Originally published @ Scuba Scoop 23 October 2011
Let’s look at the basic differences between scuba diving and snorkeling so you can make the best informed decision about which to choose. There are differences in physical fitness ability, training, and equipment, as well as psychological implications you should consider when making a choice.
Beginning with your purpose, is this a recreational activity to observe fish, algae and reefs, with few waves? If you can float comfortably on your stomach with your face and nose in the water, (with a diving mask and snorkel tube it is easy to breathe in and out) bobbling along in the gentle surf, then snorkeling is your best option. Occasionally the tube can get filled with water, or if you hold your breath and dive, so all you have to do is forcibly blow the water out of the tube. It is common to wear swim fins which adds power to your leg push when you skim over shallow reefs or need extra power to dive a short distance.
If your choice is snorkeling, there is no need for specific training, and you don’t necessarily have to know how to swim but have access to a safety vest that allows for simple paddling in shallow areas. Psychologically, if you aren’t very familiar with swimming or have had little access to water, prepare by sitting near the shore and then float in shallow water with your safety vest. It is important to learn how to hold your breath under water for short periods of time, and then you are off, into the magical world of fish, sea turtles, and shells.
Another word about safety when you are snorkeling; your greatest danger is not being seen by water craft and jet skis because all that can be seen is your tube sticking out of water. A reflective snorkel tube or patches attached to the safety vest can help others see you in the water. A general rule of thumb is to leave coral and shells where they are in the water. Coming into contact with the wrong one can cause a poisonous reaction and is a snorkeling and scuba diving general warning.
Scuba (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) diving is a different method of observing or working underwater. Scuba diving includes recreational activities such as: cave and shipwreck diving, ice diving and cenote-to-cenote trips. A big difference between scuba diving and snorkeling is the amount of training and level of physical fitness. Just like learning to drive a car, not only will you need a PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) certificate proving you know what you are doing, but you must be able to psychologically handle staying under water for extended periods of time while wearing a full face mask in which your nose and eyes are covered. You will inhale and exhale through a regulator mouthpiece connected to the oxygen tank on your back. Many dive shops and destination dive trips can provide three day performance based courses and include spectacular dive experiences as you learn. Prices will vary so do your homework ahead of time to make sure you get what you pay for and instructors are licensed themselves.
Safety and health effects of scuba diving are specifically addressed during your training and should not be taken lightly. The effects of breathing compressed air can cause decompression sickness, nitrogen narcosis, oxygen toxicity, refraction and problems with vision. Don’t let this deter you from scuba diving but be sensible and proactive in assuring your safety and well-being.
A major difference between scuba diving and snorkeling is the cost. Simple snorkeling only requires a facemask and air tube, with swim fins optional but very helpful. Often in areas where water sports are a big draw, you will be able to cheaply rent equipment for the day or inexpensively purchase at a local sporting goods store.
PADI courses that include open water and check-out dives can cost up to $400 depending on where you go, but it is always possible to rent equipment instead of purchasing the scuba gear.
Whether you choose snorkeling or scuba diving, the relaxation and fun you will have is an opportunity into the undersea world of magic and enchantment. Take into consideration how much you would like to spend, your level of experience and physical ability, and the extent to which you want to invest time and money.