a snorkeler in a safety vest

How Do You Snorkel Safely And Successfully As A Beginner?

When you’re a newcomer to any sport the temptation to give it a go is often tempered by the realization that you might need to know some things first.

While in some sports you can do this safely, snorkeling comes with a sense of unease as you are dealing with the ocean. Questions arise as to what you might not know that you’d like to before you start.

For many, snorkeling is something they want to try as part of a vacation, so the essence is to get it right from the start, and not waste time on doing things that aren’t necessary.

If you’re confident in the water it can often be a case of grabbing the kit, throwing it on and diving into the water with a ‘how does all this work then’ styled attitude. 

If you aren’t though and prefer to plan a little bit then giving your mind some parameters to make the snorkeling as good as it can be, makes more sense

So if you’re a beginner to snorkeling, fear not, here are a few quick tips to get you started as safely as possible. Snorkeling isn’t hard to learn, and in the right environment will be an unforgettable experience, so there’s nothing to fear.

This article will walk you through a few simple tips to make sure your first snorkel is not only safe but as fun and exciting as possible.

Assess Your Confidence

Be honest about what your abilities are in the water.

Snorkeling can be physically demanding, certainly more than you think it is. You can easily tire if you are not used to exercising. How comfortable are you in the water, and how good are you at swimming?

As it’s energy intensive, especially if you’re a beginner then you are more at risk from cramps and other issues.

This is just a question of common sense, and working within your limits. If you’re new it’s best to just make sure you know what you’re doing and feel comfortable in doing so from the start.

Preparation

There’s very little in life that can’t be improved with a little preparation. As the old army adage goes ‘prior preparation and planning prevent poor performance’.

So if you are hoping to get the very best out of your snorkeling on a trip, then making sure you are adequately prepared is helpful.

Do as much research on the area as possible and visit the forums asking all the questions you might like to know, such as if it’s suitable for a beginner. Ask advice and see what comes back.

If you aren’t a good swimmer or need some practice you can take a trip to the pool and make sure everything works. If you’ve bought a mask, why not take it along and see if it works, or is at least comfortable for you. Do a quick test of any gear you like including rashguards and the snorkel.

Check you can breathe through the snorkel, as if you have trouble on land then in the open ocean won’t help matters.

Perhaps get a few snorkel keepers in reserve. They attach a snorkel to a mask and can be used in the event of problems,

Improve Your Breath Hold

As a beginner, you may wish to just snorkel on the surface. Surface snorkeling is the essence of the sport so no-one will have an issue with that, especially if it’s in shallow water.

To dive beneath the surface means you will have to hold your breath, and many a snorkeler will enjoy gliding across the seabed rather than the surface.

Beneath the surface you can more easily get amongst the marine life, and often see corals close up. It’s such an enjoyable part of snorkeling that most do it, even on their first trip.

So before the snorkeling trip, why not build up your breath hold, which is a fancy way of saying how long you can hold your breath. 

Take a few deep and slow breaths and then intake a breath and hold. See how long you can hold it.

If you try it a few times a day, you will find you can quite considerably increase your breath hold. It’s amazing what the human body can do with a bit of practice.

Don’t Snorkel Alone

Snorkeling can ignite passions and bring lifelong memories. Drop-in a tropical environment and many people get carried away. Even if that’s not a good pun for dealing with an ocean and tides.

With a bewildering array of dizzying sights to get carried away with it’s easy to get lost in the underwater environment, even if you’re new to the sport.

It’s ever so easy, and everyone does it, to slowly drift away from where you started, and when you check you’re not quite where you thought you were.

There are a few problems that can occur, not least of which is an injury, where someone near you can either help out or call for help.

Snorkeling alone doesn’t necessarily you can’t make your snorkeling trip in solitude, but make sure you go somewhere where there are fellow snorkelers around you.

Boat tours can be good for this if you don’t have anyone to snorkel with.

Pick A Good Location

If you are going to a specific resort or a very precise location then this isn’t as relevant, but for any vacations and trips, you have some leeway in deciding which snorkeling location you might want.

