Freediving vs Scuba Diving

by Mihai Pinzariu on September 24, 2019

Wherever there’s a good reef, there are divers (and snorkellers, but this article is about diving). With their wetsuits, tanks, and snorkel masks, divers are the masters of the ocean and get to explore a whole different side of it that regular swimmers just can’t experience.

When you dive below the water’s surface, you can get up close and personal with the unique marine and coral life around you. Rather than swim above beautiful reefs and schools of fish, you can swim with them, and that’s why diving is such a great adventure. But should you choose scuba diving or freediving?

As avid snorkellers ourselves, we’ve written this article completely objectively to give you an honest comparison between the two activities. Here are the main differences we’ll be looking at between the two:

– Depths you can go,
– Training required,
– Which is better for seeing sea life,
– Which is better for exploring the world,
– Social aspects, and
– Level of awareness required on your part.

But first thing’s first, let’s explain the two forms of diving for those of us who aren’t entirely sure what they are.

What is scuba diving?

Scuba divers are those guys you see on the beach with the air tanks and strange equipment. The word ‘scuba’ stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. This is a fancy piece of technology that uses gas cylinders filled with compressed air that divers helps breathe underwater. These gas tanks let scuba divers breathe underwater for long periods of time so they can dive deep below the surface.

What is freediving?

Unlike scuba divers, freedivers don’t get to carry around gas cylinders full of compressed air. In fact, freediving is centred around diving below the water’s surface and exploring as much as you can in just a single breath. It has become a hugely popular competitive water sport in recent years, with people holding amazingly long breaths and going deep underwater while freediving.

Diving depths

Scuba diving vs freediving: Both scuba and freediving are good options for diving below the water’s surface, but the depths you can explore are different.

  • Scuba Diving : With scuba diving you can dive very deep underwater, but how deep you go will depend on your certification. For advanced or technical divers you can dive deeper than 100 metres, but beginners will always be limited to around 40 metres.
  • Freediving : When you’re freediving, you’re free to dive as deep as you’ re physically able to go. Whether that’s 2 metres or 20 metres depends on your skill level and how long you’ve been practicing, but there are no rules. Jump in and dive deep!

Training

Scuba diving vs freediving: How easily can you get started on your new favourite hobby? When it comes to training, freediving takes our pick as anyone and everyone can get involved.

  • Scuba Diving : To go scuba diving (or even rent scuba equipment), you need to have a PADI recognised certification. These certifications are expensive and time-consuming, needing online/classroom learning as well as a number of supervised dives. To go deeper or advance your knowledge, you can expand your training with more certifications, but these are also very costly. Scuba diving kind of hits a wall as a hobby for some people because of all the extensive (and expensive) training involved.
  • Freediving : On the other hand, freediving requires no prior training. Anyone can freedive, anywhere. In fact, you can literally go and freedive in your swimming pool now if you want. There is little in the way of regulation or training involved, and people are consistently breaking world records for breath-holding and depths. So in that way, freediving is yours to explore as much as you like whenever you like.

Seeing sea life

  • Scuba diving vs freediving: So what about exploring the abundant sea life that’s waiting for you in those deep dark waters? Scuba diving is always the one thought to be best for long underwater adventures, but there are a number of ways freediving can be a better option for certain people.
  • Scuba Diving : The number one advantage scuba diving has is that you can stay underwater for longer, giving you more time to look around and say hello to all the beautiful fish and corals. Your iris has time to adapt to the darkness underwater, and you can view things in a whole new way.
  • Freediving: Freedivers might not be able to stay underwater as long as scuba divers can, but they can manoeuvre a lot better than their scuba diving counterparts. Without heavy gas tanks weighing them down, freedivers are more easily able to catch up to fast schools of fish, while the absence of breathing bubbles makes them more easily able to hide amongst all the sea life and not draw attention to themselves.

Exploring the world

Scuba diving vs freediving: When it comes to being able to explore the world’s most beautiful reefs, tropical islands, and diving destinations, we’ve go to go with scuba diving. Here’s why it’s a better option for exploring remote reefs & untouched landscapes:

  • Scuba Diving : For anyone who’s truly serious about diving and exploring the world’s abundant marine landscapes, scuba diving is how you do it. You can stay underwater for longer, see more, cover larger distances, and go deeper below the surface to discover hidden unique animals, shipwrecks, sea caves and more.
  • Freediving : Freediving is a more accessible option that can take you diving in locations where there’s no dive centre or rental equipment, but it can only take you so far. Some of the world’s best reefs and dive sites are in the middle of the ocean, where the current is too strong for a freediver to be jumping in. This is scuba diving territory and there’s no two ways about it!

Social aspect

Scuba diving vs freediving: Let’s talk about the social side of diving. Half the fun of exploring the sea is sharing what you’ve just seen underwater with your friends and family. Having these shared experiences makes for such rich memories, turning a good adventure into an awesome memory of a lifetime.

  • Scuba Diving : While most people will be scuba diving with a partner, we’ve got to point out one really sad aspect to the activity, which is lack of talking. When you’re underwater with a gas tank connected to your mouth, you can’t really be chatting about how amazing the scenery is with your partner. This can make scuba diving a bit of a lonely, silent experience. That said, liveaboards are a scuba divers paradise. These are cruise ships where you can stay onboard for long periods of time and scuba dive with an awesome crew.
  • Freediving : Freediving has a lot more to offer in terms of a social experience. The activity should always be done with a buddy so that you have someone to monitor your breathing and make sure that you’re staying safe. Since you’ll only be freediving for as long as you can hold your breath, there’s plenty of time for chats when you come up for air. After each dive you can share your experience with your buddy and hear what they got to see as well.

Awareness

Scuba diving versus freediving: For some people, diving is a relaxing activity that they can do to enjoy themselves and the natural environment. For others, it’s a competitive sport that requires skill, technique, and effort. Some people want to dive to switch off, others want to switch on! Here’s how much awareness you’ll need for scuba diving and freediving.

  • Scuba Diving : There’s a lot to think about when scuba diving, and you don’t want to go in when you’re half in a daze. The equipment required, depths you’ll be diving, and pressure you’ll be subjected to means that you need to constantly be switched on when scuba diving. You have to consider safe ascent rates, decompression limits, safety stops, and more, can’t dive after smoking, and can’t fly the next day.
  • Freediving : The only thing you need to be aware of when freediving is your breath. The activity is all about getting your body to comfortably relax and adapt to the underwater environment so you can dive for longer and see more. It doesn’t matter if you’re flying the next day or if you had a cigarette (although you probably won’t be able to breathe as long!) There’s also no equipment to keep track of and safety measures to watch out for, besides monitoring your own breathing.

Scuba diving vs freediving: results – So what’s the best pick for diving? It’s a tough call because both scuba diving and freediving have their fair share of advantages and unique edge to offer. To sum things up:


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