Freediving, free-diving, free diving, breath-hold diving, or skin diving is a form of underwater diving that relies on breath-holding until resurfacing rather than the use of breathing apparatus such as scuba gear.
Besides the limits of breath-hold, immersion in water and exposure to high ambient pressure also have physiological effects that limit the depths and duration possible in freediving.
Examples of freediving activities are: traditional fishing techniques, competitive and non-competitive freediving, competitive and non-competitive spearfishing and freediving photography, synchronised swimming, underwater football, underwater rugby, underwater hockey, underwater target shooting and snorkeling. There are also a range of "competitive apnea" disciplines; in which competitors attempt to attain great depths, times, or distances on a single breath.
Historically, the term free diving was also used to refer to scuba diving, due to the freedom of movement compared with surface supplied diving.


In ancient times freediving without the aid of mechanical devices was the only possibility, with the exception of the occasional use of reeds and leather breathing bladders. The divers faced the same problems as divers today, such as decompression sickness and blacking out during a breath hold. Freediving was practiced in ancient cultures to gather food, harvest resources such as sponge and pearl, reclaim sunken valuables, and to help aid military campaigns.
In Ancient Greece, both Plato and Homer mention the sponge as being used for bathing. The island of Kalymnos was a main centre of diving for sponges. By using weights of as much as to speed the descent, breath-holding divers would descend to depths up to to collect sponges. Harvesting of red coral was also done by divers.
The Mediterranean had large amounts of maritime trade. As a result of shipwrecks, particularly in the fierce winter storms, divers were often hired to salvage whatever they could from the seabed. Divers would swim down to the wreck and choose the most valuable pieces to salvage.
Divers were also used in warfare. Defenses against sea vessels were often created, such as underwater barricades, and hence divers were often used to scout out the seabed when ships were approaching an enemy harbor. If barricades were found, it was divers who were used to disassemble them, if possible. During the Peloponnesian War, divers were used to get past enemy blockades to relay messages as well as supplies to allies or troops that were cut off, and in 332 BC, during the Siege of Tyre, the city used divers to cut the anchor cables of Alexander's attacking ships.
In Japan, ama divers began to collect pearls about 2,000 years ago.
For thousands of years, most seawater pearls were retrieved by divers working in the Indian Ocean, in areas such as the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and in the Gulf of Mannar. A fragment of Isidore of Charax's Parthian itinerary was preserved in Athenaeus's 3rd-century Sophists at Dinner, recording freediving for pearls around an island in the Persian Gulf.
Pearl divers near the Philippines were also successful at harvesting large pearls, especially in the Sulu Archipelago. At times, the largest pearls belonged by law to the sultan, and selling them could result in the death penalty for the seller. Nonetheless, many pearls made it out of the archipelago by stealth, ending up in the possession of the wealthiest families in Europe. Pearling was popular in Qatar, Bahrain, Japan, and India. The Gulf of Mexico was also known for pearling.
Native Americans harvested freshwater pearls from lakes and rivers like the Ohio, Tennessee, and Mississippi, while others dived for marine pearls from the Caribbean and waters along the coasts of Central and South America.
In 1940, Dottie Frazier pioneered freediving for women in the United States and also began teaching classes. It was also during this time that she began to design and sell rubber suits for Navy UDT divers.

Freediving activities

Recreational hunting and gathering


is an ancient method of fishing that has been used throughout the world for millennia. Early civilizations were familiar with the custom of spearing fish from rivers and streams using sharpened sticks.
Today modern spearfishing makes use of elastic powered spearguns and slings, or compressed gas pneumatic powered spearguns, to strike the hunted fish. Specialised techniques and equipment have been developed for various types of aquatic environments and target fish. Spearfishing may be done using free-diving, snorkelling, or scuba diving techniques. Spearfishing while using scuba equipment is illegal in some countries. The use of mechanically powered spearguns is also outlawed in some countries and jurisdictions. Spearfishing is highly selective, normally uses no bait and has no by-catch.

Collection of shellfish

Competitive breath-hold watersports


Aquathlon is an underwater sport where two competitors wearing masks and fins wrestle underwater in an attempt to remove a ribbon from each other's ankle band in order to win the bout. The "combat" takes place in a 5-metre square ring within a swimming pool, and is made up of three 30-second rounds, with a fourth round played in the event of a tie. The sport originated during the 1980s in the former USSR and was first played at international level in 1993. It was recognised by the Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques in 2008.

Competitive spearfishing

Competitive spearfishing is defined by the world governing body CMAS as "the hunting and capture of fish underwater without the aid of artificial breathing devices, using gear that depends entirely on the physical strength of the competitor." They publish a set of competition rules that are used by affiliated organisations.