Ideally, you want a combination of calm shallow water, a wide variety of interesting snorkeling life, and has good facilities with limited tourists.

If you find one of those, then let me know 😉

Do some google searching with the phrase ‘beginner friendly’ tagged on and see what returns. You don’t want cliff entrances and isolated locations on your first trip out. Much better to pick somewhere with lifeguards.

While boat tours can be great, especially to be snorkeling around other people, a shallow beach entrance is probably best if you’re new to the sport. You can return to land easily and sort out any of those ‘niggles’ that happen.

Calm waters also keep the seabed undisturbed. Heavy weather will throw up sand and reduce visibility.

So, in summary

  • Shallow water
  • Calm water
  • Visually compelling
  • Lifeguards
  • Beginner friendly
  • Easy water entrance

It’s always best if you give yourself the best possible chance to enjoy the snorkeling and remain safe on your first trip out. Waves are great, but not so good for the snorkeler.

With calm waters and plenty to see you won’t find yourself what everybody sees in the sport, but rather wondering when you can next go.

Learn To Defog The Mask

Right after getting a mask that fits, learning some simple defogging techniques is uppermost on the list of skills of a would-be snorkeler.

Everything else sort of pales by comparison if you can’t see where you’re going. It’s quite frustrating.

It’s largely caused by a dirty interior lens in chick moisture attaches to impurities or imperfections. Cleaning the inside with basic toothpaste, or saliva will ‘coat’ the mask in a way that the moisture doesn’t adhere to the lens. Rinse afterward.

So prep the mask, and make sure you have some sort of defogging spray to give you crystal clear vision from the start.

Prepare Yourself 

While most people think of snorkeling as compelling and entertaining, and it is, the additional truth is it can be physically demanding.

Water is 784 times denser than air, and you are pushing yourself through it to snorkel. As such your muscles get quite a workout. Snorkeling is normally done in warm tropical climates, you also will sweat quite profusely.

Only in the water, you won’t notice and will dehydrate faster than you might doing other tasks.

It’s important to eat a decent meal a few hours beforehand and keep yourself hydrated. Take some fresh drinking water and sip it often, as well as having a few bananas and cereal bars to keep energy and essential minerals in your system while you snorkel.

Protect Yourself

Snorkeling and tropical sun are kind of synonymous. That’s the attraction, right?

Treat the combination of tropical sun and reflection on the sea as something you need to guard against. So you will probably need some sunscreen.

You might want to purchase some sunscreen that can be used in a marine environment so oils aren’t put into the ocean and upset the ecosystem.

Additionally, you want to take a rashguard. This is a lightweight fabric that dries really easily that covers all the relevant areas against sunburn. Many people snorkel in a rashguard.

Weather Check

This is self-explanatory really so I won’t dwell on it.

You should definitely check the weather forecast for the period you want to be snorkeling, as well as tides. 

Knowing you will be in good weather not only makes snorkeling easier at the start, but it’s also safer.

Stay Within Prescribed Zones

This is a safety issue.

In many snorkeling areas, you might see some floating lanes used to mark off an area. Within this area, it could be busier than you’d like and you might feel like going onto the other side to get away from other snorkelers.

Typically you might see them near headlands or rocks and presume it’s safe to do so.

I’ve seen a few people do this, and the reason there is a prescribed snorkeling area can quickly become clear.

Sometimes it’s used to keep snorkelers away from an area that is undergoing recovery, but the other reason is safety.

I’ve twice seen now, a group of lads, go over the floating rope and get themselves into trouble. They swam over the headland a bit and straight into a riptide. This is a powerful flow of water that you can’t fight against. You go where the water is going.

Luckily there are normally rescue boats about but if it’s your first time, please stay within the prescribed areas. They’re there to keep you safe.

Awareness 

This is one of those ‘catch-all’ type tips, but you shouldn’t gloss over it. 

When you’re new to something it’s easy to get carried away. Make some assessment of the safe areas you want to go into and check regularly that you’re in this zone.

