Thomas Grønfeldt Senger, Scuba Instructor
A beginners guide to snorkeling
Get your fins on and mask ready!
Here's our guide to getting the most out of your snorkeling.
In this guide, we’ll cover the three aspects that are necessary to getting the most out of your snorkeling:
Snorkeling is often an underrated activity. For many travelers in tropic destinations, it's presented as something anyone can do, and often involves plowing through the surface with rental gear and a swim vest on. But snorkeling can be so much more!
In fact, modern scuba diving grew out of snorkeling, or skin diving as it was known then.
Snorkeling can be a very rewarding activity. It benefits from its simplicity, where you can simply grab a mask and some fins, rather than hauling a bag full of heavy scuba gear. This also allows for more flexibility, allowing you to bring your gear on trips where bringing tons of scuba gear isn’t a possibility. And the lack of bubbles means you can often get closer to marine wildlife than with scuba gear on.
In this guide, we’ll cover the three aspects that are necessary to getting the most out of your snorkeling.
Take it easy the first few times.
To really make the most of your next snorkeling trip, and leave the newbies in your wake, a bit of preparation is helpful.
Improve your swimming
If your swimming skills aren’t the best, take some swimming lessons at your local pool. And even if you’re a decent swimmer, becoming an even better swimmer will only benefit you in the water.
Focus in particular on the freestyle, as the kicking technique from that style is the one you’ll be using when snorkeling.
Being a strong swimmer will also allow you to ditch the swim vest that are often popular with snorkeling outfits.
While a snorkeling vest helps you with flotation, it will also hinder your movements in the water. And make it harder, if not impossible, to do dives to check out a reef or fish.
Good swimming skills will help keep you safe in the water.
A whole new world awaits you with snorkeling
Photograph by Barry Tuck
Swimming is one thing - Swimming with fins on is something else entirely.
The extra drag and weight of the fins put extra toll on the muscles, which is why you might experienced cramping up if you’re not used to swimming with fins.
So take a pair of fins to the local pool, or your home waters, and do laps with them on.
Mix it up, so you do both long stretches at a mid-level pace, and shorter, faster stretches.
Improve your breath hold
Many snorkelers simply stay at the surface, and use the snorkel to breathe while looking down.
A number of more advanced snorkelers, though, move into skin diving territory by doing occasional dives below the surface while holding their breath.
This will allow you to get a much closer look of the marine wildlife, and you'll explore reefs and other underwater features up close.
To maximize your time underwater, you can train your breath holding capacity, as well as your swimming efficiency.
For more experience hit up your local freediving club for hands on training and practice. With the growing popularity of freediving, these are becoming increasingly easy to find.
Go in pairs when snorkeling
Photograph by Martin Valigursky
Conserving Energy While Snorkeling
Going for a leisurely swim in tropical waters may not sound like serious exercise, but make no mistake, snorkeling can take it out of you! Even in very warm water, your body loses heat continuously, due to water’s heat capacity being greater than air’s.
And propelling yourself forward with fins on requires some energy as well.
Add to this that snorkeling trips can be all-day things, with hours spent in the water, and you can see why thinking about keeping your energy expenditure down is useful!
Many new snorkelers have a tendency to try and swim along using their arms, like they’d do in a pool. But our legs, in particular with fins on, outperform our arms many times over. So a good way to conserve energy is to keep our arms relaxed at our sides and focus on our fins instead.
And don’t kick too hard, even a leisurely kicking pace is enough to drive you forward, and moving too fast just means you’ll zoom by interesting sights.
Plus, kicking too hard and flailing with your arms creates a lot of splashing that will scare away the very animals you’re there to see!
Remember to stay close to shore or the boat
Photograph by Dudarev Mikhail
Conserving your air while snorkeling
Breath deep and slow. Breathing through a snorkel can be quite different from breathing without one.
Taking deep breaths is important to get the most out of it. Taking deep breaths also helps keep your heart rate down, which in turn helps you relax and conserve energy.
Many snorkelers are completely happy staying in the surface throughout their dive, and in that case, they should.
While others feel the urge to take short dives on a breath-hold to get closer to reefs, marine animals, or other features in the deep. To get the most out of your single breath, there are a few things you can do:
First foremost, relax.
Take a few moments in the surface to move as little as possible and get your breathing under control.
Then, take a few deep, controlled breaths.
When you’re ready for your descent bent 90 degrees at the waist so your torso is submerged and vertical in the water, and raise your leg up so they, too, are vertical but above water.
