How to Use a Snorkel

Last update July 12, 2018

Snorkeling can help you observe marine life from the surface of the water and develop curiosity for the undersea world. And the main equipment you need for this is a good snorkel mask. It’s a full-face mask that keeps your nose and mouth open so that you could breathe normally underwater.

What Is Snorkeling?

What is snorkeling

The word “snorkeling” came to us from the German "schnorchel" which means the special breathing tube. And, as you may have guessed, snorkeling means observing the underwater depths wearing a tube or a full-face snorkeling mask. Snorkeling is considered to be a leisure activity rather than a type of sports. It’s quite popular because it doesn’t require pricey equipment and is available for almost everyone. You don’t need to undergo complicated training compared to diving, which makes this type of recreational diving suitable for adults and children alike. Snorkeling usually takes place in shallow water so that you could observe the undersea life from the surface of the water. The ideal places for snorkeling are warm and calm seas with clear water and rich seabed. Shallow reefs are favored spots by the majority of snorkelers.

However, snorkeling isn’t just for fun. Many rescuers use snorkel masks when working in any body of water. And it's no secret that many photographers who work underwater practice snorkeling. Snorkeling masks are also used for such sports as underwater hockey and finswimming.

Snorkeling vs. Scuba Diving

Snorkeling vs. scuba diving

Many people still believe that snorkeling is another name for scuba diving, however, that’s not so. This activity doesn’t require complicated scuba-diving equipment, yet you won’t be able to dive deep with a snorkel mask - you’ll be able to breath wearing a mask while floating face-down at the water surface only. Still, snorkeling has some advantages over scuba diving.

  • Snorkeling can be done without bulky and heavy oxygen cylinders. And as you won’t be completely underwater, you'll feel less nervous than while scuba diving.
  • You can start snorkeling without a trained guide. So, you can explore underwater life at your own pace without any restrictions.
  • Snorkeling can be done right at the public beach, without additional costs for covering equipment and your way to depths.
  • Snorkeling requires almost no physical effort, as you can just relax, floating at the water surface.

Safety Precautions When Snorkeling

Safety precautions for snorkeling

When you’re snorkeling near coral reefs, you must avoid contact with sharp corals and their inhabitants. Even boulder brain corals are extremely fragile, and you must be aware of the fact that coral cuts even might require serious first aid treatment. Thu, we recommend you to protect your hands with special gloves additionally and be very careful. Another type of protective gear, surf shoes, is also very useful as these water booties allow you to trek over reefs.  

Your back, arms, ankles, and other body parts will be exposed to the harmful sun rays for extended periods of time. To prevent burning, you can apply "waterproof" sunblock with high SPF or wear a T-shirt or a special wetsuit.

Dehydration is another issue, especially if you’re going to practice snorkeling for several hours non-stop. That’s why you should drink plenty of water before snorkeling or, better yet, you can take a water bottle with you. If you’re well hydrated, you’re less likely to experience cramps. Snorkeling with your friend is another safety measure that can help prevent some issues.

What Is a Snorkel and What Is Its Main Purpose

The main purpose of a snorkel mask

Earlier, a snorkel was just a J-shaped tube about 1-foot long. It was made of plastic or rubber and had a mouthpiece at the end. It was used for breathing air when a user’s mouth and nose were submerged. Today, snorkel is usually referred to a full-face mask for surface snorkeling. It has tight straps to snugly fit your face and an advanced air-flow system to remove the moist air you inhale. If you wear it properly, it will never fog up underwater. A snorkel mask is intended to allow you to breathe through your nose as well as your mouth, while you’re watching the underwater life. Some snorkel masks come with a special mount for GoPro cameras allowing you to take amazing shots of underwater depths.

How Does a Snorkel Work Underwater?

How does a snorkel mask work under water

A small part of the mask tube should always stay above water so that it could suck in fresh air allowing you to breathe. The exhaled breaths are released through separate breathing channels, preventing the mask from fogging up. Your exhalations are directed out of the purge valve instead of going out of the top. This way, you always get fresh air instead of rebreathing carbon dioxide you’ve just exhaled. A snorkel mask also has a special valve that seals completely once the mask is submerged. This way, you won’t be gulping down a mouthful of water. Usually, tubes also have a plastic shroud around the sealing mechanisms, which acts as a splash guard.

