How to Snorkel Like a Pro

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by Kristin Young | Updated On: November 25, 2019 | Snorkel

If you’re a beginner, you may wonder, what is snorkeling or how do you snorkel? Well, snorkeling involves swimming or floating along the top of the water while wearing a mask to see below the surface and a tube to breathe through, a.k.a, a snorkel.  It’s a relatively easy and low investment water activity that allows you to explore the world beneath the surface of the water. We will show you everything you need to know from snorkeling for beginners to how to snorkel underwater.

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Snorkeling is NOT the same as scuba diving.  Scuba allows you to spend more time under the water and therefore descend deeper.  But, it also requires training and special(and expensive) equipment. We love snorkeling because it involves minimal training and gear, but offers tons of entertainment and excitement.

Split Photo of couple snorkeling and group scuba diving, text overlay snorkeling vs scuba diving

GET THE RIGHT GEAR & TEST IT

One of the best snorkeling tips you will get is to have the right gear.  It can make or break the whole experience. Luckily, snorkeling doesn’t require too much of an upfront investment to get started.  

For the casual snorkeler, you may choose to rent some or most of your equipment.  If you need to save space in your bag and won’t spend too much time with your face in the water, this may be the best option for you.

However, if you plan to do much more than a short snorkeling excursion, a small investment in your own gear will eliminate most of the issues you can expect with rental gear such as ill fitting masks, fins that rub, and shared snorkel mouthpieces- yuck!

Our Snorkel Essentials

Snorkel Mask, Snorkel Fins, and Snorkel laying on a tropical beach

Comfortable Snorkel Mask

Check out our complete snorkel mask guide here if you’re unsure of what to buy.  We include everything from traditional masks to full face masks and more.  

Snorkel

A dry snorkel is always a great choice, especially for beginners.  Dry Snorkels have a special guard that keeps water from flooding into the snorkel if it goes underwater.  Even if you don’t plan to do any diving underwater, it’s still common for even small waves to go over the top of the snorkel and give you a surprise.

Water getting into the snorkel can cause panic for beginner snorkelers and those less comfortable with the water, so check out a dry snorkel.  But really, who enjoys a mouthful of unexpected water- so they’re great for everyone!

Fins

Fins will make your experience much better overall, but they aren’t always an absolute must.  When we first began snorkeling casually, we often went without them and still had a great experience.  However, if you plan to spend much time in the water, fins make you much more efficient allowing you to see more and conserve energy.

You will need to weigh the luggage space savings against a more enjoyable time in the water. 

Reef Safe Sunscreen

Anyone who is planning to spend hours floating out in the sun needs sunscreen.  Some of the chemicals in traditional sunscreen are damaging to coral, and marine life in general.  You can read more about reef safe sunscreen here.  Many of these sunscreens with damaging chemicals have already been banned in Hawaii and the trend seems to be growing.

Rash Guard Shirt or Wetsuit

A rash guard shirt or wetsuit can protect a large portion of your body from the sun’s rays requiring much less sunscreen to be applied.  In addition to the environmental savings of using less sunscreen, you’re also protected from sunburns if you get a little too distracted and forget to frequently reapply the sunscreen.

Snorkel Vest (optional)

These can make a day infinitely better for some and infinitely worse for others.  It mostly comes down to stamina, confidence in your abilities, and snorkel conditions.

When to love them:  If you’re not the strongest swimmer or heading into waters with stronger currents, a vest can be a safety net allowing you to explore a bit more than you may otherwise.

When to hate them:  If you plan to do much underwater diving, a flotation device will make it much more difficult.  Many of the best snorkeling views are from diving down a bit to check out the reef below.  So, if you’re a confident swimmer in calm water, you may want to forgo a vest.  


BEGINNER SNORKELING BASICS

Practice Swimming & Snorkeling

Your local pool will be your friend for getting ready for a serious snorkel trip.  Yes, you may feel like a bit of a nerd jumping into the lap pool with a snorkel and mask, but who cares.  You will have checked your equipment and gotten comfortable with breathing through the snorkel in about the safest and easiest surroundings possible.  

If you want to learn to snorkel on location, many dive shops give group snorkeling lessons or snorkeling classes before taking you on a tour. 

Plan Calm Shallow Spots

Many newbie snorkelers wonder, “Is snorkeling hard?”  Well, the honest answer is sometimes yes, but for the most part no.  For your first time in the open water, choose a calm shallow bay that allows you plenty to see without the need to fight a current or get nervous being too far from shore. 

Buddy Up

Woman floating on raft and man snorkeling along ocean reef

Is snorkeling safe?  Generally yes, but we ALWAYS ALWAYS recommend using the buddy system.  Anything can happen, and having a partner with you can make all the difference in the off chance you do run into trouble.

Fit Your Gear

If you own your own gear, give it a once over to make sure it’s still fitting properly and comfortable before heading into the water.  

Even if you’re renting gear, make sure to adjust the fit.  Nothing ruins the day like a mask that leaks or is so tight it gives you a headache.  Plus, if you try to adjust while in deep water, you will have to tread water while working on the equipment.  Trust me- It’s not fun!

