Snorkeling Vs Scuba Diving: Differences & Similarities

Whether you are on vacation on some tropical island or are simply looking for an underwater adventure in the nearest available ocean, there is always something new to experience under the water’s surface, which is bound to make sea-lovers wish they could breathe underwater. Snorkeling and scuba diving are the most common ways to explore the world underwater.

While snorkeling is a whole-family mild surface water activity that requires basic swimming skills, a mask, fins and snorkel, SCUBA diving is an intense underwater activity that requires complex equipment and carried out by highly trained individuals. Both of these can be treated as recreational activities that allow you to breathe underwater.

The following is a detailed discussion on the differences between snorkeling and scuba diving, their similarities, and which to go for.

Snorkeling vs Scuba Diving: Differences

Following is how different snorkeling is from scuba diving.

History, Origin & Definition

The term snorkeling is derived from the German word “schnorchel” meaning ‘air intake.’ The snorkel was invented by Dutch Navy Lieutenant Jan J. Wichers in 1933, to supply fresh air into diesel-powered submarines.

By 1963, snorkeling developed enough to be used by humans, with snorkels designed to fit divers’ mouths to give access to oxygen.

Further Reading : What is Snorkeling? How it all begun

Snorkeling in action

The term scuba is an acronym for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, first used by the US military in 1939. One of the first modern models used on a diver was in 1942 when a car regulator was used to supply fresh oxygen to the user and vent out CO2.

Scuba diving
A scuba diver


Other than the origin and meaning, the other major difference between snorkeling and scuba diving is their equipment. Scuba and snorkeling equipment are miles apart in terms of sophistication. Scuba diving is only safe after specialized training with complex equipment whereas for snorkeling you just need a simple gear

Scuba divers need sophisticated equipment to survive underwater. Their gear consists of;

  • Pressurized gas tank
  • Wetsuit or drysuit
  • Dive Mask
  • Snorkel leading to the tank and the mouth, divided by a regulator
  • SPG (Submersible Pressure Gauge)
  • BCD (Buoyancy Control Device)
  • Dive Computer (indicates the rate of dive and ascend)
  • Fins

A snorkeler’s gear consists of;

The list above is a testament to how important scuba diving training is before jumping into the ocean. Divers have to practice in swimming pools before they ever get the chance to go under the sea.


The first and most obvious thing we need to consider is depth. With a snorkel, you need to stay close to the surface while with a scuba kit you are free to go as deep as you want.


Scuba divers have oxygen tanks on their backs that allow them to breathe underwater—until the tank runs out. Snorkelers have to stay near the surface so that they can come out at regular intervals to breath. They can stay in the water for as long as they want, just as long as they keep emerging to breathe.


Scuba Divers

Scuba divers submerge themselves completely underwater with their eyes and nose covered by a diving mask. The divers breathe through their mouthpiece, leading to the tank on their back.

Their initial dive is assisted by their weight until their buoyancy levels out. That is when they propel themselves forward with their fins. Scuba divers streamline their body, keeping their arms wrapped tightly around their body.


Snorkelers have their head and nose underwater with the snorkel tube above the surface, using both, their arms and legs to swim as they don’t have their weight to throw them off balance.

The snorkel tube might flood if they decide to dive underwater. Water can be expelled by exhaling sharply or by tilting the head back shortly before resurfacing.

Impact on Health

Both, scuba diving and snorkeling affect the diver in some way. While scuba diving can cause sickness, underwater vision and have a direct impact, snorkeling has a more indirect impact.

Snorkelers are hard to detect by jet-skiers, boats and other surface crafts and are therefore susceptible to injury. The absence of a diving suit also presents a hazard from touching poisonous corals and other venomous creatures under the sea.

