Why Do Scuba Divers Wear Snorkels?

Scuba divers carry an air supply with them at all times. Yet when you see videos or pictures of most divers, or when you’re out diving yourself, you’ll notice they usually have snorkels, to. Why would a diver with an easy to use air supply also wear a snorkel?

Scuba divers wear snorkels so they can breathe on the surface without using up the air supply in their tank. Breathing with a snorkel allows the diver to conserve the air before descent for longer dive times. Snorkels also provide an emergency backup on the surface if the air supply is depleted at the end, or if there is an equipment failure.

Snorkels are valuable for many situations being out in the water. Should you be diving with a group, you might have to wait for several people to enter the water before descending. Or you may surface and have to wait awhile to get back on the boat. Snorkels come in handy for both situations.

If you don’t have to keep your head above water to breathe, it’s much easier to relax and wait. But if it gets too rough or you don’t have a dry snorkel, you can always switch back to your regulator and tank. Especially if you follow good practices and surfaces with at least 500 psi left in your tank.

Reasons to Wear Snorkels When Scuba Diving

Wearing a snorkel is a good idea if you plan on surface swimming or taking a dive and will be away from your entry point or boat that will be picking you back up. Some people will tell you a snorkel is unnecessary, but like anything else, they come with a list of pros and cons.

Benefits of Using a Snorkel

There are several benefits for using snorkels while diving. Although it is often debated whether or not a snorkel is needed, they seem to carry many benefits along with them. 

These benefits include saving air in your tank, the ability to check water conditions, and benefits to those who enjoy surface swimming. 

Saving Air In Your Tank

Some of the benefits of using a snorkel during diving include saving air in the tank. This is helpful for when you have a long swim to and from your entry point. You can save your air for other times of need. This will also make your swim more comfortable as well.

Along this line, a snorkel is useful when the waters are rough during your wait for your boat to arrive for your pick up. It is useful in the sense that you have another source of air and do not need to stress about running out of air in your tank. A stress-free factor, such as another source of air, during stress-inducing water conditions, can make the situation better and not worse.

Checking Water From The Surface

Another pro of having a snorkel on hand is you can check the surface water and visibility and check current conditions. You can do this before going on an extensive dive to check the water for safety measures.

Benefits Surface-Swimming 

Surface swimmers can also benefit from using a snorkel because of the same issues of conserving energy in your air tank. When waters get choppy, having a backup supply of air or method to breathe at the surface is ideal. 

It’s a Mr. Wizard video! Your elderly author had to embed it!

Cons of Using a Snorkels 

When there are positives, be sure to check into the negatives because there are typically always cons to go along with the pros. A few of those cons for diving with a snorkel include the following: getting caught in small spaces underwater, getting the snorkel caught in other scuba diving gear, and creating excess drag on the water.

Can Get Caught on Items In Small Spaces

It is never fun to get caught on anything, especially near your face or head in general. Add water over top of yourself, and that intensifies even more. You could be diving and exploring a reef or ocean shelf and get caught on something you swim by. 

Getting caught on things, whether it’s from swimming around wreckage or reefs, it can create a new level of stress. This is why it’s important to be experienced when diving and understanding the risk associated with all aspects. 

It is possible to get yourself untangled in a short period of time and not stress too much on it, but there is that chance the snorkel causes a headache by getting caught on something. 

Getting The Snorkel Caught in Other Scuba Diving Gear

It is not fun getting caught on in the water substances, but it’s even more annoying when the snorkel gets caught on other diving equipment or even your hair. If you have long hair, it may be wise to pull it back in a fashion to prevent this aggravation.

In addition to getting caught on either your mask or hair, having a snorkel makes it difficult to replace a mask. Some have experience with getting their snorkels caught in their BCD strap. 

Some people just think a snorkel is an inconvenience because it allows the opportunity to get caught on things since it protrudes from your face. 

Excess Drag On The Water 

If a snorkel is not secured properly, it can easily fall off upon entering the water source. A snorkel can create drag in the water, and if severe enough, it can disconnect or break clips. 

Pros Compared To Cons according to Scuba Diver Life

There is no definite answer which outweighs the others. Some people will not stumble upon any of the cons while having a snorkel, while others may not use a snorkel and not experience the need for one. It can go either way. 

You may not like wearing a snorkel because you have the full scuba suit with the tank containing air. I think I would be more comfortable having one just in case the conditions of the water switched gears and got rougher. I would have that assurance of another method for air. 

Breathing While Surface Swimming

According to DeepBlueDiving.org, surface swimming may not require a snorkel. It is known to create more carbon dioxide intake, and is better to just skip using a snorkel all together for those surface swims. 

Another situation to consider is having a snorkel while waiting for your boat to pick you up. The boat exhaust can enter your snorkel and create an unhealthy breathing environment. It is possible to prevent this with a dive regulator. 

Finally, if you surface in conditions that are rough; choppy water, surface waves or wind, or rain, keeping your regulator in is advisable. It’s the end of the dive, so you won’t need that remaining air for resubmerging. Use your own discretion when deciding whether or not to take a snorkel along for the dive and do your research.

New Diving Technology 

There are new snorkels that are made to help prevent issues of getting caught on things. This snorkel folds so it can fit in your pocket or attach to your suit elsewhere and take up a small area of space.

This will help alleviate any drag on the snorkel while diving, but having the folded snorkel allows you to carry one on you in case you need it. It can come in handy for moments when you could use the air and need to reserve the remaining air in your tank to get back to your entry point. 

Choosing The Correct Snorkel 

When deciding on a snorkel to use for your next dive, there are actually a few to choose from. Those choices include dry snorkels, semi-dry and classic snorkels. 

They share their similarities and differences, which make them unique for their dive. If you’d like to have our specific recommendations from each category, read our 5 Types of Snorkels You Should Know About.

Dry Snorkels

The mechanics of a dry snorkel are that which prevent water from flooding as the person dives underwater. It is interesting how this process works. The mechanism inside the snorkel is usually a floatation device that moves upward and shuts the air pathway. 

Dry snorkels are considered to be a little bulkier than its rival snorkels.

Semi-Dry Snorkels 

Semi-dry snorkels mechanism have a splash guard that protects the top of the tube, which prevent sprays from entering the tube of the snorkel. These are a lighter snorkel and great for surface swimming. These allow the diver to conserve energy in their air tank significantly. 

Classic Snorkels

Finally, classic snorkels are popular for free-diving and some spear-fishers. They have a low volume and are great for low drag. Also, by popular demand, these are great for generic snorkeling and scuba diving. 

Final thoughts

For scuba divers, the choice of snorkel type may not be as critical as it is for frequent snorkeler, since they will be used sparingly. But I’ve never dived without one, simply because I see it as a backup safety device. When diving in a large group where you need to surface float while others enter the water, you also don’t start depleting your air supply.

For those reasons, I use mine each time. But read the pluses and minuses above, and decide for yourself. Or try it each way to see what works best for you.


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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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