What’s the difference between SCUBA, snorkeling, free diving and spear fishing?

It’s a recreational activity enjoyed around the world. And something that a vast majority of people say they’ve “always wanted to try” – scuba diving.

SCUBA is an acronym for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Divers enjoy the freedom of being able to explore coral reefs, wrecks, lakes, rivers and other bodies of water through their own air supply carried weightlessly on their backs.

Today’s scuba divers benefit from more than 60 years of innovation, discovery and updates from the very first scuba unit, the Aqua Lung invented by Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnon. Many people recall the Cousteau series of television specials with fond affection, which inspired more than a few of today’s divers to take the plunge and become scuba-certified.

Other popular aquatic activities such as snorkeling, free diving and spear fishing have all have become popular as a result of scuba diving.

Here is an overview of some of the differences between the different activities:

Snorkeling: A common activity in warm water destinations, resorts, islands, beaches and pretty much anywhere underwater attractions are observable. Snorkeling requires no certification, but snorkelers should speak to local operators to discuss any hazards or safety concerns prior to getting in the water.

Snorkeling can be enjoyed by virtually anyone at any pace . The only equipment required is a mask, fins, and a snorkel (a short J-shaped tube that allows users to breath while their face is in water). Mask and fins, which can also be used for scuba diving, allow the participant to see what is in the water below while fins provide easy movement through the water.

Free Diving: An added element to snorkeling is the concept of free diving. Free divers hold their breath and use their fins to move underneath the surface. Competitive free divers often compete for the greatest depths, longest breath holds and other categories. Free diving is a skill that takes practice, but is also something many travelers enjoy because it allows participants to get even closer to marine life, colorful corals and submerged sights.

Spear Fishing: The natural out-growth of free diving is the sport of spear fishing. This activity is just exactly as it sounds  participants free dive with a spear in order to capture fish, which almost always become dinner. Spear fishing is not allowed in destinations that have been declared marine parks. Avid spear fishers are extremely environmentally conscious and only spear what they will later eat.

SCUBA Diving: Those who enjoy snorkeling and free diving frequently want to go to the next level and learn how to scuba dive. This natural progression is an easy one since many of the initial skills in a scuba course are the proper use of masks, fins and snorkels that many snorkelers and free divers are already proficient with.

In order to scuba dive, one must receive a certification from a nationally-recognized training agency, such as PADI, NAUI, SSI or SDI. While each agency has their own individual standards, many of the skills and information taught are similar.

A basic Open Water scuba certification typically involves three phases: a) knowledge and basic scuba theory, b) skills and proficiency in using scuba equipment and c) open water skills demonstration. There is no hour requirement to receive a certification however all students need to show proficiency in basic diving knowledge, master their in-water skills both in a confined water (pool) and the open water. Typically, most classes involve two to three pool sessions, two or three lectures and two days of open water dives.

Scuba Diving Travel is a prime motivator for many participants. A large number sign up for a scuba class prior to trips or cruises to warm water destinations. A growing trend among scuba enthusiasts is a concept known as the Open Water Referral. This process involves the student completing the first two portions of the Open Water course (knowledge review and equipment skills) at home. They then work with a diving operator at a resort destination to complete the third phase (open water skills and demonstration) in order to complete the course.


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