Why Do Snorkels Have Whistles?

If you are planning a snorkeling trip you want to ensure the safety of you and the other drivers you are with, this is exactly why snorkels have whistles. Whistles were added to snorkels initially as a safety precaution. 

Whistles were first added to snorkels as a safety feature. Simply by blowing your whistle you can signal to others that you need help, and they could locate you easily. Adding the whistle makes diving and snorkeling safer and also allows groups to better share the experience and beauty of the underwater world.

If you’re interested in boosting the safety of your snorkeling experience, then stick around, this article is for you. Or, if you’re in the market for some new snorkeling gear and you’re curious about the whole whistle and snorkel combination, this article is for you, too. Keep reading for more information on 

Why Buy a Snorkel with a Built in Whistle

Not all snorkels have whistles, but purchasing one that does is a great idea. Being able to alert your party when something is wrong makes your snorkeling journey a much safer one. 

Safety 

Whether you are a seasoned snorkeler or new to snorkeling, situations can always arise that may require help. While you have lookouts, supervisors, and guides with you they are also watching over others in your group. 

With a whistle on you, you can easily alert other snorkelers of your need for help saving precious minutes if they have not seen you struggling yet. It will also give them your location much easier if they cannot see you.

Experience

The underwater world can be truly amazing. There are so many different types of fish, marine life, and beautiful coral that you could not possibly be able to see it all every time you go snorkeling.

With all the beauty to see while snorkeling when you have a whistle, you are able to let the other divers you are with when you find something amazing that you want to share. This brings an amazing experience for everyone in your group to see.

Age

Whistles are a necessity when snorkeling with children, or even older adults. Age is a factor even in experienced snorkelers, whether or not they want to admit it. There are certain physical differences that can impact one’s underwater ability. Again, having a whistle on your snorkel is helpful, just to protect against the unexpected. 

Areas Where Snorkels With Whistles are Recommended

In addition to the above factors, the area that you’re snorkeling in also plays a role in potentially dangerous situations. A whistle, of course, is one way that you can prevent one of these incidents from becoming even more hazardous, or potentially life threatening. 

When Far from Shore or Boat

Many snorkeling sites are only accessible by boat. Sometimes, a boat is required because of a unique landscape, other times it’s because the spot isn’t anywhere near land. Snorkeling in these types of waters has a different set of dangers.

Part of the risk factor here is that the waters aren’t frequented as often as those right off the beach or other land. Less human activity means more sea life, which is of course ideal for snorkeling. But there are some sea creatures that aren’t exactly fond of people, so having a whistle to warn others in your group if you come across something that doesn’t look friendly is a good plan. 

Spots with Heavy Current

Rip currents are very threatening, so avoiding them is the best way to go. Make sure that at least one member of your party is able to identify possible currents. There are times when the currents change unexpectedly, which can put you and your entire party in a precarious situation.

Using a whistle on your snorkel can allow you to alert the others that there’s a change in the water current, and it’s time to end the adventure. The whistle can also let the others know if someone has been caught in a current and needs help. 

Places with Lots of Rocks or Coral

Caves and coral reefs are some of the most beautiful areas to explore with a snorkel and fins. But rocks and coral can lead to injury, especially for those that are new to the area. Rocks and coral are sharp and uneven, so stepping on one of these can cause a serious (and painful) injury. 

These areas aren’t always well lit, either. Unless someone in your party has an underwater light, there’s a chance you might be in some pretty dark waters. A snorkel with a whistle can help prevent anyone from getting lost. 

Anywhere that Requires a Lot of Swimming

Even though we’re virtually weightless in the water, swimming is physically draining. Even a long day at the pool can make the most fit person feel exhausted. Tired muscles are very dangerous to swimmers, especially in the ocean. I’ve written about fatigue when snorkeling before.

When muscles become overworked, it’s possible that they just shut down or freeze up. If this happens in the ocean or another deep body of water, there’s a very short window to get out of the water safely. Using a whistle would notify anyone close by that you’re in danger.

Some whistles aren’t marine approved. Be sure to get one that works when wet.

When Would a Whistle Need to be Used on a Snorkel

Recreational snorkeling is usually done right off of the shore, so it’s not especially dangerous. That doesn’t mean it’s free of any hazards, but there are certainly less potential 

Medical Conditions

Medical conditions can be made worse by diving activity and the environment. It is always important to advise the staff if you have any medical conditions since other steps may be needed to ensure safety while in the water. Medical conditions can include but are not limited to:

  • Cardiac conditions such as heart disease or high blood pressure 
  • Respiratory illness or injury such as asthma, pneumothorax, and congestion
  • Conditions that may cause loss of consciousness such as epilepsy and diabetes some of these medical conditions can be made worse by diving.

Drowning while snorkeling

Can occur by inhaling water and it can lead to drowning syndromes resulting in injury or death. Drowning can happen when a person becomes incapacitated in the water through fatigue, panic, or injury.

Decompression Illness from scuba

This can happen when excess amounts of nitrogen in the body start to form bubbles in the blood vessels and tissue as the diver ascends. 

The bubbles can cause tissue damage and block blood vessels, obstructing blood flow to vital organs. This can happen after any diving due to a number of contributing factors such as:

  • Poor physical condition
  • Alcohol
  • Cold Conditions
  • Multiple dives over multiple days
  • Previous incidences of decompression illness
  • Prolonged dive times
  • Carbon dioxide excess
  • Length of time between diving and flying
  • Maximum diving depths
  • Ascent training
  • Decompression stop diving

Keep in mind decompression illness happens in scuba, but you may not be able to attention until you or your affected buddy reach the surface. Keep an eye out for any of these symptoms, and have your whistle ready to use as soon as you breach the surface if any appear:

  • Mental dullness
  • Prickling and itching
  • Pain in the joints and muscles
  • Fatigue
  • Numbness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness and nausea

Of course, if you or a dive partner are exhibiting signs of DCI, you should do everything you can during ascent to communicate this before reaching the surface to attract help from others. In this case, a whistle won’t work.

Your first priority is to assist the diver in danger. But you use one hand hand to signal for help in any way possible. Loudly bang any metal you are carrying on your tank or use your flashlight to get attention. The whistle will only work well on the surface. There are few underwater whistles, but not many divers carry them.

The Verdict

Snorkels have whistles for safety purposes. They can alert other snorkelers when there’s something wrong with them or when someone else is in danger. Whistles can also be used to warn of potential hazards or dangerous circumstances ahead. They can also be used when something interesting has been spotted so that other snorkelers don’t miss the opportunity to observe and experience an unusual or even once in a lifetime occurrence.

Snorkeling can be amazing but also has its dangers. By being prepared and knowing what to watch for you can enjoy all there is under the sea. Like I always say, get out there, stay safe, and have fun!


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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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