How Do You Breathe Underwater With a Snorkel?

How do you breathe underwater with a snorkel

Many people wonder if it is easy to breathe underwater with a snorkel. The answer to this question will be "yes, very easy". The thing is, a snorkel in no way hinders your breathing and keeps your nose and mouth open so you can breathe much easier compared to using a separate snorkel tube. In fact, with a snorkel you can breathe as freely as if you were standing at the beach.

Can You Breathe Underwater With a Dry Snorkel?

Breathing underwater with a dry snorkel

Nowadays, almost all masks have a special mechanism that seals the breathing tube once it’s submerged, thus, preventing the water from entering. And as soon as the top of a snorkel mask returns to above water, the mechanism opens again to let the air in. As you have probably guessed, you won’t be able to breathe when the tube is submerged in water, since it will be reliably sealed. No water, no air!

How to Use a Snorkel

How to use a snorkel

Using a snorkel properly is an easy job. First of all, you should adjust the mask so that it sits snugly and comfortably on your face. Try not to overtighten the straps to keep the mask from leaking. Once the mask is on and you’re submerged in water, try to take slow and regular breaths. If it’s your first snorkeling experience, breath cautiously and don’t panic, as you can lift your head above the water anytime you wish. At first, the sound of breathing through the mask might be noticeable and even obtrusive. But as soon as you get used to it, try to relax and enjoy observing the underwater scenery. And the general rule of using a snorkel is to leave it on during the snorkeling. Avoid taking your snorkel mask on and off, since this will let the moist in resulting in condensed lens surface.

How to Choose a Snorkel Mask

How to choose and wear a snorkel mask

The main consideration when choosing a snorkeling mask is a proper fit. If a mask doesn’t fit your face snugly, this might lead to leaking and fogging. That’s why a rubber skirt of the mask should create a very tight seal against your skin. And since every one of us has a unique face, finding a perfect model might be a tricky task. A suitable mask for your face shape should stick to your skin snugly, and you should not hold it with your hands. A well-fitting mask should also feel comfortable on your face, without putting excessive pressure on your head. For better fit, we suggest that you wet your hair and remove it out of your face before putting on a snorkel mask.

If you wear prescription glasses, prescription lenses, or contact lenses, choose a model marked for use with prescription lenses.

How to Care for Your Snorkel Mask

How to care for a snorkel mask

After each submersion, it’s advisable to clean your mask so as to remove sand, salt, sunblock residue, debris, and dirt. It’s a good idea to wash the mask in warm soapy water afterwards. You can also add some silicone-based cleaning solutions, but avoid scrubbing your mask with brushes or sponges, as this might result in scratches on the lenses. After cleaning, dry the snorkel with a soft towel.

Other Snorkeling Gear

Snorkeling gear

A mask and snorkel fins are two main things you’ll need for comfortable snorkeling. We've already covered what a snorkel mask does, now let's see what snorkeling fins are used for. Without further ado, the main purpose of these fins is to give swimmers better thrust underwater so that they could move faster and with greater comfort using less energy. There are two main two types of snorkeling fins - paddle fins and split fins. A pair of paddle fins will make your motion slower, yet a bit bigger compared to a split one. Split fins will make your motion quicker and smaller, consequently. Besides these critical snorkeling items, you might also need a diving suit, snorkel vest, snorkel shoes, diving light, waterproof camera, and a mesh bag to carry some essentials. 

How to Use Snorkeling Gear

How to use snorkeling gear

Fins for snorkeling basically have the full foot design. That’s why you can easily slip your bare feet in them. The only thing you should check is whether there are no hard spots when you flex your feet back and forth. When you’re already in the water, don’t propel through the water using your hands. Just place them behind or stretch them in front of you.

We also recommend that you wear a snorkel vest, as it helps to float at the water surface and adds more visibility. So, if you need extra safety, choose bright-colored life vests. Use inflatable vests instead of those made of solid foam. They will allow you to move more freely while observing the underwater world.