Before I began scuba diving I spent many years snorkeling. In fact I still love to snorkel as well as scuba dive, as each activity has its merits and its place for my enjoyment.
Which is better snorkelling or scuba diving? Snorkelling is better if you enjoy viewing the underwater world from the surface with the occasional dive down to take a closer look whilst holding your breath. Scuba diving is more expensive and requires certification. But you can spend much longer underwater without the need to hold your breath.
“I’ve always enjoyed snorkeling and when I became a certified scuba diver I continued to enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving together. This is especially when I dive on a liveaboard, as I enjoy snorkeling between dives, for example snorkeling with dolphins in the Red Sea by quietly snorkelling to them.”
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An in-depth look at snorkelling vs scuba diving and which is better
If you’ve not done either snorkeling or scuba diving before, I’d recommend you begin with snorkeling first.
You can always progress to scuba diving later. But if you’re anything like I was, once you discover the love for the underwater world you’ll likely continue to snorkel even after you’ve become a qualified scuba diver.
But having said that, let’s look at the various factors that may help you to decide on which is better for you: Snorkelling vs scuba diving.
Is swimming a requirement for snorkeling vs scuba diving?
As with any water-based activity, being able to swim beforehand makes for a safer enjoyment of the activity. With that in mind let’s take a closer look at snorkeling vs scuba diving.
Whether you want to learn how to snorkel or to scuba dive, swimming is an essential skill to have.
Is swimming required for snorkeling?
Is swimming required for snorkeling? – In my opinion; yes it is. You can’t really go snorkeling if you can’t swim. So to be able to snorkel, you will need to be confident in the water.
Being able to swim will give you the confidence you need. It will also allow you to be safe when you are in the water.
Whenever you enter the water, whether this is in a swimming pool, a lake or the sea, you need to be able to swim. You need to be able to swim to safety if you have to.
Mostly when you snorkel, or certainly I recommend this, you will have fins on your feet. Fins will propel you through the water much faster. So you save your energy. Plus fins will also help you to dive down under the water with ease too.
If you don’t already know how to swim, I suggest you get some swimming lessons first. You can get swimming lessons at your local gym (if it has a swimming pool). Alternatively, get lessons at your neighbourhood swimming pool.
You may even be able to find someone local to you who has a private swimming pool, where they provide private swimming lessons too.
Being in or near water is about confidence and learning to snorkel requires you to be confident in the water.
So step one is to learn to swim. Step two is to learn how to snorkel (see further down the article for more details on how you can learn how to snorkel).
Is swimming required for scuba diving?
As with snorkeling, being able to swim is a requirement, before you learn to scuba dive.
In this article “Can you scuba dive without knowing how to swim?” I run through why it’s important to be able to swim first before you learn how to scuba dive. In fact the leading scuba training schools like PADI and BSAC require you to know how to swim 200 metres (656 feet), before you are able to begin scuba diving lessons.
As with snorkeling, knowing how to swim first is about safety and about being confident in the water. Scuba diving is regarded as a dangerous sport. So by knowing how to swim and by being confident in the water beforehand, minimises this risk.
Is it easier to learn how to snorkel vs learning how to scuba dive?
There’s quite a big difference between learning how to snorkel compared to learning how to scuba dive. With snorkeling you float on the surface, with the occasional surface dive under the water. Whereas with scuba diving, you are total immersed under the water for the duration of the dive.
It is therefore much easier to learn how to snorkel vs learning how to scuba dive. With this in mind let’s take a look at where and how you can learn how to snorkel vs learn how to scuba dive.
Where can I learn how to snorkel?
Learning to snorkel can be done near to where you live. Or alternatively on or near your resort when you are on holiday.
Both leading diving schools BSAC and PADI provide snorkel training.
At BSAC they encourage both a children and adults to learn snorkeling. They refer to snorkeling as a way to build up confidence in the water too.
Learning to snorkel with BSAC can be done near to your home in the UK. You will need to find your nearest BSCA training club, and one that does training of new-comers. Some BSAC clubs only cater for experienced divers and don’t provide training for snorkelers, nor for scuba diving for that matter.
Most BSAC diving clubs have training facilities, whereas a few don’t have any training facilities at all. So you will need to make contact with your nearest club.
What if I don’t live in the UK or my local BSAC club doesn’t provide snorkel training?
If your BSAC club doesn’t have the training facilities, or if you don’t live in the UK, you will need to look to PADI for your snorkel training.
PADI refer to their course as ‘Skin Diving and Snorkeling.’ They explain the activity as a great way to explore the underwater world when you’re not able to scuba dive or if scuba diving just isn’t your thing.
The PADI skin diving course teaches you how to enjoy watching life below the surface and to comfortably venture under the water for short visits.
PADI training schools are much more common than BSAC schools outside of the UK and across the world. So it’s more likely you’ll find a PADI training school to learn how to become a snorkeler.
Snorkeling is a great introduction the wonders of the underwater world and perfect for families to enjoy together. It’s also a good stepping stone to learning how to scuba dive too.
Can I learn to snorkel on my own and is it safe to do so?
If you don’t want to learn to snorkel with either BSCA or PADI, or if you don’t live near where there is a training school, you can learn to snorkel yourself. However, if you are in any doubt as to your ability in the water, or if you are unsure about teaching yourself, please get professionally trained.
But before you learn how to snorkel, you must first be able to swim. Once you can swim or if you are able to swim, the risks associate with snorkeling are more about where you snorkel vs the snorkeling itself. So long as you can swim before you start to snorkel, you can’t really go wrong.
