2 snorkelers around some rocky headlands

Can You Snorkel When It’s Windy?

We all want amazing weather when we go on holiday. Visiting a new and exciting location is even more vibrant when the weather is perfect.

Snorkeling is no different. Some destinations have a perfect temperature, amazing snorkeling experiences and sheltered bays to enjoy the aquatic wildlife. In the real world, things work a little differently.

You can definitely snorkel when it’s sunny, and even with a bit of rain, but what about wind. Can you snorkel when it’s windy?

Wave heights of 2ft to 3ft with 10mph wind start to make snorkeling more difficult than calm conditions, after which currents and tides can make a big difference to wave height. You can snorkel when it’s windy up to around 20 to 25mph as a maximum. This is Beaufort scale 5 which produces wave heights of 6 to 10 feet. 

There are many different parameters here though, as sheltered bays can make a difference, 

How Much Wind Is Too Much For Snorkeling?

There’s always going to be some wind, it’s just a question of when it might be a little too much to make it uncomfortable.

Much like any current, wind whipping across the sea can blow you in a direction, so the first thing to note is wind direction.

If the wind is blowing you onto the beach, then that might be OK, but an offshore wind will blow you out to sea, although it’d have to be really strong. While wave height can vary with tides and currents, the Beaufort scale gives some good advice.

The Beaufort is a scale for the wind that ranges from 0 to 12, with 0 being flat calm, and 12 being a hurricane with winds over 73 mph. Sailors are familiar with it.

The Beaufort number 5 is defined as a fresh breeze, which has wind speeds of 19–24 mph (17–21 knots) and produces waves between 6 ft to 10 ft. The fabled ‘white horses’ begin to appear on wave crests.

Beaufort scale number 4 produces waves between 3.5 to 6 ft and it’s perfectly possible to snorkel in that, although it can be a bit of a swell, as long as it’s a shallow swell.

The reality is that it will start to become a little uncomfortable at anything over 10mph wind which will be around 3ft wave swells.

If you’re more susceptible, then 2 feet swells might be uncomfortable.

snorkelers in clear water near a boat

Too Much Wind Affects Safety

While wind itself might not be that problematic, it can cause the swells more associated with difficult conditions for snorkeling. In mild conditions with a swell of a few feet, one can easily snorkel, although it can induce nausea in some.

Larger waves come with increasing wind strength which can cause stronger rip currents, and make boat travel more ‘choppy’.

Have a chat with a local rental shop or a tour company to find what wind conditions cause difficult snorkeling if you are worried about it.

The wind is pervasive and doesn’t just affect the waves at the snorkeling destination, but if you have picked a snorkeling tour, then that company has to consider the wind in order to get there.

Reefs and corals for snorkeling can be on shallow bars and as such can cause difficult conditions to pilot a vessel.

The wind isn’t measured in mph, but in knots, so it’s critical to make the distinction. 20 knots wind is 23 mph, so it’s pretty close.

Why Your Tour May Be Cancelled If It’s Too Windy

There can be a few reasons but it might not only be due to safety.

A strong wind that produces swells can also kick up sand and cause the visibility to drop in certain areas. Technically you could snorkel but it’d be like walking in a fog. It rarely gets that bad but tours can sense when a snorkeling trip wouldn’t be worthwhile because of the wind.

If you are a strong swimmer, and an experienced snorkeler you may be able to snorkel but tours will cater to the average tourist, and as such risk having an accident happen on their watch.

Wave heights between 2 to 3.5 feet in height will start to cause uncomfortable snorkeling. As swells start to increase it also becomes difficult to see snorkelers within waves making them prone to boating accidents.

In calm weather, the boat gently rocks so water entry can be smooth but in a swell from wind, the boat motion can make water entry and exit much riskier, especially for snorkeling beginners.

The question you need to ask yourself is if a snorkeling tour operator cancels a tour, was it going to be a good experience if they’d left. Chances are it wouldn’t have been.

a snorkeler in clear water near dive boat

Final Thoughts – Parting Waves

Snorkeling is a fantastic experience, especially for a beginner if the weather is on your side. If it isn’t it can get a little dicey.

Part of the decision to go snorkeling ought to be whether the wind is good enough. 

Wind of over 10mph can produce waves of around 3ft in height and the water surface can start to throw your body around and make the snorkeling difficult, potentially making breathing quite difficult as the snorkel starts to intake water more frequently.

Locations will vary, and onshore wind on one side of an island may be choppy while the lee side of the island could be calmer, although you have an offshore wind to contend with.

Sheltered bays help with the effects of wind, so an area may be OK even in stronger winds.

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