Snorkeling is a fun and exciting way to discover the Ocean.
Whilst snorkelling is actually fairly simple – There are some key points regarding equipment, basic snorkel skills and knowing the potential hazards out there in the ocean that are important.
With just a little bit of preparation and practice your first time snorkeling can be an amazing and unforgettable experience
This beginners guide on how to snorkel has all the information you need to know for your first snorkel trip, and we have listed our very best snorkel tips for beginners.
There’s not much standing in the way between you and the amazing world just below the surface of the water – Simply a snorkel, snorkel mask and a pair of fins.
Snorkel gear is actually pretty inexpensive, but there are a lot of different options out there and it can be daunting for a beginner when trying to choose the best snorkel gear.
Should you get a dry snorkel, semi dry? What about masks – There are several different kinds, and not to mention multiple different kinds of fins as well!
Which ones should you choose?!
I have written an entire article dedicated to breaking down the best snorkel gear that I recommend reading before you purchase, but I’ll break it down again briefly below.
There are three main types of snorkel. The traditional snorkel, the semi dry snorkel, and the dry top snorkel.
The simplest (and usually cheapest) type of snorkel is the traditional snorkel. It’s essentially just a tube with a mouthpiece. The open top means water can enter the top of the snorkel more easily than the other two types of snorkel we’ll discuss below, but the lack of bells and whistles with this type of snorkel means it will probably last you for many many years.
A semi dry snorkel has a splash guard at the top of the snorkel – This splash guard helps to limit water from entering the top of the snorkel, but water can still enter. A lot of semi dry snorkels also have what’s called a purge valve at the bottom. The purge valves job is to expel any water that may have entered back out of the bottom of the snorkel.
Dry Top Snorkel
A dry top snorkel is designed to prevent water from entering your snorkel at all. When the snorkel is submerged underwater – The round ball which sits within the dry top rises and blocks the top of the snorkel – thereby preventing water from entering.
Dry top snorkels are what I recommend for most snorkelers – Especially beginners – The less things you have to be concerned about whilst snorkeling (like your snorkel filling with water) the better. That’s more time you can spend enjoying yourself!
The most important aspect of your snorkel mask actually isn’t what it looks like, how many viewing windows it has, or the bells and whistles it comes with – it’s whether the mask fits you correctly!
A snorkel mask that doesn’t fit properly will not only be uncomfortable or perhaps even painful to wear – but it will also be susceptible to leakage!
They may not seem like it but a good pair of snorkel fins are a must! Snorkel fins will give you strong propulsion through the water with relatively little effort, which will enable you to conserve tons of energy. You will also be able to navigate through currents with ease.
Full Face Snorkel Masks
Full face snorkel masks have become very popular in recent years. If you are considering buying one then I have two articles on them that I suggest reading;
In short – I still much prefer a separate snorkel and mask and consider it to be a superior setup for most people. But some people may just feel more comfortable with a full face mask.
Should You Rent Or Buy Snorkel Gear
Snorkel Gear isn’t all that expensive – If you’re going to use the gear more than once or twice then you’ll have already recouped the money that you would have otherwise spent on renting!
For this reason any many many more – I recommend buying your own snorkel gear. You can buy gear to your exact preference and specifications which is far better than using rented gear that may or may not fit properly – And not to mention… you really don’t know where it’s been or if it’s been cleaned properly!
How To Snorkel
So you’ve invested in some snorkel gear, and you’re ready to get in the water.. What next?
Well you may wish to practice in a swimming pool first, but there’s nothing wrong with going straight for the ocean – Either way you’ll want to start in calm and shallow water that you’re comfortably able to stand in.
Put your gear on – Make sure your mask is adjusted correctly (actually making it too tight can cause water leakage).
Place your lips around the snorkel and gently bite down on the mouthpiece – You shouldn’t have to grip the mouthpiece hard, and it shouldn’t cause you any jaw discomfort. Now begin breathing through the snorkel and just take a few moments to get used to breathing through your snorkel above the water. first
When you’re happy to begin – Whilst still standing in the water, place your face down into the water
This is where people feel a little uncomfortable, after all – Submerging your face in water and then taking a big breath in just feels counterintuitive right?
You just need to try and stay calm here and relax – You’re still standing in the water so if you need to – Simply pop your head out of the water, compose yourself and try again.
Honestly it will feel a little strange for the first couple of breaths, but then you will be fine! Just concentrate on your breathing. A nice big calm breath in.. and a nice big calm breath out.
After a few breaths switch from standing in the water to floating horizontally – and just continue to practice breathing in and out through your snorkel as you float.
Add in some gentle kicking with your fins (you’ll be surprised how far even the gentlest kicking motion propels you).
Knowing what kind of issues you may encounter while snorkeling is helpful as we can anticipate them and try to prevent them.
Some issues that snorkelers may encounter are:
- Mask Fogging
- Fear and Panicking
- Flooded Snorkel Tube
- Injury (either to self, others, or ocean wildlife)
How to Defog your snorkel Mask
The main factor for your mask fogging is having a dirty and oily mask lens – Moisture forming inside the mask has to attach to something – So it sticks to the built up dirt and oil.
