When it comes to exploring the ocean one must equip themselves with snorkel or scuba gear.
Some people may argue that one is better than the other, yet I feel that they both serve a purpose for different circumstances.
And I personally don't feel I could choose one over the other.
I can simply determine to snorkel or scuba dive based on what my goal is while pioneering the ocean.
So instead of arguing whether snorkeling is better than scuba, or vice versa, let us lay out the circumstances which snorkeling or scuba would be better for.
Depends on Depth
The beauty of snorkeling is the ease of just grabbing a snorkel, mask, and fins. There is more equipment to consider when scuba diving. That's because the equipment is designed to take you deeper and stay down longer. The advantage to all the gear is going down to depths you typically wouldn't be able to if you just had to rely on your own breath hold. Only a few people can dive down to a hundred feet, and even then they can't hold their breath for 45 minutes at that depth, as scuba diving can.
I have seen some of the most incredible underwater scenes while scuba diving. For example, being down at 80 ft and exploring the topography of Scripps Canyon or Wycoff Ledge have been some of the most incredible out of this world sights I have ever witnessed. I thank scuba for that because I could not achieve those depths only on one breath with snorkeling.
When You Want to Relax
Both scuba diving and snorkeling leave you feeling relaxed, but there is a different type of meditation you undergo while snorkeling. Whilst snorkeling, you have the option to hold your breath and dive down below. When you are on one breath, you must stay calm in order to conserve your energy. This puts your body and mind in a meditative state.
For new scuba divers, the sport can be a bit more stressful as there is more gear involved. It becomes relaxing once you understand your equipment and then it becomes second nature to you. Yet sometimes I feel that putting on all the gear and making sure everything is ready to go can be stressful, but it is so worth it once you're in the water.
Part of witnessing the beauty of the aquatic realm is being able to take pictures and share them with others. Now scuba can be beneficial for taking photos of the deep, but snorkeling is good for taking photos of wildlife. Reason being is when you are snorkeling you are on one breath. You can blend better with the environment. Whereas scuba has you blowing bubbles which can scare fish and animals. It's not to say that you can't get amazing shots of animals on scuba because there are some amazing photos out there. Also depending on how long of a breath hold you have, maybe scuba can get you closer to wildlife in the first place. It just depends on how you are in the water.
Also, those undercover shots are a beautiful contrast to capture. It is easier and much safer to snorkel and capture this image style.
Sometimes you want to go explore the ocean without having any plans to do so. Under this circumstance, it is best to go snorkel on a whim. Since there is minimal gear, it is easier to grab what you need and go. When I scuba dive I make sure to double check all that I have is ready to go, which would take more time than if I just grabbed a snorkel, fins and mask.
Also getting certified is a two-weekend long commitment and gear can be costly. It isn't an impulse when making the decision to get certified. But it is a rewarding sport and hobby to shoot for.
Now I know I mentioned before that snorkeling is better when taking photographs of animals, but it depends if those animals are at a range you can reach from snorkeling. Now while scuba diving you are spending a longer period of time underwater increasing your chances of witnessing passing marine life. Animals that I scuba for are typically invertebrates and small creatures that you couldn’t typically see whilst at the surface.
Sometimes you want to be more mobile with animals like whale sharks, leopard sharks, and harbor seals. That's when I would decide on snorkeling with wildlife. It just depends on the type of animal and your goal of observing them. Most wildlife can be viewed both ways; it's just a matter of luck, persistence, and knowledge of their behavior in their environment.
However you decide to check out wildlife, you're going to need a good mask. Check out our top snorkel gear page to see some reviews on our favorites!
What’s on the Topside
Another circumstance I factor in while deciding between scuba or snorkeling is if the topside is worth exploring as much as the bottom. I’ve been places like sea caves where you want to see the top of the cavern just as much as the bottom. While scuba diving you put yourself at risk of decompression illness if you bounce up and down from the water column. So when you want to see both the top and bottom be sure to snorkel.
There are also times when you are new to an area and want to scope it out first. Snorkeling would be a good way to map out your surroundings by observing above and below.
If I am itching to get in the water and there is current or chop at the surface, I would choose to scuba. Of course, making sure the conditions are still safe. I've been snorkeling in the water when it's choppy and get tossed around a bit. Which leaves me feeling dizzy. But when I dive down it is much calmer. Scuba diving below the surface has much more ease when the conditions are unfavorable.
All in all, snorkeling and scuba diving are both amazing ways to explore the ocean. It just depends on the environment and what your goal is when getting out there. So go out and enjoy the best of both worlds!