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What Is Skin Diving?

By Ken Black
Updated May 23, 2024
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Skin diving, or free diving, is the practice of diving underwater without the use of a portable air supply, as is common with scuba diving. Skin diving can be done with minimal equipment, such as a mask and snorkel, or it may be done with no equipment at all. Typically, the activity requires no additional skills, other than a knowledge of how to swim.

Due to the fact it requires no additional skills, skin diving is a popular activity for those visiting seaside resorts and taking cruises. Often, in these situations, it is called snorkeling. Cruises offer such adventures at nearly every port of call they go to in warm weather areas. Some resorts offer equipment for no additional charge.

Skin diving has the advantage of keeping divers closer to the surface so there is less of a worry about getting the bends. This is a potentially fatal condition caused when divers ascend too rapidly from deeper depths and nitrogen is released into the blood. Most of the time skin, because their air supply is at the surface, divers do not go down far enough where this would become a problem.

In some locations, individuals may become professional skin divers, where their jobs include gathering clams and checking fish nets. In many cases, these divers are able to stay underwater for minutes at a time. This is done by a technique called "packing." Using this strategy, a diver gulps like a fish as he finished breathing to compact as much air as possible into the lungs. Perfecting this technique takes a substantial amount of practice, and can be dangerous.

Skin diving is also a very popular in freshwater springs. These springs make it very easy for divers to see some of the natural freshwater wildlife. In many cases, lakes and rivers are too murky to enjoy diving to a great degree. The visibility is usually not a problem in natural springs, which are known for the clarity of their waters.

As with scuba diving, there are some precautions that should be taken when skin diving. For example there is a condition known as latent hypoxia, which can cause those holding their breath for long periods of time to black out. This often happens suddenly and without warning. It is especially common where divers are required to hold their breath. The best way to combat this problem is to always dive with a friend.

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Discussion Comments
By runner101 — On Sep 24, 2011

I went skin diving one summer when I worked on the coast, and luckily I had a friend who was local who could tell me a lot of what I was actually seeing.

Although it was fun, it wasn't too serious and all I had was the snorkel, and the area we were actually swimming in wasn't all that exotic. I would love to go skin diving with all the equipment from the diving mask to the diving fins and head off to a tropical place like a coral reef.

But I wonder if you have to take a diving course if you go to a place like that...

By Speechie — On Sep 23, 2011

I have never been skin diving, or snorkeling, but it sounds like fun! Especially on a tropical island where the water is so clear and the sea life is so colorful!

What I find interesting is that some people are brave enough to take this on professionally when there seems be quite a risk for passing out. Hopefully people always are with at least one other person, even if they are professionals and are very skilled at it.

I think it is also interesting that there are some underwater sports now that require skin diving in them. I have heard of underwater hockey/ice hockey and underwater rugby. As if these sports are not difficult or challenging enough to play on land or ice! I would like to see a live game of one of these underwater sports just to see how it is!

By Mykol — On Sep 23, 2011

When we took a cruise to Jamaica, skin diving was on my list of things I wanted to try. We bought some cheap waterproof cameras so we could take some skin diving pictures under water.

The quality of pictures didn't turn out too bad. I ended up going skin diving more than once because I enjoyed it so much.

This was huge for me because I am one that doesn't like to swim or spend much time in the water. It isn't so bad when you are close to the shore and the water isn't very deep.

You can still see some incredible sea life close to shore.

By sunshined — On Sep 22, 2011

When we took a trip to Hawaii we went on a skin diving expedition. Before leaving I purchased some basic skin diving gear which included a mask and snorkel.

My husband is a scuba diver, so this was nothing new for him. This was a first for me, and I was pretty nervous. When we got to the place where everybody got in the water, I was the last one off the boat!

Once I calmed down and saw all the beautiful fish and turtles that were swimming around in the water I wasn't so nervous anymore. It was like a whole new world under the water and I was amazed at all the bright colors and variety of sea life.

As long as the water is reasonably warm, this is definitely something I would do again if given the chance. Looking at pictures is just not the same as experiencing it yourself.

By JessicaLynn — On Sep 22, 2011

@KaBoom - That sounds like a nice experience. Snorkeling is a sensible way to skin dive.

However, I don't understand the point of professional skin divers that check fish nets and stuff like that. If they are professionals, why don't they just buy some scuba diving equipment? Skin diving sounds kind of dangerous and risky, especially if you "pack" air like the article described.

By KaBoom — On Sep 21, 2011

I went snorkeling when I was in Key West a few years ago, so I suppose I've been skin diving before. It was a really cool experience. I saw a ton of neat looking fish!

It was especially nice because the snorkeling mask allows you to keep your face in the water for a long period of time because you're breathing through a tube. You don't have to keep coming up for air!

The mask also keeps the water out of your eyes so you can keep your eyes open the whole time. I have to say it was a much more enjoyable experience than regular swimming.

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