Snorkeling opens a window to another world and leads us to a new level of wonder and appreciation of nature.
Snorkeling has other advantages as well:
- Minimal equipment required: a mask, snorkel and fins are all you need.
- Shared experience: friends and family can snorkel together.
- Gets kids to put their heads in the water, overcoming the main obstacle in learning to swim.
- Inexpensive or free if you have the gear.
- Low impact on the environment.
One of the joys of snorkeling is its simplicity. All you need for gear is a mask, snorkel, and fins. It is essential, however, that this basic gear be well made and good fitting or the experience will be compromised. High quality gear is also the best value, because it lasts so much longer than cheap equipment. It’s safer, more comfortable, and offers better performance to the swimmer.
Don’t scrimp on snorkeling gear!
- To fit, hold against face and gently breathe through nose. The mask should adhere to face.
- Masks are available in PVC or silicone. Both do the job, but silicone is more flexible, comfortable, and expensive.
- Masks may have one or two “windows”. One-window masks give a clear, wide unobstructed view. Two-window masks are joined in the center by a nosepiece. They can be more comfortable and fit better to the face. (Many people, especially children, have hard-to-fit faces.)
- Masks should have a double-edged face skirt for a good seal. The face skirt is the part that touches your face.
- Corrective vision: Masks are available with “drop-in” lenses or custom-ground lenses. The custom lenses are ground more accurately to specific vision needs. They are more expensive and there is a wait for the service.
- Mast defogger goop is available online or at dive shops. Children often have mask fogging problems.
- Two styles are made: standard and purge-valve. The purge-valve offers easy clearing and costs a little more.
- Kids’ snorkels are available with smaller mouthpieces and narrow-bore tubes.
- Check for angle: the snorkel should stick straight up when head is facing down and forward a bit. Have your partner help check.
- There should be enough looseness at the bottom end for the mouthpiece to be easily spit out.
- There are two common styles of swim fins: heelstrap and fullfoot. Heelstrap fins are adjustable and good for children. Get quality heelstrap fins or the strap will break. Fullfoot fins have built-in heels, which are more comfortable and more efficient.
- Fins should be lightweight.
- Small-blade fins are best for children and beginners. Moderate size fins are good for the more experienced snorkeler. With fins, bigger is not necessarily better.
- Bend knees slightly, naturally, as you kick.
- Try different style kicks: some do better with shorter stroke kicks.
- Remember when looking through a mask, underwater objects look 25% bigger and 25% closer than they actually are.
- Swim fins don’t swim by themselves. They sink. Take off equipment, especially kids’, on shore.
- Store your gear: rinse with fresh water and store out of the sun. Store where mice can’t get to them, since mice like to chew the rubber!
- Loose fins don’t work well and cause blisters. Wear socks if you have to. Also, a common problem is the back of the heel tearing, rendering the fin useless. This can be repaired with duct tape and a few stitches with heavy thread. On the inside of the heel, cover the stitches with another piece of tape for comfort.
- Always snorkel with at least one other person.
- Tie a whistle to your PFD. (More experienced snorkelers will need to remove their PFD for diving deeper.)
- Return to shore if anyone is getting tired.
- Use brightly colored snorkels.
- Don’t use inflatable flotation devices. Use a PFD and, for kids, one with a crotch strap.
- Stay together! It’s safer, and the shared experience makes shared memories.
Snorkeling is especially rewarding as a parent/child activity. Once the basics have been learned, the child is equal to the parent in skill, and often surpasses the parent in discovering hidden natural wonders. Explore a new world through the eyes of a child!