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Skin Diving Explained (How to Do it Safely)

When it comes to exploring the oceans you will no doubt come across various words to describe your in-water activities.

Scuba diving is the easiest to understand. Just strap on a tank head-on down underwater and enjoy.

Other activities you may come across such as “skin diving”, snorkeling” and “freediving” are a little harder to define.

So, to understand what skin diving is all about and what’s the difference between skin diving and these other activities, let’s have a look at them all one by one.

freediving photo

What is Skin Diving/ Freediving?

Skin diving is a more antiquated term but is roughly translated into a mix between snorkeling and freediving.

A skin diver will spend most of their time at the surface breathing through a snorkel, exploring the underwater environment from above, and will only dive down to get a closer look at something of interest like a beautiful coral reef or underwater marine life.

This is an ideal activity to enjoy when only diving down to shallow depths.

A skin diver will generally wear a mask, snorkel, fins, and sometimes a wetsuit depending on water temperature and sun exposure.

woman Skindiver in the water

What's the Difference Between Skin Diving and Snorkeling?

The main difference between skin diving and snorkeling is that snorkeling is generally considered a surface activity.

Snorkelers will normally move around the surface looking down at the marine life and topography without diving underwater.

Millions of people snorkel all over the world.

Snorkeling is a fun, easy, no-fuss activity that all comfortable swimmers can do.

It is also well suited to children and people that don’t feel comfortable diving down underwater.
As a snorkeler, you will at least need a mask and snorkel.

If you are snorkeling in the open water, a pair of fins will come in handy, especially where there is current or choppy water.

So, how does Skin Diving differ from Freediving?

To be honest, freediving could be described as a deeper form of skin diving. Just like skin diving, freediving can be used to explore beautiful reefs and underwater landscapes but freedivers will normally spend longer underwater and dive down to deeper depths. 

another free diving photo

Freediving is the newest and by far the fastest-growing out of all these underwater activities. Although some people are self-taught, Freediving is normally a skill that should be taught by a professional instructor. 

You can often find freedivers out in the blue water hanging around a surface buoy challenging themselves to go deeper and deeper.

Other freedivers simply use their abilities and skills for more practical reasons such as spearfishing and hunting underwater.

As a freediver, you will need a mask, snorkel, and more often than not, long-bladed fins especially designed for deep diving.

If you are wearing an exposure suit you may also need a weight belt to adjust your buoyancy

A note on Scuba diving

Scuba diving is one of the most popular underwater activities out there. 

Scuba which is an acronym for “Self Contained Underwater Breathing Equipment” allows you to spend a limited amount of time submerged at depth, normally between 30 minutes to 1 hour. You are completely free of surface air supply and therefore able to move around freely. 

The downside is that the equipment can be awkward and heavy (especially at the surface) and you will lack maneuverability underwater.

free diving equipment: mask, snorkel, fins, all together

What equipment do you need for skin-diving?

Skin diving equipment is very similar to that of snorkeling and freediving and is often interchangeable. Here is a list of everything you will need. But obviously, with such little gear and shallower depths you will be more exposed to the sun so getting a reef-safe sunscreen is the first thing to do. 


Masks come in a wide variety of different shapes and sizes.

But we would say that the most important factor when buying a mask is comfort and usability.

Though it is worth noting that most skin divers will use a smaller volume mask which is more suited to handle the pressure on the mask as you dive deeper underwater on a breath-hold.

Check out our guide for the best snorkeling masks for more information.

top pick mask and snorkel for freediving


This will always depend on how comfortable you are with a snorkel.

Advanced skin divers will normally opt for a more simple design.

Whereas beginner skin divers may want to look for a snorkel with a purge valve, splash guard, or even a float valve to stop water from entering the top of the snorkel. 

For more information on snorkels why not check out our guide to the best snorkels available


austin tuwiner holding Cressi fins for freediving

Snorkel fins will depend on your experience as a skin diver and where you are diving. 

Short closed heel fins are usually considered ideal for this type of activity but if you are looking to go deeper or are simply a more experienced diver then, you may want to look for some closed heel long-blade freediving fins

If you’re interested in buying a new set of fins, why not have a look at our guide to the best snorkel fins.


