2 snorkelers under the surface in the sunlight

Can You Breathe Underwater With A Dry Snorkel?

The thought of swimming in crystal clear waters with fish in the tropical sunshine is a dream for many. Snorkeling seems to provide an easy opportunity to dip beneath the waves and share the world as well as glimpse the aquatic wildlife.

With the classic snorkel, it seems obvious that you can’t breathe underwater, as water fills the tube, but different technologies can change how sports are performed.

Snorkels come in a few different styles, one of them being the dry snorkel which essentially traps air in a tube as a snorkeler submerges. This raises an interesting question, so can you breathe underwater with a dry snorkel?

A dry snorkel does NOT allow a snorkeler to breathe underwater. A dry snorkel has a float valve which seals the tube when submerging. The contained air can’t be used to breathe. A snorkeler can only remain beneath the water’s surface as long as they can hold their breath without compressed air technology.

Let’s walk through how a dry snorkel works, and what you can do to achieve the dream of staying underwater for longer if you wish.

The Dry Snorkel

Although the snorkel is thought of as a very flexible bit of pipe, the truth is they have advanced with designs over the preceding years.

The more common advanced snorkels are called the semi-dry snorkels and the dry snorkels. Semi-dry snorkels are designed to keep the water out of the tube via a splash guard at the top of the tube.

This splash guard has angles that channel water splashes away from the breathing tube keeping it free for air. The snorkel tube will fill with water with big waves and submerging.

On the bend of these snorkels is a purge valve that allows a snorkeler to get rid of the excess water by exhaling gently, even while face down in the water.

A dry snorkel is so named because of the float valve at the top, not a splash guard.

a dry snorkel with a float valve

The float valve is designed to seal the top of the snorkel as it submerges. There are various different mechanisms, but the principle is the same.

As a snorkeler dives, taking the dry snorkel beneath the surface, a valve closes the tube stopping water ingress and keeps air in the tube.

The purpose is not to trap air, but to exclude water. This allows a snorkeler to return to the surface, remain face down, and through a purge valve, exhale gently and flush the water into the ocean before restarting normal breathing.

A dry snorkel still has a splash guard at the top, much like a semi-dry snorkel to keep water out while on the surface.

The robust ability of the dry snorkel to do this will depend upon the quality of the brand.

While they sound great, especially if you don’t like swallowing seawater, there are a few problems. In a rough sea or busy location, large water disturbance can cause them to close while still being on the surface, rather annoyingly cutting off the air supply.

In calm waters, they can be pretty good though. They are a good choice for a beginner who might not like the idea of clearing a snorkel of water with a large exhale.

What Happens If I Want To Breathe Underwater As I Snorkel?

I get what you mean here.

You want to stay underwater longer than you can hold your breath. The idea of learning scuba is too technical and all that gear is a bit cumbersome. You don’t want to go down to depths, just enjoy your time amongst the corals for longer.

Well, an option is to improve your breath-hold. Practice holding your breath and you will find you expand your lung capacity over time, and your body will get used to operating with a breathing interruption.

Short of taking up scuba diving, you are quite limited.

Or at least you were.

There are a few companies, one called Minidive, and the other called Snorkl who manufacture compressed air technology for use by snorkelers.

Basically, they are small, 0.5L scuba tanks with breathing apparatus for use with shallow dives.

The idea is that you dip beneath the waves with a small scuba tank that you can stay underwater for 10 minutes without resurfacing. As they are small they are easily used by a snorkeler and unobtrusive so you can stay down for longer than holding your breath.

A Quick Take On The Unseen Dangers Of Snorkl or MiniDive

By picking this style of product, I am not singling out this as a manufacturer problem, but rather one of the styles of the technology.

Other manufacturers may come along with the same idea, and the problem will still remain.

What problem am I talking about?

The problem of breathing compressed air underwater.

Apart from the fact that they can take an age to pressure, so you will spend more time out the water pumping up the tank, they are potentially lethal to those who misuse them.

They are marketed towards beginners. Beginners who have no idea about the dangers of using compressed air.

The manufacturers recommend shallow dives of around 3m but how many will keep to this. If you can stay underwater for longer, many may be tempted to go deeper.

There are too many temptations to go down deeper.

If you run out of air quicker than you thought you will have to come straight to the surface.

Divers have a safety stop for this activity typically 3 minutes in duration. The reason is to decompress from having been breathing compressed air at depth.

Without adequate decompression then the risk is potentially fatal. Your body needs time to get rid of the nitrogen to avoid the bends.

a female snorkeler with a a dry snorkel

Final Thoughts – Parting Waves

Snorkeling is a fantastic activity to get involved with. It’s good exercise and offers the opportunity to see some of the best wildlife the planet has to present.

A snorkel helps you breathe air while you remain on the surface, allowing you to glimpse the life below.

But that’s all it does.

A snorkel is not a replacement for compressed air. You cannot breathe through any style of snorkel underwater. 

A snorkeler will only remain beneath the surface for as long as they can hold their breath.

While technologies exist to make this stay underwater last for longer, they are fraught with danger. A scuba diver might be able to use them, but the snorkelers who they are marketed towards could potentially misuse them.

If you are a beginner to snorkeling stick with the safer methods, and move on to scuba diving if you want to go deeper and stay in the water longer.

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