It’s only when you begin to do more adventurous snorkeling that you may need to learn a bit more and to take some advice.
Assuming you can already swim or if you have begun swimming lessons or will do so before you learn to snorkel, snorkeling isn’t difficult to learn.
Teaching yourself snorkeling the steps to take
I taught myself to snorkel at a young age on the south west coast of England in Cornwall. Before I started, I bought the equipment, which included a snorkel, a mask, a set of fins and a wet suit, and off I set.
I began in the shallows and progressed from there. So long as you are careful where you go when you snorkel, there’s not much than can go wrong. If you are able to swim and you are confident in the water, it’s very easy to float on the surface, with your face in the water. You use the snorkel to breath, so that you can keep your face under the water.
Learning to snorkel on your own is safe, so long as you take care of diving near to rocks when there’s a swell and you watch out for currents and rip tides.
Starting to do surface dives with snorkeling
Where more confidence is required and a bit more technique is needed, is when you begin to do surface dives.
Surface diving requires you to hold your breath and to be able to clear your snorkel when you return to the surface. The longer you are able to hold your breath, the longer you’ll be able to stay under the water and the deeper you will be able to go. However, some will find they may be more buoyant than others and struggle to dive down from the surface.
The buoyancy problem can be overcome through practice. But it can also be helped by introducing a weight belt you your equipment. A weight belt makes you less buoyant in the water, which will make your snorkel-surface-dive to get below the surface that that little bit easier.
Start slowly by going down to shallow depths at first. Progress to going deeper, when you’re able to hold your breath for longer and after you’ve perfected the ‘surface-dive’ technique.
Where can I learn how to scuba dive?
Learning to scuba dive can be done either at your local BSAC or PADI diving school. Or when you are on holiday, either at or near your resort. Which in the majority of times will be a PADI dive training centre.
Whether you choose BSAC or PADI, the training will be good and will be safe.
However, the quality of the training you receive will be affected by the trainer, not necessarily by which training program you choose. PADI training is more readily available worldwide and is an easier training program to find. Whereas BSAC training is mostly available in the UK only, with a few exceptions.
PADI is a commercial business, whereas BSAC is a registered charity and non-profit organisation. The local training schools and clubs of BSAC are run on a voluntary basis. Whereas all PADI schools are run as a business for profit.
Finding a scuba dive centre near to you
It will be much easier to find a PADI training centre in and around most seaside resorts, be it in the UK, America, the Caribbean or anywhere else in the world, where you choose to learn how to dive.
Before you can scuba dive around the world you must have a diver qualification vs you don’t need any qualification to snorkel.
Can I learn to scuba dive on my own and is it safe to do so?
Unlike with learning how to snorkel, you cannot and must not learn to scuba dive on your own. If you are considering to learn to scuba dive on your own, don’t.
Scuba diving needs to be taught by a qualified instructor, as it’s classed as a dangerous sport. If you are not taught properly, things could go wrong. You may cause harm to yourself, with the worst outcome for a lack of understanding of scuba diving and the dangers associated with it, leading to death.
Sorry to be so dramatic, but it’s necessary to be upfront. I want you to understand the dangers of diving where best practices are not followed. But on the other hand I really want you to be able to enjoy this fabulous sport.
Where you receive the correct training and where you follow best practice, all the risks associated with scuba diving are minimised and any associated dangers are negligible.
What’s the difference in learning between snorkeling vs scuba diving?
The difference between the two activities requires a different approach to teaching the two skills. Scuba diving places a bigger demand on our bodies and is seen as a riskier sport.
Therefore, the training levels needed to learn scuba diving are more than those required to learn snorkeling.
Safety is at the forefront for teaching both sets of skills. However, training to become a scuba diver always requires a professionally qualified diver trainer.
What you need to learn for snorkeling compared to what’s needed to learn for scuba diving is quite different. For example, to be able to scuba dive, you must have a qualification to do so. In order to get your diver qualification, you’ll need to sit an exam.
Also, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to dive from a dive boat, without first showing your diver qualification certificate. However, no such exam or qualification is a requirement of snorkeling.
This means that it’s much easier to become a snorkeler than it is to become a scuba diver. But this shouldn’t stop you from becoming a diver.
The exam is easy to do, once you’ve learned the information required to pass and then all you need to do is to build up your dives and keep diving.
So let’s take a look at what you need to learn to start snorkeling vs what you must learn to qualify as a scuba diver.
What do you need to learn when you learn how to snorkel
Whether you decide to use BSAC, PADI or if you decide to learn to snorkel on your own, the basic skills you’ll need are the same.
With the PADI course, they are specific about what you will learn, which includes the following skills:
- How to choose, adjust and use skin diving equipment.
- Basic safety guidelines for being in and around the water.
- Snorkeling and skin diving techniques including checking buoyancy, surface swimming, clearing water from your snorkel and performing effortless surface dives.
- Going on an optional skin dive at a local dive site.
These same skills will be taught on the BSAC course too. Where you teach yourself, you will have to learn these skills by trial and error. Hopefully with not too much error.
When it comes to choosing and buying equipment, this will be the same wherever you learn to snorkel.
But of course, when you are being taught by a qualified instructor, they will be able to guide you with the best way to choose your equipment. Plus they will teach you the best way to stay safe and how to get the most out of snorkeling.
However, that being said, snorkeling is not difficult to pickup on your own. So long as you start off in the shallows and progress to deeper water. Be careful about snorkeling near to rocks, especially if there’s a swell or waves crashing in.
