How to Snorkel – A Beginner’s Guide to Snorkeling

The underwater world is just stunning, full of colorful fishes, corals of different shapes and other mesmerizing sea creatures. It is a submarine paradise indeed. One way of exploring it is by snorkeling.

Table of Content

  1. What is Snorkeling?
  2. Top Tips for Snorkeling
  3. Best Places to Go Snorkeling
  4. Snorkeling Equipment
  5. FAQs

Snorkeling is one of the best water activities for adults and kids alike. It’s not only fun but rewarding as well. Every snorkeling trip can be a learning experience as you get up close and learn more about the magnificent sea creatures.

There are many other reasons why you should try snorkeling. Compared to scuba diving, it doesn’t need expensive equipment. Also, it is easy to learn as it doesn’t require weeks of training.

Most importantly, snorkeling is good for you. It connects you with nature, it keeps you fit and it gives you pure entertainment.

Not an expert swimmer? Don’t worry, you can still snorkel. But just like with any water activities, you’ll get the most of your snorkeling trip if you know the basics.

What is Snorkeling?

We often hear this familiar word, but what do you know about snorkeling?

Snorkeling is swimming through or on the water while wearing special gear such as a snorkel mask, snorkel tube and fins.

The snorkel mask allows you to clearly see and explore underwater scenery while the snorkel tube allows you to breathe. The swim fins are a good add-on as they help you easily propel and move with less effort.

Top Tips for Snorkeling

The great thing about snorkeling is that it doesn’t have complicated rules. However, there are tips that can help you have a better and safer experience:

1. Get the right snorkeling equipment before your trip

Oftentimes, snorkeling tours rent equipment so that you don’t have to bring your own. While this is okay, make sure to do an equipment check before your actual trip. This will ensure that they fit and you feel comfortable using them.

Alternatively, you may consider bringing your own mask, tube, and fin. The best snorkeling equipment may cost you a significant amount of money but they are a good investment especially if you are considering making snorkeling a regular activity.

2. Practice sessions help you gain confidence

If you are a first-timer and you have the tendency to panic, it’s a good idea to have practice sessions in shallow water before going into a deeper snorkeling spot.

Do a test run until you feel comfortable breathing with a snorkel.  Learn some breathing exercises too to help you stay underwater longer. Once you feel comfortable and confident, you are ready to go out into the ocean.

3. Choose a safe location

If you are a newbie, choose a place with calm waters. Strong or changing currents, riptides, and other unexpected weather patterns can easily turn your adventure into a dangerous situation.

For this reason, it is important to choose a safe snorkeling spot that you are familiar with. If you love to travel and explore new snorkeling locations, make it a habit to learn more about where you are snorkeling.

Get more information about its terrain, current, the deepness of the water, possible risks and things to watch out for in the area. Awareness of your surroundings is key to staying safe and getting the best experience.

4. Always have a buddy

Snorkeling is considered a buddy sport. Most accidents occur to people who go snorkeling alone in an unfamiliar location. It’s always good to have a buddy and stick with your buddy for safety purposes. If you get into trouble, someone can quickly help you.

5. Respect the marine life

As they say, you are free to appreciate but do not touch, harass or damage any marine life. Keep in mind that some of these creatures are very fragile such that a simple touch can damage them.

As a rule of thumb, you are free to look and photograph but no touching. Consider yourself as an audience to the vast breathtaking spectacle. Be mindful as well where your fins are kicking, making sure they will not touch or scare the aquatic life.

6. Stay calm and glide smoothly

Once you are in the water, try your best to stay calm. Snorkeling is a water activity that you should do gently and slowly. Avoid flailing, and kicking your feet out of the water as doing these will scare the fish and other sea creatures away. Instead, glide smoothly when moving around.

One of the biggest challenges for those who are new to this activity is trusting their snorkel while maintaining normal breathing. You may find it unnatural to have your face in the water but you’ll get used to it.

The most important thing to remember is to stay calm and don’t panic. If you panic, it will affect your breathing which in turn could lead to drowning.

7. Enjoy the experience

The most important tip for snorkelers is to enjoy the experience. Each snorkeling session is a different experience that you need to enjoy.

