Freediving vs Scuba Diving: 5 BIG Differences

If you spend enough time underwater, either freediving or scuba diving, then you’ll get to experience some incredible and life-changing things. But aside from the obvious difference: tank vs no tank, what makes a freediving experience different from that experienced through scuba diving?


Freedivers, as their name suggests, can move more freely underwater than scuba divers. Without a tank, freedivers can move quickly to keep up with fast-moving fish; and breath holding means there aren’t any bubbles to scare off marine life. Making it easier to swim through a shoal of glassfish without it scattering, creep up on a cuttlefish and go eye-to-eye with a whale.

Scuba divers do have the advantage of being able to stay longer underwater to observe marine life around them. Plus, the length of time scubas can be underwater is also of benefit to the vibrancy of what they see.

As divers descend, light levels drop and the eye responds by expanding the iris to let more light in. In freediving, you’re often not down long enough for the iris to adapt like it does in scuba, so the same reef can look very different to both type of diver.


Wrecks and underwater architecture like caves and canyons can be equally fun to freedive or scuba dive, but perhaps scuba has the edge here.

It gives you a greater range of possibilities for exploration in terms of depth and time. You can stay longer, cover greater distance, and go deeper for longer with less risk in terms of overhead environments.

That being said, freedivers are more nimble than scuba divers. Without concern for saw tooth profiles (the ascent technique to protect from decompression sickness), freedivers can more easily weave in and out of caves and have the flexibility to nip up and down over the reef.

As an added bonus, freediver’s need only to do a beginner’s freediver course and to have a good buddy with them to explore underwater architecture. Whereas, in most cases, scuba divers are required to do a speciality course to do the same activity.


Freediving vs Scuba Diving - sociability

Freedivers must always dive with a buddy, which is done for safety reasons, but this also makes for a more socially rewarding experience than what’s possible scuba diving.

Whether line diving, or recreational diving, freedivers are only underwater for a few minutes at a time and then resurface to talk to their buddy (or buddies) about what they’ve experienced. Freedivers are very open and willing to advise and support each other, providing tips on technique or things to try if a dive didn’t go as well as one would like.

Whereas in scuba diving, the length of time spent underwater is far greater and is generally consistent across divers. Because of this they often have the same experience and there aren’t the same opportunities to share and talk about the dive like there is in freediving.


Freediving vs scuba diving - Awareness

There’s a quote that goes “if you want to explore your outer world, underwater, wear a tank. If you want to explore your inner world, underwater, don’t” (anonymous).

It’s an insightful way to describe the biggest difference between a freediving experience versus that of scuba diving, which is the awareness of self underwater.

In scuba, awareness is predominantly outwardly focused – what can be seen, and monitored for depth, time and duration. The mind is active and in a constant state of external stimulation, reacting to what’s going on around it.

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Whereas in freediving, awareness is more inwardly focused – what can be felt, and experienced for comfort, enjoyability and relaxation. The mind is reflective, analysing and reacting to the body’s own responses to gauge what’s possible.

Freediving then, unlike scuba, is different in that you’re not necessarily diving to see things, but rather, you are diving to discover and improve yourself.


Freediving vs Scuba Diving - accomplishment

Following on from above, we should talk about the challenge of freediving versus scuba diving, which makes a difference to the sense of accomplishment you get from doing it.

It could be said, that once you master the skills needed to scuba dive then the job is done. It’s simply then a matter of practising those requisites and enjoying the result of the effort – getting to experiencing dive sites, and explore and observe the underwater environment.

In contrast freedivers have endless ways to improve and enhance their underwater experience, which makes for a more interesting challenge. Whether it’s working on technique, mindset, relaxation, or awareness, freedivers must challenge themselves to better understand themselves as much as their environment to progress.

There is a big competitive side to freediving, but it’s as much, if not more, about competing with yourself as it is about competing against others. Freedivers often strive for personal bests (PBs) in depth, time and distance covered, which require a considerable amount of dedication, perseverance and determination to achieve. Making the practise of freediving potentially more rewarding overall.

Declaration: As a non-scuba diver myself, I reached out to a number of scuba diving freedivers for their insight into the differences between the two types of diving. It was remarkable how consistent they were in their insights and the write up is based on the information they gave me, alongside my own experience as a freediver. Thanks to them for sharing!

S.J’s journey into freediving began in Utila, Honduras in 2017. Since then she’s been freediving in Canada, Dahab, Tenerife and the U.K and practices freediving for all dynamic and depth disciplines. Follow her freediving adventures on Instagram and for freediving, or water-related copywriting and marketing visit her website The Content Marketing Club.

Scuba Diving, Snorkeling, Skin Diving, Freediving: What’s the Difference?

You have plenty of friends who don’t dive. Here’s how to explain to them the difference between scuba diving, snorkeling, skin diving and freediving.

For someone just discovering the world of underwater sports, there’s seemingly no end to the different disciplines. The most common are the ones in the headline: scuba diving, snorkeling, skin diving, and freediving. But what’s the difference between them?

While there are somewhat clear definitions, there’s also considerable overlap, so some might disagree with these definitions. They are slightly too simplistic by design to help newbies tell the different sports apart. And ultimately, opinions will differ. With that disclaimer, let’s give it a go: what’s the difference between scuba diving, snorkeling, skin diving and freediving?

