a female snorkeler diving to the seabed with turtles

How Long Can You Stay Underwater With A Snorkel?

If you are new to the sport of snorkeling, the pictures you get shown will show you an abundance of wildlife. You will see pictures of fantastic locations with snorkelers gliding across the surface.

You will also see snorkelers underwater swimming amongst the fish and other aquatic wildlife. It looks like an amazing experience….. and it is.

If you’re unfamiliar with the equipment, then you might ask how long a snorkeler can swim amongst the fish? So, how long can you stay underwater with a snorkel?

With the snorkel above the surface, a snorkeler on the water can remain face down indefinitely. When diving, the snorkel doesn’t possess any breathing advantages so a beginner may be underwater for 45 seconds to 1 minute. A more experienced snorkeler might be underwater for between 1 to 2 minutes.

When a snorkeler submerges they can only dive as long they can hold their breath without additional compressed air technology.

There seem to be two different answers to the main questions, but it entirely depends upon what your definition of ‘underwater’ is with respect to snorkeling.

The snorkel is an aid to breathing, not a breathing aid. It assists you in getting air from above the surface of the water. It does not possess any breathing advantages.

The average person can hold their breath for between 45 seconds to 2 minutes depending upon their level of fitness. 

All snorkelers with only a mask and a snorkel attach the snorkel tube to the mask strap. This combination allows you to snorkel face down in the water, dive below the surface while holding your breath, before returning to the surface to expel the water in the tube with a good hard blow, and continue breathing without ever having your face above the water,

a snorkeler diving to the seabed with turtles

Factors Affecting A Snorkelers Time Underwater

While ‘as long as you can hold your breath’ is the very simple answer to the question of how long a snorkeler can remain underwater the fact is that there are a variety of factors that affect time beneath the waves.

All of them to do with oxygen consumption.

Fitness – Cardiovascular exercises improve your cardiorespiratory fitness. The fitter you are the better your body consumes oxygen. Your heart muscles strengthen, and become better at getting oxygen around your body.

Exertion – Water has natural resistance as it is 830 times denser than air. Moving in any way requires more exertion. There is also a world of difference between gliding across the surface of calm waters and fin kicking profusely against a current.

The more you exert yourself the more oxygen your muscles require.

Lung capacity – When taking a ‘gulp’ of air before a dive the initial breath is taking in a fixed amount of oxygen. Those of us with lower lung capacities have a disadvantage.

Water temperature – In colder water your heart will try and generate heat by beating faster to keep your core body temperature up. This naturally uses up your oxygen when diving. As such, a snorkeler will experience a reduced ability to hold their breath.

Experience – The more you snorkel and dive the better you will become at staying underwater for longer. Practice makes perfect.

Snorkeling technique – As you gain more experience you will naturally start to ‘be at one with the water’. Your technique will become more symmetrical, your movements less aggressive, and decreases the exertion needed to perform a task.

How To Maximize Your Time Underwater

Most snorkelers love the idea of swimming along the sea bed for as long as possible. Why shouldn’t they? Doing that is fantastic.

If you want to maximize your time underwater amongst the fish, then the best way is to improve your respiratory fitness.

Most snorkeling isn’t done at any great depth, so the very best way to increase your ability to stay underwater longer is to train yourself to hold your breath longer.

This is quite easy and isn’t arduous.

By practicing holding your breath once a day, after a few months you should be able to increase the duration by about 50%.

That means if you can hold your breath for 1 minute now, after a few months of practice, you could get it to 90 seconds.

The act of breathing deep and shallow breaths before taking a ‘lungful’ of air and holding it will prepare your body and lungs for the diving experience. Making sure you take perform slow and deep breaths help with controlling the heart rate as well.

While snorkeling you shouldn’t be breathing quickly and shallow, but rather the reverse. This has the effect of calming the body down, lowers the heart rate so you can use the oxygen more efficiently.

Much like yoga practitioners, breathing deep and slow gives a sense of calmness and prevents hyperventilation.

Over time you will find your lung capacity enlarging, which even if you practice day to day, will help you perform longer underwater dives. Hopefully, this will translate into more time on the seabed when the day comes to go snorkeling.

Trawling the internet you may see loads of ways to practice holding your breath, from the perspective of gaining lung capacity, but also for helping you body deal with carbon dioxide.

a female snorkeler on the surface

Frankly, I’ve just found increasing your lung capacity works just fine on its own. It’s not as if it’s an Olympic sport, it’s just a simple method to making diving more efficient you can practice away from the water.

The way I practiced was this.

I just hold my breath for slightly longer than is comfortable. I basically just keep doing the same time until holding my breath for that length of time becomes comfortable.

So, if I can hold my breath for 1 minute and 5 seconds. On a reasonably regular basis (one to three times a day) I keep holding it for the same length of time.

Eventually, holding your breath for 1 minute 5 seconds becomes comfortable.

At that point, I add 5 seconds to the time.

So now I am holding my breath for 1 minute 10 seconds.

It’s then just a question of repeating the process to increase your lung capacity.

Over time you will find your breath holding ability to be considerably higher than when you started.

The next time you go snorkeling you should be able to enjoy the aquatic world that little bit longer than you did before.

Final Thoughts – Parting Waves

Snorkeling is a great activity to try at any time, not just while you’re on holiday. The tropical locations you can visit are some of the most amazing sights anywhere in the natural world.

The crystal clear waters of many a destination are life changing moments for everyone, and when allowed to observe them I’d advise taking them.

If you are new to snorkeling and of normal health then holding your breath for a dive should take you beneath the waves for around 1 minute.

The extra exertion and physical effort will deplete oxygen faster than inactivity.

With practice and increasing your cardiorespiratory fitness will increase the length of time on the ocean floor.

Giving you maximum time to envelop yourself in the wonders of the natural world.

Happy snorkeling.

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