Are longer snorkels better than short snorkels?

Snorkeling is a fun recreational activity that allows you to enjoy beautiful underwater sea life without heavy equipment or training. Typically, the only equipment you need to use when snorkeling is some diving fins, a mask, and the snorkel tube. When purchasing a mask and snorkel, you have to be sure to get a properly-fitted mask with a snorkel that is the correct length.

No, longer snorkels are not better. To safely snorkel, experts recommend a snorkel no longer than 16 inches in length. This it to prevent carbon dioxide build up in the tubing from affecting your breathing.  The ideal length of a snorkel is 12 to 15 inches. 

Free diving deeper with a longer tube will also make it harder to clear a long snorkel when you return to the surface. It will take in a larger volume of water while submerged. Read on to better understand why it snorkel length matters, and what you can do to make sure you find a snorkel that will make your experience the most enjoyable.

Why is Snorkeling with Longer Tubing Dangerous? 

At first, you might not think there is much of a difference between a 12” (31 cm) snorkel and one measuring 24” (61 cm), but there is. If a snorkeler travels deeper underwater with using a snorkel tube that is longer than 16 inches (41 cm), the tube will fill with a greater volume of water: 

  1. Many experience free divers can get pretty deep. If you are just starting to explore diving from the surface to any depth, you will want to have a reserve of air in your lungs when you surface so that you can forcefully exhale to clear out the water. Longer tube length will mean a greater volume of water to clear. Inexperienced snorkelers may end up aspirating water (sucking it into the lungs) because they are out of breath, or they might pull the snorkel out of their mouth to clear it. If they are out of breath or panicky, they may aspirate surface water, especially if it’s choppy. This can lead to more serious problems very quickly.

So you might ask yourself, why is it difficult for snorkelers to travel deeper than 5-10 feet (2-3 m) underwater, but scuba divers can do it? The answer is that scuba divers receive air from their tanks and aren’t using their snorkels except on the surface. This allows them to breathe in deeper waters than a snorkeler can reach on one breath hold. And equalizing your ear pressure is difficult on one breath when you first try free diving. Scuba divers can equalize as many times as needed.

  1. Carbon dioxide can become trapped in the tube on the surface. As your lungs breathe in oxygen from the air around you and send that oxygen throughout your body, carbon dioxide is produced and exhaled.  Anywhere air becomes trapped during this process, whether it is in the body or the object you are breathing through, such as a tube, is known as dead air space. Having pockets of dead air space requires your lungs to work harder to push oxygen and carbon dioxide through. 

When a snorkel‘s tube is too long, there is more room for air to become trapped in the hose. The more air that becomes trapped, the harder it is to breathe. So having a snorkel hose longer than 16 inches will increase the amount of dead air space and require your lungs to work harder to push air through, making breathing difficult. 

Is the Diameter of a Snorkel Hose Important? 

Many people only pay attention to the length of a snorkel, however, the diameter of the hose also plays an important role. The average adult snorkel will have a diameter, or bore, between 0.75 inches to 1 inch (2.5 cm.)

The diameter of a snorkel‘s tubing helps determine how much resistance there is when breathing. The larger the diameter, the less resistance; however, you don’t want too large of a diameter. If the diameter is too large, it will trap more carbon dioxide. Also, you won’t be pushing enough air through the hose to make sure you clear out any water that has come in. 

If the diameter is too small and the hose is too long, then excess carbon dioxide that you breathe out will become trapped in the snorkel, as mentioned before, making it extremely difficult to breathe after just a short period. Most snorkels today are designed with the proper length and diameter ratio to allow you to breathe easily when snorkeling.

What Size Snorkel Hose Should a Child Wear?

The average adult snorkel’s hose should be between 12 and 15 inches, but what about children? Children have smaller lungs, and their muscles aren’t as strong as adults, so they need to use a snorkel with a shorter hose and smaller diameter. A child should never try snorkeling with an adult snorkel. 

How to Select a Snorkel

If you are going snorkeling for the first time and need to purchase a snorkel, there are a few things to consider. A snorkel is designed to seal feel comfortable in your mouth to keep water out so you can breathe comfortably while floating facedown on the surface of the water. 

Listed below are three things to look for when selecting a snorkel:

  1. The most important thing when selecting a snorkel is how easily you can breathe while using it. When making your purchase, double-check to make sure the snorkel tube is the proper length and diameter. Don’t be afraid to spend a little more money on a snorkel that will allow you to breathe easier.  
  1. If using a full face mask, it is also essential to make sure you choose one that is comfortable and fits well on your face. In this case, your snorkel length isn’t a choice, you get what’s attached. You can read more about the best full face masks here. Having the mask fit comfortably and with a good seal will make the experience much more enjoyable.
  1. The last thing you want to check is that the mouthpiece attached to your snorkel is comfortable and fits well in your mouth. Just like the mask, you want to be able to wear it for extended periods without any discomfort or water leaking in. Since you usually aren’t able to try on different mouthpieces at a store, you can try to make your purchase based on recommendations or reviews on the product. Be sure to read our tips for denture wearers. It’s worth it just for the funny video.

What Are Some Different Types of Snorkels?

There are several different types of snorkels available, but they all have the same purpose, to allow you to see and breathe as you float along the surface of the water and observe the life below. 

When deciding on the type of snorkel to purchase, make sure it will meet the needs for the activities you have planned for it. The list below will go over five common styles of snorkels to consider. Watch the video above for a great explanation of each type.

  1. Classic Snorkel – The classic snorkel is made of a plastic tube and holds the shape of the letter J. It can be used for snorkeling or scuba diving. Its simple design makes it easy for beginners to use; however, when submerged, it does trap water. 
  2. Flexible Snorkel – This snorkel contains a flexible area of the tube that allows you to bend it to fit around your goggles or mask so you can see better. The mouthpiece also contains a purge valve that pushes the water out when you exhale. 
  3. Semi-dry Snorkel – This snorkel also contains a flexible section and a purge valve, but in addition to those items, it has a splash guard to keep water that is sprayed on the tube out.
  4. Dry Snorkel – This snorkel contains a valve at the top of the snorkel to block any water from entering, allowing the snorkeler to dive underwater occasionally. The mouthpiece also contains a purge valve to help remove water.
  5. Full Face Snorkel Mask – This snorkel is designed so you breathe into a mask rather than a mouthpiece. The mask may take some getting used to but is an excellent option for beginners or those who have a hard time keeping a mouthpiece in for a long time. 

In Conclusion

Snorkeling is a great way to explore the beauty of the ocean below without having to dive deep down into the water. Having the right type of snorkel of the correct length is vital for making your experience fun, safe, and one you will want to repeat over and over again. Remember, when choosing a snorkel to stay with standard sizes and don’t experiment with longer tube lengths.


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Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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