There are several important issues that differentiate scuba diving and snorkeling. The simplest explanation that sets them apart relates to the contrasting breathing and swimming techniques.
This section explains the basic differences in snorkeling and scuba diving. But, you will also find extra information on which water-based activity is easier, safer, and often – more fun!
A key difference between snorkeling and scuba diving activities are the specialist equipment involved and the maximum depth levels that they dictate.
So, let’s start off with the key differences between snorkel breathing and breathing while using scuba (self contained underwater breathing apparatus).
Scuba divers get an air supply under water from a scuba tank (usually a steel or aluminium cylinder strapped to the diver’s back). Whereas, snorkelers do not!
If you have snorkeled before, you will already know that snorkelers generally float at the surface of the water and rarely submerge.
Hence, your face will be in the water for most of the experience. As a result, you will spend more time looking in a downward direction to see the underwater world below.
And how does that work?
Beginners also ask ‘can you breathe underwater with a snorkel?’ The closest you can get to breathing underwater while snorkeling is by breathing through a snorkel tube.
It is a device that attaches to the side of your mask. The snorkel is held in the proper position by gripping a rubber (or silicone) mouthpiece with your teeth. This is important because it means there is no need for you to lift your head out of the water to breathe air.
You should be able to breathe with ease through the breathing pipe (usually made of plastic). In simple terms, you see through the mask and you breathe through the snorkel.
SCUBA divers breathe from an aqualung (e.g. a metal tank containing compressed air). It allows divers to stay under water longer at given depths below the surface – without the need for surfacing.
There is another big advantage for using a scuba breathing apparatus as opposed to a snorkel tube. Divers can go deeper, meaning they can examine the sea bed, its formations, and diverse marine life species.
With a little training in freediving techniques, snorkelers can swim down for short bursts after taking a large breath.
Most inexperienced breath hold divers would be able to stay under water for between thirty (30) seconds and one (1) minute. They would do so on one breath before needing to surface to get more air.
Important: There is some training required to scuba dive safely. There are safety concerns relating to the use of air cylinders and the physiological effects of breathing compressed gases under water.
You need only a limited amount of swimming knowledge to appreciate the experience. Given the right conditions, no specific footwear is required and non-swimmers can have a lot of fun. Check out the frequently asked questions about snorkeling for further insight.
There are some situations where snorkelers and divers should be wearing proper swimming fins (e.g. for assisted propulsion). A typical example would be when swimming in fast-moving water.
The leg motions used in both activities are very similar and there should be little or no arm movement. Underwater kick styles using snorkeling fins will differ slightly from the standard surface swimming techniques.
Most of the cheap snorkeling tours take place around shallow coral reefs. They range from sea level down to about five (5) metres. It depends most on the underwater visibility.
Whereas, skin diving down to deeper reefs is generally associated with experienced snorkelers. This is because it requires an increased fitness and skill level.
By comparison, scuba divers often reach a depth of twelve (12) metres or more. The maximum depth limit is 12 metres (40 feet) during the scuba introductory program. As divers gain more experience and training, they will see the benefits of submerging even deeper.
Trained divers will often go to depths approaching 25 to 30 metres. But, according to scuba training agencies, the maximum 'safe depth' for recreational scuba diving is forty (40) metres (130 feet) below sea level.
If you compare it to a basic snorkeling set, the equipment used in scuba diving is significantly more complex and much heavier. It is also more expensive to buy scuba gear.
The physiological effects for divers who breathe compressed gas under water will have clear health implications, particularly for the common scuba diving injuries, including:
Even so, some of the biggest dangers for all snorkelers and scuba divers can be jet skis and boat users that are unaware of people being in the water. In particular, the most severe hazards include power boat propellers and motorised water crafts.
As a result, these activities require its participants to follow some basic polite boating etiquette and common sense safety precautions.
Statistically, whether you are a snorkeler or diver, you can consider them both as being 'soft-contact' family based pastimes. Thus, they are popular water-based activities ideal for entertaining families with children for hours of 'relatively' inexpensive fun.