SnorkelingScuba Diving
PurposeRecreational, spearfishing, freedivingRecreational, rescue, professional, military operations underwater filming and photography, spearfishing,
Skill LevelBasic Swimming skillsTrained and certified scuba diver
Essential EquipmentMask, snorkel, fins and flotation device(beginners)Scuba mask, dive suit, regulator, compressed gas tank, buoyancy compensator, fins
TechniqueFloat on water facing down; Breathe through snorkel, hold breath when divingEntire body submerged; Breathe directly through regulator mouthpiece or full-face mask attached to regulator
Air (Oxygen) SupplyNone, when completely submergedGas tank when underwater
Water GarmentsSwimsuits & Rash guardsWetsuits and Drysuits
Duration UnderwaterAs long as the top end of snorkel is above water and as long as you can hold your breath when snorkel is submergedUntil tank runs out of gas supply
IntensityLow-intensity activity for the whole familyHigh intensity for trained and fit individuals
Dangers and RisksPassing boats and watercraft, poisonous underwater life forms, dehydration, hyperventilation, sunburn,Decompression sickness, oxygen toxicity, nitrogen narcosis, marine life, boats
CostBudget FriendlyExpensive in terms of equipment and training
Snorkeling and SCUBA diving Comparison table

Pros & Cons

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving each have their own merits and demerits, some of which are mentioned below.


Scuba diving requires training and certification before free dives are allowed. Beginners are only allowed to dive up to 10 meters, which is not much different compared to snorkeling. On the other hand, snorkeling requires no training or certification.

Further reading: Snorkeling for Non-Swimmers

Snorkeling is cheaper

As mentioned above, scuba gear is heavy and difficult to manage whereas snorkeling gear is light and inexpensive.

How deep you can go

Scuba divers get up close and personal with the marine life, something which snorkelers can’t do. A scuba diver can get close to the surface and explore depths that snorkelers can’t reach.


With sophisticated equipment comes complexity. Scuba divers undergo training because of the risks and complexities involved in the diving process, which snorkelers don’t have to worry about. Basic swimming skills is all you need to snorkel.

Health Impact

As mentioned, both activities have an impact on an individual’s health, with scuba diving having a more direct impact than snorkeling. Those who have Asthma or other medical conditions can’t even attempt scuba diving.


In most cases, while snorkeling, you are wearing nothing but your swimsuit, goggles/full face snorkel mask. The rest of your body is exposed to all sorts of dangers from under the water and from above.

Snorkelers usually end up getting sunburned due to their back being exposed. Bald people scorch their heads, resulting in red, raw and peeling skin. Wearing sunscreen is essential while going snorkeling to avoid skin damage.

There are recent concerns that some snorkeling accessories come with flaws that have resulted to serious dangers.


Although both diving procedures are different in essence, there are some similarities as well:

  1. Both, scuba diving and snorkeling can be used as a recreational activity to observe fish, algae and coral reefs
  2. Time flies when you are in the sea, whether you are scuba diving or snorkeling
  3. You can rent equipment for both activities. While you can rent snorkeling from any holiday destination spot, for scuba diving, you will have to search around a bit for a designated scuba-gear rental outlet
  4. Masks and fins are used in both activities

Which is better?

Despite the pros and cons, similarities and dissimilarities, you might be wondering which is, especially if you have never done either activity before. None is better than the other. It all depends on what you want and the experience you have.

Snorkeling is preferable as a family activity simply because it is easy and relaxing. Most individuals, young and adults, need plenty of training to scuba dive safely.

Adventure seekers would argue that scuba diving is one of the best thrills the world can offer, and nothing can compare to exploring the dark and mysterious waters under the sea.

At the end of the day, the decision is all yours. If you want to go under the deep blue sea and enjoy marine life up close and personal, scuba diving is for you.

However, if you are claustrophobic and the concept of compressed air and heavy equipment freaks you out, or you simply want an impromptu sea adventure, you can pick up your snorkel and mask, and head to the beach to enjoy floating with the fish. The sea has something for everyone; you just need to take your pick!

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