If you have the best equipment and you come prepared, there is nothing left to do but savor the moment, take beautiful photos and enjoy your spectacular underwater experience.

Best Places to Go Snorkeling

The best spots are warm and temperate seas with no big waves, strong currents or rip tides. Of course, the water should be translucent so you can see what’s under it. The best place is also where there are a vibrant marine life, colorful coral reefs, and rich biodiversity.

Other popular spots include lagoons, mangroves, underwater caves, and even rivers.  In the US, these are some of the best places where you can go snorkeling:

1. Block Island

If you fancy going to a quiet and stunning beach and also spend time snorkeling, then Block Island is one good place to go. It is located south of mainland Rhode Island and you can reach it via a 45-minute ferry ride.

This island is small, measuring just 21 square miles. Nicknamed, the “Bermuda of the north,” this island is popular with tourists due to its white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. It is also one of the best destinations where you can take your snorkeling gear.

The short continental shelf in Block Island as well as the abundance of reefs that shelter diverse marine life ensures a great experience. However, the main drawback of this place is its cold water temperature. The ideal time to go snorkeling in Block Island is in the summer until October.

2. Lover’s Cove in Santa Catalina Island

If you are in California, don’t miss visiting this place for a memorable snorkeling trip. Santa Catalina Island is about 26 miles off the coast of Long Beach in California. It is home to Lover’s Cove where you can see a unique ecosystem you’ll rarely find in other parts of the country.

The Lover’s Cove boasts of kelp forests that create a unique mesmerizing landscape. It also hosts the bizarre mola, one of the heaviest bony fishes in the world which can grow to more than 2,000 pounds. The cove is also home to green moray eels, sea bass, leopard sharks and other colorful fish.

The water temperature in this snorkeling location is cool to cold throughout the year, so it’s recommended to use a wetsuit.

3. Buck Island Reef in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

The Buck Island Reef is a tiny, uninhabited dot of land located less than two miles off the coast of St. Croix. Adjacent to the island is 18,839 acres of underwater park that is considered to be one of the best snorkeling destinations in the Caribbean.

What’s great about this snorkeling spot is that it has a marked underwater trail to help you easily explore the place. The coral reef under the water is home to 250 species of fish and marine life which include sharks, eagle rays and leatherback turtles.

4. Crystal River, Florida

Would you like to experience swimming with manatees? They may be large in size but these plant-eating sea cows are peaceful, and swimming up close with them is definitely an experience you should try.

During winter, at Crystal River on Florida’s gulf coast, you’ll find the world’s largest population of manatees. Snorkeling with manatees is one of the popular activities in this area. Aside from that, you can also take a river adventure that allows you to see more wildlife and birds in their natural habitat.

5. La Jolla, California

Another wonderful snorkeling experience is waiting for you at La Jolla Shores in San Diego, California. This place’s main attraction is leopard sharks.

Leopard sharks are a small species of sharks that are harmless to humans. If you go snorkeling at the right time, which is between May and October, you’d be lucky to swim with dozens of leopard sharks as well as different species of rays.

Snorkeling Equipment

You can’t go snorkeling without the right gear. Here are some of the basic snorkeling gear that you need:

Mask

A snorkel or diving mask is a must because you can’t clearly see what’s in there unless you are wearing one. A mask allows you to open your eyes while snorkeling, protecting them from the water.

When choosing a mask, get one that fits your face perfectly and you’ll forget you are wearing it. And there is no better way to know for sure that a mask fits you well than by trying it on.

Apart from the fit, the best snorkeling mask gives you a good peripheral vision and has a wide skirt with low volume and no fog lens.

Snorkel

A snorkel tube is what helps you breathe underwater. There are different types of snorkels to choose from including full-faced, regular and dry snorkels. Each of these designs has its pros and cons and it’s good to check them out to know which one is suitable for your needs.

Fins

While you may still be able to go snorkeling without fins, they give you better control and extra propulsion when you move. Fins help you swim faster with less effort.

Wetsuits

Wetsuits are optional gear but you’ll find them really helpful especially when snorkeling in cooler waters. Some wetsuits do not just give you insulation but they work to protect you from harsh exposure under the sun, or from corals if you accidentally brush up against them.