Ladies with Long Hair- Have a Plan

This often gets overlooked, but spending a day with long loose hair in the water is a recipe for disaster.  Check out these tips for avoiding the giant tangled mess that is snorkel hair.

Evaluate Boat vs. Beach Entry

One of the best first timer tips for snorkeling is to evaluate your entry point.  If you’re at all nervous in the water, don’t opt for a boat entry. The water is often deep, and there’s no safety net of nearby land or a place to stand.  A calm bay is a much better choice, and will leave you feeling less exposed. Deeper water doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s more to see. Often the rocks or reefs near the shore offer just as much to see as the deeper spots.


SNORKELING GUIDE:

HOW TO SNORKEL FOR BEGINNERS

Check Water Conditions and Currents

Before heading out for the day, make sure to check the weather forecast for general information.  Ideal conditions would be calm for smooth seas. However, it’s not only the weather that can cause problems.  Check in with local resorts or dive shops to see if there are any unexpected dangers in the area such as rip currents.  

While in the water, make sure to pop your head out regularly to see that you have not drifted too far from shore or into an undesirable location.  It’s surprising how easy it is to become engrossed in the underwater world and completely forget about what is going on above the surface.

Have a Plan for Valuables

If you are traveling with a family member or friend who will stay with your belongings, then this is not much of a concern.  However, if everyone plans to spend the day in the water, you will need to have a plan. We recommend using a portable beach safe like this one, that can be locked to a nearby chair or pole.  However, only bring the necessities, and make sure to have a dry bag like this one for any electronics or valuables that cannot get wet.

Put Fins on in the Water

A sure fire way look like a beginner is putting fins on and then attempting to walk across the beach to get to the water.  Just wait until you’re at the water’s edge or in shallow water, and then put on the fins. The same goes for getting out of the water too! Pull them off before you’re out of the water and avoid the embarrassment.

Learn How to Defog a Snorkel Mask

You can buy anti-fog, but honestly we find that spitting(yes, spitting) in your goggles, swooshing it around, and then rinsing is the cheapest and easiest fog solution.  If spit isn’t working, or isn’t your thing, use a few drops of baby shampoo mixed with water. Swoosh it around, and then rinse. Clearing fog in your mask is one of the most necessary snorkeling techniques to learn, so make sure you know how to handle it before you head into the water.

Relax and Breathe

It may seem obvious to some, but in the beginning many people worry about how to swim with a snorkel.  When just starting out, simply float along the top of the water and try to breathe as normally as possible.  One mouth full of water after a wave crashes over your snorkel, and you may start to get a bit nervous. The most important thing you can do if you are feeling a bit panicked is to flip over onto your back and float for a while.  This will give you a chance to regain your composure and decide where you want to go next.

DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING

Seriously, some sea creatures are dangerous and even deadly, but rarely bother people if not provoked.  Even if you’re not concerned about your own safety, care about the sea life. Chasing or attempting to touch sea creatures can cause more damage than you would think.  And, for goodness sake, please don’t stand on coral. So many first timers decide to stop while exploring the reef and use the coral as a place to stand. Coral is delicate and needs to be treated as such.

Don’t Feed the Fish

Woman snorkeling and feeding bread to tropical fish.  Text Overlay:  Don't feed the fish with a crossed circle

Please, Please, Please, don’t feed the fish or other sea creatures.  Yes, I completely understand how tempting it is to drop a few bits of dog biscuits or peas and have the fish swarm around you.  But, doing this disrupts the natural ecosystem and is unhealthy for the fish.

Stay Aware of your Surroundings

Always make sure to pop your head up and check your surroundings every so often.  It’s amazing how easy it is to get engrossed in the underwater world, and completely lose track of what is going on around you.  Keep your buddy nearby, and make sure you have a general idea of how far you’ve gotten from your boat or the shore.

Get the Right Camera Gear

This isn’t an absolute necessity, but in our instagram society, it’s kind of becoming one.  Of course you will want to get some pictures or video of the turtles or fish that you swim with.  But, many cameras don’t accurately capture what you’re seeing. Many pictures and videos turn out too blue or grey, often due to white balance issues.  Our favorite underwater camera is the GoPro Hero8 Black. We’ve tried many others, and nothing else out there really compares to GoPro.

GoPro Hero Black8 is the newest version on the market, and when it comes to snorkeling cameras, nothing is better than a GoPro.

Learn How to Snorkel Dive

After you get comfortable floating across the top of the water, it’s time to learn how to snorkel dive.  Bend at the waist and pull your body down through the water with your arms and stick your legs up into the air.  As your feet submerge, then begin kicking. After you’ve explored underwater for as long as you can, head back to the surface and make sure to blow out to clear the snorkel before taking a breath.  

It’s that simple, but also a snorkeling how to that you’ll want to practice for a must more interesting and enjoyable snorkeling trip. 

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Aerial photo of two women snorkeling and holding hands, text overlay of How to Snorkel:  A Beginner's Guide

Hi!  We’re Kristin & Andrew, lovers of everything tropical.  We spend as much time as possible searching for the best beaches, snorkeling, hiking, and fun in the sun!