Types of Diving: The Complete Definition

Interested to know everything about diving?

Well, then you have come to the perfect place. In this post, we are going to cover everything related to diving.

Here, you are going to learn about different types of diving, the meaning of several diving-related terms, and lots of other essential things.

In short, you’ll find everything you need to know about diving in this article.

So, without further, ado, let’s get the show on the road.

What is Diving?

Diving is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It’s mostly the act of plunging into the water at high speed.

A diver usually starts by catapulting themselves off of an elastic springboard, then dives into the water. In the 21st century, diving is considered a serious competitive sport.

Interestingly, however, it did not start as a sport—it is thought to have originated as a pastime of some early-19th century European gymnasts. Then, later in the 19th century, it became a competitive sport.

Further on in 1904, it became one of the divisions of the Olympic Games swimming program. Then in 2000, synchronized diving became a part of the Games as well.

Diving has come a long way, having evolved into a particular sport/activity. In this article, we’ll give you a general idea of different variations of diving as a sport, hobby, and profession.

What is Scuba Diving?

Scuba Diving

Did you know that the word “Scuba” is an acronym? It is derived thus;

  • S – Self
  • C – Contained
  • U – Underwater
  • B – Breathing
  • A – Apparatus

So, scuba diving is, basically, the act of diving with the help of a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus that allows scuba divers to swim underwater for long periods.

Scuba diving was developed in the mid-20th century by a world-famous diver and conservationist called Jacques-Yves Cousteau. He did this to aid the French Navy during the 2nd World War. Fast-forward nearly a decade to the present time, when it is one of the most popular underwater activities in the world, enjoyed by millions.

The main component of scuba diving is a large cylindrical metal tank, usually made from steel or aluminum, which is filled with compressed air and is attached to the diver’s back. The tank is connected to an air hose and a demand regulator. A demand regulator controls the airflow, which ensures that the air pressure of the water matches up to the air pressure in the diver’s lungs.

Additionally, there is also the BCD, or buoyancy control device, which is an inflatable jacket that regulates the diver’s buoyancy by releasing or supplying air. All of these apparatuses are what allows the diver to breathe while exploring the underwater world.

The reason why scuba diving is so popular is that it allows the diver to get up close and personal with the magnificent and colorful flora and fauna of the underwater world. Think of it like a dream-like safari experience for marine creatures.

Scuba diving is primarily an adventure sport, and not done competitively; however, most places will require a diver to have certification.

What is Muck Diving?

Muck Diving

Understandably, the word “muck” in “muck diving” might lead you to imagine diving in dirty, muddy and low-visibility waters. The name is, after all, derived from the sediment that can be found at the bottom of dive sites, which can sometimes consist of sea creature skeletons or discarded fishing equipment.

Don’t be fooled, however, by the sound of that.

Muck diving is usually done in sandy bottom waters that, at first glance, might appear uninhabited. Muck divers have to be very patient and thorough when they explore the sand for the chance of coming across one of the creatures that live there.

What makes this likely is that the mucky substrate of muck diving sites is usually the dwelling places for many exotic organisms. The detritus and sediment at the location create a unique ecology where creatures like anglerfish, shrimp, and blue-ringed octopus can take up residence.

It might not sound like it, but muck diving, if done right, can be a gratifying experience, which leads to finding the unusual and beautiful creatures of sandy waters.

The most popular muck diving sites are found in Southeast Asia (particularly in the Philippines and Indonesia), where more marine species are found than anywhere else on the planet. However, muck diving can be done at almost any location where recreational diving is common.

Some of the most ardent muck divers are those who enjoy macro photography; as you can imagine, muck diving sites offer unlimited possibilities in that regard.

What is Pearl Diving?

Pearl Diving

Pearl diving, also called pearl hunting, is the name given to the activity of collecting pearls from marine creatures such as oysters, clams and mussels. These organisms are found both in freshwater and seawater. Pearl diving was most common in the Gulf region, particularly in the UAE.

