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What is Skin Diving and How is it Related to Snorkeling?

Skin diving is a water activity that combines snorkeling and diving, and provides a direct
connection with marine life. If you love to snorkel on the surface, skin diving lets you dive down and see the beauty underwater a little closer. With breathwork and easy-to-learn duck-diving techniques, you can be skin diving with ease within no time.

Anett Szaszi - Snorkel Around The World

Written by Anett Szaszi

Anett is a certified scuba diver, freediver, and an expert in snorkeling with more than 10 years of experience. She fell in love with the ocean while snorkeling in the Red Sea on a vacation to Egypt back in 2008. Since then, she has been traveling to discover the world’s best snorkeling spots and sharing her experience and tips to inspire others. Find her photos on @anett.szaszi Instagram too!

If you want to take your snorkeling adventures to the next level and make a closer connection with marine life, you can learn more about skin diving from this article like how to do it safely and efficiently and answer any questions you might have about this exciting water activity.

What Is Skin Diving Exactly?

Skin diving is essentially snorkeling combined with diving down below the surface. A similar activity to freediving, but not as in-depth, skin diving does not involve breathing compressed air and is done on breath-hold.

Skin diving is perfect for those who love to snorkel but want to take it to the next level and see the underwater world a little closer.

Why Is It Called Skin Diving?

The expression of skin diving was originally used to differentiate the activity from snorkeling and scuba diving. The idea behind the name is that no essential equipment is needed, only your body (skin).

snorkeler observing coral reef while skin diving

Of course, many choose to wear some equipment, such as a rash guard or a wetsuit to protect the skin from impacts like sun exposure, cold water or jellyfish stings, and fins to move more efficiently in the water, but it can be done with none (unlike scuba diving).

Is Skin Diving Dangerous?

Skin diving is essentially not a dangerous activity. However, like most water sports, there are ways to stay safe and avoid the small hazards involved, which are more or less the same as the risks associated with snorkeling.

Any water activity holds a certain amount of risk of drowning, so the best you can do is to seek guidance or instruction from an experienced skin diver or a professional freediver who can teach you the safest practices.

I will also talk in more detail below about how best to stay safe while skin diving so you can get some tips to start with.

What Is The Purpose Of Skin Diving?

People choose to skin dive for various reasons. My experience is that almost all snorkelers start to skin dive at some point. When snorkeling for the first time, most people stay on the surface, but when they get confident in the water and want to take better photos or get closer to the marine life, the intention of diving down to see better what lies under the surface comes naturally.

Exploring The Reef Or Other Underwater Scenes

Skin diving allows you to get up close to corals, rocks, and even wrecks. You can dive down to see the beauty more closely than from the surface, without the need of scuba equipment.

Appreciating Marine Life

Much like the above, it is nice to see marine life close up too, skin diving might give you the opportunity to swim alongside a turtle or whale shark, or look at shrimp and crabs that hide under rocks.

It is important, though, that you follow reef-friendly snorkeling rules and never touch or harass marine life. Always leave a respectful distance and allow the marine animal space to escape if it wants to.

This is for the health and safety of the animal, but also yourself; many ocean animals can sting or bite you, so it is always best to approach with caution and never touch.

Taking Better Underwater Photos

If you want to improve the quality of your snorkeling photos, taking them while skin diving will bring instant results; you will be surprised how much better the images are if you dive down a bit. Getting closer to marine scenes and wildlife allows you to capture amazing scenes with better composition and light conditions.

Anett taking underwater photos when skin diving

Connecting With Nature

Spending time in the water is a form of grounding and connecting with the Earth; there is evidence to show that the ocean has healing benefits; it makes more relaxed, helps unwind and relieve anxiety.

How To Do Skin Diving?

Now we’ve talked about the why, let’s look at the how. Here is a step-by-step guide of how to skin dive efficiently:

  1. Start by lying face down on the surface, swimming along with your snorkel in your mouth and the mask on your face. You want to become quite relaxed before you duck dive under the water, make sure you are not too out of breath from swimming.
  2. The next step is the duck dive, the trickiest part to get right. Take a couple of kicks with each leg to ensure that your legs are on the surface and they aren’t lower than your body. You want to take a big breath and hold it in preparation for being underwater. You should also “pop” (equalize) your ears on the surface before you try to dive down, so keep your hand by your face to do this.
  3. Ears popped, legs in position, next you should tip your head downwards in the direction you want to head. Keep your hand by your nose and equalize the air pressure again as your head goes under the water. Once your head is downwards, your body should be in an upside-down “L” shape; at this point, you can bring your legs upwards, and their weight should push your body under the water.
  4. Use both hands or one hand to make a pull simultaneously (a similar technique to breaststroke). This will make it easier to pull your body downwards. Ensure you bring your hand straight back to your face to equalize your ears again.
  5. Once your feet are under the water, kick (ideally using fins) in the direction you want to head, until you feel the urge to breathe and you need to return to the surface.
  6. Once on the surface, blast the water out of your snorkel with the remaining air you have in your lungs. This will clear the snorkel without you having to remove it from your mouth. Another technique is to exhale slowly as you approach the surface, which should clear the snorkel by the time you reach the surface. This technique can take a bit of practice. If you feel you don’t have the air needed to blast the snorkel on the surface, remove it from your mouth with your hand.

Do I Need Any Special Skills Or Training To Skin Dive?

No! Anyone can try skin diving and it can be enjoyed in both deep and shallow water (you can even do it in a swimming pool). However, skin diving is not recommended for non-swimmers; you need to be confident in the water.