Also, be aware of tides and currents around the coast when you snorkel in the sea.
Also, be aware of when you either swim or snorkel in a lake. Lakes can be very cold. There’s usually a thermal layer and when you swim down, you may swim into a lower cold layer, which can be a bit of a shock to the body. So be careful, especially if you are not wearing a wet suit.
Will it help my learning how to dive, if I can already snorkel?
As I’ve already mentioned, I’d been snorkeling for years before I did my first dive. However, because I was so comfortable in and under the water from snorkeling, the transaction was made easier for me.
In fact I remember questioning myself why it had taken so long for me to do my first dive, which was in one of the best places on Planet Earth to dive…The Great Barrier Reef, when I was in my mid-twenties.
I was extremely confident when I was learning to dive. This is the main reason I recommend you first learn to snorkel, before you learn to dive. You’ll not only build your confidence in the water, but you’ll get used to wearing a mask and used to breathing through your mouth.
Both for diving and for snorkeling your nose is blocked by the mask you are wearing, so you are forced to breath though your mouth. Unless you chose to wear a combined ‘mask-snorkel’, where you can still breath though your nose too.
Snorkeling will give you an increased understanding of the water and of what you can expect to see when you start diving.
A big part of learning how to scuba diving is confidence. So knowing how to snorkel beforehand will help your confidence in learning how to scuba dive.
What do you need to learn when you learn how to scuba dive
Whereas you can teach yourself snorkeling, you can’t and must not do this with scuba diving.
Learning to scuba dive is a bit more complex than learning to snorkel. This is because diving is labelled as a dangerous sport and it’s about learning how to dive safely.
Part of the diver training is the requirement to take an exam. When you pass the diver qualification exam, you will become a qualified diver. Without the necessary qualification, you will not be able to dive. With PADI, the learning is now all eLearning based, which is easy to complete.
Diving begins with the basics
Diver training starts with the basics, which gets you to the stage where you can begin diving. This beginning level will allow you to dive up to certain depths. However, you can learn for and take exams for additional qualifications, in order to progress to more advanced diving. This would include learning to dive to deeper depths, to do drift dives, to dive on ship wrecks, diving in a dry suit and so on.
Learning to dive begins with understanding and setting up your equipment. There’s much more equipment involved with diving than there is with snorkeling too. The same basic equipment needed for snorkeling is also needed for diving, except for the snorkel. Although I always carry a snorkel with me, even when I dive.
Having a snorkel at the surface, when you first jump in before you begin your scuba dive, allows you to look down to your dive site (assuming you’re diving in clear water), but without consuming any of your precious air. Thereby ensuring a full tank of air for your dive, which will maximise the length of the dive.
More Reading: Do empty scuba tanks float? (This depends on the material they are made from)
For me, every minute under the water on a dive is precious. So if I can find ways to preserve my air, I will. I have to as I’m bigger than the average person. I’m a bloke too (on average men breath more air than women do), so my air consumption is greater than the average person. So every technique I can introduce to conserve my air, I will use.
I recommend you do the same, even if you don’t have similar challenges to me.
What else you’ll learn when you are taught to scuba dive includes the following:
Learning how to get water out of your mask or mask clearing. Plus why this is important when scuba diving
One of the techniques taught when you scuba dive, is how to clear your mask of water when you are under the water.
Of all the techniques taught in diving, I found that this technique to be one of the most challenging for the students that I trained. Clearing your mask of water is an important technique to learn, just in case your mask fills with water on the dive, but it’s also a confidence building exercise too.
What are the reasons why your mask gets flooded underwater?
If you’ve never dived before, you may be wondering how your mask could get flooded under the water. This can happen for a few reasons. The most common is a badly fitting mask, which is where your mask has a continual leak whilst you are under the surface.
Getting your mask knocked of by another diver’s fins
The second reason this may happen is if it gets knocked off by another of the divers in your group. Divers often bump into each other, and its not uncommon for someone else’s fin to hit you.
It’s unlikely, but not impossible for your mask to come off completely, but either way, and even if your mask is only slightly dislodged, water can enter.
Strong currents can dislodge your mask
The other reason a mask can get dislodged is if you are diving in a stronger current. This is especially true if you are static in the water, holding on to a rope, or other stationary object, where the current is being forced past you.
Whatever the reason for your mask filling with water, you need to be able to clear it under water, so this is an important lesson to learn.
Clearing your mask when you are snorkeling is easy to do. It is done by lifting your head out of the water and tipping your mask off your face. However, this is a bit more tricky to do when the water on the surface is choppy.
Entering and exiting the water safely
How and where you enter the water when you are scuba diving is important for your own safety. There are various types of dive you can do, which include shore diving, boat diving either on a hard hulled boat or on a rib.
Depending on the type of dive you are doing, your entry into the water and exit out of the water needs to be considered. Considerations for a shore dive includes how you might enter the water through waves. Or how to enter safely from an outcrop or from rocks.
Equally, exiting the water needs to be thought about and planned. The last thing you want to do is to find you’ve entered the water and cannot exit at the end of the dive.
Entry and exiting the water from a boat is different depending on the boat and what equipment the boat has on board to help your exit. All forms of entry and exit from a boat will be taught on which ever scuba diver training course you choose.
Entering the water safely when you are snorkeling is just as important as it is with diving. And some of the safety considerations also apply to snorkeling. For example, making sure you are able to exit safely after your snorkel and watching how and where you enter the water is the same.