Synchronised swimming

is a hybrid form of swimming, dance, and gymnastics, consisting of swimmers performing a synchronized routine of elaborate moves in the water, accompanied by music. Synchronized swimming demands advanced water skills, and requires great strength, endurance, flexibility, grace, artistry and precise timing, as well as exceptional breath control when upside down underwater. During lifts swimmers are not allowed to touch the bottom.
Traditionally it was a women's sport, but following the addition of a new mixed-pair event, FINA World Aquatics competitions are open to men since the 16th 2015 championships in Kazan, and the other international and national competitions allow male competitors in every event. However, men are currently still barred from competing in the Olympics. Both USA Synchro and Synchro Canada allow men to compete with women. Most European countries also allow men to compete, and France even allows male only podiums, according to the number of participants. In the past decade, more men are becoming involved in the sport and a global biannual competition called Men's Cup has been steadily growing.
Swimmers perform two routines for the judges, one technical and one free, as well as age group routines and figures. Synchronized swimming is both an individual and team sport. Swimmers compete individually during figures, and then as a team during the routine. Figures are made up of a combination of skills and positions that often require control, strength, and flexibility. Swimmers are ranked individually for this part of the competition. The routine involves teamwork and synchronization. It is choreographed to music and often has a theme. Synchronized swimming is governed internationally by FINA.

Underwater hockey

, is a globally played limited-contact sport in which two teams compete to manoeuvre a puck across the bottom of a swimming pool into the opposing team's goal by propelling it with a pusher. It originated in England in 1954 when Alan Blake, the founder of the newly formed Southsea Sub-Aqua Club, invented the game he called Octopush as a means of keeping the club's members interested and active over the cold winter months when open-water diving lost its appeal. Underwater Hockey is now played worldwide, with the Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques, abbreviated CMAS, as the world governing body. The first Underwater Hockey World Championship was held in Canada in 1980 after a false start in 1979 brought about by international politics and apartheid.

Underwater football

is a two-team underwater sport that shares common elements with underwater hockey and underwater rugby. As with both of those games, it is played in a swimming pool with snorkeling equipment. The goal of the game is to a slightly negatively buoyant ball from one side of a pool to the other by players who are completely submerged underwater. Scoring is achieved by placing the ball in the on the side of the pool. Variations include using a toy rubber torpedo as the ball, and weighing down buckets to rest on the bottom and serve as goals.
It is played in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saskatchewan.

Underwater rugby

is an underwater team sport. During a match two teams try to score a negatively buoyant ball into the opponents’ goal at the bottom of a swimming pool. It originated from within the physical fitness training regime existing in German diving clubs during the early 1960s and has little in common with rugby football except for the name. It was recognised by the Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques in 1978 and was first played as a world championship in 1980.

Underwater target shooting

is an underwater sport that tests a competitors’ ability to accurately use a speargun via a set of individual and team events conducted in a swimming pool using free diving or apnea technique. The sport was developed in France during the early 1980s and is currently practised mainly in Europe. It is known as Tir sur cible subaquatique in French and as Tiro al Blanco Subacuático in Spanish.

Competitive apnea

Competitive freediving is currently governed by two world associations: AIDA International and CMAS. Historically, there were two more organisations that regulated freediving records and activities - IAFD and FREE. Each organization has its own rules on recognizing a record attempt which can be found on the organization's website. Alongside competitive disciplines there are record disciplines - disciplines that are not held in competitions, that are just for setting world records. There is a third organization which in addition to AIDA and CMAS preside over those record disciplines and that is Guinness.
Almost all types of competitive freediving have in common that it is an individual sport based on the best individual achievement. Exceptions to this rule are the bi-annual World Championship for Teams held by AIDA, where the combined score of the team members makes up the team's total points and Skandalopetra diving competitions held by CMAS, the only truly ‘team’ event in freediving - for which teams are formed by two athletes: one acting as an apneista and the other acting as an assistant.


There are currently eleven recognized disciplines defined by AIDA and CMAS, and a dozen more that are only practiced locally. All disciplines can be practiced by both men and women and only CMAS currently separates records in fresh water from those at sea. The disciplines of AIDA can be done both in competition and as a record attempt, with the exception of Variable Weight and No limits, which are both solely for record attempts. For all AIDA depth disciplines, the depth the athlete will attempt is announced before the dive; this is accepted practice for both competition and record attempts. Most divers choose monofin over bifins where there is a choice.
;Overview of the above disciplines
BF - BiFins, MF - MonoFin

World records

Note 1: Best official result in STA is Guinness WR of 11:54 by Branko Petrović in 2014, a freediver who has results in STA over 10 minutes under both AIDA and CMAS.

Note 2: Best NLT result is 253.2m by Herbert Nitsch in 2012; intention of having the dive sanctioned by AIDA fell through due to a sponsoring conflict.

Note 3: After 2001-12-31 AIDA International no longer separated the records achieved in a lake from those in the sea.

