The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Freediving & Scuba Diving
Scuba diving and freediving both share the same aim of exploring the underwater world, however are two vastly different activities. There is a long running friendly rivalry between the two disciplines with each claiming to be superior to the other. In this article we look at some of the pros and cons of each activity. For the record, we love both scuba diving and freediving and the unique perspective each gives you while exploring underwater.
Marine Life Interactions
One of the main reasons people take up freediving or scuba diving is because they want to observe the marine life. From spotting big species such as sharks, whales and dolphins to combining a coral reef for nudibranchs and seahorses, there are many weird and wonderful creatures to find underwater.
Most species of marine life are wary or even scared of humans underwater. In particular, bubbles from a scuba diver often frighten away many smaller fish. Freediving often allows you get much closer to marine life then you would scuba diving due to the lack of bubbles. If you remain calm enough and avoid chasing the fish, they will often allow you to get very close to them or they will even come to you if they are curious enough.
On the other hand if you are freediving you will only have a limited amount of time before you need to go to the surface for air. This is where scuba diving has the advantage, as you have longer to observe the marine life although you may not be able to get as close as a freediver. As a scuba diver though, you will be explore to the dive site much more thoroughly and will most likely spot marine life that freedivers will miss will resting on the surface.
One final point to consider is that a freediver can change depths as much as they like, so long as they are diving within their limit. For example if a freediver dives down to 10m to look at a stingray and then spots a shark at 20m, they can go down to have a look provided they feel confident they have enough breathold left. For a scuba diver, it is best practice to go to your deepest depth first and then shallow up for the rest of your dive. Therefore if you spot something deeper halfway through your dive you will have to just observe it from your current depth.
To get up an running as a qualified scuba diver or freediver you need to do course. The most popular course for scuba divers is the Open Water course by PADI, while for freedivers SSI Level 1 or AIDA Level 1/2 are the most common courses offered.
Depending where in the world you do your course an entry level scuba diving course typically costs between $200 to $400, while an entry level freediving course is around the same price. If you wish to progress all the way up to an instructor level in both disciplines then you will need to spend several thousand dollars at least.
Once you are qualified you will be able to do fun dives and additionally for freedivers you can do training sessions to further improve you techniques. Typically you can pay anywhere from $25 to over $100 per fun dive. Freedivers may get a slight discount if they go as a snorkeler. A typical freediving training session is a similar price to a fun dive.
The main difference in price is seen when looking at purchasing your own equipment. To purchase your own brand new scuba diving equipment including a BCD, regulator, wetsuit, mask, fins, weight belt and dive computer can quickly add up to several thousand dollars. If you want to dive without going through a dive center then you’ll need a tank and weights as well which can add on another $500 dollars. You’ll most likely have to pay a small fee to fill your tank at a local dive center too and also have your equipment regularly serviced.
In comparison freedivers require only a mask, fins, wetsuit, weight belt, weights and a surface buoy with line which can be purchased for around $500 to $1000.
As mentioned in the previous point about cost, scuba diving requires significantly more equipment than freediving. On land the combination of a tank, BCD, regulator and weight belt can feel rather heavy, while underwater you will feel a lot more restricted in your movements. In comparison freediving is all about streamlining and improving efficiency. Therefore underwater you are more free in your movements as minimal equipment is needed.
Travelling as a freediver is also more simple than as a scuba diver. If you take your own gear abroad when scuba diving you will often require an additional checked bag to carry your equipment. Freedivers can mostly get away with fitting their wetsuit and mask inside their main bag and either take apart the freediving fins and fit these in the bag too, or take them on the plane as hand luggage.
Finally once you arrive at your destination as freediver you could walk off the plane, head straight to the beach and start freediving with a mask and a pair of fins. Scuba diving requires a lot more planning, and usually you will have to find a dive center and arrange in advance your dives.
Freediving is generally considered a more dangerous activity than scuba diving, however scuba diving is not without it’s own risks. Both need to be done with a buddy with the right training and certification.
Freedivers need to know their limits and only push them in controlled training sessions with other qualified freedivers who are trained in safety techniques. If done correctly, freediving is actually one of the safest sports around.
The main risk that recreational scuba divers face is decompression sickness. This can be avoided by following the time limits your dive computer gives you at each depth and avoid ascending too fast. After a dive, scuba divers are slightly limited by what they can do such as not flying for a certain time period. On a dive trip abroad, this gives freedivers a slight edge as they can even dive on the day they fly home.
A certain level of basic fitness is required for both freediving and scuba diving. However freedivers who want to dive as deep as they can and maximise their breath hold times generally need to be fitter than the average scuba diver. Freediving is a sport where not feeling 100% can massively impact your performance.
If you freedive locally where you live and can get in the water often this may not be an issue. However for some, the only chance they might get to freedive is on a holiday or dive trip. Therefore in order to maximise your freediving performance some may choose to abstain from alcohol or fast food on their holiday. This can be an issue if your other half does not dive and wants to let their hair down a bit more or go out in the evenings.
Although it is advised to avoid drinking before scuba diving, a couple of drinks the night before a day of scuba diving will not have much effect. In comparison even a few drinks the night before can have an impact on your freediving performance.
Underwater photography can be a difficult hobby to master, particularly if you are using a large rig with strobes and shoot in manual mode. It is safe to say that scuba diving allows you to focus on honing your photography skills more quickly than freediving. Scuba divers have the advantage of being able to stay with a subject for longer periods of time than a freediver, and can therefore tweak their settings and composure to get the perfect shot.
There are many styles of underwater photography and some are more suited to scuba diving or freediving. Macro and Close Focus Wide Angle shots which use strobe lights are much easier to shoot on scuba gear than while freediving. However taking Wide Angle shots using ambient light when freediving can create very strong images. Over-under shots are also generally taken while snorkeling or freediving. For someone looking to improve their underwater photography then taking photos while both freediving and scuba diving can help to advanced your skills.