Buoyancy control when you are under the water
One of the skills which takes time for most newbie scuba divers to master is buoyancy control.
The aim is to always be neutrally buoyant when you are under the water. This is achieved by using the equipment you dive with and being taught how to do this correctly.
However, it is a skill, and like most things you learn, practice makes perfect and over time making yourself neutrally buoyant will come naturally. Don’t worry at this stage, if this doesn’t make sense to you. I intend to write another post to explain this technique and why it’s important to enjoy your dive and to stay safe.
Whilst buoyancy does play a part in snorkeling, particularly if you want to dive down, it is not as important as it is with diving though.
When you dive, you enter a whole new world. Orienting yourself is much harder under the water than it is on land. For one, the visibility in most situations limits how far you can see. This in turn, makes orienting yourself more difficult.
Your senses that help you to orient yourself on land, for example the position in the sky where the sun is. Or where the wind is coming from. These directional markers are not present under water. It’s different under the water and you need to learn to navigate in a different way.
Currents replace wind. But you may be able to see the position of the sun from under the water. However this is not always the case. Especially if you dive in waters that are not termed ‘blue water.’
Blue water diving is when you dive in places like the Caribbean or in other tropical places like the Red Sea or the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The water is very clear and the visibility is good, so navigation is easier. However, this is not always the case.
Therefore, navigation under water is mostly done using a compass, but also my knowing the terrain and making note of what you see. The difference between scuba diving and snorkeling, is that with snorkeling, you are on the surface and you can take your head out of the water and look around, whereas with scuba diving, you’re not able to do this.
Safety and diving go hand in hand. Learning all the safe practices and how to dive safely is key to all diver training.
Scuba diving is more complex than snorkeling
As you will see, the training you need for scuba diving is much more complex than it is for snorkeling. When you scuba dive, you are entering a foreign environment. You will be completely submersed and you’ll not be able to come to the surface right away, should anything go wrong.
So when considering the difference between snorkeling vs scuba diving, it’s not about which one is better than the other, it’s about your feelings towards one over the other. Learning to scuba dive takes more confidence and there’s more to it, which is why I recommend learning to snorkel first.
It’s likely that if you don’t enjoy snorkeling, you are unlikely to enjoy scuba diving. Some people can feel claustrophobic when they put a mask on or go under water and breath using scuba diving equipment. It’s better to find this out whilst you are snorkeling first and whether you enjoy it, before you progress and spend a lot of money on diver training course.
Try diving out with a try-dive to see if you like it
However, having said that, you will in most places around the world where you can learn to dive, be able to do a trial-dive or try-dive. A try-dive is where an instructor takes you down to a safe shallow depth, most commonly in a swimming pool, but sometimes in a safe shallow and sheltered shoreline location or into a lake.
The purpose of this trial dive is to see if you enjoy the experience and whether you are comfortable breathing underwater. Not everyone is.
My wife hated it, but I loved it and still do.
I still remember my very first time I went underwater for the very first time. I was like a kid in a sweet shop and was so excited. For me I wasn’t nervous at all, which is probably due in part to my years of snorkeling, but also because of my excitement rather than trepidation. This experience is different for everyone, and it’s okay to be nervous. It’s only natural if you are nervous too. So please don’t worry if you are.
For my first dive, it was in a shallow part of the seas around the Great Barrier Reef, for you it might be in your resort hotel. Either way, this taster will tell you whether scuba diving is for you, or not as the case may be.
What am I able do when I snorkel that I may not be able to do when I scuba dive?
Whilst its okay to snorkel on your own. You must NOT scuba dive alone!
There are a few things you can do, which you can’t do when you scuba dive.
Firstly, whilst its okay to snorkel on your own. It’s absolutely not okay to scuba dive alone.
As long as you make sure the location for snorkeling is safe. You have informed someone that you are snorkeling. There’s no problem with you snorkel on your own.
However, there are no circumstances where you should dive on your own. Diving should always be done in pairs or more. You should always have a dive buddy in line of sight for safety reasons, at all times.
Another activity you can do when snorkeling that is difficult to do when scuba diving, is to snorkel in very shallow water. Where the water is too shallow, it not only makes it difficult to dive, but it makes diving the site unnecessary.
Furthermore, accessing certain shoreline regions or snorkeling from certain rocky outcrops may be accessible as a snorkeler, but not as a diver. This will be mostly due to the amount of equipment you need for diving and the weight of it. The equipment needed for snorkeling is very basic and not too heavy or difficult to carry, whereas diving equipment is heavy and would be difficult to carry too far and across more challenging places.
However, even in these situations, where access with snorkeling equipment is possible, you still need to bear in mind your entry and exit points to and from the water.
What can I do when I scuba dive that I can’t do when I am snorkeling?
One of the best advantages of scuba diving over snorkeling is how deep you can go. So although diving is limited to certain depths. Which is partly dependent on your skills, competency and training level. But it’s also limited by the limitations of the human body. Humans can only safely go to certain depths. Which can be helped by the use of certain equipment and mixed gasses. But perhaps more about that in another article. However, despite these limitations, you can still dive pretty deep.
But whilst diving is not all about how deep you dive, but about what’s at the dive site and why you are diving it.
The dive site might be a pretty reef, or it may be an interesting ship wreck. So the reason for the dive is what’s there, but to access it you dive to the depth of the site.
However, the site you choose to dive may be at say 15-20 metres (49-66 feet) deep, which for snorkeling would be impossible to access and enjoy. So whilst snorkeling lends itself to shallower locations, diving is better suited to depths of over 4-5 metres (13-16 feet).
When snorkeling your depth is limited by how long you can hold your breath
When you snorkel, you are only able to dive down as deep as you can physically push yourself to go, or for as long as you can hold your breath (always remembering you need enough air to return to the surface too).
However, whilst there are limitations on scuba diving depths, it isn’t limited in the same way. You can safely dive to around 50 metres (164 feet) on normal aspirated air (in other words atmospheric air), or deeper with the right gases and equipment.
The 50 metre (164 foot) depth limit can be exceeded when you get into mixed gases, but this is a more advance subject at this stage and is for more advanced divers. Also, depending on where you are diving and if you are on holiday, your travel insurance may restrict this depth to 30 metres (98 feet) in any case.
Let’s now look at pros and cons and the limitations of snorkeling vs scuba diving
As with any sporting activity you do, or when choosing between different sporting activities, there are pros and cons for each. Also, with anything you do there are often limitations to the activity you choose.
The pros and cos of snorkeling vs scuba diving and the limitations for each activity are different, so let’s take a look at the differences between them.
What are the pros and cons of snorkeling?
The best thing about snorkeling is that it’s easy to do. It can be done from most places around the coast. The equipment you need for snorkeling is nowhere near as much as you need for diving. Also, most will be able to afford the cost of what’s needed.
As already mentioned, you can snorkel on your own too. Which means you are not restricted when you can’t find a snorkel buddy.
As already discussed, the downside of snorkeling is the depth of the water. This affects your surface diving. Or where you are on the surface and there’s poor visibility, this will make snorkeling uninteresting and many times pointless to do, as you’ll not be able to see much.
What are the pros and cons of scuba diving?
The best thing about scuba diving, as already mentioned, is the depth you can go. You can discover all sorts of things when you dive that would be totally impossible to do when snorkeling.
The other aspect of scuba diving that I love is the silence when you are under the water. All you can hear is the sound of your own breathing and bubbles. Except for if you are accompanied by dolphins or whales in the water, or occasionally where certain coral dwelling creatures eat the coral and the sounds that this creates. These sounds are of course very special to hear, especially those of dolphins and of whales.
The biggest downside of diving is the cost of it. You need much more equipment for diving than you do for snorkeling. Also, if you choose to dive in both cold and tropical waters, you’ll need to have two sets of body protection.
For dives in cold water, it’s recommended to use a dry suit. Dry suits are expensive and when you add this to all the other equipment you need, unless you manage to get secondhand equipment, you’ll easily spend well over $1,000 for all of your dive-gear.
The other downside and expense of diving is how much it costs to hire a boat or book onto a dive trip. Dive trips are upwards of $30 per dive.
Finally, to be able to dive, you need to dive with a buddy, so you can’t just decide go for a quick dive on your own. whereas this is possible with snorkeling.
More Reading: How do I get a dive buddy? (5 easy ways to find a dive buddy)
What are the limitations of snorkeling?
The most obvious limitation of snorkeling is what’s already been mentioned which is the depth to which you can dive down. Snorkeling in water with limited visibility makes it difficult to snorkel in deeper water. In these situations you’ll not be able to see to the bottom, where the visibility is restricted. Which is usually as a result of plankton or silt in the water.
So snorkeling in poor visibility is not really an option.
Whilst visibility does have an impact on diving, it doesn’t have the same effect as snorkeling does. This is because you can dive down to the bottom and stay there. Which means there’s less ‘murky-water‘ between you and what you are looking at. So things are not obscured as much with diving, as they are when snorkeling at the surface.
Whilst diving down to the bottom from a surface dive when snorkeling, regardless of how deep it is and how long you are able to hold your breath, you always have to return to the surface within a very short space of time when you are snorkeling. And whilst you always have to return to the surface when you scuba dive too, the time you can spend under the water is a lot longer.
What are the limitations of diving?
The first limitation of diving is your air consumption. How much air you carry in your diving tank and how fast you consume your air, will determine the length of your dive. There are various factors that have an impact on how fast you consume you air, but either way this is a limiting factor for diving.
More Reading: What are scuba tanks made out of (Steel vs aluminium scuba tanks)
The second limitation for scuba diving is how deep you can go. Which is limited by the equipment you have and what gases you have in your diving tanks. As already mentioned, the depth you can dive is also limited by your travel insurance policy and the diving qualification you have.
However, there are ultimate limitations to how deep you can go, even with all right equipment, the right gases and relevant diving qualifications and experience, which is the limitation of the human body and the pressures that increase the deeper you go.
Poor visibility will also spoil the fun of diving
Diving can be limited by the visibility of the water, although this is more linked to the enjoyment of the dive more than anything else. However, having said that, the poorer the visibility, the higher the risk of losing your dive buddy. I do remember doing a few dives in UK waters where the visibility was as low as a few inches. Yes, a few inches. You may ask, why would you do a dive where the visibility is only a few inches?
The first time that I dived in these very limited visibility conditions was to satisfy my diver training, which required me to complete a low visibility dive. The other times where the visibility was extremely low, was when I did a lot more deeper UK diving. However, it wasn’t until you reached the bottom that you discovered how good or bad the visibility was. It was only then that you could decide whether or not to continue or abort the dive.
With more depth comes more potential problems, including nitrogen narcosis
Another limiting factor to consider when diving is nitrogen narcosis. Nitrogen narcosis tends to become a problem after around 30 metres (98 metres). Nitrogen narcosis is caused by the anesthetic effect of nitrogen gas at high pressure. It can result in the temporary decline or the loss of certain senses. It can be dangerous and it’s important to be able to spot the signs of its onset. This is one of the reasons why diving in buddy pairs in important.
