Can I Snorkel? What's the Difference Between Snorkeling and Scuba Diving?

Snorkeling Basics for Novices

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Gibb, Natalie. "Can I Snorkel? What's the Difference Between Snorkeling and Scuba Diving?" ThoughtCo, Jan. 31, 2016, thoughtco.com/difference-between-snorkeling-and-scuba-diving-2962900. Gibb, Natalie. (2016, January 31). Can I Snorkel? What's the Difference Between Snorkeling and Scuba Diving? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/difference-between-snorkeling-and-scuba-diving-2962900 Gibb, Natalie. "Can I Snorkel? What's the Difference Between Snorkeling and Scuba Diving?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/difference-between-snorkeling-and-scuba-diving-2962900 (accessed September 22, 2017).
Woman snorkeling in the tropics.
Snorkeling can be done with minimum training, whereas scuba diving and freediving require at least an entry level course. Getty Images

Have you even looked below the surface of the ocean? You might be surprised at what you find! In tropical locations, the oceans are home to thriving coral reefs and colorful fish. In colder climates, snorkelers can observe kelp forests and other ecosystems. Snorkeling is an excellent way explore the underwater world with minimal training and skills. However, before you hop in the water for the first time, read this article to understand some basic information about snorkeling.

What Exactly Is Snorkeling? How Is It Different From Scuba Diving and Freediving?

Snorkeling is an activity that allows participants to observe the underwater world from the surface using a mask and a snorkel tube. Snorkeling requires less training and gear than scuba diving and freediving, and the basics can be learned in a short period of time.

• Snorkelers typically stay on the surface of the water, and may even use floatation devices such as life vests or snorkeling vests to float comfortably on the surface (although neither of these are strictly necessary).
The snorkeler breathes through a snorkel tube and mouthpiece. While the snorkeler's face is in the water, the tube remains above the water's surface. If a snorkeler chooses to dive below the surface, it is generally for a relatively short period of time.

• Scuba Diving requires more complicated gear than snorkeling, including a compressed air tank and regulators which allow the participant to breathe from the tank while completely submerged.
A scuba diver may stay underwater for an hour or more without surfacing, and certified scuba divers commonly descend to depths of up to sixty feet. People who are interested in trying scuba diving must enroll in either a 1-day scuba experience class or a multi-day scuba diving certification course.

• Freediving is a sport in which the participant holds his breath while swimming below the surface of the water for an extended period of time (instead of breathing continuously through a snorkel).
Freediving, like snorkeling, uses relatively minimal gear, but does require more advanced training. An entry-level freediving course typically lasts two or more days.

Who Can Snorkel?

Almost anyone who is comfortable in the water can snorkel! Unlike scuba diving, snorkeling has no minimum age. Children, teenagers, adults and seniors can all participate in this relaxing activity. However, whenever snorkeling at a new or unfamiliar site, be sure that your snorkel skills are sufficient for the environment.

Where Can You Snorkel? Check Conditions and Safety Regulations With Locals!

From Alaska to the Caribbean, there are excellent snorkeling sites in almost every part of the globe. Snorkelers can observe coral reefs, shipwrecks, marine mammals, and even whales. Where there is water, there is the opportunity to snorkel!

Many snorkel sites are located in calm bays and are appropriate for snorkelers of all levels, while other snorkel sites may have strong currents, surge or waves that make them dangerous for new snorkelers or weak swimmers. Always inquire with a local shop or guide as to conditions before snorkeling at a new site.

In addition, some snorkel sites may have boat or jet ski traffic.

Be sure to learn about local protocols and practices -- such as carrying a surface marker buoy or staying within a designated area -- before hitting the water.

Snorkeling Courses and Tours

In most tourist destinations, local shops offer snorkeling tours and snorkeling lessons. Before snorkeling for the first time, it is an excellent idea to enroll in a short snorkeling course. Snorkeling courses cover basic information such as how to prepare a mask to prevent it from fogging, how to breathe underwater comfortably, how to clear a mask and snorkel of water, and how to swim with fins and stay afloat without exerting yourself. Some courses will even include information such as how to duck-dive and swim underwater.

When snorkeling in a new location, a great way to see the best sites is to sign up for a snorkeling tour.

Snorkeling tours take participants to the most interesting sites, and the presence of a guide ensures that snorkelers are safe and supervised at all times. Often, a guide will be able to point out animals or features that a snorkeler might otherwise miss!

The Take-Home Message About Snorkeling

Snorkeling is an enjoyable, relaxing activity that is available to almost everyone. Snorkeling requires less training and equipment than other water sports such as freediving or scuba diving, and can be learned in a short period of time. Those who are new to snorkeling will benefit from a snorkeling course, during which they will learn basic skills and increase their comfort in the water. Whenever snorkeling in a new location, be sure to inquire with locals as to the conditions and local safety protocols before entering the water.

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Gibb, Natalie. "Can I Snorkel? What's the Difference Between Snorkeling and Scuba Diving?" ThoughtCo, Jan. 31, 2016, thoughtco.com/difference-between-snorkeling-and-scuba-diving-2962900. Gibb, Natalie. (2016, January 31). Can I Snorkel? What's the Difference Between Snorkeling and Scuba Diving? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/difference-between-snorkeling-and-scuba-diving-2962900 Gibb, Natalie. "Can I Snorkel? What's the Difference Between Snorkeling and Scuba Diving?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/difference-between-snorkeling-and-scuba-diving-2962900 (accessed September 22, 2017).