How to Snorkel: Beginner Guide with Easy Steps & Tips

Learning snorkeling is one of the easiest, quickest and most affordable way to see and enjoy life beneath the sea in all its glory. Having this skill can make your next beach vacation incredibly awesome.

First, you need the right gear. Though not necessary, a few basic water skills are recommended if you’re a complete non-swimmer beginner. Following is a complete guide from preparation to logging your snorkeling trip plus safety tips for both beginners and pros.

1. Preparation- Prior Water Skills needed

The more prepared you are, the more memorable your first experience will be. While knowing how to swim is not an absolute necessity for snorkeling, it is recommended you take at least a few classes at your local pool beforehand.

These classes will most likely touch on flotation which is a fundamental skill whenever you are in water. The additional safety precautions provided during these classes will help you feel more comfortable in the water.

If you have some basic swimming skills, you are a couple of steps ahead of the game; you won’t find snorkeling difficult. However, fear can majorly disrupt your trip underwater.

Pay special attention to the freestyle pattern of swimming, the leg movements used in this pattern are most applicable to snorkeling. Although knowing how to swim is just one factor of the equation, it is really important is to feel natural in the water.

A good trick to remain calm is to remind yourself that if you do not struggle while facing difficulty, you will float. This is due to a scientific fact; that water is denser than our body weight and will end up submerging only those items which have a higher density.

Knowing how to swim gives you greater control of yourself while snorkeling. A relaxed snorkeler manages to get more out of their underwater experience as they do not make sudden movements and marine life around them does not feel threatened and swim away.

2. Have the Right Equipment

While practice makes perfect, we are only as good as our tools. You can find rental shops in many tropical areas which can supply you the gear you need.

While buying your own equipment is recommended, if you choose to rent, take your time to find the best mask and snorkel for you.

Some of the common factors which contribute to a bad snorkeling experience include leaking face masks, exhaustion, flooded snorkels and even injuries. The following basic snorkeling gear will help uplift your experience.


If you are purchasing the bare essentials for snorkeling, ask for a diving mask, a snorkel and swim fins. Each apparatus helps make your snorkeling experience more seamless.

A snorkel is worn with a diving mask and can be separate or integrated into the mask itself. The latter system works best for snorkeling and is limited to it, while a separate snorkel can be used for free diving sessions as well.

Generally, a snorkel is around 30 centimeters long – the optimum length chalks in at 40 centimeters – with a diameter of two and a half centimeters. Make sure that when you buy a snorkel, it is according to the same measurements, as breathing through anything longer becomes a laborious task.

The tube has a mouthpiece at one end, made out of rubber or plastic. You need to use the tube for breathing through when you’re submerged underwater. Breathing through a snorkel can also increase the buildup of carbon dioxide in your bloodstream because of the respiratory dead space present.

Air exhaled previously does not fully leave the breathing tube and is inhaled again. Lack of fresh oxygen can cause hypercapnia along with hypoventilation or reduced consciousness. In mild cases, this can leave you feeling lethargic, confused or dizzy due to an increase in cardiac activity, so remember to breathe deeply.

Further Reading: How Snorkels work and a review of the best

Face Mask

Along with a snorkel, snorkelers generally wear a diving mask as well. With the advancement in technology, full face snorkel masks have been gaining steady popularity in the recent past.

The most important tip when purchasing a mask is to make sure it is the perfect fit for your face, and you can adjust it further with the help of the tightening buckles.

Textile straps are better suited for long hair than silicone straps since they reduce the risk of your hair getting tangled during snorkeling.

Fasten your hair securely at the back of your head before putting on the mask, stray away hair trapped within the mask may break the seal and let in water.

A rookie mistake when putting on masks is to tighten it to the max. You’ll soon learn from experience – or this guide – that the tighter you adjust the mask, the more likely it is to leak.

However, positioning the strap at the back of your head a little higher up, pulls the mask upward, creating a better chance for a vacuum.

Swim Fins

You will find long fins and small fins in fin-wear. However, each type has a specific use. For snorkelers, small fins work best as they are relatively stiffer which helps in changing directions and moving forward while snorkeling. Additionally, they are lightweight and easy to pack.

While long fins are the most appropriate for scuba, it is a matter of choice once you have enough experience. However, you go snorkeling in shallow waters, and long fins can end up scraping the seabed, damaging the environment.

Some seasoned snorkelers prefer not to wear fins at all. This decision can prove to be damaging. Some sea-beds are covered in sharp, slippery rocks or poisonous coral. Abrasions of this sort require immediate medical attention. To keep yourself safe, you can opt to wear swim shoes instead of fins.

Further Reading: Best Snorkeling Fins

Vests and Belts to keep you afloat

A means to keep yourself afloat is essential if you are an absolute beginner. If you have some basic swimming skills it may not be necessary.