You don’t always recognise the effects of nitrogen narcosis yourself, but your buddy may see the symptoms in you and abort the dive for safety reasons, or visa versa.
What are the safety aspects of snorkeling vs scuba diving?
Whether you choose to learn how to snorkel or to scuba diver, or both, safety is paramount. Both activities involve being in and around water, and as water is a foreign substance to us, i.e. humans breath air, not water like fish, we have to treat the environment with respect.
It’s only when people stop treating water with the respect that it deserves and its only when they underestimate its power and what can go wrong, when things go wrong.
This is why training is recommended for both, although you can teach yourself snorkeling, in order to understand the dangers that water can pose. So let’s take a look at where is safe to snorkel vs where its safe to scuba dive.
Where is it safe to snorkel?
It’s safe to snorkel where you’ve got good access to the water, but also where you have an easy exit too. There’s no point in being able to jump into the water, but not be able to exit at the end of your snorkel.
Snorkeling is really only safe where you are in sight of land, but this is really a limitation due to water depth too. Snorkeling is only workable where the depth of the water is such that you can see the bottom or where you are snorkeling along an underwater cliff edge of a drop-off.
However, having said that you can use snorkeling to view creatures in deeper water. I’ve snorkeled to watch and observe manta rays and whale sharks before. However, this can only be safely achieved when you have a boat to take you to the site.
Snorkeling in waters where there are lots of sharks is possibly more risky than diving in the same waters. Sharks are perhaps more curious of things on the surface than they are of divers when they are under the water. This can make snorkeling a bit more risky in waters where sharks are more prevalent.
Also, snorkelers tend to snorkel alone, where as divers dive at least in pairs. Sharks are more likely to attack people on their own than in a group.
Please don’t let this worry you too much, as I’ve snorkeled all around the world, which includes the Red sea, the Caribbean and Australia where sharks are prevalent, and not had any problems at all.
Where is it safe to scuba dive?
There are many places where you can scuba dive safely. But there a few situations where scuba diving is unsafe and not recommended.
For example, cave diving is not recommended as safe diving. In fact most insurances companies will specifically exclude cave diving from their travel policies due to the added risks associated with cave diving.
It’s safe to dive in waters up to 50 Metres (164 feet) on normal atmospheric air, after which there’s the risk of oxygen toxicity. Anything over 18-20 metres (5965 feet) is regarded as deeper diving. Although some consider that anything over 30 metres (98 feet) is considered a deep dive.
It is possible to dive to depths deeper than 50 metres (164 feet). However, with deeper dives an appropriate diver qualification will be required, plus there are additional risks associate with deep diving. Plus there’s also the requirement for additional equipment too.
It is safe to dive in currents, which are called drift dives and are really fun to do. Drift diving in currents of up to 2-3 knots is safe with the right equipment an experience. The risk with doing a very fast drift dive relates to the possibility of losing divers. However, as with all risks, when diving a drift dive, a surface marker buoy would be used to show the dive boat where the dives are under the water.
More Reading: What is a surface marker buoy used for? (Safety diving equipment)
Diving in and around ports or harbours poses a higher risk, as there’s more of a chance to be hit by a boat. But apart from this, it’s safe to dive in most places around the world.
Whats the difference between the equipment required for snorkeling vs scuba diving
The equipment needed for these two sports is quite different. However if you choose to scuba dive, the equipment required to scuba dive, will also include the equipment you need to snorkel too.
The level of equipment needed for scuba diving will be much more expensive than what is needed to snorkel, so you’ll need to have a higher level of commitment to scuba diving vs snorkeling to make the investment in your equipment pay off.
So with that in mind, what equipment is needed for snorkeling vs scuba diving?
What equipment do you need for snorkeling?
For snorkeling you only need some very basic equipment. This includes a good mask, a snorkel and fins.
You can snorkel without fins, but it’s not as easy to do so. It makes it harder to dive down without fins, especially if you have a more buoyant body than the average body. You can also get to the bottom quicker with the aid of fins from a surface dive too. Which will mean that your limited time underwater, due to how long you can hold your breath, is optimised.
Fins make it easier to swim through the water too. This is because you tend to only use your legs to propel yourself when you snorkel. Whereas when you swim you use both your arms and you legs. You’ll be able to move fast, but also expend less energy when you use fins, instead of bare feet.
Additional equipment you may require for snorkeling
Additional equipment that you may require for snorkeling includes a wet suit for snorkeling in colder water. Or to have other protective suits for swimming in waters where you may get stung by jelly fish or to project your back from the sun.
Whilst you may be apply sun tan lotion before you snorkel, depending on how long you are in the water, this is likely to be washed off as time progresses.
It is therefore recommended, especially if you have fair skin, to have some form of protective clothing to cover your back to avoid being burnt by the sun for prolonged periods of snorkeling.
The other equipment that I sometimes use when I’m snorkeling, especially if I’m wearing a wet-suit, is a weight belt. For me this is easy, as I already have one for diving, but if you’re not a diver this will be an additional expense. A weight belt is necessary if you are more buoyant than the average person too.
This will help you on your surface dives. The weight belt reduces your buoyancy, as it weighs you down, which aids in getting deeper much quicker.
What equipment do you need for scuba diving?
The equipment you need for diving is much more extensive than you need for snorkeling and includes the following list of things:
- Mask and snorkel.
