Snorkeling is a water-based activity almost anyone can do. It doesn’t require any special abilities or training. In shallow, well-protected waters, it doesn’t even require the ability to swim. (Though, it does help!)
For the most part, if you can breathe, you can snorkel.
Just because snorkeling is easy, though, doesn’t mean it can’t be dangerous. Follow these beginner’s tips (or reminders for those who haven’t been in the water for a while) to ensure your snorkeling trip is a safe and fulfilling one.
1. Gear up for comfort, safety, and ease.
Once upon a time, there was only one type of snorkel – the wet snorkel. Wet snorkels, which are still popular, allow water to fill the air tube every time a snorkeler dives underwater (or when a big wave comes by).
While a wet snorkel does have its advantages for experienced snorkelers, there is no reason for anyone to start out using one.
A dry snorkel is a far better choice for newbie snorkelers. Dry snorkels prevent water from filling the tube during dives, making it less likely that a snorkeler will have to “clear” water from the tube.
Choosing a dry snorkel allows you to focus less on your breathing and more on your surroundings.
A rash guard serves two main purposes while snorkeling. It protects the backside of your upper body, which gets a lot of sun exposure, and it keeps you warm in colder waters.
The use of a rash guard also prevents you from having to wear sunscreen, which can contaminate sea waters and damage reefs.
If you’re not a good floater or swimmer, absolutely wear a personal flotation device while snorkeling.
Not only could a PFD save your life if you get too tired or overanxious, it will allow you to actually enjoy the experience and not have to focus on staying afloat.
Whatever equipment you wear for snorkeling, make sure it’s properly fitted. The placement of a snorkel on your head isn’t exactly natural or intuitive. If you have never used a snorkel, mask, and fins before, let someone help you fit and place your equipment. It’s simply not worth the risk of getting it wrong.
Just because snorkeling isn’t difficult to do or learn doesn’t mean it doesn’t require a little breaking in.
Before you attempt to snorkel spots with waves and currents, get some practice in calmer water. This could be a pool, a lake, or a shallow cove.
Practice keeping your head down in the water for minutes at a time and breathing through the snorkel without coming up for air.
Practice diving to get a feel for how your snorkel handles going below the water.
Let your snorkel take in some water, and practice clearing water from the tube by blowing gently into the mouthpiece. Nothing causes more new snorkeler panic than getting water in one’s snorkel.
Note: A dry snorkel may prevent any intake of water. And, if so, that’s a good thing. However, dry snorkels can fail, which makes clearing an important snorkel skill to learn no matter what type of snorkel you’re using.
Don’t let going on a snorkeling tour serve as a a stand-in for practicing with a snorkel. Yes, tour operators will teach you the basics of using a snorkel. But snorkeling takes some practice. You’ll have a better time on the tour if you put some effort in with a snorkel in advance.
3. Opt for a popular snorkeling spot.
Popular snorkeling spots are popular snorkeling spots for a reason. The waters are typically calm, often shallow, and boats and other watercraft tend to stay out of them.
If you’re new to snorkeling, pick the calmest spot you can find to start. If you’re not sure if a spot is calm, look around. Kids are a really good indicator of calm snorkeling spots. If you see a lot of little snorkelers or swimmers, you’re probably in the right place.
Using a snorkel is simple. You just place it in your mouth and breathe.
Getting used to breathing through a snorkel is considerably more difficult. The key to using a snorkel in the water is to relax and realize you are, in fact, getting plenty of air and can breathe quite well, even in the ocean.
When you’re snorkeling, take deep breaths and focus on what you’re seeing, instead of your breathing. Deep breaths will help you stay calm and keep you buoyant in the water.
5. Don’t relax too much.
While it’s important to be relaxed while snorkeling (hey, we want you to have a good time), it’s equally important not to be too relaxed.
When snorkeling, your eyes are focused underwater, which can make you much less aware of what’s going on above and around you.
To be safe while snorkeling, there are three main things you need to pay attention to:
- Who and what is around you
- Where your hands and feet are
- How you feel
Who and What is Around You
While good snorkeling spots don’t typically share space with watercraft, they do typically share space with swimmers and sometimes stand up paddle boarders.
Being aware of who is where in the water can keep you from swimming into someone or getting beaned in the head with a paddle.
This is easily accomplished by just looking up and around every few minutes.
Luckily, run-ins with other people are very rare causes of snorkeler injury.
Where Your Hands and Feet Are
While snorkeling, you are much more likely to injure yourself!
The most common injuries for snorkelers are cuts/punctures and stings.
Coral is sharp and marine life is protective of itself. If you step on or swim too close to coral, you can easily get cut.
If you get too close to fish or step carelessly, you may find yourself nursing a sting or having the spine of a sea urchin pulled from your foot.
Being conscious of where your body is in the water can not only prevent harm to you, it can also prevent harm to the environment.
Marine life is fragile and much of it is endangered. Coral suffers damage when touched by humans. Marine animals are prone to anxiety and discomfort when approached.
Snorkeling is about observing. Do not touch anything. Do not take anything. Unless you see a plastic bottle or a broken toaster. By all means, if you find trash in an ocean or lake, take it with you.
How You Feel
Three major factors aid in exhaustion while snorkeling:
- Swimming (even without the use of your arms) which expends considerable energy
- The water temperature
- Sun exposure
Swimming (and snorkeling by extension) is an incredible calorie-burner. Even just treading water burns over three calories per minute.
Cold water saps the heat from your body, which requires even more energy as the body performs automatic functions to warm itself up. And most oceans and lakes are cold. Unless you’re somewhere like Hawaii or even closer to the equator, you can assume the temperature of the water will have some impact on you.
You can also assume anywhere good for snorkeling will have substantial sun. Sun exposure increases our body temperature, which, in turn, requires work from our body to cool down.
Basically, all things combined, snorkeling can tucker you out. Being aware of how you feel is the most vital thing you can do to stay safe in the water.
When new snorkelers hit the water, they have a tendency to move around more than necessary, searching for things in reefs and on the ocean floor.
You will see far more by remaining still. Especially in areas where sea life congregates (like near reefs and rock formations).
When you do want to move, use your legs and fins, not your arms. Swimming with your arms will quickly tire you out and cut your snorkeling session short.
To “swim” while snorkeling, keep your arms by your sides and kick gently with your legs. You’ll be surprised at your ability to move arms-free with very little effort.
7. Don’t snorkel alone.
Perhaps the most important rule of snorkeling: Never snorkel alone.
Snorkeling is exhausting, and it largely takes place in open water. In major snorkeling locations, more people die while snorkeling than while swimming.
Knowing your limitations, and heeding them, is essential.
So is having back-up.
A lot of things can happen when you snorkel. You can get injured, you can get snagged underwater, you can get a cramp, you can take in water, and any of these things might lead to panic.
Having a snorkel partner who can help you safely back to shore or go for help is a smart precaution every snorkeler should take, regardless of skill level.