among the group will have slipped their 3kg into each of their integrated-weight pockets and be bouncing up and down on the dive-deck while the rest of us do that half hula-hoop action and swing 12kg of weights around our ample frames. Handing those up to the boat-crew won’t be fun.

Getting fit
The first thing we think about when we decide to “keep fit” is weight. Most of us want to lose some, but the uncomfortable truth is that the best way to do this is to consume less calorie-rich and processed food and eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. The fads and extreme diets don’t work for most people, who either lose muscle-mass or end up larger than when they started.
If you want to have fewer unsightly neoprene bulges, lay off the chocolate and pies for a month or two before the trip. It might save you the cost of a new wetsuit or a hernia as you strain to get into a suit that has “shrunk over the winter”.
Losing body mass has plenty of benefits for the diver. Fat is quite a bulky substance, and for every given amount of body fat you carry around you need to compensate with lead.
We learn this early on in our training, but did you know that muscle is much denser than fat A kilo of fat displaces more water than a kilo of muscle, so if we can reduce our body fat and perhaps turn those extra calories into muscle, we can reduce the amount of lead we need to carry and reduce the groaning involved as we waddle down to the dive-deck.
Being lighter also means that we reduce the strain on knees and backs but, perhaps more importantly, we also find it far easier to move through the water.
We use less energy to shift our own mass and that of the water we need to push out of the way.
Because we float and can hang neutral in the water, we forget that we still possess mass. As Newton observed with his equation force = mass x acceleration, we and our aching muscles must provide the force to move that mass, and with less body mass and lead to carry we can travel further for less effort.
Doesn’t that sound attractive
I won’t be running any marathons in preparation for diving – my knees are knackered enough.
If you do join the gym or run 10k every evening, good luck to you, but for most
of us it’s enough to start by walking or cycling more, using stairs instead of lifts and so on.
Perhaps the prospect of a great dive trip is sufficient incentive to do an hour or two’s more exercise over the week.
You can undo all your good work over the course of the trip, as the food flows freely and regularly.

Nicotine
I used to smoke, and to enjoy it. I especially loved dekitting after a dive, reaching for my cigarettes and sitting on the sun-deck filling out my log-book, coffee and smoke to hand.
It was heaven, but that was the chemicals talking. That was just one of several substances for which I paid good money to delude my poor animal brain.
When I finally gave up I expected my air consumption to drop, but to my annoyance, and after several minutes of being really bad at mental arithmetic, I was very disappointed.
In fact I later realised that I had started carrying a much larger camera just as I gave up smoking. My diving style had consequently changed, which may have offset the gains, so it wasn’t as bad as I had feared.
The evidence and the science are unequivocal – smoking degrades your lung performance. This occurs mainly because of a reduction in oxygen exchange caused by increasing the amount of carbon monoxide in your blood.
Carbon monoxide bonds to haemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying molecule in your red blood cells) far more easily than oxygen does, so your muscles receive less oxygen and you need to breathe harder.
Smokers’ bodies react by producing more red blood cells, which increases blood viscosity. This makes the blood harder to pump and makes gas exchange within fine capillaries less efficient.
Nicotine itself increases both your heart rate and the ease with which blood clots can form. Circulation to the extremities is reduced due to vaso-constriction, which can lead to cramping.
Simply put, nicotine significantly increases the risk of death from cardio-vascular illnesses, often quoted as a factor in diving-related deaths.
If you fancy giving up, make sure you try to do this well before you travel. Nicotine withdrawal can affect your mental functioning and cause poor reasoning and confusion. The last thing you need is to be fed-up on board and annoying your fellow-guests with your cravings – especially me!
The biology of smoking’s effect on the body is quite complicated, and there are other chemicals such as hydrogen cyanide in cigarette smoke that are very, very toxic.
However, switching to smoking withdrawal aids isn’t necessarily the answer. Nicotine has profound physiological effects and potentially increasing your nicotine intake through patches, guns, sprays and e-cigarettes can be dangerous too.
I wish dive-boats would ban smoking in all public areas. If someone said that they were happy to dive on a regulator that gave them less gas than they could get, we’d ask questions.
We spend money on regs that provide the best ease of inhalation, so why not treat our lungs with the same consideration, and save money in the process

Alcohol
I was at a UK quarry site not too long ago, chatting to some divers who were travelling out to Sharm for a liveaboard trip. They were bragging about how much they were planning to drink.
I mentioned that I’m a bit of a lightweight and usually went to bed early, and was told that “dive trips are all about drinking with the lads”, or something similar.
My sanity and overall status as a diver was diminished in their eyes, no doubt.
By all means drink alcohol, but not every night, and certainly not on the first night. You’ll be tired, dehydrated and will no doubt make a dick of yourself. I’d suggest having dinner and going to bed if you want to get the best out of the week.
Alcohol is also a high-calorie molecule, and if you’re wanting to lose weight, cutting down can be a valuable tactic.
For me, however, the biggest concern is divers who are still technically drunk and diving the morning after. Have they kitted up correctly, were they paying attention during the buddy check, and what is happening in their addled heads
We’re all going to sit in the sun and enjoy the view and relish the moment as we lift the first drink of the trip to our lips – wonderful. But remember, alcohol in excess can increase your susceptibility to cold due to vaso-dilation.
It can reduce your blood-sugar level, leading to tiredness and increased chances of dehydration.
Is that night of booze that may ruin your diving the next day worth it Save it for the last night would be my advice.

