Alex Mustard / WHIRLWIND
I LOVE LIVEABOARD DIVING. I spend more than 20% of my life on them all around the world, and there are many that I adore. But if I must pick a favourite then it would be Whirlwind in the Red Sea.
Yes, there are higher-end boats out there, indeed many of the liveaboards in Raja Ampat, for example, cost the same per night as a week full-board on Whirlwind. But my dedication to this vessel isn’t driven by value, but that she finds the perfect blend of space, comfort, safety and service.
I travel the world diving, and the further I go the more I appreciate how lucky we are to have
the Red Sea nearby, especially as northern and southern Egypt itineraries differ so much.
I love the options on a Sharm itinerary, with the great reef dives between Tiran and Ras Mohammed, and then the world-class wrecks such as the Thistlegorm and those at Abu Nuhas. I struggle to think of any liveaboard itinerary that offers such diversity and such quality.
We’re very lucky that even at the best time of year we can do this door-to-door for a little over £1000.

John Liddiard / GALTEN
I’M SURE SOME DIVERS would rate their favourite liveaboard on the luxury of the rooms, quality of food, wireless Internet bandwidth and pampering from the staff. But I’m going to be different.
My favourite liveaboard over the past few years has been mv Galten, operating out of Narvik. Save for big tasty meals Galten has none of the usual luxuries, but it does have one tremendous benefit for diving in the middle of an Arctic winter – a heated, enclosed kitting-up deck with a drying cabinet and sauna.
What more could you want to make sure you start a dive as warm as possible and avoid turning into an icicle when you get out?

WORLDWIDE DIVE AND SAIL’S Philippine Siren is my favourite liveaboard. From the moment of meeting the staff at the Dive Show, to the moment I returned home after my trip, I could not have wished for more helpful, happy and attentive staff.
My trip was fraught with difficulties because of the Icelandic volcano explosion delaying my journey out.
The staff went out of their way to help me get to the liveaboard two days late, arranging transfers across islands, inter-island ferries and even a little bangka canoe to take me to meet the boat off Silquador Island. The team on board were incredibly friendly.
The yacht is stunning, a purpose-built gaff-rigged phinisi. The dive-guides were so knowledgeable and experienced and took clear pleasure in showing us the amazing underwater world in the Philippines.
There was a camera station on deck, as well as a huge charging station in the main saloon.
The cabins and bathrooms were spacious and very comfortable and were kept spotlessly clean by the cabin girls. The food was incredible, with great variation and quantity.
The other passengers (the boat takes 16, but there were only 11 of us on board) were a mix of Europeans, many of whom had also experienced difficulties in getting to the Philippines because of the volcano.
Whether that made us all bond well, or because the staff made everyone feel so relaxed, I’m not sure, but it seemed everyone loved the trip.
Maybe best of all was that one of the cabin girls was a master masseuse, performing massages on the open deck at the end of a dive day – bliss!

Mike Salvarezza & Chris Weaver / GALAPAGOS AGGRESSOR III
THE STAFF AND CREW did everything possible to make our journey to the islands easy, such as meeting us at the airport, helping get us through the arrivals process and escorting us to the vessel.
On board, the itinerary of the Aggressor took us through all the best spots to dive in the Galapagos, but what stood out was the knowledge of the crew of the local flora and fauna, and their willingness to work with us to achieve maximum results – such as getting us into the water at 6am one morning to give us the best shot at seeing whale sharks. That paid off handsomely!

THAT’S A HARD ONE, as I’ve been on many fine liveaboards, but in the end I would have to say Spirit of Freedom by a whisker. Not only has it taken me to some of the finest dive-sites on the Great Barrier Reef and in the Coral Sea, but the crew and facilities are first-class – comfortable beds, great dive-deck and a spacious lounge for relaxing.
But the deciding factor is the food – you would be hard-pressed to find better at a five-star restaurant. I’m sure I finished the trip several kilograms heavier!

