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What’s the Difference Between Scuba Diving and Snorkeling?

Different Ways to Explore the Beauty of the Underwater World

|August 1, 2020
Milda is a content writer with a particular interest in philosophy and nature. She is passionate about wildlife and all the nitty-gritty details of travel.

Iceland is home to the Silfra Fissure, one of the world's best freshwater rifts. This deep crack between the North American and Eurasian continents has become massively popular in recent years — and for good reason! The waters here are stunningly clear, offering top-notch snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities.

But how do you know which activity is best for you? How are they different? Do they both require previous experience? Read on to find out.

Snorkeling vs. Scuba Diving

Snorkeling and scuba diving are both exciting ways to explore the undersea world. They are also very different. Let’s take a look at the basics. 

1. Snorkeling is swimming near the water’s surface with the use of a mask and a breathing tube, called a snorkel. Snorkelers take in panoramic underwater views from above and don't deep dive into the water.

2. Scuba diving is diving with the help of a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, called a scuba. Scuba equipment allows divers to breathe comfortably while underwater, completely immersing themselves in the marine universe.

Snorkeling Scuba Diving Comparison in Iceland

The key difference between these two activities is how deep you go into the water. Snorkelers savor the underwater geography while floating close to the surface, while scuba divers stay underwater longer. They can maneuver exploring coral reefs and marine life.

So what do you need to know before a snorkeling or scuba diving expedition? 

It's My First Snorkeling Experience, What Do I Need to Know?

The second major difference between snorkeling and scuba diving is how much experience they require. Snorkeling doesn’t require any previous experience and takes just a few minutes to learn. You still need to know how to swim and you should feel comfortable in the water. For scuba diving, however, you need to be trained and certified. 

Some internet users claim that swimming skills aren't essential for snorkeling since you can snorkel with a life vest or a swim belt. In our opinion, however, safety is the number one priority. You don't need to be a competitive swimmer, but it’s important to know the basic swimming strokes. 

If you’ve always wanted to discover underwater wonders, snorkeling might be your next favorite hobby. Moreover, snorkeling is great for the whole family and a good place to start before learning to scuba dive. 


Snorkeling in Silfra Fissure with

What’s It Like to Snorkel in Silfra?

Snorkeling in Silfra was recently voted one of the top five things to do in the world by Trip Advisor’s 2019 Travelers’ Choice. It's the only place on Earth where you can literally float between two tectonic plates. Once you venture underwater, you’ll be enchanted by incredible rock formations and emerald algae swaying in translucent waters. 

The glacial waters of Silfra are as crystalline as they are cold. The water temperature in Silfra is 35-37°F (2-4°C) year-round. This means you’ll need to wear a dry suit when snorkeling in the fissure. This suit will seal you off from water and keep you warm throughout your adventure!

Scuba Diving: How to Get Started

Scuba diving requires more preparation than snorkeling does. You need to undergo formal training to participate in diving activities. While it may seem complicated at first, learning to scuba dive is easier than you think. You can become a certified diver in just a couple of weeks. 

The first step in becoming a trained scuba diver is to choose a diving agency. While there are many diving schools around the world, PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) is the largest. 

During your entry-level course, you'll learn safety skills, how to use breathing equipment, and how to navigate underwater. You'll also complete your first dive in the open sea under expert guidance. Taking your first breath underwater is sure to be an unforgettable experience. 

After completing the course, you’ll receive an Open Water Diver Certification — your passport to the dreamy underwater world. If you're already qualified to dive and wish to undertake further training, opt for specialized courses on advanced diving. 

Certificates You Need To Scuba Dive In Iceland

Can I Learn to Scuba Dive?

Yes! Almost anybody can become a scuba diver. However, you do need to be healthy and reasonably fit. Good health means that you don’t have any serious heart or lung conditions if you have any medical issues check health certificate and get the physician's approval if needed. Diving when pregnant is also not recommended. 

