a female snorkeler close up with fish

Can You Snorkel Underwater?

Snorkeling is amazingly attractive as an activity. As such, a great many people want to try it and do so as part of a holiday when visiting a tropical paradise.

Pictures are all around the internet of beautiful crystal clear water, with effortless snorkeling surrounded by fish in the sunshine. It’s an enticing prospect leading many to want to give it a go. 

You might even see pictures of snorkelers swimming underwater, and if you are completely new wonder if the snorkeler in the picture is breathing with the snorkel underwater,

So, can you snorkel underwater?

No, you can’t use a traditional snorkel to breathe while underwater deeper than the snorkel tube The snorkel allows you to keep your face down in the water and look at the world below. When a snorkeler dives beneath the surface, the snorkel cannot be used to breathe. Typically a snorkeler will take a deep breath before ‘duck diving’ beneath the surface. You can only ‘breathe’ underwater as long as the tube is above the surface.

Snorkels come in many different guises and technologies and have different usage and functions, so picking one that is right for you is of paramount importance if you intend to enjoy your snorkeling.

There are some technologies emerging that do allow you to breathe underwater, but they aren’t snorkels. They’re quite a bit more expensive, but not prohibitively so.

Do Snorkels Work Underwater?

For a snorkel to work, the top of it needs access to the atmosphere. A snorkeler will breathe through the snorkel tube while floating on the surface.

Any traditional type of snorkel you buy or rent will not be useable once the snorkel is submerged.

Either the tube will fill with water, or air is trapped inside. A typical human breath is 6 liters of air which is way more than a typical snorkel volume.

snorkelers watching 2 whale sharks

How Do Snorkels Work Underwater

A typical snorkel is just a tube, but many manufacturers offer something called a semi-dry snorkel which has a splash guard at the top that angles and channels water away from the breathing tube to assist airflow.

Both these types of snorkels will fill with water the moment the diver is submerged. When returning to the surface, the traditional type will require an expunge of lung air to clear the tube, and the semi-dry snorkel will likely have a purge valve, that displaces the water with a one way valve.

Only a slight exhale will drain the water from the bottom of the snorkel while still underwater, or above the surface, it will drain out naturally. A diver can thus return to the surface with little need to break the surface to breathe.

This is also true with the dry snorkel. At the top of a dry snorkel is a float valve that closes when the diver submerges. This traps the air in the tube.

When the diver with a dry snorkel returns to the surface the float valve will open instantaneously, thus allowing the diver to breathe without the need to clear water from the tube.

Can You Breathe UnderWater With A Snorkel?

A snorkeler cannot use a traditional snorkel to breathe underwater. So, hopefully, now you can see that a snorkeler who wishes to swim beneath the waves with a snorkel will have to take a deep breath.

Thus the longer you can hold your breath underwater, the longer your underwater swim will be. To breathe, a snorkeler needs to return to the surface.

Most snorkeling is done in pretty shallow water. Often it’s done in water depths you can stand up in, but it’s not normally over 4 o5 meters or so.

Thus returning to the surface isn’t a huge issue for many people, especially if it’s their first go at it.

a female snorkeler close up

Can You Breathe Underwater With A Full Face Mask?

The snorkeling community is always awash with innovations. One of the latest is the full face mask.

These masks cover the face entirely, rather than the traditional type of snorkel and masks.

Firstly, the full face mask is just that, a mask. You can’t stay submerged for longer than you can hold your breath. It isn’t a replacement for scuba tanks and regulators in shallow water. There isn’t oxygen producing equipment inside a full face mask.

They do allow a few things though, which many beginners prefer

  • You can breathe through either your nose or mouth
  • No jaw fatigue as the snorkel is not placed in the mouth

If that appeals to you then take a look at the quick video below.

How Long Can You Breathe Underwater With A Snorkel?

Swimming leisurely underwater in the clear blue will produce memories that will stay with you forever.

Although there are many factors to this equation, such as health, weather conditions, and whatever propensity an individual snorkeler has to be underwater, the short answer is as long as you can hold your breath.

Some people panic a little more than others and don’t like to see their mask filling. However, with more practice, this becomes easier.

Is There A Mask That Let’s You Breathe Underwater?

Not yet, but there is a technology more adapted to snorkelers rather than scuba divers.

It’s called SNORKL. The official website can be found here.

It works on the same principle though. A very small tank is pressurized with compressed air, by either hand pumping it, or filling with a scuba tank.

That small tank has a mouthpiece allowing a snorkeler 10 minutes of pressurized tank breathing allowing them to stay beneath the surface.

It’s far more designed for snorkelers than scuba divers, but there are scuba risks that will require professional instruction.

BEWARE – you are now breathing compressed air underwater and as such you are susceptible to the dangers associated with it. I’d advise going on a professional course before buying this product and ‘trying it out’ on your own.

There are a few issues with it though. Here’s a good video of someone testing it out in the real world.

Namely, it takes a while to pump up and only lasts for about 100m before needing a refill.

Final Thoughts – Parting Waves

Mostly a snorkeler will have a tube and a mask, and while being face down and breathing through the snorkel tube can be snorkeling indefinitely.

Or at least until you tire.

A full-face mask will allow you to breathe through either your nose or mouth, but still requires the snorkeling tube above the water taking in air.

Snorkeling is an amazing activity with many life changing activities that can be experienced. It isn’t difficult to learn, and if you are confident in the water can be done with ease.

Still, a snorkeler is limited to their time underwater by how long they can hold their breath. No masks allow anything different, and if you want more time underwater, it’s best to move up to scuba diving.

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