Do You Need To Know How To Swim To Snorkel?

Do you need to know how to swim to snorkel? Well the short answer is no, BUT the real answer is that it depends on several variables.

If you aren’t a confident swimmer, or you’re new to it altogether but would love to give snorkeling a go, then please read on to discover how you can get in on this amazing sport, and do it safely and confidently!

Snorkeling For Non Swimmers – Is It Safe?

The reason there isn’t a straightforward yes or no answer to this question is because it depends on many variables.

But in the right conditions, and with the correct equipment – Yes, snorkeling is safe for novice swimmers and non swimmers.

I’ve written this guide specifically to outline what conditions are safe for non swimmers to snorkel in, plus what swimming skills and equipment you’ll need in order to have a safe but enjoyable snorkeling experience.

Here’s how to best prepare for your first snorkel trip….

How To Prepare For Your First Snorkeling Trip

snorkeling for non swimmers

Swimming Lessons

Snorkeling, when done in calm water, doesn’t involve much if any “swimming” in the traditional sense at all – You’ll mainly just be lying face down and floating around!

But, that doesn’t mean that some swimming lessons won’t significantly help.

Swimming lessons will help you feel more comfortable, and learning/practicing how to tread water along with some basic swimming skills will significantly improve your safety in the water.

Plus improving your swimming will eventually allow you to venture out into deep water to explore even more epic snorkel spots!

Snorkeling Equipment

Rented VS Buying Your Own Gear

In general it’s far better to own and use your own snorkel gear than it is to rent snorkel equipment, and I say this for several reasons;

  1. The quality of rented gear in general tends to be quite low, and due to the amount of use rented gear receives on regular basis, it’s not uncommon for it to be damaged or break whilst it’s being used.
  2. Snorkel masks aren’t a one sized fits all item. If the mask provided to you doesn’t fit you correctly, then you can have issues with the mask leaking, fogging up, or just being generally very uncomfortable to wear.
  3. If you’ve never snorkelled before and your rental equipment is the first time getting your hands on it, then you’ll have no time to become familiar with it.

So with that in mind, I’d recommend purchasing your own gear so that you can be assured of it’s quality, that it fits you just perfectly, and so that you have the chance to get familiar with your snorkel gear ahead of time.

I’ve written several guides to purchasing snorkel gear that can help you select the right mask snorkel and fins based on your individual needs, so I highly recommend checking these out..

Get Familiar With Your Snorkel Gear Beforehand

You’ll feel far more comfortable when it finally comes to snorkeling in the ocean if you’ve spent time getting used to your snorkel gear first.

Even just using your snorkel in the bathtub in order to become familiar with what it’s like to breathe with your face submerged will be beneficial experience.

Even now after having snorkelled for 20+ years, that first breath underwater always feels strange to me!

And as well as having to get used to your snorkel, there’s also the fins too.

Snorkeling doesn’t involve much use of your arms, (other than to take amazing selfies of course!), so a good pair of fins is key. Again, I’d recommend practicing in a pool with your fins first to get used to them.

Snorkeling Tips For Non Swimmers


hanauma bay snorkeling

Hanauma Bay in Oahu is a great example of a beginner friendly snorkel spot. It’s well sheltered from the open ocean so the water generally stays very calm, and there’s plenty to see in even just shallow waters.

When it comes to choosing a location that’s good for beginner snorkelers you ought to choose your snorkeling destination carefully, and research it thoroughly beforehand.

I recommend picking somewhere that fulfils the below criteria, and researching these key points about the location;

  • Easy entry and exit from the water would be ideal. A gentle sandy slope into and out of the water is best.
  • Lifeguards should ideally be present at the location you choose
  • It’s generally best that beginner snorkelers don’t venture too far out from the shore, so try to choose a snorkel spot that has a decent amount of marine life close to the shoreline. The aforementioned Hanauma Bay is a great choice, and there are plenty of great snorkel spots in Florida that would be ideal too.
  • Research the area before hand so you know where the best snorkeling is, how to enter and exit the water, and also make sure you check what the weather forecast is for that day.
  • Though you can snorkel in cold water, warm water would be more advisable (and certainly more enjoyable!), for a newbie.