FAQs

How do you breathe through a snorkel?

There are two basic ways to breathe through a snorkel and in both ways, the air intake passes through the snorkel pipe. The variation in breathing has more to do with exhaling or blowing the air out of your lungs.

When you exhale through your nose, the air doesn’t go back to the snorkel pipe but into the water. This ensures a continued supply of oxygen in the pipe for you to breathe in.

It may take some time for you to feel comfortable to inhale and exhale using the two different parts. At first, you may feel like you are losing all your air and you need to inhale more quickly. But once you get used to it, you’ll be able to breathe more naturally.

The other method of exhaling is through your mouth. With this type of breathing, you are sending back the excess carbon dioxide (CO2) into the pipe, mixing with your supply of fresh air.

Over time, the air in the pipe will have more CO2 than oxygen which will make it difficult to breathe. This means that you have to properly purge the air out just as you stroke. Think of hypoxic breathing in swimming where you breathe every certain number of strokes for a certain distance.

It may take some practice for you to get used to hypoxic breathing. During training, you can add a cardio cap on top of the snorkel tube. The purpose of this attachment is to restrict the airflow into the tube, increasing your muscles’ ability to work better when there are low levels of oxygen.

Which one is better?

This really depends on what’s more comfortable for you. If you do not want to be bothered into getting an oxygen debt, then you can exhale through your nose.

However, if you are not comfortable with exhaling through your nose or it is causing you some issues, then try the other technique.

Ideally, you should be able to use both techniques, but it may take time and practice to do so.

How Does a Snorkel Work under Water?

The basic function of a snorkel is to help you breathe while your head is submerged underwater. But knowing a bit more about how they work can help you improve your confidence and overall snorkeling experience.

Moreover, understanding how each part of the snorkel functions allows you to identify what is causing an issue if there’s any with your snorkel. How a snorkel works slightly differs depending on its design.

Basic J snorkels – This type of snorkel is not only used by snorkelers but it is also popularly used by scuba divers and freedivers. It has one-way purge valves that allow you to easily clear the air and floor valves that prevent the water from entering into the snorkel.

Classic snorkels – The classic snorkels are a J-shaped tube with a mouthpiece on the other end. It is attached to the mask using a clip or a fixture, with the mouthpiece sitting on the side of the head and face. You need to make some adjustments to the snorkel to make sure that the mouthpiece is the same level as your mouth.

If you are using a classic snorkel, you need to avoid breathing through your nose. With this design, you have to breathe in through your mouth. Another important thing to remember is when using a classic snorkel, you have to keep the top of the tube above the water to keep the water out.

Dry snorkels – in recent years, there has been an increasing popularity of dry snorkels. Unlike its predecessors, this type of snorkel is designed to stop water from getting into the tube. At its tip, it has a flotation device that works as a one-way valve.

Can you drown while snorkeling? 

Yes, you can drown even if you are wearing the right gear. As long as you are in the water, that risk is always there. You are at risk of drowning if you easily panic.

That’s why we mentioned in our tips above that it’s important to always stay calm even if you are experiencing issues with your snorkel.

Another possible reason that could put you at risk of drowning is when you did not do your assignment of checking vital information about your snorkeling spot such us the potential of riptides in the area or strong currents that could carry you away from where you should be.

Conclusion

Snorkeling is pure fun if you have the right equipment and when done in the right way. We have discussed above how you can try this activity even if you are not an expert swimmer as long as you feel confident in the water.

It’s also important that you have the right equipment to use which include a mask, snorkel, fins, and wetsuits. If you are new to snorkeling, you may consider having basic training first before going to a snorkeling spot.

Training sessions can help you practice breathing, finning, and swimming techniques. Moreover, training sessions are beneficial in developing your confidence in the water.

If you are not confident in the water, you are not yet ready to go snorkeling. You need that confidence to stay calm and composed even under difficult situations. If you panic, you are putting yourself at risk of drowning.

As with any other water activity, there are tips that can help make your snorkeling experience fun and safe. We listed them for your reference.

Additionally, if you aren’t sure about where you are heading on your first or nth time snorkeling adventure, please check our list of some of the nicest spots to visit.

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