men snorkeling in rocks with wetsuits on

Do You Need A Wetsuit For Snorkeling?

If you are new to the concept of watersports, and aquatic recreational activity then you might assume that all water based diving styled sports require a wetsuit.

A wetsuit has a very specific purpose, so what’s the truth? Do you need a wetsuit for snorkeling?

A wetsuit isn’t required for snorkeling and typically wouldn’t be worn. Most areas used for snorkeling are in water warm enough for traditional swimwear. If you will be snorkeling for a prolonged period you can wear a rash guard (rash vest) for UV protection. A wetsuit can be worn if you need additional buoyancy or in uncharacteristically colder climates.

Type in snorkeling to google and then looking at the images doesn’t produce many pictures of people in wetsuits. And this is pretty much the case on the ground as well.

It’s not a common site but you do see it on occasion so it certainly doesn’t look out of place either. You would only normally see wetsuit tops or shorty wetsuits as they are called.

Why A Wetsuit Is Worn

A wetsuit is made from a fabric called Neoprene.

Neoprene is a man made material that has loads of ‘air pockets’ naturally in the fiber. This has the effect of providing insulation, keeping warmth, UV protection, and aiding buoyancy in the water.

a man snorkeling with a fish in a rash guard

A wetsuit traps a small layer of water between you and the suit. Your bosy naturally warms this layer and helps you retain heat around the torso.

They come in varying thicknesses, which reflect the temperature of the water for the diver. 0.5mm thickness might be required for temperatures around 65°- 75° Fahrenheit, but 7mm thickness might be required for temperatures below 40° Fahrenheit.

While air and water are measured in terms of temperature, they are not the same for practical purposes.

Water has a higher ‘heat capacity’ than air and transfers heat away from your body 25 times faster. That’s why you feel colder in water.

If the air temperature is 60°- 65° Fahrenheit then you can walk around in a t-shirt without any issues. The same water temperature will see you start to shiver, and you may perhaps need a 2mm neoprene wetsuit.

Most Snorkeling Doesn’t Require A Wetsuit

A lot of snorkeling is done in areas where there are coral reefs, and aquatic life. While you can snorkel in any water you like, in theory at least, why would you snorkel without anything to see.

There has to be life visible to a snorkeler to make it worthwhile.

Coral, and shallow water plant life in general needs a few things to survive.

Clear water, movement, food, sun, and life to name a few.

An important one though is water temperature.

Corals that live in reefs absolutely require warm water to survive. While there are obvious species differences, the prevailing opinion is that the range for a coral reef is 68–90° F ( 20–32° C).

And let’s face it, snorkeling is more synonymous with tropical holidays, so natural warmth is there before you snorkel.

The life and the sub aquatic visuals are much more prevalent in warm waters.

As such, in any area that you’d want to snorkel, normally would not require a wetsuit. That isn’t to say you can’t wear them, just that they are not needed normally.

A Rash Guard (Rash Vest) Is More Than Enough

While many who try snorkeling just do so in traditional swimwear, if you are going to spend some significant time on the water it might be an idea to wear some clothing designed for use in the water.

They are called rash guards or rash vests.

They are made from lightweight, and breathable materials like nylon, polyester, and spandex. In the snorkeling use they will protect you from UV rays or your skin from sea glare.

They started out as wear for surfers to protect from abrasions, and can offer light protection to those in the water from stings. As a snorkeler, it’s mainly UV protection.

When You Might Want To Consider A Wetsuit

That’s not to say a wetsuit might not have its place in the snorkeling world.

While it’s unlikely you will want to snorkel in a 7mm neoprene diving suit, a wetsuit top o a shorty wetsuit with a few mm thickness can provide a few benefits in certain circumstances.

a man snorkeling with a fish in a rash guard

A wetsuit, being made from trapped air materials will offer some buoyancy so may be better for non confident swimmers. 

While a snorkel vest can be used, these are more equipment than just wearing a top. A top to iad buoyancy is much easier.

Here’s a quick guide that you may want to take a look at so you can decide.

Water Temperature Range (°F)Wetsuit ThicknessRecommended
>72°N/ARashguard
65°- 75°0.5 mm – 2/1 mmTop / Shorty
62°- 68°2 mm – 3/2 mmSpringsuit / Full Suit

Any lower than 62° and you are starting to talk about thicker neoprene suits and extremity coverings.

Everybody is different though. Typically the things that effect how cold you feel will depend on a few factors.

Such as;

  • The temperature of the air
  • The wind speed
  • How you are personally affected by the cold
  • The level of activity

Only you can decide if a wetsuit might be needed. If you are going somewhere shallow and tropical, then it’s unlikely.

Final Thoughts

While it isn’t unusual to see people wearing a wetsuit top for snorkeling, it isn’t necessary if you are in tropical waters, and in shallow waters.

A wetsuit is designed, not only to offer some abrasive resistant qualities, but to keep a person warm in the water.

Normally snorkeling is done in warm water as that is consistent with the varied sea life that you might want to see while pursuing the activity.

A rash guard is normally quite enough for most areas, isn’t overly restrictive and gives you the protection from UV rays that you will need for a prolonged time in the water.

Only really consider a wetsuit if you want some additional buoyancy, or you think the water might be a little colder than normal.

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