Just Before & During Snorkeling

Here are a few tips on what you should focus on both before you start snorkeling and during;

  • You should always prep your snorkel mask to prevent it from fogging up.
  • Always snorkel with a buddy! This goes for everyone really, but is especially important for beginners.
  • Stay close to shore and in a shallow area that you can still reach the bottom with your feet if you need to.
  • A floatation device (I recommend a snorkel vest) should be considered essential
  • Remain aware of your surroundings. Do not touch or tread on the reef, and never try to touch the marine life.
  • Become familiar with your snorkel gear first.
    • Make sure you know how to prep your mask to prevent it from fogging.
    • Know how to attach your snorkel to the mask correctly, and get it all lined up properly.
    • Try to use your gear in a swimming pool first. Even just using your snorkel in your own bathtub would be beneficial in helping you get used to it!
  • Remember to stay hydrated. This point is very important, and also so easy to forget when you’re having fun in the ocean.
  • If at any point you feel uncomfortable remember all you need to do is just pop your head up and spit your snorkel out – take a break or simply call it a day.

The Best Snorkeling Gear For Non Swimmers

A good snorkel set will make a big difference to making you feel comfortable in the water and go a long way to you having a great experience.

These are some of the snorkel sets that I recommend which would be great for beginners, and are also ideal for travel.

Some key pieces of snorkel gear that I think all beginners and non swimmers should look to invest in specifically are;

Dry Snorkel

Dry snorkels are great for all abilities, but in particular beginners and non swimmers due to the fact that their design means that no water (or only a minimal and non disruptive amount), will get into the snorkel tube.

That means you can simply focus on having an amazing time, and not having to worry about stopping to have to clear your snorkel or accidentally inhaling any water!

I always use a dry snorkel myself as they make snorkeling a much more relaxing and enjoyable experience overall.

Here’s my guide to all the current best dry snorkels on the market.

Snorkel Vest

A floatation device such as a snorkel vest will give you the added confidence and safety in the water that is very important as a beginner or non swimmer.

A snorkel vest will help you to stay afloat, stay relaxed, and to expel a minimum amount of energy. And as with the dry snorkel, you can simply focus on snorkeling and having a great time without having to worry about much else.

Here’s a guide that I’ve written to the different types of snorkel vests on the market, and which are the best.

Snorkel Tours For Non Swimmers

do you need to know how to swim to snorkel

Many of the best places to snorkel often tend to be further from the shore and require either a long swim out to, or a snorkel/boat tour in order to reach them.

My personal feelings on entering the open ocean if you don’t know how to swim at all, are that you should avoid going into deep waters, (even with a life jacket on).

I’ve read other sites saying that they feel this is ok, but I just cannot in good conscious recommend this.

A large proportion of the accidents that happen in the water, happen due to panic. And people that do not know how to swim are far more likely to panic when out in the open ocean and something unexpected occurs.

Getting stuck in a current for example, even for experienced snorkelers and strong swimmers can create panic. So for your own safety I think it’s best for non swimmers to avoid putting yourself in such a unpredictable and potentially unmanageable situation.

When it comes to novice swimmers, provided you are wearing a floatation device (preferably a life jacket), then a snorkel tour should be ok.

There are actually many snorkel tours that cater specifically to weaker swimmers, and will give you extra attention and personal guidance.

[If you are thinking of joining a snorkel tour then ensure you research the trip beforehand to ensure you are comfortable with the location where you’ll be snorkeling and have the pre-requisite swimming skills needed].

In Conclusion

Knowing how to swim will make snorkeling easier and more enjoyable but it isn’t essential given the right conditions.

Snorkeling for non swimmers can be made simple and accessible simply by having the best equipment for beginners, and by choosing the right destination.

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Gia Halliday

Hey, my names Gia! My biggest passions are food, travel and basically anything to do with being in the water. Combine all of that with an addiction for buying gear and you end up with with this website!