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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… Linden Wolbert – Mermaid Linden – about her passion for teaching children about the marine world (Watch Video)



In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Linden Wolbert – Mermaid Linden.

Professional Mermaid Linden Wolbert is a real mermaid whose passion is educating children about the wonders of our oceans, swimming safety and ocean conservation as well as exploration and inspiring our world’s youngest ocean ambassadors.

Linden shares the life aquatic via the “Mermaid Minute,” her successful educational web series, which “edutains” young viewers about ocean life and marine habitats. Her YouTube channel to date has 93.7K subscribers and 53,159,186 views.

She loves science and natural history. Linden has teamed up with Body Glove International, designing her own line of kid’s mermaid-inspired swim products, available on her website! She has performed and travelled all over the world for over a decade “merforming” for fundraisers, events, wishes for kids and underwater filming. Known as “the Mermaid to the Stars”, she is hired by Hollywood’s finest to entertain and spread magic through her work.

Over the coming months, Scubaverse will be sharing Linden’s video series ‘Mermaid Minute’ with the occasional video from her ‘Mermaid Wish Videos’.

Find out more about Linden at

Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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Freediving Blogs

The BiG Scuba Podcast… with Kirk Krack



Next in a new series of podcasts shared by our friends Gemma and Ian aka The BiG Scuba Podcast…

Ian and Gemma chat to Kirk Krack.  For over two decades, Kirk Krack has developed education and certification programs with one goal: to improve safety in freediving. Through his leadership and participation in various projects, Kirk has contributed to the advancement of the scientific study of hypoxic effects on the human body and to the conservation of our oceans and its creatures. In 2016, in recognition of his sustained and valuable contributions, he was named the Diver’s Alert Network (DAN)/Rolex Diver of the Year.

Kirk’s unique wealth of experience and talent for teaching have made his services highly sought after by those who want and need the absolute best. Among the individuals Kirk has trained are Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson for their underwater roles in the blockbuster feature film Mission: Impossible–Rogue Nation, Margot Robbie and her stunt double for their underwater roles in Suicide Squad (in which Kirk also served as a credited on-screen stunt double for Batman), endurance performer and illusionist David Blaine for his world record breath-hold attempts live on the Oprah Winfrey Show (he survived over 17 minutes on a single breath of oxygen-enriched air), Tiger Woods, Lindsey Vonn, and Woody Harrelson. Most recently, he’s worked with actors on the set of James Cameron’s upcoming Avatar 2, the sequel to the epic Avatar film.

Find out more about Kirk at:

Find more podcast episodes and information at and on most social platforms @thebigscuba 

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email

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