As with snorkeling, you must be able to swim, but more importantly, feel confident in the water. Depending on the diving destination, the minimum age for scuba diving varies between 12 and 18 years old. Younger children can choose from a variety of specialty courses. This means that scuba diving can be enjoyed by the whole family. 

Is Scuba Diving Safe?

Beginning divers often worry about diving safety. But scuba diving is considered a low-risk activity and is safer than ever. If you receive the correct training and adhere to recommended safety procedures, there is little to no chance that you’ll encounter any problems. 

What’s It Like to Scuba Dive in Silfra?

For many, diving in Silfra is the experience of a lifetime. With visibility exceeding over 300 ft (90 m), the fissure reveals a stunning system of caves, seaweed forests, and moonlike lava rocks. When you dive, you feel as if you’re flying. 

Thermal protection is a priority when diving in the chilly waters of Silfra. In addition to the usual diving equipment, you’ll need to wear a dry suit. This means you need a Dry Suit Diver Certification to dive at Silfra. This qualification allows you to dive in cool waters around the world. 

If you already have the basic Open Water Certification, you can take a Dry Suit Diver Course. For your convenience, we also offer a PADI Dry Suit Specialty Course. Please note that you must have Open Water Diver Certification in order to participate in the course. 

Equipment List

The third key difference between snorkeling and scuba diving is the required equipment. Scuba diving requires more equipment than snorkeling does. 

Let’s start with an introduction to snorkeling gear.

Snorkeling Gear

The basic equipment for snorkeling includes a mask, a snorkel, swim fins, and a wetsuit or dry suit. 

  • The snorkel mask fits around your eyes and nose and allows you to see clearly underwater. Note that you can’t wear glasses under the mask. However, contact lenses work fine. There is also an option to buy a prescription mask, if you wish. 
  • The breathing tube, called a snorkel, is attached to your mask and extends above the surface of the water. It allows you to breathe while your face is underwater. 
  • Swim fins attach to your feet to help you to move through the water quickly and easily. 
  • In all but tropical waters, snorkelers wear wetsuits to keep their bodies warm. In colder waters, you’ll need to wear a dry suit and an undersuit. A hood and gloves are also necessary in cold water.
Snorkeling Silfra Thingvellir National Park

Scuba Gear

Scuba divers use more complex equipment than snorkelers. The essential dive gear includes a mask, a dry suit or wetsuit, a buoyancy compensator (BC), a scuba tank, regulators, weights, and fins

  • Our eyes can’t see well underwater. Therefore, a diving mask is one of the most important items of diving gear. If you’re planning to dive in Silfra, keep in mind that full face masks don’t fit with a dry suit. 
  • When diving, you’ll need to wear a wetsuit or dry suit to keep warm. If you’re diving in waters below 50°F (10° C), you’ll need a dry suit and an undersuit. Usually, diving suits are made from thick neoprene and are tight-fitting. In addition to a suit, you might also need to wear a hood and gloves.
  • A buoyancy compensator is a jacket that can be filled or emptied of air. It helps you to stay underwater and float effortlessly at the surface. 
  • A scuba tank and regulators provide the air you need. The tank contains pressurized air. Meanwhile, regulators supply you with air from your tank at the proper pressure in order to breathe underwater.
  • When in water, people have a natural tendency to float. Weights help divers to offset the buoyancy of their bodies and diving suits. With correctly adjusted weights, divers can fine-tune their buoyancy. There are various systems of weights, such as a weight belt, weight harness, or weight-integrated BC.
  • Fins help divers to propel themselves through the water with ease and to swim efficiently.

So am I a Snorkeler or a Diver?

Whether you prefer snorkeling or diving really depends on your skills and personal preference. 

Do you feel confident in the water but prefer to explore the underwater world from the surface? Let’s go snorkeling! 

Are you curious to dive deeper into the ocean? Take that open water course! The hidden beauty of the underwater world is waiting for you. 

Don’t know where to start your underwater adventure? 

Check out our snorkeling and diving tours at Silfra!

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