One of the easiest ways to observe nature under the water is to use snorkeling equipment. The equipment is simple and much less expensive than scuba gear and does not require lengthy certification courses. Follow the seven steps below to make your next snorkel adventure more enjoyable.
1. Mental Preparation
Mental preparation for snorkeling is step one. The first thing I tell my snorkeling and scuba students is develop the habit of assessing your personal mental state before and during a dive. Ask yourself these questions, “Do I feel safe? Am I comfortable? Am I having fun? If the answer to any of these is a no, the you should not make the dive or you should safely exit the water. Your thoughts affect your enjoyment of the dive, how you perform and how well your response to stressful situations which may arise while diving. If you feel uncomfortable don’t dive and don’t let others pressure you into diving. There is nothing wrong with sitting out or modifying a dive.
2. Physical Skills and Conditioning
Do you have to be able to swim to snorkel? Sounds like a dumb question, but people ask it. The answer is yes! While you don’t have to be an Olympic swimmer like Michael Phelps, you do have to be able to do a basic flutter kick and be able to put your face in the water. The snorkeling equipment will help you adapt to the aquatic environment, but it is not a substitute for a lack of swimming skills. Being physically fit will also help with your snorkeling, making sustained swims easier.
3. Armor Up
While you won’t need chain mail or plate armor, it is a good idea to use protective clothing to safeguard your skin before, during and after a dive from sun, stinging animals, body heat lose. Specialized clothing acts as barriers against the painful stings and skin damage from sunburn. You’ll learn more about sun protection in Step 4.
Exposure protection is provided by wetsuits in cooler water. When you are snorkeling in warmer water there are more exposure suit choices; a rash guard top/exercise tights or a one-piece spandex dive suit work well in these environments. Some folks like to wear thin wetsuits in tropical waters to extend their snorkeling time. Whatever you choose, remember that low profile clothing made of synthetic fabrics make it easier to move through the water.
4. Reduce Radiation Exposure
A major source of post-snorkel discomfort is sunburn and an increased risk of skin cancer. As a successful snorkeler you are more susceptible UV rays because the majority of time in the water is in a face-down position with your back and the back of your legs exposed, floating extremely close to the surface of the water.
Protective clothing is the best shield against UV exposure because it doesn’t wash off like sunscreens. The UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating on clothes is measure of the amount of ultraviolet light that can get through the fabric to your skin. A UPF of 50 only allows 1/50 (2%) of the UV light to penetrate, blocking the other 98%. The Skin Cancer Foundation report that UPF factors of 30 – 49 offers very good protection, while a UPF of 50.
Your head can be vulnerable to UV radiation. While wearing a bandana or a hat while in the water may not be a fashion statement, you skin will thank you later. Environmentally friendly sunblock should also be applied to your face and neck.
5. Aquatic Adaptations
Mask, snorkel and fins are the keys that allow you to easily transition from the land to an aquatic environment. The primary thing to consider when acquiring this gear it how it fits you. Poorly fitting equipment will take the joy out of snorkeling. I recommend you purchase personal gear from a store that specializes in dive equipment where knowledgeable employees can help ensure a correct fit.
The first rule of selecting a mask is to get one that fits your face. Like buying shoes, its best to try on a number of masks and settle on the one that is most comfortable and forms a seal. To see if it seals against your face, pull the strap in front of the lens, hold then mask against your face and inhale. If it sticks there while holding your breath and you don’t notice air coming you have a good fit. A quality mask with a tempered glass lens and silicon skirt will last for many years with simple care. It is also a good idea to buy some commercial mask defogger.
Snorkels let you breathe while your face is submerged so you don’t miss any amazing sights. They should fit your mouth comfortably and be sealed by your lips. They also should be attached to your mask.
Fins make it much easier to move through the water. They should have a snug, comfortable fit without being too tight. There are two primary types: one with a pocket that takes your entire foot and another with an open heel area and strap. I recommend that you use thin socks with the full foot fins to reduce the chance of blisters and neoprene scuba boots with the open heel fins. One advantage I have found with the open heel fin/ scuba boot combo is the extra foot protection provided by the boot when walking around before and after a dive.
If you are not a strong swimmer you might want to give a snorkeling vest a try. These inflatable vests provide buoyancy if you should become tired or have a cramp.
6. Pre-Snorkel Preparation and Planning
Successful snorkeling excursions require some thought, preparation and planning. New gear requires especially requires some attention, particularly the mask. New masks, unless very carefully cleaned will be very difficult to defog. I have a whole blog post devoted to this subject. After cleaning the mask attach the snorkel to the mask strap and try out the arrangement in a pool. Adjust the snorkel so it is comfortable and comes up past the crown of your head. Adjust the mask straps so it is not overly tight. Next adjust your fins straps if you have open heel fins. Put on all the equipment and swim around the pool, adjusting as needed until you are comfortable in the gear. Regular pool swimming with snorkeling gear is great exercise that builds both confidence and stamina.
Find a buddy who wants to do this with you. You should never snorkel alone and you buddy shouldn’t be pressured into being your buddy if they are uncomfortable about snorkeling. Buddies make diving more fun because you have someone with which to share the planning and diving experience.
Research destinations looking for areas with easy access and calm water. Other important information to determine include rules and regulations, availability of maps of the dive area, guides to local marine life, hours of operation if it is a park or preserve and typical water conditions.
7. Safe Snorkeling
Upon arriving at your snorkeling location, take a good look around at the weather and water conditions. Note such things as wind direction general sky conditions, height of waves, whether the tide is outgoing or incoming and the presence of currents.
Once in the water stay face down, relax and take it slow. Minimize the chance of inhaling any stray water drops by making a “splashboard” out of your tongue. Just touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth and “sip” air around your tongue. Keeping your head in the water requires less energy and you see more underwater life. Use slow kicks and keep your arms at your side to reduce drag. Let you larger, stronger leg muscles do the work for you.
Enjoy your time visiting the undersea realm!