a female snorkeler in shallow water with fish

The Non Swimmers Guide To Snorkeling For The First Time

The juxtaposition is easy to see. Snorkeling is an experience that almost everyone wants to try. It seems so simple, yet the rewards are obvious. 

Snorkeling can give you one of the most vivid and memorable experiences of a trip or vacation. The chance to witness a normally unseen world in a tropical location sounds like everyone’s idea of relaxation and bliss.

If you’re not confident in the water though, that dream seems like a hurdle.

The first thing to know is that you aren’t alone. This is a more common problem than you might imagine. People don’t tend to like admitting they aren’t confident in the water for whatever reason.

Tourist locations are used to having to deal with the issue so there is no need to worry, there is a way out if you want to experience the wonders of the aquatic world. In fact, there are a few options that can make that dream come true.

So this guide will walk you through whether it’s possible to enjoy snorkeling as a non swimmer, but also how you might best go about it.

a beginner snorkeler in Thailand

Can You Snorkel If You Aren’t A Confident Swimmer?

While it’s not as easy if you can’t swim, or aren’t confident in water it is still possible to enjoy snorkeling depending upon the nature of the unease.

Snorkeling is a surface sports activity if you want it to be, it doesn’t have to involve diving. You can pick options that make it easy for you to snorkel.

Snorkeling does not have to be dangerous if you can’t swim, there are plenty of options that can make it safe and secure to perform.

If you aren’t confident in open water then you can start snorkeling in safer areas where there is little risk of what you fear.

Googling around the internet it’s easy to see all the pictures and imagine that is what snorkeling is about, but the fact is that you can tailor your snorkeling to suit what you are comfortable with. 

There are shallow places to snorkel if you aren’t confident, where just standing up will solve any caution you may have about an inability to swim.

If snorkeling is important to you on an upcoming trip, it is advisable to perhaps take a beginning swimmers class to make the issue less of a hurdle on your holiday.

a female snorkeler with a turtle

Making The Right Choices From The Start

If you are good in the water, fit, healthy, and dive into the water like it’s ‘no big thing’ then there’s a lot you may overlook in relation to those who are less confident.

The key to successful snorkeling lies in making the correct choices at the start. A snorkeling experience can be floating in 2 feet of water over the seabed in Thailand to a few degrees below zero in open water with killer whales, so there is a fair spectrum on offer.

So how do you go about making the best of your snorkeling if you’re uneasy in the water?

Choose The Correct Location

While snorkeling is often an activity that’s looked into once a destination has been picked, if you aren’t good in the water, taking the time to do some research beforehand will help.

Here are a few things to consider that will make the trip easier for anyone, not just non swimmers.

Calm waters with shallow entrance – while some snorkeling location a fraught with danger, others are not. To put an uneasy snorkeler at ease, there should be guaranteed good weather which typically means going in a tourist season.

Gentle entrance towards the water and steady slope means at any point it’s easy to return back. Sharp drop offs and underwater rocks can cause unsettled water so give yourself as much chance of easy snorkeling as possible.

No riptides or rip currents – these are powerful currents of water that you can’t fight against. Caused by the natural flow of water they can unnerve most people and struggling against them is pointless. 

Entering water straight into a powerful water current won’t make you relax if you don’t like swimming.

Look for distraction – a lot of the fear is in the mind, and the good thing about snorkeling is that there can be plenty to see. Fish, corals, turtles, and spectacular underwater terrain can be so visually compelling that you can forget that you aren’t meant to fearful.

Do some research, or ask a tour operator about the best easy snorkeling spots with the best chance of seeing something, whether it’s the terrain or wildlife.

a female snorkeler diving

Make Your Equipment Comfortable

Compared to scuba diving, the recreational activity of snorkeling is pretty technically light. You don’t need to learn much. Some trial and error with some common sense can take someone from novice to veteran quite quickly.

There isn’t a great deal to the equipment you might need. All you really need are a mask, a snorkel, and some fins. As a beginner, consider dropping the fins at the very beginning. In calm water, it’s perfectly possible to snorkel without them.

There are no fashion police, so fins can take some getting used to in the water which might be too much to take in if you aren’t confident with your swimming.

Whether you rent or buy, make sure the mask is a comfortable fit and is prepared first so it doesn’t fog, and you know it fits your face correctly. If you can get some practice with it on dry land so you are comfortable with the equipment before you step into the water so you don’t overwhelm yourself.

Repeat this process at the water’s edge, before you go in, and make sure everything works fine and you feel right with the equipment. Wade out into the water without swimming and place your face down in the water to check further.

You are trying to train your comfort levels so that things progress at a natural and comfortable pace.