Sleep
I get so excited before a trip that I don’t always sleep the night before my flight. It’s daft really, a middle-aged man acting like a kid, but that’s what liveaboard trips can do for you.
Sleep is vital for a happy liveaboard holiday. If you arrive tired and you’ve shifted time-zones you could well be awake for 24 hours or more, leaving you in sleep-deficit for the duration of your stay. If you’re tired, are you really listening to the dive briefing and checking your kit correctly
Fortunately, sleep is easily come by during the day. Seasoned divers will tell you that when the ship’s bell rings, you check your hair. If it’s dry you dive, if it’s wet you eat. In between – you sleep!
Caffeine really affects me. Not only is it a diuretic that can increase dehydration, but it can scupper a night’s sleep.
Liveaboards tend not to have decaffeinated beverages, so lay off the coffee and tea or take your own decaff.
Fortunately it’s a myth that international drug-smugglers pack their stock in coffee to fool sniffer dogs, so the Customs people won’t be any more interested in you than normal, and the rubber gloves may not be needed.

Creakin’ joints
I’ve read a few articles now suggesting that divers try to increase their flexibility and core strength and reduce their risk of muscle damage by having a crack at yoga, pilates or so forth.
I used to consider this a bit silly, but now consider a good series of stretches before a dive a great idea if, like me, you get a bit creaky. Slip into the habit of stretching before travelling and you will feel the better for it.
Instructions for basic yoga and pilates moves can be found online, but don’t overdo it. What you’re looking to do is to stretch gently and increase the flexibility of your joints and the elasticity of your tendons.
If you have any medical issues that limit your ability to undertake such activity, you should consult a professional first.
It takes only a few minutes to do a Full Sun Salutation, a simple series of stretches, moves and breathing that will help with complaining backs and, if repeated a few times a day, may save you from diving with a pulled muscle.
It’s far more acceptable to do this sort of thing on the deck these days. Just say it’s an old war wound or you did it wrestling bears or something rugged.

Being prepared
I have from time to time been buddied up with folks who shouldn’t have been allowed in the water, people who for whatever reason might not have been able to get much diving done and have forgotten most of what they learned.
Most training agencies recommend that if you haven’t dived for a certain period of time – say, six months – you should undertake a refresher.
If you’re an old salt whose first reg was a baccy tin and you’re onto your 1000th dive, your need for a refresher is arguably low, but if you finished your Open Water a year ago on holiday and haven’t dived since, should you really be in the open ocean without refreshing your skills

Kit
Preparing yourself is one thing, but not preparing your kit can easily ruin a dive, especially if you end up returning to the boat with only one fin, a missing mask or more water in your camera housing than the manufacturer recommends.
Your kit needs to be serviced and fit for purpose, and it all needs to fit. That’s a different article, but what about carrying a few dive-saving items
These kits can be bought from your local dive-shop or put together for only
a few pounds. Each dive on a liveaboard can cost £50 or more, so carrying a few lightweight spares to avoid missing a dive has to be a good idea.
It’s also a good idea to assemble your kit, check it all over for obvious damage and have a qualified professional service your regs and BC/wing if necessary.
You might even have a quick dive in your club’s pool or at an inland site with your newly serviced regs just to check that there are no issues – it has been known after maintenance.
Consider as well whether your computer has a fresh battery – and what about your data-sender If you have any reason to doubt any battery, change it now. You don’t want to be set to dive the Thistlegorm and discover that you have no idea how much gas you have!
Check and clean camera O-rings, and perhaps spend a happy half-hour photographing your partners, children or dog with your camera in its housing.
If you spend some time practising before you dive, you won’t be pointing at a moray and wondering: “Now what do I need to do to change that setting”
Likewise, I’ve seen people get lost in their camera’s settings and, added to a little bit of narcosis, lose awareness of their surroundings to the extent of dropping into the deep and needing rescuing.
Don’t get me wrong, you’ll love your liveaboard holiday, but don’t you want to love it even more

Dive-saver kit
Assorted O-rings (air- and nitrox-compatible)
Mask strap
Fin strap
Regulator mouthpiece
Assorted cable-ties
Silicone grease
Scuba tool
O-ring removing tool