With fins, you can go faster, and as you immerse yourself in aquatic life you can be a long way from the beach quite quickly.

Always keep an eye on your location and you’re not drifting too far away from people whom you may need to call on for help.

Ask a lifeguard to keep an eye on you if necessary, and ask them about rip currents and riptides in the area.

Be aware of the dangers that are about, even if you haven’t any intention of going anywhere near them.

Comfortable Gear

Many a snorkeler has had their first trip ruined by not having the equipment right from the start. Masks too small, blisters on the feet, or a snorkel that doesn’t attach well. 

If you’ve done the preparation well, then you may skip this, but if you haven’t or plan on renting the equipment, then you absolutely need to make sure that your gear is comfortable, and works.

A set of snorkeling equipment is traditionally the fins, mask, and snorkel, known as the FMS set. I’d recommend buying a mask and snorkel at least before you go as they will have the most impact on your snorkeling and are easy to transport.

Fins can be rented out on their own with ease.

Whatever way you go about it, don’t just grab a set and go. Make sure each item fits you well and is comfortable to use.

Put the mask on your face without using the strap and slightly breathe in through your nose and hold. There is now negative pressure inside the mask, and as such it should stick to your face.

If it doesn’t the pressure is equalizing and that mask will give you a leak.

Don’t create too much pressure as you get what is known as a ‘false seal’. Enough pressure and everything seals but will be uncomfortable as you will need to overtighten the straps to get the same effect.

A light intake of breath through the nose should seal the mask skirts on your face. Move your face muscles and turn your head. Check it works with movement.

Fin sizes can work like footwear sizes. Try a set that is not too large, nor too tight. You will either get blisters on your heel, your toes, or you will see them float off.

Once you’ve put a fin on, shake the foot a little. It shouldn’t chafe or fall off. Remember, your feet may shrink a little in the water.

Consider a scuba sock or a bootie to get better fitting fins and prevent chaffing.

Prepare The Mask

It’s advisable to get familiar with mask maintenance. Not just in defogging, but lens preparation and care.

The mask is perhaps the most vital aspect of snorkeling, as you can’t attach a snorkel without one. You simply have to be able to see where you’re going.

Before you use the mask perform the following;

Clean and rinse – Run the mask under lukewarm water and get rid of any grit, sand, or other impurities. Check the skirt, lens, and folds to make sure there is nothing inside.

Toothpaste – Use basic and non minted toothpaste and not the gel kind. Place a small amount of toothpaste on each lens and rub it in. It’s best with a soft wipe and not your fingers. 

Rinse – Wash away the toothpaste until you get it all off, and make sure the lens is clear.

Repeat – Repeat 2 or 3 times to create a fog free lens.

With all that try not to scratch the lens.

Keep the mask safe and protect it from knocks, scratches, and oils. Don’t put dirty thumbprints on the lens.

Learn to use defogging spray, and use it before you go into the water.

Just remember to breathe through your mouth which avoids the moisture build up within the mask lens.

Float

It’s been said more than once that snorkeling should often be called floating. Learn initially to float with your hands behind your back or by your side.

Snorkeling is meant to be relaxing, stick really slowly to begin with, pointing in the preferred direction of travel. Only move at a pace that allows you to keep breathing normally, without feeling like you are exerting yourself.

Do everything slowly and pace yourself in the very beginning. It’s difficult not to get overwhelmed, but learn to move with precision.

Prevent Blisters

Blisters can not just ruin a snorkeling trip but make the rest of a holiday problematic as well.

Picking a decent pair of fins is a large part of it, but see if a pair of booties help. They can pad out a snorkeling fin, but also help prevent the chaffing that will cause the blisters.

Zinc oxide tape can be applied to dry feet to put over areas that are rubbing, so you can take a roll of the tape with you if you prefer.

Don’t Touch Coral/Marine Life

There’s a golden rule to snorkeling that you will hear, read, and be reminded about wherever you go. Tours often stress the point.