What Equipment Do I Need For Skin Diving?

Skin diving requires very little equipment; technically, it uses the same gear as snorkeling or freediving. Basically, it can be done using a mask only, but for a better experience, you want to use some more gear. Let’s take a quick look at what is needed for skin diving:

  • Mask: A mask allows you to see all of the beauty underwater while protecting your eyes from saltwater. A mask is similar to swimming goggles; however it covers your nose as well and so you avoid getting any water in your nostrils. It is a good idea to try on a few different styles of masks to find the best and most comfortable fit for your face.
  • Snorkel: A snorkel is kept in your mouth and allows you to breathe easily without lifting your head up when snorkeling. There are different options when choosing a snorkel, but a dry snorkel (which has a dry top protector that ensures water doesn’t enter from the top) is an excellent option for beginners.
  • Fins: Fins make skin diving a lot easier. They are worn on your feet to give you extra power as you kick down and through the water. Fins can also add a level of safety when snorkeling/ skin diving in open water, for example if you get caught in a current and need to swim out of it.
  • Wetsuit: Finally, depending on where in the world you are skin diving, you might choose to wear a wetsuit to keep you warm. You can go for a shorty wetsuit, or a full wetsuit of various thicknesses, depending on how cold the water is. A dive skin / rash guard can be used in warm water if you don’t want to wear a wetsuit but want protection from jellyfish or sunburn.

Do I Need Weight For Skin Diving? If Yes, How Much?

A weight belt might also be used for skin diving to counteract the extra buoyancy from the wetsuit or your body. When deciding how much weight to add to the belt, it is important to remain buoyant enough to float on the surface; you only want to add enough to get below the surface and not instantly float back up.

A dive instructor or an experienced skin diver (freediver) can help you in figuring this out as it depends on various factors such as your body weight and the thickness of your wetsuit if you use one; but generally you shouldn’t use more than a few kilos (lbs) of weight as you still need to be able to comfortable swim on the surface.

How Deep Skin Divers Usually Go?

Skin diving is usually done shallower than around 6m/20ft deep. Any deeper than this you start entering freediving territory and you should take part in a freediving course in order to learn more advanced techniques and safety.

skindiver going deeper to take a photo of a ray

How Long Can Skin Divers Hold Their Breath?

This really depends on the skin diver. Some might only dive down for a few seconds, others might stay up to a minute.

Your breath hold time will improve with repetitive skin diving, but it is important never to push your limits. As soon as you feel the urge to breathe, head to the surface.

Breathing techniques or skin diving

Being as relaxed as possible makes skin diving feel easier. Before you duck dive you can breathe as you normally would, calmly and controlled. Try to breathe out for twice as many seconds as you breathe in for maximum relaxation.

The same applies here I added in the previous point; if you want to take skin diving seriously and be able to spend more time underwater, sign up for a freediving course where you will learn how to improve your breath holding.

Safety Precautions For Skin Diving

People practicing water sports know that being in the open ocean comes with certain risks, so you must take some precautions. Here are a few safety factors to consider when skin diving:

Master Your Equalization Skills

As mentioned earlier, equalizing (pop) your ears when you skin dive is very important to avoid injuries. It is possible to damage or strain your ears even in water as shallow as a few feet.

Always equalize before you duck dive, during the duck dive, and consistently as you get deeper. You should be equalizing before any pain or discomfort occurs.

Always Skin Dive With A Buddy

Never dive alone, even if you feel like you are within your limits. Open water is unpredictable and you never know what could happen.

Don’t Touch Anything

Avoid cuts, bites, and stings by never touching marine life, even rocks. Many marine animals can camouflage very well and could be hiding in plain sight, so always look around carefully.

Getting injured is a common mistake when snorkeling and diving, but if you pay attention makes such situations easy to avoid. To

Research Water Conditions

Find out if the skin diving spot is prone to big waves, boat traffic, and currents. Never go skin diving in a storm, and avoid places close to overhangs or sharp rocks. If it is a new place for you, ask around and find out where is safe to go, or seek a guide to show you where best to go.

Skin Diving vs Snorkeling vs Freediving vs Scuba Diving

If you are still a little confused about how skin diving differs from snorkeling, freediving, and scuba diving, let’s take a quick look at the differences:

Skin diving vs Snorkeling

Snorkeling involves staying on the surface and not diving down like you would when skin diving. Usually, recreational snorkeling combines snorkeling with skin diving, as almost every snorkeler dives down a bit to see the underwater world better and get closer to marine life.

Skin diving vs Freediving

Freediving is similar to skin diving, but involves more advanced techniques. Freediving is usually performed deeper than skin diving and can be done on a diving line using various swimming techniques. Skin diving is a simple way to be slightly deeper than the surface and enjoy the reef and its creatures.

Skin diving vs Scuba diving

Scuba diving involves a whole set of equipment that allows you to breathe under the water. You take a tank of compressed air with you and stay underwater for a considerable amount of time. Skin diving involves no such equipment and is done purely on breath hold.


Skin diving is a thrilling and easy way to enjoy the underwater world and all it offers. You don’t necessarily need to take part in training to begin skin diving; for most people, skin diving comes naturally as they become advanced snorkelers and want to see more of what lies under the ocean’s surface, although it can help to learn from an expert.

Practice in a safe location, improve your breath-holding and get a buddy to support each other. Once you dive down, a whole new world opens up for you; you can get closer to sea creatures, see species you haven’t noticed before and take better photos. If you are ready to take up this exciting new hobby, I hope this article helps you take your snorkeling adventures to the next level!

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