Snorkeling is a great way for people to explore the underwater world, even if they don’t have the training or equipment for scuba or other forms of diving. It allows you to take a good look around at marine habitats while still staying close to the safety of the surface. Though millions of people snorkel every year, people new to the sport may not be aware of whether there are prerequisites.
There are no training requirements for snorkeling. Almost every organization that offers snorkel experiences will allow you to participate, regardless of skill level. But snorkel training does exist, and you may want to do this if you are uncomfortable. YouTube is also a good resource.
Like it or not, underwater is not a natural place for humans to spend time. Our bodies are built to survive on dry ground, with plenty of air and the right amount of air pressure. Trying to survive in any other environment always comes with some risks. But if you learn to manage these risks, with or without special training, you can make snorkeling as safe and enjoyable as it’s meant to be.
Types of Snorkels
To many people, a snorkel is just a cheap piece of gear that you can pick up at the supermarket for a few dollars, take to the beach, and start using right away. But snorkels have come a long way since their invention in Ancient Greece, and now there are several different types to choose from.
The classic type is what people tend to think of when they hear the word “snorkel.” It’s not much more than a rigid plastic tube with a mouthpiece to put in your mouth. While it’s probably true that you can pick one up from your local Wal-Mart at a low price, you should be aware of the other options before settling for this one.
Snorkel With Purge Valve
Since lower-end snorkels can easily get flooded with water, the valves on these snorkels are designed to be one-way. They let water out when the user exhales but doesn’t let any in when they inhale. The valve is typically located directly below the mouthpiece and can be an important safety feature for beginners, who might panic if they sense water getting in their mouth.
The next step up is a semi-dry snorkel. They’re designed to combat the classic problem of water entering the snorkel. There’s a splash guard covering the top of the tube, which does a good job of keeping out splashes or sprays of water. But it doesn’t do much good if the snorkel ever gets fully submerged.
This is the most sophisticated and most expensive type of snorkel. It has a valve at the top—not just a splash guard. This valve keeps almost all water out of the snorkel, even when submerged. And if water does manage to get in somehow, there’s also a purge valve near the mouthpiece, so that you can easily expel it.
The difference between these types is more than just a few fancy paint jobs. Each type can pose its own unique risks, especially if an inexperienced snorkeler attempts to use it.
For a lot more on snorkel types and their advantages and disadvantages, along with a buyer’s guide to the best of each type, head over to the 5 Types of Snorkels you Should Know About post.
Hazards of Snorkeling
One of the hazards of snorkeling stems from the number of different types of snorkels. If you’re a beginner and you buy a snorkel with features you’re not familiar with, you might end up using it improperly.
For example, the water-blocking features of the semi-dry and dry snorkels are nice, but the splash guard and valve designs can both get jammed if sand or other debris gets in them. Failing to clean them regularly could lead to a frightening and unsafe experience while snorkeling.
Another risk is breathing carbon dioxide. You probably know that humans inhale oxygen and exhale CO2, but have you ever thought about what happens to that CO2 after we breathe it out? Normally, it floats away and doesn’t bother us anymore. But when you exhale through a snorkel, some of the CO2 gets stuck in the tube, and you breathe some of it the next time you inhale.
This is unavoidable when using any type of snorkel, but it’s still a safety concern. Breathing too much of the gas can lead to a buildup of CO2 in a person’s body, which can then cause shortness of breath, heart irregularities, and even loss of consciousness. This is why snorkels are limited in length, and you can’t snorkel using a long garden hose. I explained this concept here.
It’s also possible to lose consciousness if you dive too deep while snorkeling. Maybe you spot a school of fish or a beautiful coral reef, and you just have to get a closer look. Unlike scuba divers, snorkelers can’t breathe while their snorkel is submerged, so they have to hold their breath like a freediver does.
But an untrained snorkeler might not realize that freediving can be dangerous, too. If you dive too deep while holding your breath, you might black out while coming back to the surface. This is caused by the rapid change in pressure in your lungs as the water pressure around you rapidly changes.
There’s also the risk of having a run-in with passing motorboats or jet-skis. Scuba divers have to deal with this danger, too. A snorkel can be hard to see from a distance, and these fast-moving water vehicles may not have time to slow down, even if they do see you. A beginner snorkeler might put themselves in harm’s way if they aren’t aware of this possibility.
Should You Get Snorkel Training?
Snorkeling is a perfectly safe activity most of the time, even for beginners. But the few risks it carries are serious ones.
Some experienced divers, such as Thomas Gronfeldt of scubadiverlife.com, think that snorkel training should be required. He points out the number of snorkeling-related tourist deaths that have been reported in Hawaii, and the damage a person can do to marine life, such as coral reefs, without realizing it.
All of the risks we discussed above can be minimized with a few quality snorkeling lessons. These lessons would teach you how to choose a good snorkel and keep it in good shape. They would also teach you about CO2 buildup, the dangers of freediving, and how to avoid encounters with vehicles.
In addition to making snorkeling safer, you might also want to consider snorkeling lessons if you have any water-related fears. Don’t assume that having a snorkel will allow you to safely conquer these fears on your own. If things go wrong, you might panic, putting yourself in serious danger.
Finding Snorkeling Training
Unfortunately, it can be a difficult to find snorkel training. Since most people see snorkeling as such an easy activity, there isn’t much demand for training, and organizations tend not to offer things if there isn’t enough demand for them.
But there are some opportunities. For instance, you can take lessons and then go snorkeling in Puerto Rico by booking this trip on Viator. Laura Parke offers similar instruction in Florida, with a guarantee that your underwater experience will be a pleasant one.
There are probably other places around the country to find snorkeling lessons if these two aren’t practical for you. You could contact nearby scuba organizations and ask if they have any instructors qualified to teach you. Your local fitness center might also have resources available, especially if they already offer swimming lessons.
In the end, it’s important to remember that snorkeling isn’t that risky for most people. If you’re a decent swimmer and cautious while trying new things, you might be fine trying it on your own. While it’s no replacement for real training, this article should have clued you in to most of the things you need to look out for.
With that in mind, it’ll be up to you to weigh the risks and make a decision for yourself about snorkeling lessons. After that, it’s time to make your dreams of underwater adventure a reality!
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