How to Snorkel

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Snorkeling is a great way to enjoy the ocean and learning how to snorkel effortlessly will make the experience so much easier and more fun too. It’s great for everyone and relatively straightforward to get the hang of, but there are a few things to know and some points to make your experience more comfortable and enjoyable. The following tips and techniques will show you how to snorkel like a pro.

Table Of Contents

How to Snorkel Properly

How to Start Snorkeling

Firstly ensure that your mask fits comfortably and isn’t pressing up under your nose or on the bridge of your nose between your eyes. The skirt of the mask should seal around your face with no gaps. Pulling the strap tighter to achieve this does not work in fact it is more likely to make the mask leak and be uncomfortable to wear. Your snorkel attaches to your mask and should be adjusted to fit comfortably in your mouth.

If you are hiring a snorkel, check that the mouthpiece is not torn, as a damaged mouthpiece is uncomfortable and will make it harder to hold. You grip the mouthpiece lightly with your teeth and seal your lips around it.

Parts of a Snorkel

  1. Snorkel
  2. Purge Valve (on some models)
  3. Snorkel Mouthpiece
  4. Mask Skirt
  5. Mask Lens
  6. Mask Frame
  7. Snorkel Splash Guard

Proper Breathing Technique While Snorkeling

It’s a good idea to get used to breathing with a snorkel if there’s a little water inside the snorkel itself. This will inevitably happen, so getting used to it and remaining calm is a good idea prior to getting into deep water.

If you can, start in shallow water where you can easily stand up. Keep your head in an upright position bend your knees so that you sink to about mid-forehead depth. Breathe in cautiously and gently, this way if there is any water in the snorkel you won’t inhale it. You can suck air gently past the water; it will make a bubbling gurgling sound, but you will be able to get a full breath in.

How to Clear Water From Your Snorkel

If there is water in your snorkel, it is easily cleared. With a full breath blow out as forcefully and sharply as you can through your mouth. This exhalation will fire the water out of your snorkel. Inhale cautiously again and repeat if necessary. Some snorkels have self-draining valves which make clearing water much easier.

How to Prevent Water Getting Into Your Snorkel

While snorkeling, you will get water into your snorkel, but there are ways you can limit it. Choppy conditions and waves will splash water in from the top, but the biggest culprit is the position of your head. The temptation when snorkeling is to look directly down; doing this tips your head and lowers the snorkel’s end into the water which scoops in water. Keep your head tilted upwards and look at the reef a meter or so ahead of you and this should keep your snorkel upright.

How to Move Around While Snorkeling

Once you have mastered that positioning, you should now be able to see that you can float face down in the water and breathe. You won’t need to kick to stay up and you can relax, float and save energy. If you want to move around you will need to use either your arms or legs or both. If you are not wearing fins, then you can just swim. If you are wearing fins, then keep them below the water.

You can either flutter kick or frog kick; for the former to ensure the best propulsion make sure the kicking motion comes from your hips and not your knees. Your legs are stronger than your arms, so there is no need to use your arms if you have fins on.

Types of Snorkeling

Surface Snorkeling

1. Surface Snorkeling

A lot of people are happy to snorkel on the surface of the water and experience the underwater world from a comfortable distance. There is nothing wrong in this and is in fact the mainstay of a lot of family snorkeling experiences. 

In this instance we recommend full face snorkel masks. If you haven’t tried these yet, you’re in for a real treat. Head on over to our snorkel gear review to learn more about this.

Snorkeling in deep water

2. Snorkeling in Deep Water

Snorkeling in deeper waters is quite a different experience. Even if you’re just snorkeling on the surface, the sensation is completely different. When you first look down into the depths and the sunlight rays converge around you and disappear into the deep, dark ocean, it can be quite overwhelming.

My first deep water snorkeling experience was off a boat, miles offshore in the middle of the ocean. That first look down into nothingness literally takes your breath away. It’s awe-inspiring.

Your opportunity to meet large marine life is far greater and this too can be a moving and sometimes life-changing  experience.

Snorkeling on wrecks

3. Snorkel Diving / Snorkeling Under the Surface

Some are not satisfied with snorkeling on the surface, they have to be closer to the action. For this you need to be able to snorkel dive.