Snorkels come with a few different designs, but a good option for beginners is one with a purge valve that quickly drains the water in the tube, and has a flotation top to seal the tube from water ingress. These are known as dry snorkels.

a female snorkeler on the surface of very clear blue water

If you are comfortable in fins, make sure they fit properly, as the first time you use them you may be surprised at the muscles they work. They should fit snuggly around your feet, so don’t make them too tight which will cause a blister, or too loose which means you lose them as they float off.

Choose blades which are short if you can, as these are easier for beginners.

Whatever kit you choose, make sure you’re happy with it and you are familiar with its use.

Stay Relaxed And Calm

Part of this strategy is staying within your comfort zone, and don’t do anything that you can’t immediately reverse. If you are not a good swimmer, then it’s perfectly possible to snorkel without going out beyond waist deep water.

If you feel you are in trouble, you can simply stand up to compose yourself. This alone helps many people steady themselves.

The first time you actually snorkel does not have to be a 100m dash across a rip current. Your first snorkel can be lying face down, almost motionless, with some very light kicking to move forward.

That’s perfectly fine. NEVER push yourself, or be intimidated into performing an action that makes you nervous to do.

Feel free to do a very gentle snorkel as your first go, and move in very small steps. The idea is snorkeling is meant to be enjoyable.

Snorkel With Other People Around

This is a rule for scuba diving, so it makes sense to take the same approach with snorkeling. Snorkeling is safe, there’s no reason to think it isn’t, especially if you take your time to make sure you limit the risk.

Sticking to safe waters is a good strategy, as it can limit exposure to stronger currents and sharp corals causing bruising or cuts.

With other people around means that there are people to help you or be aware of your distress. It doesn’t have to be people you know, although that’s preferable, but if you are snorkeling in a popular area then there are other people as well as professional lifeguards. 

If you’ve never snorkeled before, there are quite a few things that could happen, anything from cramps to unwittingly swimming into a set of corals and panicking.

Staying Aware

This is good advice anywhere but for a beginner, it makes more sense. There is plenty of distraction to snorkeling and it’s easy to get carried away. You see beautiful fish and you swim away following them and then find yourself over coral. 

Coral can be sharp, and cause cuts so if you stop and need to stand up it could be painful. You could quite easily get stung by marine animals if you stray into jellyfish, so it’s always worth assessing the dangers beforehand and keeping yourself aware of what is going on.

two snorkelers in clear water with fish

Tips For Snorkeling If You Are A Non Swimmer

While making sure you observe the rules above will help anyone start snorkeling if they aren’t that confident, there are certainly more advantages you can give yourself.

Snorkeling vest – you can rent or buy a flotation aid called a snorkeling vest. When they are inflated, even lightly with some models they will keep you afloat. If you become exhausted or unconscious they can keep your head out of the water so your breathing remains unimpaired.

These are ideal for a beginner if you aren’t a good swimmer but feel compelled to try snorkeling.

Wetsuit – these aren’t normally needed in tropical climates but the reason you might want one is they are buoyant. Wetsuits are made of neoprene which has trapped air to keep warmth within. That makes them slightly buoyant and you can snorkel in them easily.

Fins – on your very first go snorkeling if you are a non swimmer, then you should be in ‘easy water’. That is, calm and shallow. You can make the decision not to use fins until you get more confident, but fins are slightly buoyant. They will help you float.

Calm weather – in the tropics weather can change frequently, with rain and sunshine several times in the same day. Keep an eye on the weather and only snorkel when the conditions are favorable.

Avoid open ocean – while you could snorkel the Great Barrier reef as your first time as a non swimmer, it’s probably better to stick to shallow areas and avoid the deep shelf that might cause panic.

Stay hydrated – snorkeling is physical in nature and as such you will sweat. In water this is hard to detect so you can dehydrate really quickly, which can lead to cramps. Make sure you’re hydrated with frequent water top ups.

a man snorkeling in a shallow rock pool

Don’t have high expectations – go snorkeling with a ‘try it and see attitude’ rather than a goal. If you start snorkeling without setting up any failure you’re more likely to succeed. Just make the goal to see if you like it, rather than to specifically see something or ‘swim with a turtle’. Sealife is more likely to come to you if you’re relaxed anyway.

Tell the lifeguard – make sure the relevant authorities know you aren’t a strong swimmer and to keep an eye on you. They have access to rescue equipment, which can put you at ease while you’re in the water.

Float don’t dive – there’s no need to dive if you’re new to snorkeling and can’t swim as well as others. You don’t really need to be a strong swimmer to float on the surface and kick with fins.