- Wet-suit, dry-suit or other protective clothing depending on the water you are diving in. Where you are using a dry-suit, you will also need an appropriate under suit to keep you warm, unless you have a non-crushed neoprene type dry-suit.
- Diving tanks, although these are mostly supplied by most dive boats.
- Buoyancy aid or stab jacket for creating buoyancy and helping you to maintain neutral buoyancy.
- Regulator or breathing apparatus combined with what’s known as an octopus or spare air supply for your buddy, should their equipment fail, with accompanying air gauges.
- Weight belt to help with neutral buoyancy.
- Gloves, which depends on the water temperature.
- Underwater torches, especially if you intend to do night dives. Although I always carry a dive torch even on day-time dives. This helps when looking into crevices, caves and holes in rocks and coral. It also brings colour to the underwater world, where the colour created by the sun’s rays are taken away at depth.
- Depth gauge and/or a dive computer.
- Delayed SMB or surface marker buoy (SMB). These are useful either for drift dives or for sending up to the surface from certain dives.
- A diving knife for safety, although most dive boats do not allow these. You also have to be careful when you travel with knives too.
- Compass for underwater navigation.
- Writing pad to use for underwater communication.
- Cameras and/or go-pros.
Some of the above list relate to optional equipment, whereas some are essential and some are for additional safety.
More Reading: What is a delayed surface marker buoy? (Safety diving equipment)
How to safely increase the length of time of a scuba dive vs a surface dive when snorkeling
For an increased amount of enjoyment for both scuba diving and for snorkeling, being able to spend more time on the activity will lead to more enjoyment.
The main limitation of diving is the length of time your air will last. So where this can be improved, the length of your dive will increase. Not only is diving expensive, but it is also great fun too, so making the most of each and every dive is important.
The same constraint is not applicable to snorkeling, however, one element of snorkeling that I enjoy is surface diving. So where I am able to improve the time I can spend under the water on each surface dive, is important for the added enjoyment of snorkeling.
So let’s take a look at these two limitations for the two sports and ways in which they can be improved.
How do I safely increase the length of time of my scuba dive
I have already made reference to how much time you can spend under the water. However, I thought I’d look to how you can safely incraese your dive time.
However, where you take measures to increase your dive time, if your dive buddy or the people you dive with don’t conserve their air in a similar way, you’ll have to return to the surface, either with your buddy (if he is running out of air faster than you) or at worst with the person in the group with the best air time, which may not be as good as yours in any case.
The factors that can impact how long the air lasts in your diving tank include the following:
The following list is divided into three types of factor. There are factors where choosing different equipment for the dive can help to lengthen your dive time. There are certain things that you can do, which can safely increase your dive time. But there are also factors where what you do personally, will affect your dive time too.
Factors where you can make changes to your equipment or how you dive that can increase your dive time
- How large your dive tank is will affect your dive time. Most people dive with a 12 litre cylinder on their back. However, it’s possible to also dive with a 15 litre tank too. The benefit of a 15 litre tank is that it contains more air of course, so it will last longer, but its much heavier and more bulky than a 12 litre tank.
- Dive with a twin set on your back to extend your dive time. Twinning up your dive cylinders will give you more air and will therefore extend your dive time.
- How deep you dive will affect how quickly you use up your air. The deeper the dive the less time you’ll have to dive, as the air is used up much quicker at depth. So to increase your dive time, dive shallower dives.
Things that you can do to increase your dive time
- How long you’ve dived for will affect your air consumption. This is because beginner divers tend to be more nervous. Which means they’ll not be as good at regulating their air consumption than someone who’s been diving for a while. When you are anxious your body will consume more oxygen. Therefore you’ll breath more air as a result. Learning to control your air as you get more experienced and by doing more dives will both contribute to extending your dive time.
- How often you dive will affect your air consumption. Diving instructors that dive day-in-day-out tend to be much better with their air consumption, which is down to practice. Therefore, by diving more will improve the amount of time you’ll be able spend on each dive.
- Control of your buoyancy affects your air consumption. Newbie divers tend not to be able to control their buoyancy as well as experience divers, where they will be constantly putting air into and letting it out of their buoyancy jacket. Doing more diving will lead to better buoyancy control to help you extend your dive time.
- Excessive swimming and energy exertion. Exerting excessive amounts of energy will shorten your dive time, as you’ll use more oxygen and use up your air more quickly. Take your time, fin slowly and relax on your dive will extend your dive time.
Factors where what you do personally that can affect your dive time or improve the time you are under the water
- Your fitness will impact how much you breath and therefore how much air you use. The less fit you are the more air you’ll consume, as diving is a physical sport. Get fitter to enjoy longer dives.
- How big you are in terms of height and weight, will affect your air consumption. The bigger you are, the more air you’ll need. This affects me, as I’m 6′ 6″, so my air consumption will be more than the average person. However, this is mostly offset due to my experience and the number of dives that I’ve done. If you are tall, there’s not much you can do to extend your time unless you use a larger tank (for example a 15 litre instead of a 12 litre tank). However, if you are overweight, you may want to consider losing weight to extend your diving time.
How to safely increase the time you are under the water from a surface dive when snorkeling
Being able to dive down when you are snorkeling makes it more fun. The amount of time you can dive for and the depth you can go, is governed by how long you can hold you breath.
The only way in which you can improve this is through practice. I know that when I’ve not snorkeled for a while, I find that I can’t hold my breath for as long as I can when I snorkel a lot. You can practice holding your breath even, when you are not snorkeling to improve this.