Snorkeling is an activity where you will utilize almost all of your muscles, and the chances of exhaustion are real. A good snorkel vest helps add an element of buoyancy which makes swimming easier and conserves energy.

It’s important to point out that a snorkeling vest is not like a lifejacket. While a lifejacket aims to keep you above water, a snorkeling vest is worn to give snorkelers greater control over their movements with minimum effort. The vest aids in staying afloat and maintaining balance.

Further reading

Best Snorkeling Vests/ Jackets

Best Flotation Belts for Snorkeling

Skin exposure protection

Since you will be out in the sun for a few hours, make sure to either wear a swim shirt or put on sunscreen. Apply your sunscreen at least half an hour before getting in the water and let it dry out and absorb into your skin.

To help keep the environment safe, use biodegradable sunscreens. Such sunscreens consist of ingredients that can be broken down in water.

If you intend to snorkel deep underwater, you might also need to protect you skin from stings and bruising by wearing a rash guard/ rashie. A wet suit can also help keeping you warm

Further Reading:

3. Ensure the Conditions are Favorable

The two ideal conditions for snorkeling are warm and sunny weather and small waves. Anything else can result in a bad experience that can get dangerous very fast.

Warm and sunny weather keeps shallow water warm, making swimming more comfortable. Colder conditions, on the other hand, require swimmers to wear wetsuits to maintain body pressure and temperature.

With the sun out, there is better visibility as more light enters through. The optimum conditions for underwater photography are when the sun is behind you, shining directly on your view.

In terms of waves, the smaller the surf, the more enjoyable the snorkeling. Large waves create a hostile environment for snorkelers. They pull up sand and sediment from the ocean-bed, hindering visibility. Marine-life such as reef fish, tend to hide out in crevices and reefs to protect themselves from the waves until the tide subsides.

Large waves also spell danger for snorkelers. Since your face is under in the water’s surface, you will not notice large waves that could knock you out or plow you into corals and rocks – which are sharp and poisonous.

A good way to find the perfect snorkeling location is far away from surfers. Since surfers ride waves – and snorkelers do not – it is a good idea to steer away from them. Ideally, try finding waves that you would paddleboard in.

Bonus Tip: Stay away from crowded areas where others may sail, surf or jet-ski. Snorkels are not highly visible from great distances, and snorkelers run the risk of head-on collisions. This is why a lot of organizations recommend a buddy system for snorkelers or brightly colored vests.

4. Putting on Snorkel Gear

Place the mask around your head, with the strap a little higher at the back of your head, to ensure that your mask is secure and lie down, face-first into the water. Do not bite down on the snorkel yet, take this time to find your balance with the new gear and make sure there are no leaks in your face mask.

5. Floating in Water

Once everything else is in place, bite down on the snorkel’s mouthpiece and close your lips around it. Try not to bite too hard as you keep it in place and begin to breathe slowly.

Float in place and breathe deeply and slowly. Take your time to get used to the new breathing pattern, and remember not to panic. If something doesn’t feel right, you can always stand up and address the problem.

6. Streamlining Yourself

When you begin to snorkel, you will want to use your legs more than your arms. Keep your arms by your sides; this reduces the amount of resistance your body puts up and lets you glide in the water. Keep your legs together and extended, so that the fins are pointing behind you.

7. How to Move when Snorkeling

For the advanced swimmer, you will be mimicking the dolphin swim. In this technique, instead of bending the legs at the knees to create a splashing movement, the thigh and hip muscles are used. You will want to practice this a little beforehand.

Do you know how a goldfish points to itself towards the surface when you put food in its bowl and uses its tail? You’re going to want to channel your inner fish – or mermaid. Bend your knees slightly and use your hips and thighs to give your fins a forceful kick. Try to move your shins as minimally as possible.

Point your head upward and your back arched. With your arms by your side start kicking in downwards strokes with your fins to move forward. This will take a while to master, and you can even hold your arms up and point outwards while practicing. Once you get the hang of the technique, you can bring your arms back to your sides.

The downward strokes of your fins will ensure your fins are underwater, where they should be. Snorkelers should avoid splashing their fins about water as this causes unnecessary commotion which scares the fish away and can be annoying to others around you.

8.  Snorkel Floods

As a first-time snorkeler, your depth perception will need refinement. While snorkeling, your tube may flood with water a few times. This can happen due to excessive splashing; alternating waves or even immersing yourself deeper than your snorkel’s length.

In such a case, blow into your snorkel’s mouthpiece forcefully, essentially ‘blasting’ the water out of the other end.

If you get caught with water in your snorkel and no air in your lungs then slowly breathe in short breaths, keeping out as much water from your mouth as possible until you have enough air to blow out.

Thanks to new technology, you can prevent this by purchasing a dry snorkel. Its ‘dry top’ technology keeps water from filling the tube even when completely underwater.

