Air vs. No Air
Obviously, the biggest difference between freediving and scuba diving is the presence of air during your dive. Having the availability of oxygen while diving changes the purpose and length of your dive entirely.
Due to the lack of air while freediving you have far less time available to you at depth. Whether this is a negative for you or not depends a lot on the purpose of your dive.
I personally prefer to freedive in any spot where I can reach depth. Freediving is my first love so I will almost always choose that over scuba. However, scuba is my go to if I am wanting to explore anywhere below 20M for an extended period. In Hawaii, I prefer to scuba the deeper wrecks around the island so that I can really explore and enjoy them. Freediving is my go to for almost everything else.
Photography & Videography
When it comes to filming or photographing underwater there are benefits being on scuba and when freediving.
While scuba diving you have additional time and stability to capture a subject. Since you can spend more time at depth you can often take more time lining up a shot perfectly or making sure your settings are good. Underwater photography has been popular among scuba divers for ages. Videography and photography while freediving has recently grown more in popularity. Likely because of the flexibility and easy access to diving offered with it. Freedivers are not only picking up the camera more but are also being used as the subject of many underwater film and photo projects. There is something truly captivating about humans interacting with nature and the ocean.
There is significantly more gear involved in scuba diving than there is in freediving. With the addition of the tank, BCD, regulator, and more accessories you are bringing a lot more with you into the water.
More gear means a change in how you move through the water.
With freediving, you can have more dynamic movement without the addition of the BCD and tank on your back. I feel like I can look around more, turn more quickly, and simply glide through the water more effortlessly. However, you will put more effort into swimming with freediving vs. scuba diving.
While scuba diving, you can relax. Once you have your buoyancy in check scuba diving requires minimal swimming effort. You get to chill and enjoy floating along the reef. While some scuba dives can be more intense than others, I find scuba diving often doesn’t require the same fitness level that freediving does.
The cost of gear associated with scuba diving vs freediving is quite different. Both sports can be enjoyed without breaking the bank but if you want to have a proper set up each will have certain costs.
The cost of a basic scuba set up is certainly more expensive than that for freediving. All you technically need to freedive is a mask and fins. Even that gear can be irrelevant, as I often enjoy freediving without fins and some people are cool to not have the mask either. To scuba you at least need to have everything to allow you to use the tank. For both freediving and scuba, you can totally rent gear which will save you money. However, if you want to get your own gear this is what a basic set up will cost you:
SCUBA **prices based on average. Products available at slightly higher or lower prices**
BCD - $300
Fins - $60
Mask - $100
Regulators - $600
Tank - $200
Gauges - $150
Belt & Weights - $60
Fins - $200
Mask - $60
Belt & Weights - $60
These are just some basic breakdowns of what a minimal set up would look like. Of course, if you start factoring in things like dive computers, watches, lanyards, floats, and other accessories you can probably rack up a similar bill for scuba and freediving. However, when it comes to the minimum required gear you will spend more to have a scuba set up vs freediving.
Wildlife definitely responds differently to scuba divers vs freedivers depending on the animal, location, and behavior of the diver. The noise and bubbles associated with scuba diving can cause some more shy wildlife to avoid scuba divers in a way they won’t avoid freedivers. However, some animals need longer to get used to divers or enjoy the bubbles produced by the diver. In these cases, it can be more advantageous to be scuba diving.
I recommend talking with local guides and those with experience diving with wildlife for tips on the best ways to interact and observe wildlife in a particular place. Sometimes a species in one region may respond differently to a scuba diver or freediver vs that same species in another part of the world.
Both freediving and scuba diving are relatively safe sports when all the recommended safety guidelines are followed.
For freediving, all you really need to stay safe is to dive with a well-trained buddy. The biggest safety concern in freediving is shallow water blackout. Blacking out is not dangerous in itself. However, if you dive without a buddy who can properly bring you to the surface and perform the proper rescue techniques you are in a dangerous situation if you black out.
It is not uncommon for people to start freediving on their own without taking a proper course. I myself didn’t take a class until years into diving on my own. While it might be common practice, it doesn’t mean it is safe. I have become very picky about who I dive with because of the stories and personal experiences I have had diving with untrained freedivers. Freediving only becomes dangerous if you don’t have proper rescue training. To learn more about proper freediving rescue techniques take a level 1 course! Check out Josh Munoz courses with Molchanov freediving.
Scuba diving can be dangerous if you don’t follow your allowed depth and time limits. Decompression sickness and nitrogen narcosis can lead to serious health problems including paralysis and death. However, when diving within your limits scuba diving can also be enjoyed safely. Unlike freediving, it is less likely for people to start the sport without taking a proper certification course.
Both freediving and scuba diving have different levels of certification associated with them. While you can experience freediving and scuba diving without being certified, it is ultimately safer and more enjoyable once you get properly certified and continue improve your skills as a diver. Each sport has different agencies you can get certified through.
Number of certs required & amount of time committed
Both freediving and scuba diving have a basic intro level course. Depending on how interested you are, you can choose to progress through the certification courses to a professional level. Below are basic breakdown of the course progression for both freediving and scuba diving up to the professional level.
FREEDIVING **based on Molchanov system**
Level 1 (approx. 2 days)
Level 2 (approx. 3 days)
Level 3 (approx. 5 days)
Level 4 (approx. 7 days)
Instructor Course (approx. 2 weeks)
The criteria to move on towards the next level in freediving is often skill based. If you can complete the depth and skill requirements you can move on to the next level course.
SCUBA **based on PADI system**
Open Water cert (approx. 3 days)
Advanced water cert (approx. 3 days)
Rescue cert (approx. 4 days)
Divemaster (2-6 months + time diving)
Dive Instructor (2 weeks)
The criteria to move on towards the next scuba course is primarily skill based up until your Divemaster certification. To complete the divemaster certification you must complete at least 60 logged dives, meaning you need to spend enough time diving to move on in your certification.
photo credits: @connerhumann @joshmunoz @chiaraphoto