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 snorkeling tips and techniques will show you how to go from a snorkeling beginner to a snorkeling pro.
Tips on How to Start Snorkeling
One of the first and simplest snorkeling tips is to ensure that your snorkel 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.
How does a Snorkel Work?
It’s a question that is often asked. Basically, the snorkel works like a tube placed in the water with one end of it above the surface with the other end under the water’s surface and taken into your mouth. This allows you to breathe while your face is submerged and looking down into the water below.
It’s a very simple principle that has developed over the years, with snorkels advancing in styles to make the sport of snorkeling a little more comfortable.
But what are these advancements and how many types of snorkels are there? Basically, there are three different types of snorkels:
Types of Snorkels
Wet snorkels are the “original” style of snorkel, which is simply a J-shaped tube with a mouthpiece. These are the least popular snorkels nowadays but are still preferred by many experienced snorkelers due to their unfussy design and zero buoyancy when diving under the surface. Unlike its Dry and Semi-dry counterparts, the wet snorkel has no splash guard and this allows water to easily enter the top of the snorkel in choppy ocean conditions.
An experienced snorkeler is used to this and simply exhales hard through the mouthpiece to jettison any water that has spilled into the snorkel.
Semi-dry snorkels offer several benefits over wet snorkels. At the top of the snorkel, there is a splash guard which prevents a lot of water splashes (but not all) from entering the tube. At the bottom of the snorkel, under the mouthpiece, there is a purge valve that allows for the purging of water when drops manage to make their way into the tube.
Also, many semi-dry snorkels have a corrugated section of the tube between the mouthpiece and the middle of the snorkel. This enables flexibility and allows for a more comfortable fit for each individual.
Dry snorkels are perfect for beginners as the top of the snorkel is fitted with a valve at the top that almost eliminates water leaks. They have the same lower purge valve and most also have a corrugated flexible section.
It’s worth noting though that these snorkels retain a degree of buoyancy when underwater due to their ability to close when submerged. This makes them less desirable to scuba divers, freedivers, and very experienced snorkelers.
Parts of a Snorkel
- Purge Valve (on some models)
- Snorkel Mouthpiece
- Mask Skirt
- Mask Lens
- Mask Frame
- Snorkel Splash Guard
Snorkel Gear Review
Read our ultimate guide to snorkeling gear to help you make an educated investment
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 and 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 toward the water.
if you look directly ahead, the snorkel will tilt back and allow water in more easily.
The image above shows that if you keep your head tilted upwards a little and look at the reef a meter or so ahead of you, this should keep your snorkel more upright and less prone to water getting in at the top.
How to prevent your mask from fogging
There are a number of things that you can do to the mask lens to help prevent fogging, including adding a drop of anti-fog solution to the lens before you put on your mask. A good anti-fogging solution is the Optix 55 Anti-Fog spray.
You can always just spit on the lens before you put on your mask. The saliva will act as a natural anti-fog agent and also make it easier to see clearly underwater for longer periods of time.
How to expel water from your mask while snorkeling?
This is a technique that’s taught to scuba divers so it’s a good well-proven technique. Simply press the top of your mask frame with your forefinger and thumb, or palm, this keeps the upper part of your mask sealed against your forehead. Then blow air firmly down through your nose. This air fills your mask and forces the water out. This can be done whether you are in or out of the water
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
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 with 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.
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.
3. Snorkel Diving / Snorkeling Under Water
Some are not satisfied with snorkeling on the surface, they have to be closer to the action. If you want to snorkel underwater you need to be able to snorkel dive.
There are lots of things that are shallow enough to snorkel dive 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 setup.
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 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 degrees 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 the 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 it 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
The following snorkeling tips on safety are extremely important, it goes without saying that if you’re hiring your snorkeling gear, you must do a thorough equipment check. If you have your own snorkeling mask and fins you should conduct regular equipment checks.
- 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 snorkeling in hot climates and while it is tempting just to wear your swimsuit the chances that you will get sunburned 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, so it’s far better to cover up.
Best Places to Snorkel
So you’ve had your fill of snorkeling tips and you want to put your newfound snorkeling skills to the test. Well, there are so many amazing places in the world to snorkel, that it can be difficult to choose which ones you want to visit. Here are 5 of the best places in the world where you can snorkel with sea life and enjoy some of the most beautiful underwater snorkeling views on Earth.
The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef – Queensland, Australia: Snorkelers will enjoy an astonishing array of marine life including sea turtles, dolphins, and many varieties of fish on this reef. It’s one of the world’s most accessible snorkeling destinations since it can be accessed by boat from any of the coastal towns or cities along Australia’s east coast.
Some of our favorite spots are Heron Island, Lady Elliot Island, and Osprey Reef. Heron Island has the benefit of being a resort island, so snorkelers can enjoy all-inclusive packages that include accommodation and access to this incredible site. On Lady Elliot Island you’ll encounter a true slice of paradise. Osprey Reef is a coral cay with many varieties of marine life including shoaling pelagics such as barracuda, mackerels, and tuna; reef fish like black-tip sharks, stingrays, and batfish; beautiful nudibranchs (soft corals), and sponges.
The Cayman Islands are located in the Caribbean Sea between Cuba and Mexico. These islands feature reefs and islets among the most biodiverse on earth.
One of the more popular Cayman Islands is Caymen Brac, with its famous white sandy beaches and marine life such as eels, turtles, and stingrays. The island’s west coast features incredible views of sea-level caves as well as Mudslide Reef – one of the best spots for snorkelers to explore around Grand Caymans.
Belize’s Lighthouse Reef Atoll & Great Blue Hole
The Lighthouse Reef Atoll in Belize has a long history of being an excellent place to snorkel, with clear water and plenty of marine life. At this site, you’ll find the protected Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System – which is one-third larger than Australia’s Great Barrier Reef system.
If you have never experienced the Great Blue Hole, It’s high time you did. Belize’s most popular snorkel site, this natural wonder was put on the map by Jacques Cousteau in 1971 as one of the best places in the world to explore and see underwater life up close in the most awe-inspiring surroundings
One of the most famous of the archipelago of islands in the Indian Ocean, The Maldives is a tropical paradise.
Snorkelers can access some of the world’s best coral reefs that inhabit these picturesque lagoons and resorts, including Maafushi Island Resort (a PADI Five Star Dive Center) and Kuramathi Island Resort where you’ll be snorkeling in water so clear it will make your heart skip a beat.
The Maldives has one central atoll which makes for quick flights between its many different island groups. It’s also easy to get around on land with distances being short and without too much need for transportation; perfect if you’re looking to do more than just snorkel!
There’s a great deal of history in the Galapagos Islands, and it’s not just because of its ties with Charles Darwin.
The archipelago is home to amazing wildlife including some big critters; you’ll find albatrosses on Floreana Island, sea lions, and fur seals at Seymour Norte National Park as well as turtles nesting along the beaches.
Visitors can snorkel near black coral trees or white marine life that live among fields of red algae on their way to exotic animal sightings like penguins (on Bartolome), flamingos (at nearby Pinta), or even giant tortoises! Snorkeling here means encountering sharks, rays, and other underwater wildlife.
Frequently asked questions
Author – Ayesha
Ayesha is a very experienced dive instructor with a passion for travel, health, and wellness.