The UAE’s history of pearl diving is ancient, dating back to over 7000 years in the past. The UAE’s pearls were traded all over the world, with historical accounts showing that they were sold everywhere from India to Rome. UAE pearls were so highly sought after that the basis of the development of cities like Dubai is in pearl trading.

Usually, pearl-bearing mollusks are found very deep in the ocean, making it difficult to access them from the surface. This is where diving comes in. Historically, freediving was the most frequently used technique in the collection of these mollusks.

At present, pearl diving is mostly a luxury tourist activity in the Gulf region, particularly in Dubai and Bahrain. With the advent of artificial Japanese pearls, pearl diving is no longer seen as a feasible or realistic profession.

What is Hookah Diving?

The two main types of air supply systems that can be used for underwater diving are SCUBA (which we have discussed above) and Surface Air Supply system. Also called “Hookah diving.”

The Hookah air system, unlike Scuba, does not make use of high-pressure air tanks. Instead, it is operated using a small air compressor that is placed at the surface of the water. These compressors are usually powered by a portable electric motor or gasoline engine. The diver receives the air through a floating air hose.

This means that the diver essentially has an unlimited air supply. This is because the flow of air supply is only ceased if/when the motor or engine is powering the air compressor stops. When compared to the scuba system, the hookah air supply system is decidedly more economical, as it pays for itself.

However, there are downsides to everything: compared to the scuba diving system. The hookah system does not allow for much freedom of movement as the diver is restricted to the distance. They have to maintain between themselves and the surface air compressor.

Therefore, hookah air systems are ideal for those divers who do not need much movement or are just beginning to experiment with diving. It is also suitable for practical diving applications that require the diver to remain submerged in a limited region for a long time.

When it comes to the cost of operating a hookah system, the only thing to take into consideration is the cost of the fuel. When using a hookah system, some divers like to have a partner on the surface who works to refuel if fuel starts getting low.

What is Abalone Diving?


Abalone is the name given to a group of edible sea snails that live on rocks and in the shallows. They can vary significantly in size. Their shells have a distinctive oval, ear-like shape. Furthermore, these sea snails are considered a delicacy.

The act of diving down to search for abalone is called “abalone diving.” Diving for abalone can be done in one breath (also called free diving), or by scuba diving.

Because abalone shells can ground the animal so solidly to the rocks they live on, they are challenging to catch. Accordingly, diving for abalone is very challenging; for the experienced diver, it’s fun.

It’s imperative to have the right equipment when diving for abalone. The diver must ensure that they have a full wet suit, including gloves, boots, and a hood. They will also require a snorkel, mask, fins, weight belt. And to catch the abalone, they will need an abalone bar, abalone gauge, and a catch bag.

As mentioned before, catching abalone requires a great deal of skill and practice. This is because abalones are great at camouflaging themselves to their surroundings, and when they feel they are endangered, will hunker down and firmly attach themselves to a surface.

So, it follows that if you’re looking to dive for some abalone, you’ll have a better chance of succeeding if you’re already comfortable with diving.

What is Drift Diving?

Drift Diving

Essentially, drift diving is a variation of scuba diving. The main difference between drift diving and traditional scuba diving is that for the former, the diver allows themselves to be moved by water movement. This is contrary to one of the main rules which are taught to scuba divers, which is to go against the current.

The reason most drift divers love it so much has to do with how relaxing it is. Because the diver is allowing themselves to be moved by the tide instead of fighting it, no planning is required for the movement. They will drift along in a peaceful, serene state.

Depending on the current’s force, the drift diver might not even have to make use of their fins to propel themselves. So, in some situations, drift diving can be one of the most efficient and fastest types of diving.

And of course, in some dive sites, drift diving is the only option if the tides in that particular site are known to be challenging to fight against. Even the fittest of divers can generate only so much propulsion—so sometimes, it’s easier to go with the flow.

However, the diver must choose a dive site they are already well acquainted. Getting stuck in unpredictable and hostile currents is dangerous if you don’t know where you’re going, and can even be fatal.

What is Cliff Diving?

