Snorkeling is a great seaside water sport that requires only a moderate amount of swimming ability and clear waters. While there are organized boat trips for snorkeling, it really is the kind of activity that can be engaged in pretty much anywhere where the conditions are right. All that is really necessary are the aforementioned clear waters, a few pieces of gear, and some fish-attracting rocks.
Snorkeling is a simple activity for anyone who knows how to swim. The idea is to swim around on the surface, using the dive mask and snorkel combination to peer down into the underwater world below.
It is a technique that is practiced by swimmers around the world as it is their favorite pastime and a good start for beginners who are just learning the basics of swimming. This proves to be a nice experience for them to see into the depths from the surface and gives an idea of what lies at the bottom. All you have to do is to wear the best snorkling mask so as to breathe freely.
This is often combined with skin diving. Skin divers snorkel on the surface until they see something under the surface of the water worth having a closer look at, and kick down to it using the added swimming power of the swim fins. A skin diver can easily spend a couple of minutes at a depth of 9 or 10 meters, and only needs to remember to exhale a little air from the nose to equalize the pressure in the dive mask (not doing so risks a bad case of “mask face” or even a rupture in the mask), and to pinch their nose and blow a little on it to equalize the pressure inside their heads.
The basic snorkeling kit consists of a pair of swim fins, a dive mask, and a snorkel. The snorkel allows a swimmer to look down and continue breathing while doing so. There are a variety of snorkel designs out there, from simple breathing tubes to fancy rigs with sumps, a purge valve, and a splash guard at the top. How far to go in cost and quality in choosing a snorkel kit is really just a matter of whether a snorkeler is also interested in scuba diving. If they might eventually go into diving, a snorkeler should get a high quality set. Otherwise, a cheap kit is all that is really necessary
Cold water snorkeling, which means just about anywhere outside of the tropics, will require a wetsuit.
Snorkelers who are not strong swimmers should also bring a snorkel vest. The main thing to think about with a snorkel vest is whether or not the snorkeler will also be skin diving. People who plan on doing this will want a real snorkel vest, which can be inflated or deflated at will, if they want a snorkel vest at all. Those who will stick strictly to the surface can make due with a the same kind of flotation vest used by boaters and jet skiers.
Where to Snorkel
Snorkeling is an activity that should be looked into whenever someone is at the beach. The four basic issues of a snorkeler are the roughness of the sea, currents, visibility and minimum depth. A place that is thoroughly unsafe for swimmers, such as one prone to riptides, is also unsafe for snorkelers. The swim fins will give a snorkeler a little leverage than an ordinary swimmer would not have, but they won’t overcome strong ocean forces. Rough seas with strong wave action will likely dash a snorkeler into the very rocks and corals he is trying to observe, and should be avoided.
If depth is a low 5 meters, but the water has a murky visibility of 5 meters as well, it is a terrible place to snorkel because little if anything can be seen. Many scuba diving sites are good for snorkeling, but not all of them. Pinnacles and small rocky islands are great for snorkelers, because the waters are usually clear and the area’s perimeter is at a depth that snorkelers can see and skin dive in.
A good rule of thumb is that a surfing beach area is going to be bad for snorkelers due to bad visibility, high currents, and a lot of waves. However, the reverse is also usually the case: a place that is unsuitable for surfing is often very good to snorkelers.
One of the great virtues of snorkeling is that it can be done in so many places and requires very little preparation. If one is on a beach and sees a rocky place a few hundred feet from shore, checking it out is as simple as asking about the local waters, strapping on the gear, and swimming out to it. Consulting with a local lifeguard, boaters, or fishermen is usually the best way to find out about local currents. Past that, wave action, water temperature, and visibility can be judged on site.
Snorkeling enjoys two advantages over scuba diving. First is the lack cumbersome tanks. Snorkeling can be very liberating in a way that scuba diving is not. Imagine spending half an hour swimming alongside a slow moving sea turtle just a couple of meters below the surface: it’s the sort of thing a diver probably could not do, because of air limits and that their bubbles tend to scare turtles away. Second, there is no absolute need for a “buddy.” Snorkeling with others increases the safety margin, but a snorkeler’s life does not depend on complicated gear that might fail, and therefore they do not require a partner to back them up.
Snorkeling is so simple and the equipment is so light that anyone going on a beach vacation and is even a moderately-capable swimmer should invest in a cheap kit and bring it with them. It adds a whole new dimension of water sports fun, is very family friendly, and can be done just about anywhere along a shoreline and on the cheap.
The author is an experienced scuba diver, but continues to enjoy snorkeling for its simple virtues and ease of improvisation.