Snorkeling vs Scuba Diving – What’s the Difference?

Scuba diving and snorkeling are both very fun underwater activities that allow you to experience the beauty of marine life and their underwater world. However, when looking at snorkeling vs scuba diving, they greatly differ.

Of course, snorkeling involves a mask and snorkel while scuba diving requires a whole lot more safety procedures and diving equipment. But, how else are they different? Is one better than the other?

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snorkeling vs scuba diving

Snorkeling vs Scuba Diving Key Differences

The question shouldn’t necessarily be which one is better, but which one is best for you and what you’re looking for. The best way to figure that out is to look at the difference between snorkeling and scuba diving.

There are a few main differences such as purpose, equipment, duration underwater, risk factors, and skill level.


Snorkeling allows you to observe marine life and coral reefs all without leaving the surface of the water. Snorkeling is mainly for recreation purposes.

Scuba diving, on the other hand, allows for much more extensive exploration and is more multi-purpose than snorkeling. Diving is generally also for recreational reasons, but there are also man professional divers.

Snorkeling vs Scuba Diving – Marine Life

Scuba diving professions include underwater welding, civil engineering, offshore construction, military diving operations, rescue and recovery diving, and more.


Snorkeling only requires a snorkel mask that covers your eyes and nose, a snorkel (or tube), and a pair of swim fins (optional). The mask helps keep water out of your eyes and nose while the snorkel allows you to hold your breath while keeping your face underwater.

Snorkeling vs Scuba Diving – Snorkeling Equipment

Scuba diving requires extensively more equipment. At a minimum, every scuba diver needs an open water certification, a diving mask, a buoyancy compensator (BCD), a scuba tank, a regulator, fins, and possibly a wetsuit.

Snorkeling vs Scuba Diving – Diving Equipment


For the most part, snorkeling can be done for as long as you want. If you want to be able to dive deeper (free diving), you’ll be limited to how long you can hold your breath underwater.

Scuba diving allows you to stay underwater for longer periods of time. However, you still have to follow guidelines to eliminate the chance of decompression sickness.

The deeper the dive, the faster you will run out of air in your tank. Scuba diving definitely allows you to stay much longer compared to snorkeling.

Snorkeling vs Scuba Diving - Snorkeling

Risk Factors

Snorkeling, in general, is relatively safe. The main dangers are motorized boats. Other things to keep in mind are sunburns, scrapes from rocks and corals, jellyfish stings, dehydration, and so on.

Scuba diving comes with significantly more risk. While it is relatively safe as long as guidelines are followed, it is much more complex. Risks include motorized boats, equipment malfunction, nitrogen narcosis, oxygen toxicity, decompression sickness, and more.

Snorkeling vs Scuba Diving – Dangers and Risks

Skill Level

Snorkeling can be done with no experience or certifications, aside from swimming experience. If you’re snorkeling in reefs deeper than 12 feet, you may need or want more practice with repeated breath-holding.

Scuba diving requires much more serious and in-depth training. At a minimum, it requires an open water diver certification.

SnorkelingScuba Diving
Depth20-40 feet60-130 feet
PurposeRecreationalRecreational & Professional
EquipmentMask, snorkel, finsMask, regulator, tank, BCD, fins
CostMinimalSignificantly more
RiskRelatively safeRelatively safe but more complex
SkillsExperienced swimmerTrained & certified scuba diver

Snorkeling allows you to enjoy the water and marine life from the surface with less cost, equipment, risk, and training. Scuba diving provides a much more intimate and in-depth experience but with more equipment, cost, and training.

Ashley Hubbard

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Terry

    Thanks for sharing!! I friend recently invited me to join a snorkeling lesson with her and I’m not sure which fits me better between snorkeling and scuba diving. Your article is helpful.

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