Morten Bjorn Larsen / HANDE
WHEN I FIRST HEARD about a floating tour of the Mediterranean around Sardinia and Corsica, I thought it could be a great chance to get a different liveaboard experience.
And living on a two-masted wooden ship with its own Italian cook turned out to be a very nice way of liveaboarding, with the luxury of local delicatessen such as ham, cheese or sausages served between the dives.
The 26m-long Hande was built in 2001. It has seven twin cabins with en suite bathrooms and there is an indoor common room where all guests can sit and eat, although 99% of the time everyone sits outside and enjoys their meals.
There are two sun-decks and the entire interior is made of mahogany.
For most of the trip the engine was used, but when the wind was right the sails were set and we all enjoyed the silence of “real” sailing.

Richard Aspinall / CYCLONE
MY FAVOURITE LIVEABOARD is Cyclone in the Red Sea. She might not be the biggest or the best any more, and might not cope with swell as well as her big sisters in the Tornado Marine Fleet, but she was my first and, like any first, I have great memories of her.
I particular liked the blast of warm air that came from the engine-room onto the dive-deck. It meant you could get out of your wetsuit after a coolish dive in January and keep nice and warm.
I also like a good camera-table with air supply for blowing off water, and the one on Cyclone’s sister-liveaboard Whirlwind was great.
I don’t like small camera tables that end up littered with everything from nitrox check sheets to ashtrays. It’s a small thing, but it matters.

Keith Hiscock / WAOW
I CAN’T IMAGINE a better vessel for diving Indonesia than msy Waow. I was on Waow in February this year diving Raja Ampat, and the vessel was superbly well-equipped, the food excellent and the crew friendly, knowledgeable and always there to help.
The itinerary took us to some fabulous dive-sites well-away from most other boats and provided opportunities for excursions ashore.

Sue Daly / HALTON
FORGET YOUR LUXURY LIVEABOARDS cruising the tepid waters of the tropics with their sundecks and Jacuzzis – my favourite liveaboard is the good ship Halton.
Great skipper, crew and food but best of all (especially on my two-week expedition in Norway) the galley has a stove! I don’t know if it’s an Aga or a Rayburn, but it’s perfect for warming your backside on after an hour or more at 6°C, and handy for drying out the odd soggy thermal.

Beth & Shaun Tierney / DIVE DAMAI
IT’S REALLY NOT EASY to choose one single liveaboard as the best-ever. Was it the best cabin, the most charming crew, the destination, the dives…?
However, as we chatted about this dilemma as the sun set on a glorious day in Dorset, the vote came down to Dive Damai.
We cruised with this boat just weeks after it was launched back in 2009. At the time the owner, who we had met on a previous trip, was leading this one. His dream had been to create a big, luxurious boat that took only small groups, and that is what he did.
The cabins felt bigger than your average London bedsit, the food was as good as many a London restaurant, the camera-room and dive facilities were brilliant and “boutique luxury” was definitely the catch-phrase of the trip.
But the most luxurious element? Every diver had his or her very own, 100%-personal rinse tank. Nobody else’s smelly wetsuit mixed in with ours. Enough said!

Leigh Bishop / SALUTAY
A LIVEABOARD IS NOT A LIVEABOARD unless it stands out from the crowd – if its destinations are different or it offers something over and above it grabs my attention.
At heart I’m a typical British wreck-diver, so if I had to pick a favourite it has to be mv Salutay.
This liveaboard has been around since the 1980s and it really does cater for proper divers in good old British waters. Operating out of Portland, Salutay offers six trips to Normandy diving the D-day wrecks and other Channel destinations.
When I first went aboard this vessel it was based in Northern Ireland. Al the skipper is one of the original mixed-gas CCR divers and highly knowledgeable. He impressed me as he was one of the first to explore many of the virgin wrecks now renowned as outright classics.
His wife Freda is also a diver but above all a first-class cook who offers a vast array of mouth-watering treats, including freshly baked cakes.
Diving is easy off the Salutay, with full gas-mixing available and a diver-lift to make getting back onboard easy. Whether you’re a hardened tekkie or a weekend warrior armed with a single 10-litre and a stab jacket, Salutay has something to offer. ?