There are lots of things that are shallow enough to snorkel dive to comfortably, including reefs and some wrecks.

Obviously, care should be taken at all times, see our safety section below.

In this instance we do not recommend full face snorkel masks and we explain the very good reason why in our article. Here we recommend a standard snorkel and mask set up.

How to Dive Down When Snorkeling

Sometimes you want to have a closer look at the reef and to do this you will need to dive underwater. When done correctly this is effortless. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the following technique and so their attempt is uncoordinated. Most people take a big gulp of air and attempt to dive down by pulling like crazy with their arms and thrashing wildly with their legs. Sadly, this effort, almost instantly, uses all the oxygen that they’ve just inhaled and they have to resurface.

The following snorkel dive technique, requires little effort and will have you looking like a pro and enjoying the underwater world in no time.

How to Snorkel Dive

Easy technique to learn 30 minutes

Snorkel Dive Stage 1


Starting from lying flat on the surface kick to get some forward but horizontal momentum.

Snorkel Dive Stage 2


Allow your arms to hang down, 90 degress to your body.

Snorkel Dive Stage 3


When you are ready bend forward from the waist down into the water, so that your arms and torso are now aligned and pointing downward. Your torso and legs are now at 90 degrees.

Snorkel Dive Stage 4


Now flick your legs up as high as you can so that you are now completely straight but pointing down like you are trying to do a handstand. Your legs are heavy and will push your torso down.
It’s this weight, and vertical positioning, that will make the biggest difference to your dives fluidity. Of course, you can help by swimming down with your arms, and once your feet are submerged, you can kick with your legs, but your body position is key.

You’ll be amazed at just how easy this is, and will make a huge difference to your snorkeling experience.

To stay safe make sure that you dive in a team of two. One of you stays on the surface watching the other and then switch. Ideally, take a float with you that acts as a marker but also so that you can rest after your dive.

Holding Your Breath While Snorkeling

Obviously, you need to hold your breath while underwater and this will limit your dive time. You can extend your time a little by taking two or three relaxed but deep breaths before your last one which you hold. When you surface, allow yourself time to recover before your next dive. Don’t dive if you feel faint or dizzy.

How to Relieve Ear Pressure While Snorkeling

Depending on the depth you reach you might feel pressure on your ears. To relieve this, you need to pop your ears much the same as you would in an airplane. To do this hold your nose closed and gently blow against it. Do not do this forcefully, if you can’t manage it easily and gently then stay shallower. It’s not easy in a head down position particularly if you have never tried before. Importantly, don’t keep going deeper and making your ears hurt.

How to Surface Properly During a Snorkel Dive

When you feel the need to surface make sure that you swim up while rotating around so that you can see the surface from all directions. Have one hand raised like superman so that it will protect your head. If you tip your head slightly back and exhale during your last meter of ascent, you should find the air clears your snorkel so that you can rest and breathe normally on the surface without lifting your head or kicking up. If your snorkel has a self-drain, then this technique may not be as effective as blast clearing on the surface.

How to Stay Safe When Snorkeling

  • Always go with a buddy and let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back. That way you have someone on hand to help and someone who will be aware that you are missing.
  • In some locations, you will need a take a surface marker so that boats can easily see where you are. There are markers available that also act as a float and can carry some equipment too or water and snacks.
  • Keep looking up to check where you are. Wind, current and sheer enjoyment can quickly make you lose track of where you are; you need to make sure that you have the energy to get back.
  • If you are not used to being in the water, wear a life jacket or pfd. There is no shame in this; it will keep you safe and comfortable and allow you to conserve energy and relax and enjoy the experience.
  • It’s most likely that you will be snorkelling in hot climates and while it is tempting just to wear your swimsuit the chances that you will get sunburn are very high. At the very minimum wear a rash vest which is like a t-shirt but designed for use in the water. Get one that covers you to your wrists.
  • Ideally wear board shorts too; a sunburnt bum is not pleasant! The best protection is a skin suit which is like a very thin wetsuit. You can, of course, smother yourself in sun cream, but this is toxic for the ocean, it’s far better to cover up.
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