Cliff Diving

Cliff diving is the activity of diving into a water body from a very high height. Although it’s most commonly done as an adventure sport, it has also been done competitively over the last 5 to 6 years.

Understandably, cliff diving is one of the most dangerous adventures sports out there. Every dive can potentially cause a severe injury or even death. This is due to the high velocity of the body as it gains its downward trajectory from the clifftop, creating a slowly straining impact when the body hits the water.

This impact is so tremendously strong that it can compress the spine of the diver, or even break their bones. Many divers who have landed horizontally report the feeling to be similar to what hitting a concrete floor must feel like.

So, the diving technique used is of utmost importance. The best approach the diver can have of preventing a strong impact is to enter the water feet-first, with their body in a vertical straight line.

Legs must be kept straight, and arms must be held tightly at the sides of the body. This shortens the point of contact where the diver’s body will hit the water.

Furthermore, the diver’s mental state must also be in good shape. Someone who is looking to dive off a cliff should be doing so with a sound mind. They should also be confident and sure of themselves, so as not to panic and break their stance when they are pelting towards the water.

It is recommended not to dive from heights any higher than 20 meters (65.5 feet).

What is Skin Diving?

Skin Diving

If the name isn’t indication enough, skin diving is the act of swimming or diving underwater without a full diving suit. It is most commonly done in deep water with the help of flippers and an aqualung, but most notably, without portable oxygen equipment.

As you may be able to imagine, the lack of proper equipment makes skin diving far more dangerous. Hence, not only is it not recommended, it’s now from being an adventure sport or competitive sport.

To make it a little bit safer, a lot of people combine skin diving with snorkeling equipment. Snorkeling is the act of diving using a snorkel, snorkel mask, snorkel fins, and sometimes a buoyancy vest that enables the diver to stay afloat. When a person snorkels, they remain on the surface but can look down inside the ocean.

The dive site itself obviously can’t be intense, as the diver has little to no air supply and must hold in their breath while underwater. This significantly reduces the amount of time the diver will be able to stay submerged.

This means that skin diving is usually practiced by enthusiastic and adventurous swimmers, who are confident in their lung capacity. And are curious about the water body in which they are diving.

It follows that skin diving is only recommended for excellent swimmers, who are well acquainted with the dive site. Or have a guide who will be able to help them navigate.

What is Snuba Diving?

Snuba diving was first popularized after a company called Snuba International who developed a surface air supply system in 1989. The word “snuba” is derived from a combination of the words “scuba” and “snorkel,” as snuba diving is like a mixture of scuba diving and snorkeling. Some people also call it hookah diving.

Similar to snorkeling, snuba diving does not require the diver to attach an air tank to themselves for their underwater oxygen supply. Instead, the air tank is linked to a raft that stays on the surface of the water. The diver, in turn, is connected to the raft with the help of a long hose.

Unlike snorkeling, however, snuba diving offers much greater freedom to the diver. The hose that connects the diver to the tank on the surface allows them to descend up to about 15 feet, where they can stay for a relatively long time without having to resurface for air. They can then swim and explore freely.

Some divers also prefer snuba diving to scuba diving because it does not require certification or expensive training. It’s therefore much more accessible as an adventure sport for amateurs or newbies who are not yet ready to start scuba diving. You can learn how to snuba-diving in a matter of only 30 minutes.

Snuba diving has become increasingly popular in the last couple of decades; at present, it’s practiced heavily in Hawaii, and many parts of the Caribbean.

What is Nitrox Diving?

Nitrox Diving

Nitrox diving is a short-form way of saying “enriched air scuba diving,” which involves the use of nitrox, a type of oxygen-enriched air. Just like with every other kind of equipment about diving, nitrox has both risks and benefits.

Nitrox (a portmanteau for “nitrogen” and “oxygen”) is the colloquial word for EAN, which stands for enriched air nitrox. This is a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen with the latter having a high concentration, which is 32%.

This high oxygen percentage is what enables divers to enjoy more extended no-decompression limits and allows them to stay submerged for longer. It can also lessen the chances of decompression sickness.