9. Slow and Steady to Conserve Energy

Snorkeling is a leisure activity that people take up to have fun, and a good trip underwater can last as long as you feel up to it.

Make sure to keep breathing slowly and deeply and find a constant pace to swim. Since the best time to snorkel is on a warm sunny day, it’s important to keep yourself hydrated and steady. You don’t want to overexert or dehydrate yourself.

Make sure to choose an area with small waves and a diverse range of marine life that you can observe and enjoy. You can ask locals about snorkeling grounds that are visited less frequently or accessed by boat.

10. Ensure Equipment is Clean & Well Kept

Do not forget it is the equipment that made all your snorkeling trip comfortable, enjoyable and safe. It is time to return a hand. clean the equipment with fresh clean water since mud, sand, salt and debris can damage them. Once the items are clean, put them in a snorkel bag and store them safely.

Further Reading: How to clean your Snorkel Gear

11. Log your Snorkeling Tour

Your tour is not complete until you take notes about the whole experience. The main purpose of this exercise is to remind yourself of all the beautiful snorkeling memories.

Record the places you went to, the undersea creatures you saw, the people you met plus any other relevant info.

This exercise can also be undertaken while you are deep down in the sea using a waterproof underwater notebook. There also underwater cameras that can help you capture whatever you like on the go.

Snorkeling Tips for Beginners & Pros

Now that you know how to snorkel let’s go through some tips to make your next session is everything you expected.

Tip #1

Buy your own equipment, this way, it is easy to find one that you like and that fits you. In case you do end up renting it, do not go for the cheapest option and take your time finding the best one for you.

Tip #2

Always clean your mask before wearing it. This will help reduce the amount of fog that will build up inside it; you can also use anti-fog products.

Tip # 3

Get yourself a dry snorkel. You will no longer worry about swallowing water after skin diving. Also get fins that snugly fit you, so that there is no chance of them falling off.

Tip #4

Before you start snorkeling, put your gear on and test it out in a shallow area of water. Do not tighten your mask too much as that can lead to leakage. Similarly, a face mask with a silicone skirt edge creates a better vacuum and solves leaking masks.

Tip #5

As a first-time snorkeler, make sure to have your buddy right next to you in case anything goes wrong. Choose a calm, secluded spot with small waves and marine life under the surface. Check the fastening buckles on your equipment, once you are happy with the adjustments, put your snorkel on and get to it!

How do I Snorkel Underwater

Sometimes during your trip underwater, you will want to explore the seabed more closely. While snorkeling works best on the surface, you can hold your breath and dive in deeper.

Before diving underwater, take a deep breath through your snorkel while it’s still on the surface. Once your lungs fill with air, hold your breath and dive closer to examine the marine life. Remember that when you completely submerge underwater, do not inhale from your snorkel.

A normal snorkel will flood with water as it sinks in deeper, while a dry-top snorkel will remain dry. After you return to the surface, clear out the water from your snorkel by forcing air through the mouthpiece in short and strong breaths.

You can also always take a moment to empty out your snorkel by reaching the surface and tilting your head back. Also, wearing a vest hinders going underwater, so if you feel the need to skin-dive make sure to take off your vest first and keep it somewhere safe

Can you Snorkel Without Swallowing Water or Choking?

It is totally possible to snorkel without swallowing copious amounts of water or choking. First-time snorkelers may experience some difficulty in breathing and may also end up swallowing water, especially when using wet snorkels

However, as you practice, you get more and more used to breathing through a snorkel and will know when to exhale through it to blast water out and when to inhale.

Follow are some ideas to avoid swallowing water while snorkeling

  • The easiest hack is just to stay calm
  • As mentioned earlier get yourself a dry snorkel.
  • If you are using a regular snorkel, ensure it is properly positioned
  • Remember to regularly empty your snorkel tube
  • Choose a mask of the right size & design of mask be it full face or a regular diving mask
  • Make sure the mask makes a tight seal with your skin-if you have some hair ensure you shave or find a way to ensure it does not interfere.
  • Only snorkel when the water is calm
  • Use a nose clip

Can you Snorkel with Glasses?

A snorkel mask is more or less like swimming goggles. The only difference is that your nose is also enclosed.

While you can wear contact lenses inside your mask, that is if you have the proper ones. In most cases, it is not recommended. Water can seep into the mask, and the salt water may scratch your cornea if not emptied out immediately.

A way around this is to get a mask with prescription glass attached. You can also get a face mask, which is better at keeping water out.

How do you Duck Dive with a Snorkel?

Duck diving is a method that helps snorkelers dive underwater without using up too much energy. Snorkelers will bend at the waist and push themselves vertically in, diving face first. Kick your legs in the air to give yourself an extra push, and keep your fins still until you are completely in water.

As with everything else, this dive technique will get better with practice. This kind of snorkeling is known as active snorkeling and aims to increase the snorkeler’s interaction with their surroundings.

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