How to Use a Snorkel: A Simple Guide

Using a snorkel safely is crucial. Choose the right equipment like a diving mask, snorkel, and optional swim fins. Practice in a safe environment to avoid hazards and enjoy snorkeling.

how do snorkels work

Snorkeling can be a fun solo activity, a date option, or a family excursion. It can also become dangerous if done incorrectly. No one wants the latter, so here’s a simple guide on how to use a snorkel.

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Step One: Choose the Right Equipment

For best results, find out what equipment feels comfortable for you. That doesn’t mean you have to run out and buy the equipment if you’d rather rent it.

But rental companies are often in a hurry and don’t have time to walk you through a proper fitting or lesson.

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You’ll need the following equipment for a snorkeling experience:

  • diving mask
  • snorkel
  • swim fins (optional)
  • sunscreen

Diving Mask

AQUA A DIVE SPORTS Diving mask Anti-Fog Swimming Snorkel mask Suitable for Adults Scuba Dive Swim Snorkeling Goggles Masks (M308-BLACK)

Masks come in different shapes and sizes and adjust to fit your face. For your first mask, it’s a good idea to go into a store where you can speak to an expert that can help you pick one out. 

There are two different masks you can choose from: a standard snorkeling mask and a full-face scuba mask.

For beginners, a standard mask is the easiest to start with, and you want one that rests snugly over your nose and eyes without being too tight. It should make good contact with your skin, so it seals.

If you have long hair, pull it back from your face, as it can cause the mask’s skirt not to suction properly. Facial hair can also affect how a mask suctions, so keep that in mind when considering your options. 

Remember that you want enough room in the nose area so water pressure doesn’t cause rubbing or chafing against your skin. Also, make sure you defog/clean your mask so you can see while swimming.

Some recommend a baby shampoo or toothpaste, while others recommend the defog solution you can get from rental places.


Snorkel Set, Dry Top Snorkeling Gear for Adults, Panoramic Anti-Leak and Anti-Fog Tempered Glass Lens, Adults Adjustable Snorkeling Set, Scuba Diving Swimming Training Snorkel Kit with Mesh Bag

There are three main types of snorkels: standard snorkels with no valves, standard snorkels with a purge valve, and dry snorkels. 

The standard snorkel without a valve is a hard plastic pipe where one end goes in your mouth, and the other has a hole up top so you can breathe while underwater.

However, it is prone to getting water in the tube, which can disorient new snorkelers. Learning to purge your snorkel is an important skill to have when using this model.

The standard snorkel with a purge valve is like the first model, except it has a valve at the bottom that drains water.

When flooded, you lift your head out of the water, and the valve will drain your tube so you can breathe normally. 

You might think draining happens slowly, and buying a snorkel with the purge valve would be a waste of money, but the opposite is true.

The valve expels the water in seconds, making it beneficial for new snorkelers. As a side note, do not breathe in while the snorkel drains unless you want a mouthful of water.

A dry snorkel has a valve at the top and bottom, and the valves close when submerged to help prevent water from getting in the tube.

This makes the process much easier for beginners while also being an efficient option for experienced snorkelers.

Swim Fins (Optional)

Speedo Unisex-Adult Swim Training Fins Rubber Long Blade

Fins help you conserve energy and swim faster, which makes them the perfect accessory for snorkeling. Like the masks, you need fins that fit.

They come in different sizes, just like shoes, so select your size. You don’t want your fins falling off because they’re too big or rubbing against your feet.


Banana Boat Sport Ultra Sunscreen Spray, Broad Spectrum, SPF 50, 6oz. - Twin Pack

It should go without saying, but make sure you have sunscreen. Once you get the hang of snorkeling, finding yourself in the water all day is easy. Protect your skin, and remember to reapply every so often to prevent rashes and burning.

Step Two: Practice

If you want to enjoy the experience snorkeling provides, consider practicing before you go on your excursion. 

Start in a pool or a calm, shallow part of the ocean first. Somewhere easy and safe to work out the kinks before going on the real adventure. 

  • Pull longer hair back and away from the face. Hair trapped under the skirt can alter how the mask fits, which can cause a leak. A leak happens when the mask doesn’t suction to your face and water seeps in the sides.
  • Put on the mask and adjust as necessary.
  • Put the snorkel in your mouth and practice breathing through the mouthpiece a few times until you’re comfortable.
  • Stand in the water about chest deep, then lean forward until your face and mask are in the water. Make sure you don’t completely submerge the snorkel.
  • Breathe through your snorkel tube just as you practiced before getting into the water.
  • If you went with a standard snorkel, practice purging water from it, so you’re prepared.
  • To purge water, submerge the snorkel by dipping your head farther down and allowing it to fill with water. Come back up far enough that the tube is out of the water, and then blow hard to force the water out of the top. Do this a few times until you’re confident.
  • Now stretch out horizontally and swim with your head submerged.
  • Use your fins if you have them, and practice swimming and breathing at the same time.

Step Three: Know the Hazards

The most common mistake new snorkelers make is they exhaust themselves. The best-case scenario is that it causes you to end the trip early.

Worst-case scenario, it can lead to panic and potential drowning. The second most common cause for concern is pre-existing medical conditions, so ensure you get the okay from your doctor before your trip.

To avoid exhaustion, stay relaxed and go slow. A snorkel limits your breathing rate, so only swim as fast as you can comfortably breathe through the snorkel.

Also, remember that swimming is an exercise that takes a toll on your body. Swim fins can help you move faster without overexertion, but even so, mind your breathing.

Another hazard to consider is the ocean itself. Before going on your trip, you must understand ocean currents, waves, and surges, so you know what to expect when the water moves you. Panicking in the ocean can lead to drowning, so do your research or take a safety course. 

History of the Snorkel

Early stories suggest that snorkeling started when Aristotle watched an elephant underwater using its trunk to breathe. The first snorkels started as reeds. Villagers used them to hide or escape enemies. 

The next iteration of snorkels came in the 15th century when fishermen created helmets with attached snorkels. This design led to 19th-century advancements where manufacturers made snorkels with leather and steel wrapped around a breathing tube.

Most snorkelers agree that the equipment available now is much safer and more comfortable.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you still have questions, here are the answers to some of the most common questions asked about using a snorkel.

What snorkel gear should I get?

Snorkel gear comes in different shapes and sizes, and there are options for the complete novice to the most advanced snorkeler. You should choose gear that fits you, feels good, and meets your skill level. Going into a store to speak with an expert is the best option to ensure you chose the right gear for you.

Is CO2 buildup a concern?

This question often comes up when discussing full-face masks and the potential that not all CO2 becomes expelled during a dive. When full-face masks became popular, several off-brand manufacturers attempted to make cheap knock-offs without understanding the safety implications. It led to several snorkelers accidentally drowning after passing out from exposure.

With a proper snorkeling mask, whether a full-face or standard one, there is no inherent danger of CO2 building up when used as intended. The mask design provides vent valves to release the air you breathe out so you are safe. Be careful of purchasing cheap equipment, as that could lead to safety issues.

How deep can you dive with a snorkel?

The answer depends on the equipment you choose. Traditional snorkel tubes are only about 15-16 inches, so you shouldn’t go deeper than that unless you’re comfortable expelling the water from your tube. 

With a full-face snorkel mask, you can descend up to six feet without issue. But be mindful that diving too deep without the proper equipment can cause Bends. Snorkeling is a surface sport. If you wish to go deeper, you might consider scuba diving.

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