Scuba Diving

This one is the easiest to define. Scuba is the abbreviation for “Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus,” which is an old term for the combination of a scuba tank and regulator. So, if you’re wearing a tank on your back and breathing through a mouthpiece connected to that tank, you’re scuba diving. You’ll wear a mask to help you see, fins to help with propulsion and a BCD to control buouancy. You’ll also usually wear some sort of exposure protection, such as a rash-guard in the tropics, a wetsuit in temperate climes, or a drysuit in cold water. Boots are often part of this exposure protection, and if so, your fins will have heel straps or bungees. Scuba diving involves specialized training and certification.

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Snorkeling is the most popular option on our list, and the one that you can enjoy with the least amount of experience. In snorkeling, you stay on the surface, looking down through a mask and breathing through a snorkel. You don’t have to lift your head to breathe. You may wear exposure protection, usually a rash-guard or wetsuit, but in some places you may even need a drysuit. Snorkeling fins are softer than scuba fins and, rather than using a heel strap, they’ll slip over your full foot without a boot. Some snorkelers also wear floatation vests, especially if they’re not particularly strong swimmers.

Free diver


Freediving is not a new sport per se, but it has seen a dramatic spike in popularity. Unlike the others on this list, freediving is largely a competitive sport. It consists of various disciplines, all centered around the same principle: staying underwater for as long as possible on a single breath. Disciplines range from static apnea, where you lie stationary, face-down in a pool, holding your breath for as long as you can to ones where you have to cover as much distance horizontally or vertically as you can.

Freedivers wear masks that are often a blend between a dive mask and swim goggles, but do not use snorkels. You also wear exposure protection, usually wetsuits. You’ll rarely (if ever) see a freediver in a drysuit. Freedivers sometimes wear fins, although some disciplines don’t use them. They’re usually either very long, full-foot fins, or a monofin — a single, broad-bladed fin that you wear on both feet. This creates a profile similar to a fish tail. Freedivers focus on the diving, spending little time at the surface apart from surface intervals and recuperation time.

Skin Diver

Skin diving

A somewhat antiquated term, skin diving refers to a mix of snorkeling and freediving. A skin diver spends time at the surface, looking down on the landscape below while breathing through a snorkel, and does breath-hold dives, swimming down to observe interesting objects or marine life. Many advanced snorkelers practice skin diving, as well as freedivers just diving for fun rather than competition or training. Skin divers wear masks, snorkels and sometimes wetsuits, depending on water temperature. Drysuits are not appropriate. Fins can be either snorkeling or freediving fins.

Again, the lines between each discipline — except scuba diving — can get blurry. Not everyone will necessarily agree with our distinctions but, at the very least, they might help a novice get an idea of what to expect.

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Thomas started diving during college and has since been diving over most of the world: Australia, Indonesia, Iceland, France, and many other places. He is a NAUI instructor and a commercial diver, and participates in environmental and archeological diving projects around the world.

SCUBA Diving Vs. Freediving: What’s The Difference?

With the modern invention of the SCUBA tank, exploration of the oceans has been changed dramatically, but still, people continue to free dive. Ancient people all around the world have been exploring the oceans for centuries without an air cylinder.

However, in the debate of SCUBA diving vs. freediving, the differences go deeper than just the equipment. While both are a similar adventure, the technique and overall experience between the two is vastly different, and each person has a particular perception of the dive. It is truly a matter of taste.

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The most obvious difference between SCUBA diving vs. freediving is the use of an air tank and other relatively cumbersome equipment like masks, gloves, regulators, depth gauges, and in today’s age, a dive computer. In contrast, while you really don’t need anything to go free diving, the most basic equipment includes a mask and fins. It’s also common to wear a wetsuit and a snorkel depending on your objective. With freediving, the most important thing you dive with is your dive buddy.


When people started using tanks to explore oceans the technique had to evolve with the technology. SCUBA divers must pay careful attention to their ascents, descents and take routine safety stops to avoid decompression sickness. They have to be aware of the nitrogen levels in their bodies. This makes SCUBA diving a slower, more thought out adventure than freediving.

On the other hand, freedivers don’t have to worry about nitrogen levels or slow ascents and descents. Freedivers have much more maneuverability than SCUBA divers. However, freedivers are challenged to hold their breath throughout the entire dive. Freediving requires a great deal of practice and training to be able to stay down for an extended period of time.



While the differences in gear affect the technique, the technique affects the experience. So if you’re SCUBA diving, you will have the advantage of staying underwater for longer. The longer you stay down, the more time you have to observe marine life and underwater geographical features. This means the longer you stay underwater, the more your eyes will adjust to the dark lighting which can increase the vibrancy creating a totally different image than a freediver. The length of time also influences how much you can explore. For example, if you’re going down to an underwater shipwreck or canyon you will be able to explore it more thoroughly.

However, freediving also has its benefits. Without the need for a tank, a freediver is able to swim smoother through the water and have a different experience with marine life. There is no added noise or disturbance because you are simply holding your breath. This can allow a freediver to get up close to schools of fish or turtles without scaring them off.

It has also been pointed out by avid ocean explorers that one of the biggest differences between SCUBA diving vs. freediving is the sense of awareness. When you are SCUBA diving you are enabled to mainly focus externally on your surroundings and gear. You are constantly analyzing these things and reacting to external forces underwater.

In freediving, it has been described as a more inward-focused experience where you are challenging yourself while still exploring. Your perception of yourself and your surroundings are altered when your mind is in a survival state, and you have to pay careful attention to what your body is telling you.

Dreaming Sea Divers

While the debate of SCUBA diving vs. freediving can go on forever, Dreaming Sea Divers has the best of both worlds. Here at Dreaming Sea Divers, we offer classes and guided experiences for both types of diving. If you have any questions or want to learn more about us, head over to our contact page or give us a call at (607) 624-6770.




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