The weight of your legs will drive you into the depths, saving you energy in the process. As your fins reach the water, use them to gain further depth.
This is much, much more efficient than the swimming ascent you often see inexperienced snorkelers attempt.
Once your underwater, relax.
Most people can significantly improve their breath holds simply by slowing down and relaxing. Swim slowly and efficiently, seeking to streamline your body and making every movement about propelling you forward.
Err on the side of conservatism. Come up well before you run out of air, and slowly extend your bottom time for each time you dive. Soon, you’ll get a feel for how long you can stay down safely, and most likely, it will be considerably longer than your first venture under the surface.
What about snorkeling with Whale Sharks in the Maldives
Photograph by BlueOrange Studio
Best Places For Snorkeling
Now that you’re all set for snorkeling, its time to consider where to go to get your flippers wet!
This article contains five of the best places in the world to go snorkeling.
By no means an exhaustive list, this is simply a DYI bucket list of places to snorkel.
Feel free to add your own in the comments below.
Snorkeling Tulamben, Bali
One of the underwater features that are usually available to scuba divers only, are wrecks.
But, there are wrecks out there that can be explored and experienced without a tank on your back, and at the coastal town of Tulamben on the island of Bali, there’s just such a wreck, the USAT Liberty.
A World War II US Army transport, she was struck by a Japanese torpedo, and beached on Bali.
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A subsequent volcano eruption caused the wreck to slide out and submerge under water, but still at only a few feet of water.
Combine that with the general clarity of the water, and the entire wreck can be explored from the surface, or from easy freedives to experience details of the wreck, and the marine life that now inhabits it.
Scuba divers also flock to this place, so snorkelers and divers will get the rare treat of mingling underwater.
Snorkeling the Jellyfish Lake, Palau, Micronesia
Snorkeling doesn’t have to take place in the open water, many lakes offer just as unique experiences as can ever be found in the ocean.
Jellyfish Lake on the island of Palau is no exception! It is very much what it says in the name, a lake filled with jellyfish!
The lake is a saltwater lake, with literally thousands of harmless jellyfish living here.
Swimming and snorkeling in the lake is permitted, but scuba diving is not, so you’ll have no bubbles to disturb your outlook.
And swimming in the lake, looking up at the clouds of jellyfish breaking the bright sun’s rays as they filter through the water, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The clearest and cleanest water you will ever likely to swim in and cold too!
Credit: J. Helgason
Snorkeling Silfra, Thingvellir, Iceland
The lake of Silfra in Iceland, formed by tectonic plates separating and literally tearing the country apart, is a place like no other.
A deep, sometimes very narrow, crack in the rocky ground, it plummets down to 30 feet or more, and is filled with the clearest, cleanest water you’re ever likely to swim in.
It is also, as, cold.
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On a good day, it rarely comes above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so this is definitely a drysuit trip.
Drysuits and snorkeling gear can be rented, when you hire a guide, from a number of tour operators in and around Reykjavik.
The water here is so clear, and the visibility so good, that people with severe vertigo is recommended to not do this trip, as vertigo can definitely set in as your swimming along in the surface of what the locals call “liquid air”, with several feet of plummeting depth below you.
Ras Mohammed offers an abundance of marine life waiting to be explored
Snorkeling Ras Mohammed National Marine Park, Egypt
Back to warm water!
Ras Mohammed, close to the resort area of Sharm el-Sheik, offers some of the most pristine corals and most abundant marine life in the northern Red Sea.
With easy access by boat or shore, and many sheltered alcoves, this area offers great experiences for beginning and experienced snorkelers alike, and even for advanced tech divers!
Take a day trip and explore the many coves, with coral encrusted walls and a whole plethora of marine life including antiochs, trigger fish, parrot fish, stingrays, and more.
Snorkeling Dean’s Blue Hole, Bahamas
A “blue hole” occurs when the roof of undersea cave collapses, creating an abrupt change in depth, compared to the surrounding area.
Dean’s Blue Hole is the deepest known of these, it plunges down to an astonishing 663 feet, attracting hardcore tech divers for that very reason.
But just because it is popular with tech divers, doesn’t mean its off limits to snorkelers.
Swimming along the surrounding reefs and sandy bottom and seeing the bottom just disappearing beneath you and the deep opening up, is bound to give you a bit of goosebumps.
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And if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see a group of tech divers ascending or descending into the vast, blue nothing beneath.
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