How fit you are will also affect how long you can hold your breath too. So if you are unfit and you want to be able to dive for longer, you’re going to have to get fit.
If you are over weight, you will be more buoyant than someone who is lean. This will make it more challenging to get down to the bottom from a surface dive. If surface diving when you snorkel is important to you, you may wish to consider losing a few pounds to make this easier.
Having the right fins will help you to get down too. As will having the right technique for surface diving. Get some good fins that propel you well and practice your surface dives.
Dangers and safety tips to reduce any risks of scuba diving and snorkeling
As with any sport, there are risks and dangers involved. Scuba diving is regarded as a dangerous sport. So it’s important to know and understand these dangers beforehand. It’s especially important to know how to make it safe.
Snorkeling isn’t as dangerous as scuba diving. But it’s as important to follow safe snorkeling practices and to understand what the dangers are.
With scuba diving in particular, so long as you get the right level of training, and respect your environment, you will minimise any risks and the dangers.
So let’s take a look at each in turn. Let’s look into the dangers associated with snorkeling vs scuba diving. Together with tips on how to minimise any risk.
There are are a few dangers that could affect you when you’re snorkeling. The first is based upon your location. If you are diving near to rocks and there’s a swell, you could be swept onto the rocks. So be careful when snorkeling in these conditions and don’t go too near to the rocks.
Tides and currents can be very powerful and can be unexpected and sudden. It’s possible to be swept away in a current or tide. So knowing the water in which you are swimming is important. Ask locals for any local knowledge about where you intend to snorkel. This ensures you choose a safe place to snorkel, to make your time in the water safe.
Getting cold if you are in the water for too long could be a problem too. However, this can be avoided by wearing the right wet-suit.
Also, as already mentioned, you could get sun burnt. Especially if you don’t have a good layer of sun screen or suitable protective clothing to cover your exposed back. So depending on how long you intend to snorkel for, and depending on where you are snorkeling (i.e. in the tropics or somewhere colder), make sure you either put a good sunscreen on your body (that’s water resistant and will last) or buy suitable protective clothing to protect you from bright sunlight.
What are the dangers of scuba diving and what safety tips are recommended to reduce the risks?
The biggest danger to divers is a lack of knowledge or understanding of the dangers that exist. So by having good training under your belt, combined with diving with good experienced instructors, this will minimise any risks.
Things can go wrong, but so long as you have in place the correct safety measures, the risk to you is limited. However, there are risks associate with scuba diving, which include the following:
Running out of air
Running out of air can and does happen, but is more common among inexperienced divers. This is why having a competent diver or diving instructor by your side when you’re new to diving, as your dive buddy, who can and will remind you to check your air is important. But also, this is one of the reasons for diving in buddy-pairs. You are there for each other and for backup. If either one of you run out of air or develop equipment problems, you’ll be able to help each other out.
Equipment can malfunction too and has happened on dives I’ve been involved with. In all case, the equipment failure has happened to my dive buddy. Two of these occasions was where I had to rescue my buddy where their air supply failed. However, because of my experience, by keeping calm and because I had the correct equipment all ended well.
The bends is where an air bubble forms in the body. This can be have mild symptoms, like a skin bend, which in most cases is not life threatening. However severe cases of the bends can lead to death.
The speed of treatment is vital for the bends. Giving oxygen and getting the diver to a barometric chamber is key. Fortunately, the percentage of divers that get the bends is very low. It’s also more common amongst those that have this problem where deeper diving is involved. So for normal dives of under 50 metres (164 feet), the bends is very rare.
Being washed away in currents
Currents can be very strong and if they happen unexpectedly, they can cause problems. It’s about knowing what to do when this occurs that is the key to being safe.
Getting cold or having hypothermia on a dive can be a problem. But this where it’s important to wear the right clothing for the dive that you are doing. Which is no different to wearing the right clothes on land, which are suited to the weather conditions.
Please don’t worry about the above list of risks. I don’t want you to be put-off from wanting to dive.
However, it’s important to understand the risks beforehand. If you understand what the risks are, you can make adequate plans to mitigate risks associated with the potential problems.
For example, I always dive with an alternative breathing apparatus (which is practiced by most if not all divers these days), which can be used in an emergency for my buddy. In both cases where problems have occurred with failed air supplies for my dive buddies, this backup air supply has worked well and no bad outcome occurred.
I hope you enjoyed this article on snorkeling vs scuba diving
I’d love to hear from you. Tell us about your adventures of diving and snorkeling, in the comments below. Please also share your photos. Either from your underwater cameras or videos from your waterproof go-pro’s!
If this article hasn’t answered all of your questions. If you have more questions on either about snorkeling or scuba diving (or Which is Better Snorkeling or Scuba Diving), please comment below with your questions.
There will also be many more articles about scuba diving (and on snorkeling) for you to read and learn about this fabulous sport.
Have fun and be safe!
2 thoughts on “Which is Better Snorkeling or Scuba Diving? (Truth Uncovered)”
My husband and I are going to travel to the coast and would like to learn how to scuba dive while we are down there. Your information that scuba diving will take more training due to the equipment that you will use was really interesting. I hadn’t considered that with the added freedom of movement and exploration you get with diving, you will need to have more training on what areas are safe and how to properly breathe with the tank.
Hello Sarah, thank you for taking the time to comment and I’m glad it has helped you too. I hope you enjoyed your trip to the coast. Did you get to go scuba diving or did you start learning?