When the mask is clean and the moisture has nothing to stick to, it will run down and collect at the bottom of the mask instead.
Moisture can also build on the tiny imperfections of the glass. This is why spitting or using a mask defogger helps to reduce this – It forms a layer to cover these imperfections and prevent the moisture building in them.
So with this in mind here are some tips to help keep your mask fog free:
- Clean your mask after each use. You can use toothpaste and a toothbrush to clean a mask made of glass (don’t use your fingers). If using a plastic/polycarbonate mask then use a soft cloth (one that won’t scratch the lens), and dish soap. Clean your mask using warm water and then rinse clean.
- Use an anti fogging product. Cheap way – baby shampoo diluted with water. Or an anti fog product. Make sure to cover the lens with the solution entirely but do not use your hands to do this. Then rinse your mask once in the water before using
- Try to refrain from removing and replacing your mask too much as this will allow moisture to enter.
- Spit in it – The cheapest and easiest option of all. Spit in the mask and rinse it around, then quickly rinse in the water and put the mask on.
How To Stay Calm When Snorkeling
Being calm and at ease in the water will come with time and practice. It’s also different for everyone – One person may feel immediately comfortable and for another it may take some time and getting used to.
Sometimes it can be easy to forget that if you are at all panicked or nervous, or you need to do is lift your head up out of the water!
How to Clear A Snorkel Filled With Water
Water entering your snorkel at some point is bound to happen.
If you dive down under water to get a closer look at a reef. If the water is choppy or you are splashing around a lot, or if you tilt your head downward too much and submerge the top of the snorkel tube.
Water entering your snorkel tube doesn’t have to interrupt your snorkeling.
There’s no need for you to have to stop swimming and remove your snorkel and you don’t need to lift your head out of the water.
In order to blast clear water that has entered your snorkel – You need to exhale through your mouth quickly and strongly.
Doing so will blast the water back out the top of the snorkel tube.
How to conserve energy whilst snorkeling
Having a good pair of snorkel fins is key here and it’s important that you let them do the hard work for you.
Snorkel fins will allow you to glide through the water and change direction with very little effort.
Keeping your arms relaxed and along by your side is a good way to conserve your energy, and it will also reduce drag in the water.
Aside from some assistance in changing your direction your arms aren’t really needed for propulsion – That’s the job of your snorkel fins.
You don’t need to kick too forcefully with your fins either – you will notice that a smooth, not too forceful kicking motion will be more than enough to propel the through calm waters.
You should also be aware that strongly kicking, flailing and splashing in the water is likely to scare off the fish – and be very annoying to those around you!
Top Snorkeling Tips
With everything in mind that we’ve discussed already – Here are my top snorkeling tips, do’s and don’ts:
- Buy a good quality mask and snorkel. (I recommend this dry top snorkel and mask).
- Fit your Mask Properly – Make sure the straps aren’t twisted or too tight. There should be no hair breaking the masks seal.
- Defog your mask prior to use
- Practice your breathing through the snorkel before you get into the water.
- Learn how to clear the snorkel tube if it fills with water
- Pick the right spot to snorkel in as a beginner (calm waters/close to the shore)
- Know the location that you’re snorkeling – Are there currents? Sharp rocks?
- Stay calm and relaxed. You’ll conserve precious energy this way and enjoy your snorkeling a lot more
- Use Reef safe sunscreen and or/protective clothing to prevent sunburn. Water shoes are also great for areas that are rocky
- Don’t snorkel alone! Swim with a buddy for safety
- Don’t touch anything. Reef’s are very delicate and can be easily damaged by people touching or standing on them. Avoid touching any wildlife as well
- Relax and stay calm. If you need to, just pop your head out of the water, spit out the snorkel and compose yourself. Staying relaxed will also help you to conserve your energy
- Have fun and explore! That’s what you’re there for after all.
- Take an underwater camera to capture those amazing moments!
- Wear a floatation vest if you feel you need one
- Make sure you stay hydrated. Bring water and snacks to the beach or money to purchase them whilst you’re there
- Don’t flail, splash and exert too much energy. If you’re doing these things to try and move about in the water then you’re doing something wrong. It shouldn’t take much exertion.
Safety Precautions When Snorkeling
It’s important to take precautions when snorkeling as nature after all can be unpredictable. There are many things that are predictable though, so knowing what precautions to take is most of the battle.
Here are our top safety tips and recommendations to ensure you stay safe whilst snorkeling.
Snorkeling Safety Tips
- Get local knowledge about your snorkelling destination. What are the currents like? Is the water shallow or deep, are there any sharp rocks you need to be aware of? What facilities are nearby? Is there a lifeguard on duty?
- Evaluate ocean/weather conditions before you enter the water – If it’s rained recently then visibility in the water could be murky and your snorkel trip may want putting off for a day. There may also be strong current/riptides that you need to be aware of.
- Swim with a friend. It’s important to have someone there should you or they get into trouble.
- Be mindful of your own personal space and others – If you’re in a great snorkel spot then chances are you’re not alone. Please be mindful of others who are around you and be careful not to kick them or get in their way.
