Belize Diving Services

Snorkeling vs. Scuba Diving: What’s the Difference?

The main difference between scuba diving and snorkeling is your personal level of comfort. If you’re up for deep sea exploration, then scuba diving is certainly the route to go. However, if you’re just interested in some casual coral reef gazing or beach-side swimming, snorkeling can provide you with a simple yet still very exciting experience. When it comes to snorkeling vs. scuba diving, there are some similarities, but scuba diving requires more gear, certifications, and safety precautions. In this article, we’ll explore ten differences between snorkeling and scuba diving and provide an overview of what each activity entails.

What’s the Difference Between Scuba Diving and Snorkeling?

  1. Origin
  2. Objective
  3. Equipment
  4. Breathing Method
  5. Swimming Method
  6. Underwater Time
  7. Safety
  8. Skill Experience
  9. Accessibility
  10. Marine Life

Snorkeling vs. Scuba Diving

scuba diving depth


While humans have been underwater explorers for thousands of years, early deep diving equipment, such as the diving bell, wasn’t successfully used and documented until the year 1535. Diving bells were airtight chambers lowered into water by chains or ropes. Anthropologists have discovered that the earliest form of snorkeling occurred in 3,000 BC by sponge farmers on the island of Crete in Greece. These ancient snorkels were constructed using reeds.


The main purpose of snorkeling is to gaze upon different types of coral, marine plants and aquatic animals. Snorkeling is sometimes used for spearfishing and is associated with certain underwater sports such as underwater hockey. While both snorkeling and scuba diving are commonly used for recreation, the ability to explore deeper waters has made scuba diving a professional trade as well. Professional scuba diving is used for underwater rescue, cave exploration, and shipwreck reclamation, underwater welding and civil engineering.


Perhaps the most obvious difference between scuba diving and snorkeling is the equipment. While the only required piece of snorkeling equipment is the snorkel itself, other commonly used gear include a mask, fins, and wetsuit. Scuba diving gear can take many different forms, but the main component is an oxygen tank. At Belize Diving Services, we provide our divers with all the necessary scuba gear. Here are some examples of the different equipment needed for scuba diving vs. snorkeling:

snorkeling vs scuba diving

Scuba Diving Gear vs. Snorkeling Gear
Scuba Diving Gear Snorkeling Gear
Scuba Mask Snorkel Mask
Snorkel Snorkel
Scuba Fins Water Fins
Suit: Dry Suit, Wetsuit and / or Under-Suit Wetsuit (optional)
Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) Life Jacket (optional)
Underwater Light Underwater Light (optional)
Dive Flag Dive Flag (optional)
Demand Regulator
Octopus Regulator
Gauges: Dive Watch, Depth, Pressure, & Compass
Dive computer: alternative to traditional gauges
Cylinder (Oxygen Tank)
Weights: Belt, Harness or Pockets
Line Cutter or Knife
Dive Bag

Breathing Method

The snorkel used for snorkeling vs. scuba diving are unique to each activity. Snorkeling requires you to breath oxygen from the surface through a snorkel that you position between your lips and the inner part of your mouth. Scuba diving requires a much more sophisticated snorkel also known as a regulator mouthpiece. Alternatively, the scuba diving regulator may be attached to a full-face mask to provide a steady flow of oxygen.  Our Caye Caulker Marine Reserve diving tour gives you an opportunity to snorkel and scuba dive.

scuba diving gear

Swimming Method

When you’re swimming while snorkeling, you submerge your entire face downwards so you can clearly see below the surface. When scuba diving, your entire body is submerged underwater so you can explore at much greater depths than snorkeling. Fins will assist in both activities. Snorkeling provides a more traditional swimming experience compared to scuba diving which requires you to adjust weights and buoyancy while underwater.

Underwater Time

While only your face is submerged when snorkeling, you can remain as such for as long as you like. Snorkeling can be challenging if you’re swimming in an area with a strong wake or current. Unlike snorkeling, a scuba diving session will eventually run out due to finite tank capacities. Some scuba divers use multiple reserve tanks to allow for longer durations underwater. Snorkelers can dive underwater for as long as they can hold their breath.

scuba diving boat ride


Safety is one of the most important considerations of snorkeling vs. scuba diving. Some inherent risks associated with both activities include extreme cold, strong currents and access to oxygen.  Both scuba divers and snorkelers must also beware of passing watercrafts, dangerous aquatic animals, dehydration, hyperventilation, and water flooding / leaking masks. Snorkelers should also be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen to avoid burns on the back of the neck and exposed areas. In extreme cases, scuba divers may also risk decompression sickness (DCS), arterial air embolism and drowning.

At Belize Diving Services, our professional, certified diving instructors ensure that all scuba diving safety measures are followed at all times and they are always nearby to assist in case of an unlikely emergency.

Skill & Experience

Another core difference between scuba diving and snorkeling is the experience level required. While both activities expect you to be an experienced swimmer, scuba diving also requires certification and training. Before you’re allowed to dive in open water, you must first complete your SDI certification or PADI certification. Once you’ve finished your open water certification, many scuba divers continue on to the more advanced TDI certification. TDI certification is often required in order to participate in technical tours, such as cave diving.


Accessibility is another important difference between scuba diving and snorkeling. If you’re located in a region without access to ocean waters, you may be hard-pressed to find scuba diving opportunities. From swimming pools to neighborhood ponds, snorkeling can easily be done in just about any body of water. Another challenge is finding certified instructors and scuba dive shops provide the necessary training, gear and boat rides. If you’re a novice diver, Belize is one of the best places to scuba dive for beginners. The region offers some of the most coveted diving tours and underwater landmarks in the world.

scuba diving marine life

Marine Life

One of the biggest attractions to snorkeling vs. scuba diving is the chance to catch a glimpse of underwater lifeforms. While you can see plenty of sea creatures while snorkeling, you’re limited to the animals that live or swim near the surface. If you’re on the hunt for a truly incredible underwater experience, you’ll want to take up scuba diving. At Belize Diving Services, our divers have the opportunity to see and swim alongside a variety of aquatic animals.

Discover Scuba Diving vs. Snorkeling for Yourself

Now that you better understand the difference between scuba diving and snorkeling, it’s time to plan your next adventure. Located in Caye Caulker, Belize, Belize Diving Services offers some of the most professional and comprehensive scuba services in the Caribbean. If you’ve never gone scuba diving before and would like to know where to begin, be sure to read our article, “How to Get Certified to Scuba Dive.” Get in touch if you’d like more Information about our services or to ask questions about the differences between snorkeling vs. scuba diving.