Some More Options For Non Swimmers

Snorkeling isn’t a fixed proposition. There are many places and options to choose from, and if you are worried about your swimming ability then it can seem a little confusing.

There are options for either snorkeling from the beach or taking a tour. With a tour, you will likely be taken to a few snorkeling spots with a boat charter, and these can be good options for a variety of reasons. They are certainly better for someone who might be snorkeling on their own.

Beach snorkeling – most people might be familiar with beach snorkeling, even if they haven’t snorkeled before. A lot of tours are beach snorkeling tours.

A good advantage to these is the slow and steady approach to getting comfortable in the water. You can get comfortable in extremely shallow water where you could just walk back out again with minimal effort.

You can put the equipment on, and test it in a steady environment where you are at ease and slowly go out. When you are waist deep you can test the equipment when you don’t need to be swimming.

You can place your face down in the water, with a snorkeling vest on and really take your time to become at ease. When ready, you can push slightly forward and float.

If you become uncomfortable, then you can just stand up. No pressure, and no need to worry. This is a good way to start.

As you gain confidence, you can swim parallel to the beach, hopefully keeping the depth the same, while becoming familiar with your abilities and comfort levels.

There can often be plenty to see near a beach with many a snorkeling destination having reefs nearby to observe.

There aren’t too many downsides to snorkeling off a beach, other than the general being aware of your surroundings if you aren’t a good swimmer. Don’t snorkel with your head down for ages, without making sure you know where you are.

Look around regularly, and take stock of your situation.

a female snorkeler near the beach underwater

Boat / tour snorkeling – if you aren’t a swimmer then this option can be immediately discounted by many assuming that they don’t cater to those who aren’t confident in the water.

In reality, this is a complete reversion of the truth. Many snorkeling tours are adequately equipped to deal with people who need a more time intensive tour participant. They can be quite happy to help you.

With a tour, in many areas (like Antigua) to get the best snorkeling spots it may have to be a boat tour.

With a tour, you will have the time of some extremely well practiced snorkelers who can lend you their assistance. The key here is to make them aware of it and ask the right questions about the tour.

Let them know you will need assistance, and ask if the spots they are taking you to are beginner friendly. A lot of places they can alter locations depending upon the needs of the group, so don’t be afraid to ask.

You may even find they do special trips for beginners rather than have a mixed bag, so you can take one of those. These are ideal as the spots are normally phenomenal for a beginner, and the waters will be selected for non swimmers to enjoy.

They may even teach you.

So avoid the tours where deep water entry is going to be the normal method, and deliberately seek those that are more suited to your level of confidence. If it’s a bit mixed, just make sure the tour operators keep an eye on you while you start.

Many people recommend these tours specifically if you can’t swim, as they are ideal for a beginner. You get the combination of greats spots and helpful advice as well as mentoring while you there.

An all in one package if you will.

They often have all the right equipment as well, so there is plenty of flotation equipment around as well as learning experiences to be had.

a female snorkeler in shallow water

Final Thoughts – Parting Waves

The desire of snorkeling yet the fear of the water can often keep these worlds apart, but they needn’t be.

There are quite a few people who snorkel who either can’t swim or don’t consider themselves good swimmers. The best bet is to pick the right location, go in good weather, start small, grow confident with the equipment, wear flotation devices, and try it under supervision.

There’s no reason at all that a non swimmer can’t have a great experience snorkeling. You just have to go about it correctly and go with the flow.

The best advice might ultimately to just wade out to where is safe and try things in small increments. Make getting comfortable the goal.

Many a snorkeler has just gone out into the water, waist deep, put on a mask, and grown comfortable with what they’re doing before trying more ambitious activities. Everyone starts somewhere.

A good snorkeling vest, and just learning to float face down can be done in the safest environment you can think of, whether it’s on a boat tour, or wading out from a beach. Make sure there are people around you is also wise.

The more you practice, the more you will gain confidence, and therein lies the main battle. Once you are confident more things seem possible. Don’t put stress on yourself, just make lying face down in the water breathing through the snorkel the goal.

After that, it’s just a matter of kicking your legs.

To be honest, in many places you can see many things just wading out. I’ve been to a few places in Thailand where just wading out brought the fish around me.

Many people enjoy snorkeling who aren’t great swimmers. It’s quite possible, and there’s no reason why you can’t do it too. You don’t have to climb Everest on your first trip. It’s a new world for you to explore, and with the right preparation, it’s entirely possible for a non swimmer.

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One thought on “The Non Swimmers Guide To Snorkeling For The First Time

  1. It was helpful when you said to only go snorkeling in calm weather. My sister is going on a trip and wanted to know some snorkeling tips. I’ll make sure to pass these tips along to her once she goes on her trip.

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