Written by James Cooper
Last Updated

What is snorkeling?

The method of swimming through water using a face mask and a tube for breathing is commonly known as snorkeling and is used commonly to explore underwater wildlife without the need for all of the equipment associated with diving. 

Other equipment which might be used include snorkeling fins and if it’s cold water, then a snorkeling wetsuit might also be required, but otherwise it’s a very easy activity to undertake with just the essential snorkeling gear

It’s a very popular activity in tropical areas where anyone can spend time underwater viewing fish, without even the need to be an expert swimmer in most cases. It is also used by divers when they are at surface level and for underwater sports. 

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What is snorkeling
How do snorkels work?

For snorkelling there are really three main parts to the required equipment to enable you to make the most of the amazing underwater world that is available to you, and they include a mask, a snorkel tube and also swimming fins or flippers.

You need to know how the equipment works and how to use it properly before venturing into the water; otherwise it could be potentially dangerous and lead to complications under the water, which is the last thing you want. 

You don’t need to have special training to use a snorkel but it helps to understand how they work first.  And the good news is, it’s nowhere near as complicated as professional scuba diving equipment. 

The snorkel itself is the name given to the breathing tube, which is usually made out of either rubber, or plastic. It tends to be roughly a foot long and around an inch wide. At one end there will be a j-shaped mouthpiece. 

It might be tempting to try to buy a longer tube, to swim deeper, but this just causes breathing problems so is not advisable. There will be a clip at the same end as the mouth piece, which allows you to attach it to your mask. 

It is vital to make sure there is no loose fitting when the mask is attached to the snorkel as you don’t want any gaps or areas where water could leak into the tube as this could be disastrous. The clip needs to be secure. 

You can buy an integrated mask and snorkel which will provide added security in terms of the efficiency, however, if  you want to dive down to lower depths, you will need your snorkel to be detachable. 

If you opt for integrated equipment you will be limited to snorkeling on the surface level of the water, so it depends what level you are when it comes to confidence and ability. But if you do wish to go deeper you will need an independent snorkel.

How do snorkels work?
How to use a snorkel

It’s really important to use your snorkel properly but it really is a simple piece of equipment as long as you follow the key guidelines to making sure it is correctly fitted. Once it’s all fitting you snugly that’s all there is to it. 

You need to make sure your mask fits tightly but comfortably over your face. You don’t want the mask to be too tight but you need to make sure it’s not going to leak. Try putting your head under water while wearing the mask and breathing slowly, to test it out. 

It will take time to get used to the sound of your own breathing through the snorkel tube but just take your time as you can always lift your head out of the water again if you are not comfortable with anything. 

Once you have got used to it, you can relax and start to enjoy the underwater world all around you. One key tip is to keep your snorkel on and in place, don’t be tempted to keep removing it and putting it back on. If you do this you will get moisture build up on the inside of the mask. 

Another tip is to be careful to make sure that all the air you are inhaling and exhaling through the snorkel, is being fully expelled from the tube, so you are not just breathing in the air that you have just exhaled. If this happens it means you will be inhaling carbon dioxide which is harmful to your health. 

How to use a snorkel
How to snorkel underwater

Some people do like to snorkel underwater by diving down deeper to see fish that are slightly out of range. You can dive down but be aware that your breathing tube will fill up with water and you will have to hold your breath. 

Once you resurface, you need to blow through the tube to clear it of water again, before you can start using it to breathe through on the surface again. If you want to do this kind of diving activity a purge snorkel will help to stop that water going back into your mouth. 

This is a fairly advanced technique so if you are going to try this out, then it’s definitely worth practising it in a swimming pool before you try it for the first time in the sea, so that you know what to expect. 

How to snorkel underwater
Do you need to know how to swim to snorkel?

In a word, no, you don’t need to be able to swim if you are just snorkeling at the surface level, as long as you are comfortable with putting your face under water. Then you can enjoy the experience as much as an expert swimmer. 

To enjoy snorkeling all you need to do is float on the water with your face down and your mask and snorkel in position. A non-swimmer could wear a life jacket and wet suit for added protection and security if required, making it easier to just lie there and float, without worrying. 

You don’t need to be able to swim or do strokes with your arms, but you will need to kick if you want to move your body through the water to see other areas under the sea. There are plenty of snorkeling holidays and excursions which are available for non-swimmers, as well as those for the more experienced diver. Whatever level of swimming experience and confidence you have, there is a snorkeling equivalent for you to enjoy.

Do you need to know how to swim to snorkel?
How to snorkel with glasses

If you require prescription glasses to see clearly then don’t worry, you don’t need to miss out on snorkeling, as it is still possible to snorkel even when your natural eyesight might not be 100 per cent perfect. 

 

  • Snorkeling with lenses

 

It is perfectly feasible to snorkel while wearing daily disposable contact lenses if you can’t see without them. You can’t do this activity with hard or gas permeable ones because they will be painful under the water pressure. 

However, daily disposables can be worn safely under your mask. Just make sure that you keep your eyes closed any time you take off your mask under water or if your mask should get filled with water, otherwise your lenses will be washed out. 

If you are someone who suffers with eye infections then make sure to thoroughly clean your eyes and your lenses after going under water with them, to avoid any recurring problems from the sea water. 

 

  • Use a prescription mask

 

If you have a regular prescription which is the same for both eyes, you might be able to pick up a prescription face mask from a specialist dive shop. Just be aware that the prescription will be a bit like buying reading glasses and will be a one-size fits all option. 

If you have different requirements for each eye, or a complicated prescription then this option won’t work for you, but you can move to option three listed here and have a custom mask created just for your needs. 

 

  • A customised mask

 

Depending on what kind of eye condition you have, it could be possible to have a prescription face mask made for your particular eyes, which could make life much easier for you. Just be aware that these can be rather pricey. 

Also, if you have different prescriptions for each eye, or you have a very complicated prescription, then this option could be the only choice for you and it will be an amazing investment making your diving much more pleasurable. 

You will need to find either a diving equipment shop or an optician who is willing to make the mask for you and you should find that at this level they can even cater for the most problematic of eyesight prescriptions. 

How to snorkel with glasses
Conclusion

Due to its lack of cumbersome and complicated equipment, snorkeling is growing in popularity as a sport and as a way to enjoy amazing underwater worlds while on holiday in stunning tropical areas. With no requirement to swim either, it really is an activity which everyone can enjoy. 

It might be a bit more expensive if you need to buy a special mask if your eye sight isn’t perfect, but it will be a one-off investment that makes the whole experience far more enjoyable and relaxing. 

As long as you follow the basic requirements when it comes to having a mask and snorkel that fit properly, and have no potential for leaks or problems, then there isn’t much more to it than putting your face under the water and enjoying the view. 

With life jackets and wet suits for those who can’t swim, to special techniques for those who do want to dive down deeper and further, snorkeling really is a hobby which can be taken to a variety of different levels. 

 

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