underwater shot of a woman snorkeling

What Is A Dry Snorkel? (Are They A Good Idea)

For a sport with the word snorkel built into the title it’s fair to say that the snorkel is an important piece of kit. Along with the fins, and mask it’s the very essence of snorkeling.

I’d hazard a guess that snorkeling has been around since the days of neanderthals, but snorkeling technology has come a long way in the last few decades. 

Most recently a device called a dry snorkel is available for purchase. While it sounds like a contradiction in terms, it does have people using the benefits of one, but what is a dry snorkel?

A dry snorkel utilizes a technology called a float valve. This valve is buoyant so as the snorkel submerges it lifts and seals the snorkeling tube to prevent the ingress of water.  The dry snorkel will not allow you to breathe underwater but does eliminate the need for expelling water in the tube when resurfacing.

While not everyone prefers them, they definitely have people who love them, so let’s work through what they are and what they allow you to do, as well as the pros and cons.

How Does A Dry Snorkel Work?

While different manufacturers have different methods for the function, the basic principle remains the same.

There is a mechanism that sits atop the snorkel while it’s out the water that hinges down to allow air through the tube. With water splashes it remains open so a snorkeler can breathe with ease.

top down view of a woman snorkeling

As the snorkel submerges as a snorkeler dives, the float valve closes and seals the snorkeling tube. It’s designed so as you dive a very limited amount, or no water will enter the breathable tube.

The higher quality dry snorkels will channel any water that does enter out the tube so the snorkeler can breath uninterrupted.

A snorkeler is now diving with a tube full of air, not of water.

The advantage is immediately obvious, a snorkeler now no longer needs to expel the water that enters the snorkeling tube after a dive.

A diver can now return to the surface, never stop snorkeling, and start breathing without having to use lung expulsion to blow out the water.

Can You Breathe Underwater With A Dry Snorkel?

Looking around a dive center and heading over to the section of snorkels there will be a bewildering array of names, of which ‘dry snorkel’ is but one.

The temptation might be to think that if water doesn’t ingress into the tube, and the passageway remains open, that you may be able to breathe underwater.

So, can you breathe underwater with a dry snorkel?

No, you cannot breathe underwater if you are using a dry snorkel. They are only designed to stop water ingress during a dive from the surface. There is not enough trapped air in the tube to breathe while you are submerged.

Dry snorkels were not designed and manufactured for the purposes of breathing underwater. Many new to snorkeling do not like the feeling of water going in the mouth. It tends to be a natural reflex.

Despite the plethora of pictures on the internet of flat calm tropical waters, the truth is if you’re new to snorkeling you can either tilt your head or a wave can roll across you that submerges, albeit temporarily, the snorkel.

Water will then go into the tube, and many don’t like this aspect.

A dry snorkel allows a beginner to enjoy the world of snorkeling without that particular unpleasantness if that’s what you are uncomfortable with.

Many don’t mind the more traditional types of snorkel, and a drain valve is always welcome, but this feature is a bonus to many.

a woman snorkeling on the surface near an island

What Is The Difference Between Dry And Semi Dry Snorkel?

So, a dry snorkel has a float valve designed to keep the tube water free, thus a semi dry snorkel seems a little self contradictory.

A semi dry snorkel is a halfway house between an open tube and a float valve at the top of the snorkel.

A semi dry snorkel at the top has many angles and slits at the top designed to deflect and steer away water spray so that traditional snorkeling doesn’t fill the tube with water.

With other people around you, and fins making many splashes, water spray may fill up the tube, so a semi dry snorkel helps prevent this.

Once a diver submerges though, a semi dry snorkel cannot deflect or stop water entering the tube.

How To Use A Dry Snorkel?

Much like any snorkel, underwater they all function the same, in that you can’t breathe through them and are functionally useless from that point of view.

Snorkeling on the surface, and diving it’s pretty much the same in calm waters as other types.

You actually use a dry snorkel as you would any other type. 

The key difference will be in returning to the surface. With a traditional or semi dry snorkel you will need to expel the water in the tube.

With a dry snorkel, you can remain face down, and as the snorkel breaches the surface, the valve will open allowing air in. It is used like other snorkels but just eliminates the expulsion when returning to the surface.

Pros And Cons of Using A Dry Snorkel

While a dry snorkel sounds great, especially to a beginner, there are a few pros and cons to them.

So what are the pros when using a dry snorkel?

  • Water free tube – It’s the only snorkel that keeps the tube free of water for your snorkeling. For those that don’t like water in the tube it’s a blessing.
  • No water expulsion – With no water entering the tube, as a snorkeler returns to the surface they do not have to expel air with force. This is less exhausting for beginners and those with health or lung issues.
  • More continuous – If you are short on time, and in a place where you want to maximise time, as dry snorkel saves a lot of time sometimes, and makes for a more efficient swim.

So what are the cons when using a dry snorkel?

  • KISS principle – KISS stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. It’s a reasonably well known acronym that’s reflective of the fact that the more things there are, the more there are to go wrong. The float valve mechanism is just something that can ‘lock on’ or ‘lock off’, especially with cheaper ones
  • Random closing – Waves or heavy splashing can make it close occasionally interrupting the breathing.
  • Underwater buoyancy – A snorkeler is now diving with a pocket of extra air. It’s essentially extra drag when you are swimming under the surface, and makes the snorkel try and resurface.
  • Jamming – Depending upon the hinge they can always pick up sand, mud, mulch or plants that will render the snorkel temporarily unusable. Depending upon where you are swimming and how you use it then maintenance while snorkeling becomes necessary.
  • Expensive – Compared to other snorkels they are more expensive, although a snorkel isn’t an exorbitant cost. You will probably have to get a better brand though to make sure the float valve is of sufficient quality.

Final Thoughts

Dry snorkels are appealing to many, and are particularly good for a beginner, as they remove the need to expel water while partaking in the activity.

If the feature appeals to you it would be wise to buy a high quality one to make sure the float valve works as you intend. Otherwise it can be a pain, and is just a bit extra to drag around while underwater.

If the thought of water in your mouth is a prohibiting reason for not going snorkeling, then a dry snorkel seems a good choice.

The same for those with health problems, or low lung capacity. If diving and swimming along with strong expulsions of air are an exhausting thought then a dry snorkel might work for you.

A dry snorkel tends to be more suitable for snorkeling and freediving, rather than scuba diving as the air trap can tug at other equipment.

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