How To Snorkel Safely
While snorkeling offers an amazing view of the underwater world below the waters surface, there are a few basis tips for beginners to ensure you have a positive and enjoyable experience. Learning to snorkel is very easy for everyone, if you follow our How To Snorkel Safely guide. These tips help you avoid poor first time experiences and overcome the initial fears. Here are our ten tips for beginner snorkelers.
1) Snorkeling begins with picking the right snorkeling dive site for your abilities and the water conditions. Learn as much as possible about the dive site before heading there. Check the surf forecast in advance, and contact local dive shops to learn about the current conditions at the site. Don't be afraid to choose an alternate site if the conditions warrant. Generally, it is best to plan to snorkel in the morning and near low tide. A morning snorkeling dive usually offers calmer winds and surf, while lower tides offer reefs closer to the surface to observe. If the dive site has a sandy bottom, any surf will reduce visibility greatly.
2) When you arrive at the dive site, before you even get your snorkel gear ready, observe the wave patterns and currents for at least ten minutes before entering the water. Study the cycles and water for drifting objects. If the waves are higher or the currents are stronger than you are comfortable with, consider snorkeling another day or at a more protected dive site. Also, keep an eye out for boat traffic in the dive zone to determine if using a diver-down flag is prudent. Boats seem to rarely watch for snorkelers in the water.
3) Proper gear can make or break your snorkeling dive. Before entering the water, try on the mask and adjust the straps to make sure the fit is snug. Snorkel masks come in a variety of sizes and there is no one-size fits all. You should be able to breath in through your nose and the mask should stick tighter to your face without air leakage. If you have facial hair, consider using petroleum jelly on the hair to prevent mask leakage. Remove the mask and rub defog/anti-fog drops onto the lenses. Once you put on the mask and get in the water, do not take the mask off in order to prevent fogging.
Make sure to try blowing into the snorkel to ensure it is free and clear. Snorkels come in various lengths and diameters along with different size mouth-pieces. The mouth-piece should fit comfortably. Adults should use longer tubes with larger diameters. Always use a dry snorkel with a splash guard that has a valve on top to prevent water from coming in the top and also has a blow valve on the bottom to purge water out. Be aware that most rental gear and dive boat gear are open-tube wet-snorkels that can be challenging to use and result in a poor experience.
Try on the fins and adjust the straps to make sure they fit comfortably. Snorkel fins come in different sizes and there is no one-size fits all. They also come in different lengths and long fins require much more energy to use. Be aware that most rental gear and dive boat gear are long fins and result in a poor experience.
4) First time snorkelers should always start in a pool and then progress to a beach-accessed dive site in calm water. Never start with an open water boat-accessed snorkeling dive, which tends to have less calm, colder and deeper water where you can not stand up. Before entering water, adjust all the straps on dry land well in advance. Near the water, strap the mask and snorkel around your forehead, and carry your fins into the waist deep water. Once in the water, put on the fins. Don't worry about sand in the fins since, once your are snorkeling, you can reach back to clear the sand. After the fins are on, rinse your mask once or twice, and then place on your face along with the snorkel in your mouth. If the mask is on and clear, keep it on. Try not to take it off during your entire dive to prevent fogging. If there is any extra water in your snorkel, try saying the word "two" forcefully to clear the tube.
5) Start swimming and breathe slowly/normally. Breathing through a snorkel is NOT the same as regular breathing. The snorkel tube extends your normal airway with a large dead space. This dead space contains your exhaled carbon dioxide. It takes long, slow, deep rhythmic breaths to clear the dead space and get to that fresh oxygen above the water. Rapid, shallow breaths result in the aspiration of the exhaled carbon dioxide over and over, which results in confusion and distress. In addition, with rapid, shallow breaths, you will have less lung capacity that is required to clear the snorkel tube of water should any get in. If water gets into the snorkel, blow out sharply saying the word "two" forcefully to clear the tube. Make sure to swim slowly to avoid exhaustion, which is a common problem. Breath slowly and deeply to help stay calm and relax. The fins should always be a foot or two below the water surface to keep you balanced and conserve energy while flutter kicking slowly from the hip.
6) Always snorkel with a buddy in case there is trouble. Check on your buddy regularly and do not get too far apart. Snorkeling with a dive whistle can be helpful to alert your buddy or assistance from shore/boat.
7) Make sure to return to shore or the boat well prior to exhausting. If you are on a boat dive, do not underestimate how much energy it may take to return to the boat since you may be floating with a current. Always keep an eye on the shore or boat to gauge the currents. After entering the water and traveling about 25 feet, turn around and test the energy required to snorkel back to the entry point. Return to shore or the boat when you sense you've used about two-thirds of your energy.
8) Never touch or stand on coral. It may look dead, but it's really alive, breaks easily and grows very, very slowly. In addition, there is a thin film of protective mucus on the coral surface that can be easily wiped away exposing it to diseases. Do not feed ever fish or try to touch them. Feeding them changes their behavior and food affects their diet. Feeding fish to get that perfect underwater photo never looks quite natural.
9) If you are planning a boat-accessed snorkeling dive tour, keep in mind that there is no standard snorkeling guide certification. Typically, guides are not required to even have Red Cross water-safety or lifeguard training. There are no standards for teaching the basics of using a mask, snorkel and fins. For your safety and best experience, do not rely on the boat tour staff and make sure to learn/practice on your own with your own gear prior to the trip. A boat tour is not the place to learn to snorkel, regardless of their advertisement that no-experience-is-required.
10) After your snorkeling dive, make sure to rinse your gear with fresh water thoroughly and shake dry. At the end of your snorkeling trip or once a week, consider soaking the mask and snorkel in a sanitizing solution.
11) Always Use Coral & Fish Friendly Sunscreens. With all the snorkelers at the popular snorkeling spots, the chemicals coming off the sunscreen on their bodies can adversely affect the health of the coral and the marine life. It is very, very important to use a biodegradable sunscreen that is labeled both reef-safe and fish-safe. To do your part to protect the reef and fish, always avoid sunscreens with any of the following ingredients: zinc oxide, octyl methoxycinnamate, octinoxate, octocylene, microbeads, oxybenzone, cyclomethicone, cyclopentasioxane and formaldehyde.