However, these benefits don’t come without a cost. Even though oxygen is essential for the survival of humans, too-high concentrations of it can prove to be hazardous, manifesting in oxygen toxicity. Common symptoms of oxygen toxicity are convulsions and distorted vision, which can prove fatal to the diver.

Accordingly, there are two main factors that a diver must take into consideration. First is the amount of pressure or exposure of oxygen in the lungs, and second is the length of that exposure.

Together these factors constitute the “oxygen limit,” which is something the diver should be well-educated about before choosing to go nitrox diving.

What is Saturation Diving?

Saturation Diving

Photo credit: Diversinstitute.edu

Saturation diving is a diving technique that enables divers to lower the risk of decompression sickness when diving to shallow depths for extended periods. This is done by supplying a mixture of helium and oxygen to the diver, thereby helping to prevent nitrogen narcosis.

(What is nitrogen narcosis? It’s pretty scary, actually—it’s the name given to a state of altered consciousness that a diver might slip into when diving very deep. This is caused by the presence of too-high levels of certain chemicals in their body.)

The helium works when it’s inserted into the diver’s bloodstream at a pressure matching the water’s tension. The decompression time from that point, therefore, becomes independent of how the dive’s duration, allowing them to stay submerged for longer without running the risk of getting “the bends.”

Saturation diving is used most commonly by those who have to work in undersea habitats. However, it remains a somewhat controversial practice, for which scientists are still looking for alternatives.

What is Free Diving?

Freediving is a type of underwater diving that eliminates all breathing equipment (such as oxygen tanks), instead of putting the onus on the diver to hold their breath until they return to the surface. It’s also called breath-hold diving, or skin diving.

You might think that freediving is an extreme sport requiring immense lung capacity, tremendous physical strength, and a strong will. This is true. However, technically, any time you plunge underwater and hold your breath, no matter for whatever duration, you are performing free diving.

Although some people equate free diving to skin diving, it’s not the same as the latter can sometimes involve the use of snorkeling equipment. When freediving, the diver relies entirely on their ability to hold their breath, with no back-up.

Consequently, freediving is thought to be dangerous and must be practiced with extreme caution. Only experienced divers who are skilled at holding their breath and have a good understanding of their overall physical ability should go free diving.

Freediving, although now performed adventurously or leisurely, originates in the earliest humans’ need to hunt for food, and in later humans, the desire to seek out lost treasure sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Luckily, we no longer need to sacrifice ourselves to do such things; free diving is now a recreational activity.

Additionally, freediving is also done competitively. The different types of competitive freediving depend on the divers’ ability to showcase unique and different ways in which they can hold their breath underwater.

What is Commercial Diving?

As the name suggests, commercial diving involves diving underwater for professional or practical purposes. These are usually related to construction, maintenance, engineering, or jobs in the oil industry.

Accordingly, commercial diving is not a sport; the primary concern is to carry out a necessary professional task underwater.

This means that commercial divers (also called professional divers) are paid for their work. As you may be able to guess, due to the high levels of danger involved in diving, a commercial diver must undergo rigorous training which is required by law.

This means that commercial divers make quite a bit of money. This is because: the deeper a diver must go, the higher the water pressure, and consequently, the greater the risk they have to take. Thus, they have to be compensated proportionally.

There are strict laws that regulate codes of practice when it comes to commercial diving. Owing to how dangerous particular some commercial diving operations can be, they require specialized equipment that is usually very expensive.

One of the most common legislation of commercial diving dictates the need for clear communication between the diver and surface operators.

Some of the most common commercial diving jobs are civil engineering diving, offshore diving, Hazmat diving, and ships-husbandry diving. Commercial diving is also seen in the world of scientific research, e.g., in aquaculture or marine archaeology.

Most commercial divers who have made it their career will tend to spend quite a bit of time at work. Sometimes not getting the luxury of taking any days off. Depending on what type of diving they are doing, a commercial diver may have the benefit of working in freshwater sites. But more dangerous diving sites are also common.