The intent is to do no harm, but the rule is – Don’t touch anything

It’s not immediately obvious what this means or why, but ocean life is in a very finely balanced ecosystem, and you can actually kill coral systems just by touching it, so it’s advised to keep your hands to yourself.

It’s a simple matter of respecting the environment you are temporarily visiting.

Corals – These are living ecosystems that harbor marine life which is protected by an enzyme. If you touch corals you can remove this symbiotic enzyme and cause the death of the colony. As such you affect where local fish feed, and the life beyond that.

Marine life – Anything from fish, turtles, eels, and rays shouldn’t be touched, chased, fed, or harassed. You have no idea whether you are causing stress to an animal as you reach out to touch it, or chase it. Let animals come to you and let them go as they please.

Remain an observer, not an intruder.

No feeding – While it’s tempting the idea is that if entire systems and species get used to regular feeding, you change their behavior. You deprive them of life saving skills that they will need to keep.

Sunscreen – Use a biodegradable sunscreen, not a beach sunscreen. They are specifically designed to interact with an ocean and not cause damage as the ocean water envelops you.

Leave things – While it’s tempting to want to take memories and mementos back with you, it’s better if it’s a postcard or a fridge magnet.

You could easily take something back with you that is home to a creature, or protection for others. 

Again, the rule of leaving things where they are and observing only is one every conscientious snorkeler should obey.

Snorkeling Vest

A snorkeling vest is a flotation aid that wraps around the torso and inflates with air blown into it.

They aren’t lifesavers as they aren’t designed to support the head out of the water. They’re designed to be unobtrusive so that a non confident swimmer might be able to remain buoyant more easily.

If you are a non swimmer, worried about the ocean, or don’t like swimming in depth then a snorkeling vest can be a great addition. 

They don’t interfere with the snorkeling, so are a great plus if you feel you need one.

Swim Parallel To The Beach

In general, you can remain safer by snorkeling parallel to the beach. This prevents you from moving out into the deeper water as you start your snorkeling excursion.

Hopefully, it will keep the snorkeling at a similar depth as the shelf normally gets deeper the further out you go.

Swimming parallel means that should you get into trouble, the beach is never that far away.

Breathe Slow And Deep

In every aspect of life, taking slow and deep breaths will calm you down as the body gets more oxygen.

It’s the same with snorkeling. Don’t overexert yourself and keep your breathing slow and deep, rather than fast and shallow. It will keep you relaxed and make maximum use of the oxygen you take in. It naturally calms you.

A snorkel doesn’t make breathing more difficult as the tube has a wide enough gape.

Move Slowly And Deliberately

If you observe sea life for any length of time you will notice the slow and deliberate movement of nearly everything.

It’s as if everything is in balance.

Balance and smooth pacing are the key to life in the sea. There’s a certain symmetry to it. A shark glides, a dolphin skims the water, and a whale rolls through the water.

Quick, darting, and thrashing styled movement is a signal of distress in the sea. A snorkeler should try to emulate a dolphin in movement and not look like a thrashing animal.

It attracts the attention of things that look for distressed animals and makes you more prone to attack. Act smoothly and you look like an animal that can defend itself, thus you will be safer.

Slow breathing helps keep you calm and enjoy the experience of marine life.

Try to waft your legs with slow-paced fin kinks rather than use your arms. It’s a good way to exert yourself less and enjoy the experience more. You won’t exhaust yourself.

Acting smoothly will attract marine life to you, not scare it away, which is the purpose of a snorkeling trip.

Final Thoughts – Parting Waves

Snorkeling is an amazing activity to indulge in. It’s easy to pick up and doesn’t require technical skill, like scuba diving.

Despite the headlines, it’s a fun sport that isn’t dangerous if approached correctly.

The most common thing you want to avoid is a disappointing experience rather than danger, so proper preparation and giving yourself as good a chance as possible is key to snorkeling safely and successfully.

Blisters and poor visibility are the most common issues, so selecting the right kit, and preparing the mask should steer you through the most common problems.

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