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To Reel or to Spool. What’s the difference?

You are ready to purchase some new shiny gear? Either because you want to be a safer diver and connect your SMB to a line, so you can shoot it up from underwater, or perhaps you are ready to venture into a wreck or even a cave? What do you need? What is the difference between a reel and a spool, is a question you might ask yourself? Can you go wrong by purchasing one over the other? Do I need both? Let us shine some light on this.

Reels and Spools have similar purposes and uses, although there is a slight difference. In the end, personal preference plays a huge role as well. Let’s have a look at them, why you want to choose either a reel or a spool and see what sets them apart from eachother.


A reel is a larger version of a spool that holds more length of line. It consists of a handle and some sort of a mechanism that allow you to “reel” out and “reel” in the line when you desire to do so. The side of the reel can be controlled with your thumb or finger to apply friction, in order to make sure the line doesn’t fly out. Reels also have a locking nut or locking mechanism to make sure the reel doesn’t unwind while swimming. There are many different types or reels on the market, and they come in different colors and flavors. But the main difference to a spool is easy: They hold more line. This makes them naturally larger, heavier, and bulkier than its smaller cousin, the spool. 

Using a Reel can be daring at first. Improper control e.q. with line tension, either when reeling out or reeling in, can cause the line to get messed up on the reel, cause knots or jam the reel completely. The positive thing of a reel is that you get greater range when using a reel. Either to deploy an SMB at depth, use for search and recovery operations, wreck or cave diving. Although there are no real regulations on how to use a reel, we strongly advise people to seek training in operating a reel properly. But don’t let that scare you. It’s not that complicated. Practice makes perfect.


A spool is a small plastic or metal “roll” (or spool), that has a hole in the middle of it, where you can put your finger through. Sometimes people refer to them as “finger-spool” for that reason. A spool comes in different lengths but generally they come as small as 12m to 40m in length. The line is wrapped around the spool and is easy to handle. Similarly, to a reel, deploying a line from a spool, you connect it to a wreck, cave entrance, rock or SMB, and make sure you keep the line under a light tension to make sure there is no excessive line floating around you where you can get entangled in. A good tip is to always have the spool (or reel for that matter) as with a stretched arm, away from your body, so your BCD, hoses or stages can’t get entangled. Line work with a spool is easier than a reel because a spool is small and can’t really get jammed as a reel. You can still make a mess! However, even when you create a knot on your line, you can still wrap it around the spool, so cleaning up the line is straightforward.  Because of the turning motion you make when cleaning up the line, the line gets twisted. Good practice is to turn the spool every 10 windings to counter this problem. Some fancy spools have little swivel at the end of the spool to counter this. Spools are more forgiving then reels when it comes to line management. However, practicing is a good idea. The biggest downside of a spool is the fact that spools has limited length. 

Added Safety

When working with lines underwater it's best practice to always have at least one type of cutting device with you! (Two for redundancy is actually better).  This doesn't have to be a Rambo knife strapped to your leg. We have all seen those divers that have one. Instead use an Eezycut. These little tools are very safe to use but have an enormous amount of cutting power. You can find those in the Knife / Cutting Devices / Safety section of our shop

So, what to choose?

Well, its entirely up to you. Personally, I use spools the most. On any give dive, I carry at least 2 spools with me that I can quickly deploy from my technical shorts / drysuit pockets, either to shoot up and SMB or for wreck penetration. If I know there is a lot of penetration or have to look for something at long distances or do a deep technical dive where we might drift during deco (and want to shoot up an SMB at depth so the boat knows where we are), I will bring a reel with me. For Cave Diving there are other equipment requirements (jump spools, lost line procedures etc.) I won’t mention in this article. Please remember that although reels and spools are seemingly easy tools that can greatly enhance your diving safety, do not attempt wreck or cave penetration without training. 

Excited about all of this? Have a look at our selection of spools and reels!

Need more advice? No problem. We are happy to assist, just contact us.