Do You Need to Know How to Swim to Snorkel?

By Teo Spengler

Getting below the surface: Tips for first-time snorkeling

Do You Need to Know How to Swim to Snorkel?

Clear blue water, fabulous fish you've never seen before and a very low price: Snorkeling gives you a James Bond experience for an ordinary person price. To dive into an underwater experience straight out of your dreams, all you need is a mask, snorkel tube, fins and reasonably warm water. But that doesn't mean snorkeling is risk-free. Here are essential beginner-snorkeler tips to help you get the best experience and stay safe beneath the surface.

Acquire basic swimming skills or use a life jacket

There are no laws saying you have to know how to swim in order to snorkel, but a minimal level of comfort in water is important. You don't have to know the different strokes or be a fast swimmer, but you should know how to dog paddle and move about in water. If you want to snorkel but aren't a confident swimmer, wear a life jacket (or a float vest that goes around your waist ) for safety's sake.

Protect your body from the sun

Lots of first-time snorkelers underestimate the power of the sun's rays. Yes, you can get burned badly while in the water. The most common spot for snorkeler sunburn is the back of your thighs, but it's not the only spot. Your back, shoulders, arms and the back of your neck can all get fried to a crisp if you go out without protection in hot sun.

One way to deal with this is to wear a wet suit or T-shirt and shorts. But, if you're reluctant to dress in anything more than a bathing suit, a good quality, waterproof, heavy-duty sunscreen should do the job. Protect your scalp too with a hat, bandana or sunscreen.

Use well-fitting equipment

Both masks and fins must fit your body well in order to be comfortable and work efficiently. If you're renting them on vacation, be a little picky and rent good quality equipment that fits you well. Test out the equipment in a swimming pool before taking off into the ocean.

Pop for a flood guard

While it's tempting to rent or buy the cheapest equipment possible, you may be happier in the long run if you spend a bit more and get a dry snorkel. Remember, you breathe through the snorkel tube. If water floods down it (from a wave or just a head movement) while you are breathing in, it isn't fun at all.

Dry snorkels come equipped with valves on top that shut automatically when under the water. Purge valves at the snorkel bottom let you blow water out of the tube.

Drink water before, during and after

There may be water water everywhere when you're snorkeling, but you're likely to get dehydrated in the hot sun all the same. And salt in ocean water will dehydrate your skin. So drink water before and after you go snorkeling, and take regular breaks to sip liquid.

Keep fog at bay

Your mask can fog up as you warm up, just like a car windshield on a cold day. Buy anti-fog gel and use it on the inside of the mask before you go in. Be sure to choose a gel that is non-toxic to avoid harming reefs and fish. If you forget and you're in a pinch, you can approximate the effect with your own saliva. Spit into the mask and rub it across the glass.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Spengler splits her time between French Basque Country and California.