Dipping your toes in the ocean is one thing, but taking a dip and snorkeling in the ocean is a whole other experience. Engaging and immersive, snorkeling offers a portal into the inner workings of the ocean and a new perspective of the planet.
To this day, I remember my first time snorkeling in Maui, Hawai’i. After the initial shock of seeing schools of vibrant fish, I felt forever connected to the ocean. With myriads of new snorkeling stories, I went home determined at the age of 8 to be a marine biologist. Flash forward a decade or so, I’m a marine biologist still in awe of snorkeling.
With the following tips, you can take the plunge and be an avid snorkeler as well. And, because snorkeling does not involve a large investment of time and money—like trips to the aquarium or scuba diving—it can be an economic way to explore the ocean.
1. Buy or rent an affordable snorkel mask.
Now it’s time to get your snorkeling gear! Firstly, check out your local dive shop and see what’s available. At a dive shop, you’ll likely be able to choose between buying or renting snorkel gear. If nothing’s quite doing it for you, take a quick look at Amazon. Chances are you’ll stumble across a few intriguing brands.
In the past, I’ve used Speedo snorkel masks, and they’ve all fit my needs.
2. Scout out the best snorkeling spots.
Finding just the right spot to snorkel is an important first step. When thinking about a snorkeling destination, make sure the location meets your goals and swimming level.
For a first-time snorkeler, I would recommend an area with few rocks and plenty of shallow water. As your snorkeling goals mature and your skill level increases, you may want to snorkel in more advanced places, like around caves. Before doing any snorkeling, always use caution, and avoid pushing yourself past your limits.
3. Familiarize yourself with the tide and currents before snorkeling.
Take a look at Surfline to ensure you are prepared for the tide and current conditions. For instance, some areas may have currents that make snorkeling more or less difficult. Knowing what the conditions will be like ahead of time will help you make the best decision for your skill level.
4. Bring a snorkeling buddy.
To stay as safe as possible, it’s a smart idea to bring a friend. Even when you take all the safety precautions imaginable, there can be unknowns. And, some situations can get dangerous. For example, if you get a muscle cramp and have difficulty swimming, having a friend nearby to alert the proper authorities will be immensely helpful.
Overall, the buddy system is a good system to have in almost all scenarios, including snorkeling.
5. Carry hair ties with you.
If your hair is on the longer side, hair ties will be your best friend. One of the most infuriating parts of snorkeling can be hair getting stuck in your snorkel mask or constantly falling onto your face.
To ease this stress, carry ample hair ties with you. You won’t regret it.
6. Protect your skin with reef-friendly sunscreen.
It’s easy to forget how bright it is when you have your head down in the water. When you’re snorkeling, your back will be fully exposed, putting you at major risk of looking like a bright red lobster when you get home.
7. Pack your camera.
On your underwater journey, you may want to take some photos or videos. In that case, consider bringing a GoPro. If you don’t have a GoPro, a waterproof disposable camera is another great option.
Having snorkeled with my GoPro in lakes and the ocean, I highly recommend bringing one with you. On a trip to Catalina Island, I used a waterproof disposable camera when snorkeling and, unfortunately, only one or two photos came out correctly. With disposable cameras, you may risk receiving low-quality photos, or, worse, no photos at all.
8. Bring a dive knife for safety.
For an extra measure of security, sometimes it can be nice to bring a dive knife with you. For instance, if you ever find yourself tangled in a fishing line, this simple tool will help you cut away.
Furthermore, a dive knife can help you detach trash from rocks, kelp, seagrass, etc… Always use caution when snorkeling with a knife, and make sure it follows all local and federal laws.
9. Carry a waterproof flashlight.
In certain areas, there may not be sufficient light to see your surroundings. In this case, consider packing an underwater flashlight with you. However, always check that it’s safe to use this flashlight near sea life. You don’t want to harm any marine animals during your snorkeling trip.
10. Consider ways to clear snorkel mask fog.
Just as you spot that green sea turtle gliding by you, the inevitable happens—your mask fogs. This dreaded scenario can happen without warning, BUT there are ways to prevent it.
You can buy a de-fogging solution or you can do the awkward, but effective, spit method. Whenever my snorkel mask fogs, I briefly take it off, spit inside the goggles, wash it around, and rinse it out. Despite being a little gross, this method can help keep your mask nice and clear.
11. Pack flippers.
To help navigate the water, flippers can come in handy. Even though I don’t personally use flippers often, many of my snorkeling friends enjoy using them. Overall, flippers are known to help snorkelers move more effectively through the water. At the end of the day, it’s your choice whether you use them or not. Just keep in mind that they’re not required to have a good time snorkeling.
12. Keep your belongings secure in a waterproof pouch.
No one wants to water damage their belongings, so make sure to bring a waterproof pouch when snorkeling. In this pouch, you can put important items like your money, keys, or wallet.
By bringing your belongings with you, you won’t have to worry about people or the gulls patrolling the beach rummaging through your stuff.
13. Make sure you’re confident in your swimming skills before snorkeling.
No one wants to feel exhausted or overwhelmed while they’re snorkeling. Therefore, brush up on your swimming skills, and make sure you’re ready for your next snorkeling trip.
To do this, consider taking swimming lessons at your local swim center. With this extra help, you may start to feel more confident in your swimming abilities.
14. Learn how to dive while snorkeling.
Shortly into your snorkel expedition, you will surely start noticing that some of the most interesting stuff to see is closer to the seafloor. Therefore, familiarizing yourself with how to snorkel dive is important.
To snorkel dive, take a deep breath, dive, and clear your snorkel when you’re back at the surface. It may sound surprisingly easy, but it will require a bit of practice. Be careful not to breathe in any water while you practice this skill, and always have your snorkel buddy nearby while you dive.
15. Show respect for your surroundings and the sea life.
As you explore, be sure not to disturb, take, or injure any habitats or marine animals. For instance, please do not feed any animals while you’re snorkeling. Even if you think they’re cute or you’re helping them in some way, you are putting these marine animals at risk of sickness and dangerous interactions with boats and people.
Remember you are a visitor in this space, and you should strive to leave this environment better than you found it. For example, if you see a piece of trash, please try to grab it and dispose of it properly. However, only pick up trash if it’s safe to do so, and you’re not risking your safety.
With this new set of tools, you’re ready to go snorkeling! Grab a group of friends, and get out there. Nothing beats getting in the water and swimming amongst the creatures you usually see behind big glass panels at the aquarium.