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Snorkeling vs Scuba Diving: How Are They Different?

Snorkeling vs Scuba Diving: How Are They Different?

Posted by David Morgan on May 25th 2022

Chances are, you’ve heard of both snorkeling and scuba diving.

Maybe your co-workers just got back from a snorkeling tour and are raving about the experience.

Perhaps your brother-in-law swears that scuba is the only way to go.

How do you know which one is best for you?

We will describe the difference between snorkeling and scuba diving so you know which is better for you. 

What Is Snorkeling?

Essentially, snorkeling is nothing more than swimming without lifting your head up to breath.

The snorkel tube allows you to breathe underwater indefinitely so you can see the underwater scenery. Because you stay near the surface of the water, you are limited to viewing shallow reef formations and other things closer to shore.

There is no certification and minimal skill or equipment required.

What Is Scuba Diving?

Scuba is actually an acronym for "Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus." It is essentially deep dive swimming where you can explore the depths of the ocean with a compressed air tank strapped to your back.

It allows you to get a much deeper and up close experience with the underwater world, but also requires certification, practice, and specialized equipment.

Looking at 9 Differences Between Snorkeling and Scuba Diving 

Both scuba diving and snorkeling will get you in the ocean. Both allow you to breathe underwater and swim alongside incredible marine life, but that’s where the similarities end.

These two sports are opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to ocean recreation.


Snorkeling - Generally speaking, snorkeling is for recreation only, although you may also spearfish while snorkeling.

Scuba Diving - Scuba is also done for recreation, but it can also be used professionally for photography, scientific research, rescue, and military operations.

Required Gear

Snorkeling - Because you’re staying at the surface of the water, you don’t need a lot of extra equipment. When snorkeling , you only really need a mask and breathing tube.

Scuba Diving – Scuba equipment is somewhat complicated. It starts with a hood, gloves, undersuit and dry suit. Once you are dressed, you’ll also need a mask, snorkel, fin, scuba tank, regulator, weights, and buoyancy compensator.


Snorkeling - The technique used for snorkeling is simple. You submerged your face and breath through the snorkel. You should keep the snorkel tube above the surface for breathing. If you go deeper, the snorkel might flood.

Scuba Diving - When scuba diving, your entire body is submerged in water. You can breathe through a regulator mouthpiece or full-face mask attached to the regulator using a tank for oxygen delivered through your mouthpiece.

Duration Underwater

Snorkeling – You can snorkel indefinitely as long as the top end of the snorkel is above the water.

Scuba Diving – You can only scuba dive until the tank runs out of gas supply and you must resurface. Most scuba dives will last between 30 and 45 minutes.

Dangers and Risks

Snorkeling – The main risks to snorkeling are passing boats and watercraft, poisonous underwater life forms and sunburns for snorkelers who stay out too long. Hyperventilation can also be an issue if you’re nervous underwater.

Scuba Diving - Scuba diving is inherently more dangerous than snorkeling. There is risk of decompression sickness, oxygen toxicity, nitrogen narcosis, possible poisonous or dangerous marine life, and boats.

Skill Level

Snorkeling – Snorkeling requires no training, but it is helpful to be an experienced swimmer. Snorkelers generally stay in shallow areas ranging from sea level to 3-12 feet. Deep dives while snorkeling does require some fitness and skill level.

Scuba Diving – Scuba diving requires specialized training and certification over several days or weeks. Most dive rental and sale shops require proof of certification to purchase scuba equipment.

Health Requirements

Snorkeling – Snorkeling is actually great for your health. The slow breathing required, combined with low impact physical activity is a great way to spend your day.

Even though it is low impact and easy on the body, you should be fit enough to swim back to shore on your own if necessary. You should avoid going into the water if you have a cold or if you are suffering from sunstroke.

Scuba Diving – While scuba can be a great fitness activity, it can also be hard on the body. It’s important to be in good health before you scuba dive.

If you have any heart and lung problems (especially asthma), ear issues, allergies, or other medical conditions, these may affect your ability to scuba dive.

Training and Certification

Snorkeling - Snorkelers are not required to undergo training or have certification unless there are specific risks to the specific environment where you are snorkeling.

Scuba Diving - Scuba divers need to undergo special training and obtain certification from a certified diving instructor before going scuba diving.


Snorkeling - Buying basic snorkeling gear usually costs around $40 to $60 but can often be rented for less than $20. A snorkel day tour can cost up $75 - $150 per day depending on the area.

Scuba Diving – The certification for scuba diving will typically cost between $500 and $1000. Purchasing your own scuba gear can cost $2000 and above or you can rent scuba equipment for around $40 - $60 per day.

FAQs about Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

Which is better: snorkeling or scuba diving?

For this one, you’ll get different answers from different people. Generally speaking, if you’re up for adventure, love an adrenaline rush and are comfortable in the water – try scuba diving. If you want a hassle-free vacation that’s relaxing and still allows you to experience the ocean in a new way, try snorkeling.

Is snorkeling easier than scuba diving?

Yes, snorkeling is easier than scuba diving both physically and mentally. While skilled divers make scuba look effortless, it takes practice to use the gear and be comfortable underwater. With snorkeling, after the first few minutes in the water, you’ll get the hang of it and be ready to go.

Which is safer: snorkeling or scuba diving?

Snorkeling is generally considered safer than scuba diving simply because you’re on the surface of the water and breathing ordinary air. With proper training and practice, scuba diving is also extremely safe.

Which is more expensive: snorkeling or scuba diving?

Because scuba diving requires specialist gear and training, it is significantly more expensive than snorkeling. Most diving experiences also require a guide in the area and you may want additional medical insurance if you’ll be diving frequently.

Stay Afloat or Dive Deeper

Many of the top tourist destinations in the world have one thing in common: an underwater experience.

Snorkeling is always a great place to start, but if you are a snorkeling enthusiast, give scuba diving a try. Both activities allow you to experience something new and different every time you look below the surface.

When you’re planning your next vacation or weekend getaway, include the ocean in your plan with an amazing snorkel or scuba diving experience.