What is Cave Diving?

Cave diving is the act of diving in underwater caves, hence the name.

Although it can be done as an extreme sport, it’s more commonly referred to as a branch of professional diving in areas involving research done through in-depth sea exploration. It may also be carried out for more grim purposes, such as recovering lost divers.

Due to the low-visibility conditions and potentially unexplored areas associated with underwater caves, a cave diver will require proper lighting, specialized equipment, and most importantly, a lot of experience. And this experience must be valid, meaning the diver will also need certification and training.

Because cave diving usually occurs far, far below the surface of the ocean, there is every possibility that the diver will get decompression sickness. This requires the diver to carry gas tanks that have been filled with a combination of special gas mixtures.

Cave diving is particularly dangerous because, unlike in most other common diving scenarios, it’s not possible to bring a diver back to the surface quickly.

Several problems may arise, such as low visibility, running out of the air, or equipment malfunction. A diver should, therefore, only consider cave-diving if they are already used to these situations.

Furthermore, learning how to cave-dive is highly expensive and time-consuming. The specialized equipment required alone can cost thousands of dollars.

What Are “The Bends” in Diving?

Humans breathe about 21% oxygen and 78% nitrogen on land. While our bodies use the oxygen, the nitrogen is dissolved into our bloodstream harmlessly. However, in the low depths of the ocean, increased pressure leads to nitrogen being released in our tissue and blood.

If we come back up to the surface too fast after having descended into the depths of the ocean, that nitrogen in our blood is released too quickly, which leads to the creation of bubbles in our blood. The resulting condition that occurs is called decompression sickness, or “the bends.”

When a diver gets the bends, the flow of blood to the affected body part will be blocked, resulting in a lack of oxygen. These can lead to symptoms that can be mild to severe.

The most common is a tingling sensation or joint pain. In severe cases, however, the diver who has been afflicted with the bends might have a stroke, a heart attack, or have their blood vessels rupture.

It is, therefore, possible to die from getting the bends.

One of the most common ways of avoiding the bends is to abide by time limits set down in dive tables. Dive tables are used to calculate the duration someone should be at a certain depth before they return to the surface. In the present time, dive tables are calculated by computers.

Following the dive tables is crucial because it ensures that the nitrogen will be released slowly, instead of too fast, thereby not causing sickness. Therefore, the diver mustn’t panic and try to come back up too quickly.

What is Technical Diving?

Principally, technical diving is recreational scuba diving, but the limits are pushed beyond what is held to be acceptable.

When a diver goes technical diving, they are exposed to a ceiling which restricts them from being able to resurface at any given moment. It is, therefore, extremely dangerous, as it can cause severe injury or death.

On the whole, there is some disagreement as to what counts as technical diving. While the most commonly held definition classifies it as a form of extreme recreational diving, the advent of technical diving has also led to advancements in diving technology.

The risks associated with technical diving can be lessened with the right training, knowledge, skills and experience, and of course, also by using the right equipment. Most technical divers will breathe nitrox mixtures exclusively and have multiple sources of gas.

One of the most significant risks a technical diver faces is decompression sickness. Any professional diver must, therefore, first receive extensive training in learning how to lower the risk of being afflicted by the bends.

However, due to the need to take so many safety precautions, technical diving involves the use of a large amount of equipment. Like as 4-5 gas tanks being attached simultaneously to one diver. While some find it thrilling, technical diving understandably remains a controversial practice.


So, there you have it—the complete definition of diving.

Be it as a sport, a recreational activity, or a profession, the advancements in diving technology until the present age is truly remarkable.

Especially when it comes to recreational diving, it can be a highly rewarding experience. You couldn’t be blamed for wanting that thrill in your life, and for the chance to experience the dazzling marine world for yourself.

However, most types of intensive diving, as we have seen, are hazardous. Therefore, it’s of utmost importance to educate yourself and undergo the required training.

We wish you good luck with your diving endeavors.


  • Updated 17/01/2020
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