- Stick your head out of the water every now and then to gauge your location and distance from the shore – You may not be anywhere near where you thought you were, and could be further from the shore than you realised.
- Understand riptides and how they work
- You must be aware of jet skis, boats etc. Collisions between a jet ski or similar pose a very big danger to snorkelers. With only your the top of your snorkel tube poking out the top of the water they may not spot you until it’s too late.
- Your neck and the backs of your arms and legs are potentially going to be exposed to the sun for long periods so it’s extremely important to protect yourself against the sun. It’s very easy to miss your skin burning when you’re in the water until it’s too late. Trust me – Some of my worst sunburn was from snorkeling! Make sure to use sunscreen that is reef friendly, and swim with adequate clothing to protect you such as a rash guard and shorts.
- Dehydration. Make sure you stay hydrated as you will potentially be spending hours in the water, in the hot sun, which can really take it out of you. So hydrate well before, during and after. Staying hydrated can also help to prevent muscle cramps.
- Look but don’t touch – When you’re snorkeling on or near corals you need to be cautious. Corals can be extremely sharp so avoid touching them and take care not to stand on them. Moreover reefs are very delicate and touching and kicking them with your fins can cause degradation to the reef.
- Do not touch, feed or disturb any of the marine life either. They are there to be observed only and you should avoid trying to touch and interact with them, for you own safety and theirs.
Do you need to know how to swim to snorkel
The short answer to this question is no – But what I will say is that this definitely depends on a few variables (such as location, equipment etc).
I’ve written a really in depth guide to snorkeling for non swimmers that I highly recommend you check out if you fall into this category as it will give you tons of advice on choosing the best beginner friendly snorkel spot and tips for staying safe in the water.
Best Place To Snorkel For Beginners
In this section I want to discuss the best areas for newbies to snorkel, but I’m also going to give you some specific examples of my favourite snorkel spots for beginners.
Best Conditions For Snorkeling
Calm, Clear & Warm Water
Minimal waves and disturbance, clear water, warm waters, and rocks/reefs in the vicinity to attract more marine life.
Snorkeling by the beach is best for beginners as the waters tend to get deeper gradually, and you can get back to standing level or to the shore easily.
Enough water to be able to swim without kicking the ocean floor or reef below. Depth of about 1-4 meters is ideal.
For beginners I wouldn’t recommend taking a boat trip into deeper waters. Deeper reefs out in the ocean make for great exploration however in order to get a closer look at things you’ll need to be able to dive down underwater. This takes a bit more practice and skill, and also physical fitness. – I wouldn’t recommend going for this kind of adventure as a beginner.
Reefs, Rocks and Marine Life
With no reefs or any kind of rocky formation nearby that could attract marine life then you will probably see very minimal activity. That isn’t to say you won’t see any at all – But you will definitely miss out on the hussle and bussle of life that a reef attracts.
Best Snorkel Spots
Since you’re reading this article I presume that snorkeling at this point is something that you are keen to try but may have never tried before, or you have maybe only gone once or twice and are looking for some tips.
Now Ecuador and Indonesia may be a couple of the best snorkel spots on the planet but where are you most likely going on your next vacation? Not to these places I imagine..
As you’re probably not looking to travel to the other side of the world purely for the snorkeling on offer I don’t think listing off the best snorkel locations in the world would be helpful to the people reading this article..
So my list below is more of a combination of some of the world’s best snorkel spots, but also the best snorkel spots in the world that are in locations that offer much more than this and, let’s be real, you’re more likely going to travel to…
Hawaii – There are so many locations in Hawaii for snorkeling. You can find some of the worlds best snorkeling on each of Hawaii’s islands.
The biggest problem when snorkeling in Hawaii won’t be finding a place to snorkel it will be choosing which location to snorkel as there are just so many amazing places to go!
Great Barrier Reef – Australia – The world’s largest coral reef system is home to over a thousand different species of fish, and some of the most beautiful coral reefs you can envisage.
Florida Keys – Home to the only living coral reef in the continental US. Most of the best snorkeling in the Keys must be accessed via boat, however John Pennekamp Park provides snorkeling with easy beach access.
Mexico – There are a ton of amazing snorkel locations in Mexico. From the many sea turtles that habit Akumal, Whale Sharks around Holbox, to snorkeling in a Cenote (aka sinkhole!). Cancun and Isla Mujeres
Maldives – Sheer beauty both above and below the water! If you’re lucky enough to visit this tropical paradise then snorkeling should be very high on your itinerary. A number of the beautiful hotels have amazing reefs right off the beach.
So what should be your top takeaways from this guide to snorkeling?
Be well prepared – both in terms of the gear you need to enjoy your snorkeling adventure, and well prepared with local knowledge on the location you’re going to.
- Practice! Practice on becoming a stronger swimmer.
- Practice your breathing through the snorkel tube.
- Practice blast clearing water from your snorkel.
- Practice diving down under the water so you can explore the reef closer.
- Practice makes perfect and being good at these skills will vastly enhance your experience.
Relax! This last one will be a byproduct of my first two points. Being well prepared for your snorkeling excursion and having practiced with your gear will enable you to relax more.