MY FAVOURITE LIVEABOARD is the mv Similan Explorer, operated by Similan Diving Safaris in Khao Lak, Thailand. The boat and dive crew ensure that the trips are safe and fun, the food is amazing, and the diving is fantastic.
There's something for everyone – macro-lovers find plenty of critters, "big stuff" like mantas and whale sharks are regularly encountered, and the beautiful reefs teem with life.
Dive-sites visited are truly world-class – the Similan Islands, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai, Richelieu Rock and the Surin Islands.
Those are just some of the reasons why so many guests keep on going again and again!

I RETURNED IN APRIL after my fourth visit to Raja Ampat, the last three of which have all been spent on the luxury liveaboard sy Indo Siren. This extremely well-run vessel accommodates
16 divers in eight particularly spacious twin or double cabins.
I can’t fault the food or the service; one of our hosts went beyond the call of duty by personally putting dive-socks on to the feet of one of the “less-agile” members of our group!
This group of enthusiastic underwater photographers, mostly from BSoUP, had needed to book the most recent trip almost three years ago, such is the popularity of the Siren fleet. The boat is particularly well-suited to photographers, offering plenty of space for camera-faffing, large rinse-tanks and crew who know how to handle underwater cameras.

I TOTALLY FELL IN LOVE with Sheena, my liveaboard in the Maldives.
At night I slept out on the top deck, under a sky bursting with stars. I awoke with the crew in the freshness of first light.
A stunning collection of exotic fish and hunting squid would weave close to the surface, attracted by our night light at the stern.
I would sit out on the platform at the stern and dip my feet among the swirling sealife while I listened to the crew happily humming fragments of Bollywood hits as they readied the boat for the day ahead.
In my hand would be a single cup of strong coffee and a small but super-sweet locally grown banana – just enough energy to power me through the first dive. That early dive was always stunning. I'd arrive back buzzing with excitement and with a healthy appetite for breakfast.
One of the most magical things about living on a boat is losing track of time. Days melt into the rhythms of diving and eating.
It’s common to measure time in “sleeps”. On Sheena I reckoned our progress through the week by observing how the bunch of bananas that hung above our dining table was depleting. It’s rare to see those small bananas in the UK, as they tend not to be exported.
But if I do come across them I still get a nostalgic flutter in my heart for Sheena, her cheery crew, and those unforgettably gorgeous dives.

MY LAST LIVEABOARD was by far the best I’ve travelled on. The Nautilus Swell was an elderly vessel running the cool but spectacular waters of the Inside Passage, from
the north of Vancouver Island to the Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands).
Yes, the diving was spectacular, but that wasn't what set it apart. The skipper and crew were hugely experienced and capable, putting us safely into waters where conditions can easily become challenging. The food was also pretty wonderful.
The ship is being sold soon; I'm not sure how long it will remain operational.

Gill McDonald / TEMPEST
MANY PEOPLE FROM THE UK, myself included, will have enjoyed the excellent liveaboards operated by Tornado Marine , but none for me is as special as Tempest. She is the baby sister of the fleet, with only six cabins.
The regular crew are like a real family that has worked together like clockwork for many years, and the atmosphere is exceptionally friendly and welcoming.
I was fortunate a couple of years ago to spend a month on Tempest with the late Peter Scoones, co-founder of BSoUP and legendary BBC Planet Earth and Blue Planet film-maker. That was a special time and I learnt a great deal from the master, and also from the other amazingly talented members of the group.
We spent days on end at the same dive-sites at the Alternatives and Abu Nuhas as Peter was capturing spawning behaviour, and this taught me how important it is for photographers to revisit the same dive-site multiple times to get the most out of the location.
Tempest is a very special little boat in my memory, and I choose to go on it again and again.

Aaron Gekoski / ARENUI
I’D NOMINATE THE ARENUI, which operates out of Indonesia: first-class boat, impeccable service, delicious Indonesian food, 22 staff for a maximum 16 guests, polished recycled teak interior, and divers’ every whim catered for – particularly photographers.
It’s shamelessly indulgent, and I adored my trip.