As you head towards your next adventure, you take one last glance at the trip brochure. “Everything included: snorkel, mask, fins and training,” it says. After all, snorkelling is easy, right? There isn’t much to do to prepare, correct? Well, that depends.
Read on to see if you are truly prepared for your open water snorkelling trip.
What is a snorkel?
In its most basic form, a snorkel is a simple curved tube that allows swimmers to keep their face in the water and breathe for extended periods of time, while checking out the marine life below. However, as simple as it may seem, safely breathing through a tube while swimming in open water is a skill that needs to be learned.
Traditional snorkelling uses a tube and separate face mask that seals around the nose and eyes, allowing visibility of objects underwater. Recently, a new type of snorkel has been developed that incorporates the breathing tube and face mask into one unit. This type of mask is intended to seal around the mouth, nose and eyes.
Am I fit for open water snorkelling?
In general, if you are physically able to swim and tread water without a snorkel or flotation device, and dive to a depth of two metres while holding your breath, all in conditions similar to your planned snorkel trip, then you are ready to begin practicing with your snorkel in the shallow end of a swimming pool.
People with the following conditions should use extra caution when deciding if they are fit for snorkelling:
- Over 65 years of age with little or no recent open water swimming;
- Cardiovascular disease (heart, stroke, high blood pressure);
- Obstructive airway disease (asthma, bronchitis, emphysema);
- Seizure disorder (history of seizures or convulsions); and/or
- Other history of sudden loss of consciousness.
The following people are not fit for snorkelling:
- Those who have been advised by their doctor not to swim; and/or
- Those under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Phuket snorkel boot camp
Step 1: Purchase your own snorkel
Safe snorkelling requires a tube and mask that fit your unique facial geometry, and everyone is different. Do not rely on tour operators to provide a snorkel that fits. Buy your own high-quality brand-name snorkel before you go. Test as many as you can before choosing, concentrating on comfort, fit and, most importantly, the seal. Test the seal by donning the mask, and then inhaling slightly through your nose. The seal should remain firm and air should not leak in. If it doesn’t fit, choose another mask and snorkel.
Most snorkellers also wear swim fins. Consider purchasing your own swim fins and make sure they fit comfortably before taking them out in the water.
Step 2: Test your snorkel
In the shallow end of a pool where you can easily touch the bottom, don the mask and snorkel and practice floating face down while breathing. Then practice breathing with your face in the water while slowly swimming. Gradually move to the deeper part of the pool as you gain confidence, breathing face-down in the water with your snorkel and mask.
Step 3: Practice diving and purging
When the top of your snorkel tube sinks below the water’s surface, water can get inside.
In the deep end of the pool, practice holding your breath, diving under the surface, and then returning to the surface while forcefully exhaling through your mouth and out of the tube. This will blow any water remaining inside out of the tube and enable safe snorkel breathing once again.
Practice diving, surfacing, and purging your snorkel in the pool until you feel completely comfortable with the process.
Step 4: Use reputable tour services
Select a tour operator based on safety and reputation, not just low price. If you have any questions about safety, ask to speak to the operator and/or vessel captain.
Step 5: Use the buddy system
Always snorkel in open water in pairs. No open water snorkeller should enter the water without a buddy. Stay close to your buddy at all times while in the water.
Now that you have finished your preparation checklist, get out there and enjoy a safe and fantastic snorkelling adventure.
Special note on full-face snorkel equipment
Recent evidence suggests that full-face, one-piece snorkel masks are linked to higher drowning rates while snorkelling. This design seals eyes, mouth and face in one large mask.
If water enters the system while submerged, it can be more difficult to purge than a traditional tube due to the increased air volume of the design. It is theorised that this leads to an increased incidence of water aspiration past the larynx, which in turn causes involuntary laryngospasm that blocks the flow of air to the lungs.
Extreme caution is advised while snorkelling with full-face systems.
Daren Jenner is a bodysurfer and Ocean Lifeguard in Southeast Asia. He is also a Marine Safety Officer for the International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA).