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Snorkeling vs. Freediving – What’s the difference?



Being in the water with just mask, snorkel and fins is all the same, right? Not quite. There are three ways in which you can enjoy the water using minimal equipment. These are snorkeling, skin diving and freediving. What are the differences? I’m glad you asked.


First, we will cover the simplest form – snorkeling. To enjoy snorkeling you must have a mask, snorkel and, possibly, fins. Without these, you’re just swimming.

You need a mask to see underwater. A snorkel makes it possible to breathe without lifting your head. The remaining equipment is optional. Some things that might help you enjoy snorkeling more include:

  • Comfortable, full-foot fins
  • A rash guard or wetsuit to protect you from stings, abrasions, the sun and getting cold
  • A snorkeling vest to increase your visibility and floatation on the surface

Once you have your gear, grab your buddies and hit the water. You can enjoy hours of snorkeling with minimal training. A good place to start is the Snorkeler course from Scuba Diving International (SDI).

Snorkeling is essentially swimming on the surface while breathing through your snorkel. Any dives you make will be brief and shallow — no more than 5 m/16 ft. This is like the deep end of a swimming pool.

Every day, millions around the world enjoy snorkeling. This includes:

  • Families on vacation or at home on the lake
  • Scuba divers between dives
  • People who want this to be the extent of their in-water experience

Snorkeling courses are readily available almost anywhere snorkeling is popular. They help make snorkeling a safer and much more enjoyable experience.

Skin Diving 

The sport of skin diving is the next level of diving without scuba. It gained popularity in the 1940s and 1950s, chiefly among soldiers and sailors coming home from overseas. Skin diving is generally more involved than snorkeling. It uses largely the same gear, but without the snorkel vest.

Skin divers typically go slightly deeper and stay somewhat longer than snorkelers. Hitting depths in the 5-10 m/16-33 ft range, skin dives generally last around 20-30 seconds. These are short dives to snap pictures of fish or perhaps collect dinner. In the past, many agencies required skin dives as part of the certification process.


If snorkeling represents one end of a spectrum, freediving represents the other. It is significantly more complex both in terms of skill and risk.

People have been freediving for commerce and sustenance since the dawn of time. As one example, the Ama of Japan have been doing this for centuries.

There were many notable freediving pioneers including US Navy dive instructor Robert Croft, Jacques Mayol and Enzo Majorca. Breath-hold diving played a significant role in World War II with the USA, Italy, the UK and others employing freediving special operations troops. The legendary Jacques-Ives Cousteau was a freediver before inventing modern scuba with Emile Gagnan.

Modern competitive freediving traces its roots to 1949. This was when Hungarian-born Italian Air Force captain Raimondo Bucher won 50,000 lire by diving to a depth of 30 m/100 ft off Naples. Scientists predicted the pressure would crush Bucher’s lungs at this depth. They were wrong.

Today freediving is among the fastest-growing water sports. Although freediving has its competitive side, not all freedivers compete. Some spearfish. Some simply enjoy the activity.

Modern freedivers use highly specialized equipment. This includes:

  • Long-bladed fins which provide exception propulsion
  • Low volume masks which make equalizing easier
  • Special wetsuits which are warmer and more flexible than those used by scuba divers

Instead of the inflatable buoyancy devices scuba divers use, freedivers weight themselves for neutral buoyancy at 10-20 m/33-66 ft. Doing so makes controlling buoyancy easier and helps ensure a safe return to the surface.

The threshold for freediving is a depth of 10 m/33 ft and bottom times exceeding 30 seconds. The risks involved are substantial. This is why not only proper equipment but proper training is essential.

Fortunately, you can get this training through Performance Freediving International (PFI), the world’s leading freediver training organization. Like SDI, PFA is a member of the International Training family. PFA offers a wide variety of courses from beginning freediver through instructor trainer.

Whether your interests tend toward snorkeling or freediving, SDI and PFI have the right course to get you started.

To find out more about International Training, visit

From its humble beginning in 1994 to today, the group of training agencies Scuba Diving International (SDI), Technical Diving International (TDI), and Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) form one of the largest diving certification agencies in the World – International Training. With 24 Regional Offices servicing more than 100 countries, the company today far exceeds the original vision the founders had when they conceived the idea on a napkin, sitting at a kitchen table in the early 1990’s.

Freediving Blogs

Jeff chats to… Breathwork Practitioner Hannah Goodman (Watch Video)



In this Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman talks to Breathwork Practitioner Hannah Goodman about breathing correctly to enhance our diving experiences.

Find out more at

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Freediving Blogs

Swimming and snorkelling with Manatees



We love manatees. And November is traditionally Manatee Awareness Month – a time to celebrate this iconic marine mammal and create awareness of the challenges they face. In this post, our friends at Effortless Outdoors share the manatee love and also some info on many of the best destinations to swim and snorkel with them around the world…

Manatees are really gentle, delightful sea creatures and getting a chance to see them up close should be on the bucket list of anyone who enjoys diving and snorkelling. They’re big beasts (typically weighing around half a ton) and they tend to move really slowly, making them ideal for underwater viewing.

They spend around 6-7 hours a day grazing, eating up to 15% of their body weight every single day. They use their front flippers for feeding; first using them to crawl along the ground, then for digging out plants and finally for scooping the vegetation into their mouths. It’s a pretty unique and involved way of feeding and very charming to watch. 

These awesome creatures can live up to sixty years. They are highly intelligent, capable of understanding discrimination tasks and associated items with one another. They have good long-term memory and have often been compared to dolphins concerning their capacity to learn tasks and develop mentally.

Populations of manatees are fairly low. Although they have no natural predators, they are threatened by human activities (they are often killed by ship accidents, as well as red tide and the accidental ingestion of fishing materials). The West Africa and Amazonian manatees are very rare. And scientists estimate there are about 13,000 West Indian manatees with their status modulating between ‘endangered’ and ‘threatened’.

West Indian manatees range up and down the east coast of the Americas (as far south as Brazil and as far north as Virginia) with many of the best viewing spots being well-served for those wanting a manatee experience.

Check out this post about the best places to swim and snorkel with manatees.

Want to read more about manatees? Check out Nick and Caroline’s magical manatee encounters in Crystal River, Florida in the latest Autumn 2019 issue of Dive Travel Adventures HERE!

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Sharks Bay Umbi Diving Village is a Bedouin-owned resort with stunning views and a lovely private beach. It is ideal for divers as everything is onsite including the resort's jetty, dive centre and house reef. The warm hospitality makes for a diving holiday like no other. There is an excellent seafood restaurent and beach bar onsite, and with the enormous diversity of the Sharm El Sheikh dive sites and the surrounding areas of the South Sinai, there really is something for every level of diver to enjoy.

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