A wetsuit is not always necessary but can sometimes come in very handy. A wetsuit is not only used to protect us from cold-water environments. It can also be used to protect us from heavy sun exposure, especially in tropical or subtropical environments. 

A lot of people just use a rash guard as it provides protection and keeps you warm. 

It will also come in handy when jellyfish or other stingy little creatures are present in the water.

free diver at the surface

Weight Belt

Normally, a weight belt is only necessary to adjust your buoyancy when diving in a wetsuit. But be aware not to overload on weight.

Remember, as a skin diver you will spend most of your time at the surface where you will want to float, not sink.

The Benefits Of Skin Diving

So, let’s look at some of the reasons why we might want to start skin diving as an alternative way to enjoy the seas and oceans of the world.

Easy Option

First of all, skin diving is by far the easier option when you compare it to something like scuba. There is way less equipment and you can do it without signing up with a dive school or center.

Plus, you are free to pick your spot and you decide how long you spend out there. It’s all up to you

Best of Both Worlds

As a skin diver, you get to explore from the surface and underwater. It’s the ideal way to cover large areas and spend time cruising around underwater with all your favorite sea creatures.

skindiver exploring shallow reef and marine life

Travel Friendly

If you are traveling with your own equipment then, it couldn’t be easier. Skin diving equipment is lightweight and takes up almost no space in your luggage.

Scuba diving equipment can be heavy and difficult to fly with and hard to fit into your case with all your clothes and other things you are taking on vacation.

Cheaper Option

Another great factor is that it’s free. You don’t have to spend your hard-earned cash and you can still enjoy the oceans around the world.

In many places, you can pay for organized snorkeling trips which are always fun. The good news is that these sorts of trips shouldn’t hit your wallet anywhere near as hard as something like a scuba excursion.

Shallow Reef Diving

Sometimes corals and marine life are present in very shallow water.

For example, there are lagoons around the world where you can swim at the surface and watch sharks and other creatures swimming around just below you.

Locations like these are even better suited to skin divers and sometimes not even available on scuba.

Easier to Approach Marine Life

woman skin diver with a whale shark

If you enjoy hanging around underwater with marine life then you will be much less imposing as a skin diver.

To start with you are not covered in equipment and you look more natural in the water.

The more natural you look, the less threatening you will seem.
Also, the fact that there are no bubbles is a big plus when approaching creatures like dolphins, sharks, turtles, etc.

Family & Children Friendly

If you are looking for a fun family adventure then skin diving is one for the whole family. It can be enjoyed by young and old.

Just remember to stay together and never skin dive on your own.

Great for Non-Divers

Skin diving is a great option if you are a non-diver or when you find yourself with others who don’t scuba dive.

It means nobody is left behind on the beach and everybody can have fun exploring the oceans together.

snorkellers and skindivers together, a group around some manta rays or something (i might have this)

Makes You a Better Scuba Diver

A key element of skin diving is relaxation. This will allow you to hold your breath longer whilst underwater.

Now, we are not suggesting that you hold your breath when scuba diving. In fact, it is very important that you don’t!

What we are suggesting, is that skin diving will make you more comfortable and relaxed in the water and able to use your oxygen supplies with more efficiency.

The more relaxed you are in the water, the better your overall air consumption will be when returning to scuba.


Skin diving is a great option for you if you enjoy moving around the surface, exploring shallow reefs, and occasionally diving down on breath-hold.

Snorkeling, on the other hand, would be a better choice if you prefer doing all your exploration from the safety of the surface.

If you love diving deeper and spending increasingly larger amounts of time underwater then, you should probably enroll yourself in a freediving course.

And then, there is Scuba diving!

Probably the most expensive option but if you love chilling underwater for long periods of time. Then Scuba diving may be what you are looking for.

In the end, with skin diving, you get a bit of everything and so it’s the perfect compromise if you love spending time above and below the water.

Let us know in the comments if you have a different take on skin diving. We would love to hear what you think.

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Austin on a dive baot
I am a PADI Divemaster based in South Florida. With nearly 10 years of diving experience, I have accumulated the knowledge to help readers become better divers, buy their next piece of gear, and plan their dream dive vacation! Please contact me if you have any questions.

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