16 Types of Diving: The Complete Definition

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

A diver usually starts by catapulting themselves off of an elastic springboard, then dives into the open 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 types of dives as a sport, hobby, and profession.

How Many Types of Diving are There?

1. Scuba Dive

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

Types of 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 dive 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 dive 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 scuba diving experience for marine life creatures.

Scuba dives is primarily an adventure sport, and not done competitively; however, most places will require a diver to have certification for the deep dive.

2. Muck Dive

Muck Diving

Understandably, the word “muck” in “muck diving” might lead you to imagine dives in dirty, muddy and low-visibility waters. The dive’s names are, 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 stuff.

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

Muck dive 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 dives sites is usually the dwelling place for many exotic organisms. The detritus and sediment at the location create a unique ecology where creatures like angler fish, lobsters, and blue-ringed octopus can take up residence.

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

The most popular muck dives 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 dive is common.

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

3. Pearl Dive

Pearl Diving

Pearl diving, the names of dives 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 dives were most common in the Gulf region, particularly in the UAE.

The UAE’s history of pearl dive 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 these types of diving come in. Historically, free dive was the most frequently used technique in the collection of these mollusks.

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

4. Hookah Dive

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 dive.”

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 consumption system is decidedly more economical, as it pays for itself.

However, there are downsides to everything: compared to the scuba dive 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 dive. It is also suitable for practical dive 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.

5. Abalone Dive


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

Because abalone shells can ground the animal so solidly to the rocks they live on, they are challenging to catch. Accordingly, dive 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 wetsuit, 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, they 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 this dive type.

6. Drift Dive

Drift Diving

Essentially, these are also a types of scuba dives. 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 diving moves. 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 dives can be one of the most efficient and fastest swimming dive types.

And of course, in some dive sites, these types of dives are 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.

7. Cliff Dive

Cliff Diving

Cliff diving is the activity of dive 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 dive 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).

8. Skin Dive

Skin Diving

If the dive names aren’t indication enough, skin diving is the act of the dives in swimming or open water diving without a full dive suit. It is most commonly done in deep water dives 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 dive 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 dives with snorkeling equipment. Snorkeling is the act of dive 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 dive.

It follows that skin dives are 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.

9. Snuba Dive

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 dives are like a mixture of scuba dives and snorkeling. Some people also call it hookah diving.

Similar to snorkeling, snuba dives do 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 dives offer 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 of the types of divers also prefer snuba dives 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-dive in a matter of only 30 minutes.

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

10. Nitrox Dive

Nitrox Diving

Nitrox dives 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 stuff about dives, 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

11. Saturation Diving

Saturation Diving

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.

12. Free Dive

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.

13. Commercial Dive

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 advanced open water diver) 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 dives, offshore dives, Hazmat diving, and ships-husbandry diving. Commercial dives are 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 types of diving they are doing, a commercial diver may have the benefit of working in freshwater sites. But more dangerous dives sites are also common.

14. Cave Dive

Cave diving is the act of dives 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 dives 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 dive 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.

15. “The Bends” in Dive

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 certain depth gauges 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.

16. Technical Dive

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

When a diver goes technical dive, they are exposed to a ceiling that 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 dives, the advent of technical dive has also led to advancements in dives technology.

The risks associated with technical dive 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 lines precautions, technical dive involves the use of a large amount of equipment. Like 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 a list of dives!

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

Especially when it comes to recreational dive, 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 life for yourself.

However, most types of intensive dive, 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 22/09/2020
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