Snorkeling vs Scuba Diving: What’s the Difference & Which is Better?

The underwater world is a strangely unfamiliar yet captivating one, and those of us who don’t venture past the surface will miss out on its infinite treasures. After all, our planet is over 70% water, and if you only stay up top, well, enjoy your 30%! 

If you, like us, are big ocean lovers, chances are you’ve heard of two watersports that millions around the world enjoy: snorkeling and scuba diving

While both sports share numerous similarities, there are distinct differences between them, and each has its share of pros, cons, and risks. 

So which are you more suited for? If you are thinking of making your first foray into the underwater world, we’re here to help. In this blog post, we’ll share some characteristics of both sports, the differences between them, and what equipment you’ll need for each one. 

Photo of a Person Snorkeling

Snorkeling vs Scuba Diving

Snorkeling is way easier to pick up than scuba diving, which requires specialized training and way more confidence in the water. One of the key differences is that snorkeling is done primarily at the surface, and scuba diving is done below it. Let’s take a look at the features and differences. 

What is Snorkeling?

In a nutshell, snorkeling is when you swim along the surface of the water facedown. You’ll be wearing a mask, snorkel, optional fins, and an optional wetsuit depending on the water’s temperature.

You’ll wear a mask to protect your eyes and enable you to see underwater. The snorkel, which you breathe out of, will have a mouthpiece that you pop into your mouth, a clip that attaches to your mask, and a tube that sticks out of the water which is how you’ll get your air. 

Some more fancy snorkels have cool things like a purge valve below for you to clear the water, and a splash guard or valve on the top to prevent too much water from getting in. 

While you can use your arms to maneuver, a more efficient way would be to use fins, which can propel you greater distances with minimal effort. In addition, if you’re in cold water, you might want a wetsuit to protect yourself from cuts and scrapes as well as provide some form of insulation. 


Snorkeling is a big part of freediving, which is another sport where you use a mask, snorkel, weights, and slender, large fins to hold your breath as you descend on a single lungful. Snorkeling is usually a precursor to this, and most experienced snorkelers might choose to venture beneath the surface to see things from a different perspective.

Freediving often is done recreationally or competitively, but it is also used for several tasks like spearfishing or harvesting shellfish, crustaceans, and other marine life. You’ll need special training for this, as extended breath holds can become dangerous if done wrongly. 

A Woman in Bikini Under Water

What is Scuba Diving?

SCUBA is an acronym for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. In addition to the equipment for snorkeling, you’ll also need a tank that contains compressed air, a BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) to help maintain buoyancy on and below the surface and a regulator set. 

A regulator set contains a first stage that converts the tank’s high pressure into intermediate pressure. The air then goes through a hose to your regulator, where it gets converted into breathable pressure. In the set, you’ll also have a backup regulator in case your primary fails, as well as a gauge.

Gauges are all different, but most of them have a depth indicator to show how deep you are and a tank pressure gauge to show how much air you have left in the tank. You’ll also need weights that can be worn with your BCD or on a separate weight belt. We’re all buoyant and will float. Very few of us are natural “sinkers”! 

While this is the basic setup you’ll need, there are extra “nice-to-haves” as well, like a personal dive computer to show your dive time and calculate your profile, a GoPro to document your underwater adventures, or an underwater scooter for strong currents or weak swimmers. 

Differences Between Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

Both activities will allow you an incredible time in the water, swimming alongside some fascinating marine life and exploring a part of the world that some might not be fortunate enough to experience.

However, snorkeling is done on the surface while scuba diving is done underwater. Snorkeling also requires way less equipment and scuba diving equipment can be cumbersome and clunky. You don’t need much training for snorkeling, but scuba diving requires specialized training and heaps more practice to become adept at it.

The risk factor also differs. While diving is a relatively safe sport, it carries significantly more risks than snorkeling. After all, being submerged underwater for prolonged periods is unnatural to us and is only possible with specialized equipment. 

When you’re snorkeling, you get a bird’s eye view of reefs and structures from the top, but when diving, you’ll be immersed in the world and part of the marine world, not merely a spectator from afar. 


Snorkeling is done almost exclusively recreationally, but as mentioned before, there are some rare exceptions like freediving for spearfishing, or harvesting crustaceans, urchins, and other marine life. 

Scuba diving is done primarily recreationally, but there is a large community of professional divers that dive for various purposes like underwater photography, scientific research, commercial diving, military operations, and underwater search and rescue. 

How Old Are You?

Depending on the training agency, the minimum age to scuba dive is ten, although some might permit children as young as eight, albeit with more restrictions on time, amount of supervision, and depth. Snorkelers can be of any age and do not have to be supervised by a professional. 

Depth and Duration Differences

Snorkelers stay on the surface although as mentioned before, freedivers can choose to go as deep as they want. Beginner scuba divers can go to a depth of 18 meters / 60 feet while advanced divers can go to 30 meters / 130 feet. 

Commercial and technical divers that have loads more training and use different gas blends can go a lot deeper, but that’s not considered recreational diving so we’ll leave them out for the moment. 

Painting of a Person Swimming Underwater

Is Scuba Diving Safe?

Scuba diving is an activity that’s enjoyed by millions worldwide and is generally considered a low-risk sport. However, being underwater still carries its share of risks. Read more about scuba diving safety here

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