Getting ready to dive - Maui Pacific Divers

Scuba Diving with Maui Pacific Divers


Scuba Diving on Maui – Maui Pacific Divers

I’m lucky to be able to travel and dive quite a lot. It is part of my job, so I get to dive and  make images all over the world. I know, hate me…

But, I also do a fair bit of traveling and diving outside of work. One destination I’ve been to a lot is Hawaii. Typically, I’ll visit the Big Island or Maui. I love both.

Diving in Hawaii is fantastic. I’m occasionally told that it’s not “as good” as the Caribbean or other popular destinations, but I don’t feel that way at all. On a single dive some years back, I encountered schooling dolphins, two tiger sharks, two eagle rays and a manta ray that stayed with us for over 45 minutes.

What Hawaii lacks, if you can even put it that way, is branching corals and large, colorful sponges that you encounter elsewhere. I imagine this gives some the impressions that Hawaii is less diverse in terms of marine species. However, I don’t believe that’s the case at all. I know there are many species that don’t occur anywhere else in the world. And, Hawaii has big animals. Few other dive destinations offer the kinds of encounters that frequently occur in Hawaii.

Maui Scuba Diving

Jill and Art with Maui Pacific Divers
Jill and Art with Maui Pacific Divers

My first dives in Hawaii were on Maui over 30 years ago. It was the first time I had ever been to the islands, and I remember loving every minute of it. When I wasn’t diving, I’d fill the rest of the day snorkeling and never wanted out of the water.

Over the last several years, I’ve done a lot of Maui scuba diving. More famous locations include the Cathedrals off Lanai, the Molokini Crater and Back Wall, Mala Warf and dozens more. There’s good shore diving around the island, but I will admit my favorite Maui dives are boat dives.

Maui Boat Diving with Maui Pacific Divers

I’ve been on quite a few of Maui’s dive boats including Ed Robinson’s Diving Adventures, Extended Horizons, Lahaina Divers, Maui Dive Shop, and most recently, Maui Pacific Divers.

Maui Pacific Divers is the newest dive operator on Maui. It is also my favorite by far. The boat, PAIKEA, is a very large rigid inflatable built by Captain Mikal, and co-operated with his partner, Maggie. Before I go any further, Mikal and Maggie are the sweetest, most engaged and accommodating people I have ever met. That alone makes Maui Pacific Divers your best choice when planning your Maui dive trip.

Being an inflatable, PAIKEA is fast. It is also quite roomy, and they limit groups sizes, which is great.

The team operates from Ma’alaea Harbor (Slip 14, Ma’alaea Harbor, Ma’alaea Road, Wailuku, HI 96793, to be exact). The harbor is centrally located, which combined with the boat’s speed, provides relatively easy access to all of Maui’s popular dive cites.

Fast Boat, Great People, Can Maui Pacific Divers Get Any Better?

As a matter of fact, yes. Maui Pacific specializes in what are essentially custom trips catering to small groups. (In addition to diving, they also offer whale watching and sunset cruises.) Our group consisted of 5 divers of varying levels. All are competent divers, and two of us are technical diving instructors.

For this trip, we had 3 divers conducting typical recreational dives using equipment every diver is familiar with. The remaining two of us, however would be diving rebreathers.

Rebreather support on Maui is virtually nonexistent. It is nearly impossible to get high pressure oxygen and no shop I am aware of carries scrubber. So, to be able to dive using a rebreather at all is a unique opportunity.

Rebreather Diving on Maui

Maui Rebreather Diving
Maui Rebreather Diving!

If you can get your hands on cylinders, O2 and sorb, rebreather diving on Maui is incredible. We managed it by leveraging an on-island connection and bringing a booster along with our own rebreather bottles. Scrubber is a hassle, but not too challenging to take on a plane.

The second major challenge is dive boat operators on Maui rarely allow rebreathers. Very few dive crews are at all familiar with rebreathers, and rebreather divers usually expect to do much longer dives than their open circuit counterparts. Add that to the unavailability of breathing gas, etc. and it’s just not worth the hassle for most shops.

Maui Pacific Divers worked with us to make possible some of the coolest dives I’ve ever done in Hawaii. Since we had a mixed group, we agreed to keep out of deco. That way, should there be a need to recall divers, we wouldn’t restrict any potential emergency plans.

In order to do lengthy rebreather dive profiles, Mikal and Maggie went out of their way to make it possible. First, we always entered the water first. To do our part, we made sure we were ready to splash almost as soon as we tied off at the dive site. That meant wasting no time by preparing our rebreathers and running through checklists before the other divers even started gearing up.

I would like to point out “accommodating” different types of divers and dive plans is a 2-way street. To make it fun and safe for everybody, we made our plan fit with the needs of the crew and other divers. We all did our part to make it work.

Our dives were generally about 90 minutes or a little over that. By being ready to enter the water as the open circuit divers were gearing up, we automatically had a 20-30 minute jump on the rest of the group. The open circuit group’s dives were between 50 minutes and an hour, so worst case, we would surface 15-20 minutes after that. We’re all friends and dive buddies, so no one minded if there was a brief wait.

For the most part, we’d come up while they were still organizing gear post dive. Between the earlier entry and the timing of our exits, we got to do long dives without inconveniencing the other divers or the crew. I can’t emphasize enough just how awesome Mikal and Maggie are for working with us. They are so kind and so fun, I loved every minute of our dive days.

