What is Skin Diving? All You Need to Know

Last Updated: February 21, 2023

Skin diving refers to surface and near-surface diving. It offers a diving experience in between snorkeling and freediving and requires minimal equipment.

This guide will explore the differences between skin diving, snorkeling, and free diving, plus skin diving equipment, and some dangers to be aware of while skin diving.

Why is it Called Skin Diving?

skin diver

The term ‘skin diving’ is somewhat out of date now, but originally it was used to differentiate from scuba diving. The name makes it clear that it does not require equipment; divers are able to explore the ocean in just their skin (wetsuits are of course recommended).

It is also distinct from snorkeling and freediving, although all of these terms are easily mixed up and are often used interchangeably.

How Deep Can You Skin Dive?

The depth at which you can skin dive will depend mostly on your skill level and ability to hold your breath. Since skin diving does not require the kind of equipment that you need for scuba diving, like an oxygen tank, you are limited to how long you can refrain from breathing while underwater.

Typical depths for people who skin dive are around 5-10 meters. Anything much deeper than that increases the risk of blacking out or running out of oxygen, especially for people inexperienced with diving techniques.

Skin Diving vs Snorkeling – What is the Difference?

Snorkeling is an activity where people can float or swim on the surface of the water, equipped with a snorkel to help them breathe, and explore the ocean. Because snorkeling is limited to the surface of water, it somewhat limits what the people snorkeling are able to see and experience.

This is where skin diving comes in, adding in the activity of short dives to slightly deeper depths, offering a different perspective of ocean life and scenery. Both activities are commonly grouped together as the same experience, even though there are some technical differences.

Skin Diving vs Freediving

Freediving can seem similar to skin diving and these two terms are often mixed up. However, there is quite a big difference. Freediving is considered an extreme sport and has a highly competitive element.

In freediving, people compete to see how deep they can dive in one breath, or sometimes just how long they can hold their breath underwater in general, without the distance challenge. However, most freediving does include the depth challenge.

Freedivers practice increasing the maximum amount of air they can capture on an inhale and increasing the time they can hold that breath while diving. They will usually dive along a line, which keeps them on a straight path and helps them return to the surface quickly.

The current world record holder for freediving is Herbert Nitsch. He is known as “the deepest man on earth”, having reached a remarkable 253 meters in one dive.

Skin diving, on the other hand, is not considered a sport and has no competitive element. It is more of a casual activity for inexperienced divers and professionals alike, allowing for greater ocean exploration without any gear and minimal risk. Skin divers should not attempt to reach any great depths, as this is highly dangerous and has the potential to be fatal.

difference between freediving and skin diving

What Equipment Do I Need?

Skin diving, as mentioned earlier, does not require any equipment. However, most people will wear a wetsuit or other suitable swim gear, as well as sporting goggles and often a snorkel. People will also occasionally wear fins similar to those worn by scuba divers and freedivers, allowing them to swim and dive even further.

Are There Any Dangers?

Because skin diving is a popular activity with minimal requirements and no regulations, there are some dangers you should look out for. First, you should be a competent swimmer. You should also know your own limits and be aware of how your body performs.

There is a danger of getting latent hypoxia, which is when divers suddenly blackout with no warning while holding their breath. If this happens and you are alone, it could be fatal. This is why it is important to always dive with a friend, even in the most casual settings and shallow water. Skin diving should always occur in shallow water in well-lit conditions in order to minimize danger.

Why do people skin dive?

Skin diving is a popular tourist activity for people visiting beaches, resorts, and on cruises. It is usually combined with snorkeling and provides an easy, mostly safe, and inexpensive way for non-athletes to discover and explore the ocean and freshwater areas.

It is also good practice for people who do scuba dive or freedive, because it requires practicing holding your breath while diving and swimming. Additionally, there are people who skin dive as part of their job. These people will swim and dive along the water’s surface, searching for and collecting corals and clams, checking fishing nets, and engaging in research projects.


Skin diving is a popular activity that offers an accessible, affordable, and relatively safe way to explore the ocean and other bodies of water. It is different from snorkeling because it involves diving and swimming below the water’s surface.

Skin diving differs from freediving too because it does not have the intense, competitive element involved as is the case with freediving. You can skin dive with minimal equipment, with the option to use snorkels, goggles, swim masks, and fins if you choose.

While skin diving, you should watch out for the danger of latent hypoxia (blacking out). To ensure safety and an enjoyable experience, make sure to always dive with a friend, and do not try to go beyond your body’s limits and dive too deep or try to hold your breath for too long.

When you follow these guidelines, skin diving is an exciting, enjoyable experience that allows you to discover and explore life underwater.

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