AIDA recognized world records

, the AIDA recognized world records are:
DisciplineGenderDepth Distance TimeNameDatePlace
Static apnea Men11 min 35 secHyères, Var, France
Static apnea Women9 min 02 secBelgrade, Serbia
Dynamic apnea with fins Men316,53Turku, Finland
Dynamic apnea with fins Women253Szczecin, Poland
Dynamic apnea with bifins Men250Vienna, Austria
Dynamic apnea with bifins Women208Moscow, Russia
Dynamic apnea without fins Men244Turku, Finland
Dynamic apnea without fins Women191Opole, Poland
Constant weight apnea Men130Dean's Blue Hole, Long Island Bahamas
Constant weight apnea Women107Dean's Blue Hole, Long Island Bahamas
Constant weight apnea with bifins Men110West Bay Roatan, Honduras
Constant weight apnea with bifins Women92Panglao Island, Phillipines
Constant weight apnea without fins Men102Dean's Blue Hole, Long Island Bahamas
Constant weight apnea without fins Women73Dean's Blue Hole, Long Island Bahamas
Free immersion apnea Men125Dean's Blue Hole, Long Island Bahamas
Free immersion apnea Women98Willemstad, Curaçao
Variable weight apnea Men146Kalamata, Greece
Variable weight apnea Women130Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
No-limits apnea Men253.2Santorini, Greece
No-limits apnea Women160Turks and Caicos

CMAS recognized world records

, the CMAS recognized world records are:

Guinness">Guinness World Records">Guinness recognized world records

Note: Only those disciplines that are modifications of existing AIDA or CMAS disciplines and Guinness-exclusive or Guinness-conceived disciplines.


Freediving as a recreational activity is widely practiced and differs significantly from scuba diving. Although there are potential risks to all freediving, it can be safely practiced using a wide range of skill levels from the average snorkeler to the professional freediver. Compared to scuba diving, freediving offers:
Freshwater springs, often with excellent visibility, provide good freediving opportunities but with greater risks. Diving into spring caverns with restricted access to the surface is very different from diving in open water. The time available to a freediver to solve problems underwater before hypoxia sets in is severely restricted in comparison with scuba. Freediving into confined cave systems such as Eagle's Nest Cave, Florida and Blue Springs State Park, Florida has resulted in several deaths. Cave freediving is commonly discouraged in basic freediver safety training.


The human body has several oxygen-conserving adaptations that manifest under diving conditions as part of the mammalian diving reflex. The adaptations include:
Breath-holding ability, and hence dive performance, is a function of on-board oxygen stores, scope for metabolic rate reduction, efficient oxygen utilization, and hypoxia tolerance. Athletes attempt to accomplish this in various ways. Some divers use "packing", which increases lung volume beyond normal total lung capacity. In addition, training is allocated to enhance blood and muscle oxygen stores, to a limited extent.
Most divers rely on increasing fitness by increasing lung capacity. Simple breath-holding practice is highly effective for increasing lung capacity. In an interview on the radio talk show Fresh_Air, journalist James Nestor, author of the book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, stated: "Some divers have a lung capacity of 14 liters, which is about double the size for a typical adult male. They weren't born this way.... They trained themselves to breathe in ways to profoundly affect their physical bodies."



Training for freediving can take many forms, some of which can be performed on land.
One example is the apnea walk. This consists of a preparation "breathe-up", followed by a short breath hold taken at rest. Without breaking the hold, participants then begin walking as far as possible until it becomes necessary to breathe again. Athletes can do close to 400 meters in training this way.
This form of training is good for accustoming muscles to work under anaerobic conditions, and for tolerance to CO2 build-up in the circulation. It is also easy to gauge progress, as increasing distance can be measured.
Before competition attempts, freedivers perform a preparation sequence, which usually consists of physical stretching, mental exercise and breath exercise. It may include a succession of variable length static apnea and special purging deep breaths. Results of the preparation sequence are slower metabolism, lower heart rate and breath rate, and lower levels of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream and overall mental equilibrium.



The most obvious hazard is lack of access to air for breathing – a necessity for human life. This can result in asphyxia from drowning if the diver does not reach the surface while still capable of holding their breath and resuming breathing. The risk depends on several factors, including the depth, duration and shape of the dive profile.
Latent hypoxia is a specific hazard of deeper freedives. This effect can cause hypoxic blackout during surfacing.


Failing to respond to physiological warning signals, or crossing the mental barrier by strong will, may lead to blackout underwater or on reaching the surface. Trained freedivers are well aware of this and competitions must be held under strict supervision and with competent first-aiders on standby. However, this does not eliminate the risk of blackout. Freedivers are encouraged to dive only with a 'buddy' who accompanies them, observing from in the water at the surface, and ready to dive to the rescue if the diver loses consciousness during the ascent. Due to the nature of the sport, any practice of freediving must include strict adherence to safety measures as an integral part of the activity, and all participants must also be adept in rescue and resuscitation. Without proper training and supervision, competitive freediving/apnea/breath-hold diving is extremely dangerous.

Statistics and notable accidents

, a diver from New York died on 17 November 2013 after losing consciousness on surfacing from a 3-minute 38 second dive to a depth of 72 metres during an official record attempt in the "constant weight without fins" event. He had previously reached greater depths and longer times in other disciplines.

Fiction and documentaries