Maui Dive Sites

Getting ready to dive - Maui Pacific Divers
Ready for another spectacular Maui dive!

We dove (dived?) the Cathedrals off Lanai, along with a couple other Lanai dive sites. I had been to most of these on open circuit (with other dive operators), so I was already familiar. Going back on a rebreather was a completely different experience—especially the Cathedrals.

Being first in the water meant there would only be two of us in the Cathedral itself. No other divers had been in before us that day, and we were utterly silent. It is surreal. The fish don’t react at all. There were turtles and the usual invertebrates all acting as they would if we weren’t there.

Thanks to Maui Pacific Divers, we could spend as much time there as we wanted. Even though I have done quite a few dives at this site in the past, it felt completely new and truly one of my most memorable dives.

I’m not going to detail every dive site, since my goal is to introduce as many divers as possible to my far and away favorite Maui dive crew. However, I have to mention the Molokini Back Wall.

The Molokini Back Wall is often listed as one of the world’s most spectacular wall dives. For good reason. The wall itself is vertical and disappears into thousands of feet of gin-clear, Hawaiian water. The dive site is frequented by manta rays and several types of sharks, turtles, barracudas and of course, countless reef fish. It is a spectacular dive by any standard.

I’d consider it an advanced dive, given the depth, so keep that in mind if you plan a visit.

The Molokini Back Wall is Multiple Dive Sites… Usually

(Update 3/1/24: I just got word that, due to regulatory changes, Molokini will be off limits for a time. Hopefully, that’s temporary. So frustrating!)

Molokini is treated as a drift dive. I’ve never encountered much current, but there are no buoys (because there’s nowhere to anchor them in the first place), so divers enter and exit from a live boat.

Most often, the dive boat captain chooses the best point of entry/exit based on conditions and diver preference. Profiles tend to be quite deep, so 40-50 minute dives are typical. Molokini is a big crater. Experiencing the entire wall 45 minutes at a time requires several dives. Most of the drop off points have names, but I don’t know what they are.

Our plan was different. In order to make the most of the rebreathers and still provide a great experience for the open circuit divers, we did one of the coolest dives I’ve ever had the opportunity to do.

As usual, the two of us on CCR went in first. We entered at what, I believe is the West-most tip of the crater… Maybe a little North as well. In any case the farthest point from the main island of Maui.

We descended through a school of about 50 baby black tip sharks (cute things, btw) to a depth of about 110’. At that depth, we began our trek around the crater toward where the wall turns vertical. Toward the tips of the crater, it is more of a steep slope.

We were diving rebreathers using air as our diluent gas, and for the safety of all divers, a strict requirement to avoid mandatory decompression stops. The main limiting factors would be scrubber duration and CNS. Our planned dive time was 3 hours, so we’d be fine for scrubber.

But, a 3 hour dive on a rebreather can easily put you into unsafe territory on the oxygen side, and there is no way to stay at that depth throughout the dive without racking up massive deco. I don’t remember the exact details, but we managed to put together a multi-level dive plan without deco or going over CNS or OTU limits.

Two Dives to Our 1 Dive

After descending, we would dive our plan, surface on an SMB, then call the boat by radio to come pick us up.

Meanwhile, the open circuit divers and their divemaster would conduct 2 dives along the wall. We really didn’t expect to see the other divers again until we were all back on the boat. As it turned out, the other group passed by us sometime around the one hour mark. Their plan was to gear up and descend after dropping us in the water. They would do two normal recreational dives from two different drop-off points. After that, it would be a surprise which dive team would be the first to surface.

It turned out to be Team CCR. 3 hours is a long time to be underwater. I never noticed on open circuit the Molokini Back Wall experiences an up-current where the normal ocean current meets the wall. I found it tiresome making constant adjustments to maintain my O2 set point, etc. It wasn’t all that challenging, but after 2 1/2 hours I was ready to start thinking about coming up.

Aside from shortening the dive by about 20 minutes, everything went as planned. I have to say, that wall on that gear is incredible! I feel privileged for the opportunity and wonder how many CCR divers have gotten to do that dive the way we did.

We sent up the SMB, surfaced and bobbed around while getting in contact with Mikal. They were nowhere in sight, since there were no bubbles to follow and they had the other dive team to support. It all went according to plan in any case.

Before long we were back on the boat. As it turned out, the other group still had their second dive to do, so we helped get them in and out of the water. It was fun visiting with Maggie and Mikal. The sun was out and we had just completed an epic wall dive.

Maui Pacific Divers – Just Book It

Maui Pacific Divers leaving the Lahaina harbor.
Maui Pacific Divers leaving the Lahaina harbor.

I am obviously over the moon having discovered Maui Pacific Divers. I feel like I’ve made new friends on Maui and am thrilled to be able to do very special dives while on the island.

My hope is that other divers will read this and plan their own incredible experiences with Maggie and Mikal. I have been on hundreds of dive boats all over the world. Every one is unique in some way, but Maui Pacific Divers is truly special and unlike any diving experience I’ve had. It’s a lot like having your own boat, but minus the hassles that go along with that.

If you are like me, and want to experience Hawaii diving away from crowds and in your own special way, Maui Pacific Divers will make that happen. If you’ve been diving with them, please tell me about your experience. Here’s a link to their website: Meanwhile, dive safe!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *