a woman snorkeling in shallow water

How Long Does Snorkeling Take To Learn?

Whether you are comfortable in water or not, snorkeling is a recreational activity that appeals to many. While some sports, like golf, the skill set seems obvious, snorkeling looks relatively easy.

With unknown dangers maybe at the back of your mind, you may wonder how long snorkeling takes to learn?

The basics of snorkeling take about 30 minutes to learn. A person comfortable in the water may even just put on the equipment and be safe with snorkeling in simple conditions. Learning breath control, and best mask practices can be learned within an hour. Professional lessons may only take 2 hours to become competent.

One of the advantages of snorkeling is the low barrier to entry for the sport. It’s what attreacts many.

The first time I tried snorkeling was in Thailand on a boat tour that took me to Hong Kong island near Krabi. We moored up and were given 90 minutes in a beautiful lagoon.

a woman snorkeling in crystal clear water with fish

The tour guides pretty much just handed out snorkeling kits for people, and let them wander off with them.

I kind of learned by the trial and error method. I was a pretty competent swimmer so never had an issue. I’d never put a mask on before but figured a safe seal and the snorkel pointing into the air was the way to go.

The tips for stopping your mask from fogging came later.

There’s no reason why you can’t do the same.

Can You Learn Snorkeling By Doing On Your First Go?

Yes you can, and I am living proof of that.

It’s not ideal but it is entirely possible. If you are comfortable in the water then putting on fins isn’t tricky, and neither is a mask and snorkel. After that it’s pretty easy.

You can then go snorkeling but you will go out and might make a few small errors that won’t have been made if you’d taken a small lesson. 

They aren’t life threatening errors (hopefully), but you can certainly learn by trial and error.

A better question though, might be, should you learn to snorkel by doing on your first go?

This probably comes down to individual confidence levels in the water, and that’s not something anyone else can answer for you.

If you are really confident in water and all you are doing is going from a beach into shallow pools then I’d say no, but if you feel you are much less confident, and you are taking a boat trip to some atolls where diving to see the reef is needed then I’d suggest it might be a good idea.

a lone woman diving in shallow water

It’s not needed as you will pick up the skills, but if you feel you should then it’s probably best that you do.

If you move at your own pace, or at least will be in a scenario where you can, then mask drills, breathing, and walking in fins (hint: walk backwards) can all be learned with some experimentation and a small amount of time.

Chances are good that if you are going in a group, whether a tour or not there isn’t any certification required so most operators don’t consider snorkeling a highly difficult skill to learn if you’ve never done it before.

They are quite happy to tell you how to launch off a boat with a mask on, so It’s not something to stress over.

Most people clear water out of their mask by going to the surface if you haven’t had a lesson, but you can do it without returning to the surface. Even if you never had a snorkeling lesson you can learn while in the water.

Essentially, the less confident you are, the more you should consider a lesson. A lot don’t but no-one will criticize anyone who felt they needed to.

There’s no doubt a quick lesson will make you a more competent snorkeler from the start though.

How Long Are Snorkeling Lessons?

Some may prefer a small lesson prior to trying snorkeling

In snorkeling destinations, many dive centers or tour operators can provide or recommend an ‘introduction to snorkeling’ course if you’re in need of a lesson first.

a man and a woman diving in shallow water

Typically you might spend 30 minutes with an intro and a video, and around 45 minutes in a pool, putting into practice what you have learned.

Good for overcoming some confidence issues, or learning a few techniques like learning to dive underwater with a snorkel, something everyone wants to try quickly.

The techniques you might learn in a classroom include

  • Mask fitting
  • Anti fog techniques
  • Fin size needed, probably a medium sized blade (floppy bit)
  • How drain valve snorkels work
  • Why a rash guard might be a good idea
  • Water acclimatization
  • Mask drills
  • Familiarization with best practices

Around the world, especially in areas where snorkeling takes place they will have a dive center and instructing staff, which during a tourist season should have plenty of choice available.

After a small lesson, that might take up to 2 hours of your time, you should easily have the skills needed to try it in the real world.

The cost is $30 to $40 in the US before you go, and around $15 to $20 or so on location, in countries like Thailand, Philippines, or Vietnam

The Time Taken For More Advanced Learning

If you look at images of snorkeling, you often see light shallow beaches, or crystal clear pools.

Some snorkelers go out into atolls, and further into the sea though, and as such there are a few more advanced things you might wish to learn.

a woman and a small child snorkeling in crystal clear water

A few hours practice on your own, trying things out can often make you a fairly proficient snorkeler, but you should never take the sea for granted.

Depending upon where you are, slightly more advanced snorkelers will be familiar with

  • Currents
  • Underwater signalling
  • Boat snorkeling rather than beach (safe entry, exit)
  • Night snorkeling
  • Underwater photography

There’s no real ‘time’ to learn that after you have mastered the basics. Many snorkelers still prefer small pools, and coral reefs where there are limited issues.

Everyone has their own choice, and mastering anything other than the basics depends on what you want to achieve from your snorkeling.

Final Thoughts

Snorkeling is a hobby enjoyed throughout the globe, rather unsurprisingly in some of the most spectacular aquatic environments.

Many casual snorkelers just turn up and give it a go, so it’s a fairly simple skill to acquire. If you are confident in the water there’s nothing about snorkeling that should discourage you.

You can certainly just get the equipment and give it a go, but a lesson before you start may stop you making a few errors, like losing your mask on water entry from a boat or avoiding sunburn, but if you are prepared to learn the hard way then it’s still all good.

Snorkelling should only take people a few hours to get comfortable if they have never done it before, and they are a confident swimmer.

If you are considering snorkeling for the first time, then knowing a few basics might be a good idea. If the idea of a lesson seems a little bit over the top for you, then here’s a great little video to learn from.

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