Snorkeling Tips for Beginners: Maximizing Your Time Underwater


When you think about it, snorkeling is probably one of the most underrated watersports. At tropical destinations, it’s often presented to travelers as one of the most beginner-friendly watersports they can try, and it often involves swimming to the surface using rented dry snorkels with a swim vest on. But snorkeling can be much more complicated than you think.

While it’s definitely much easier to do than scuba diving and doesn’t require as much training, despite its simplicity, snorkeling can be very rewarding. Since you don’t have to use quite as much gear as you will with scuba diving, the sport also allows for more flexibility so you can bring your gear along on your next vacation. All you need is the best dry snorkel, a swimsuit, and some basic swimming skills. Additionally, since there’s a lack of bubbles, you’re able to get much closer to marine wildlife then you would when scuba diving.

How to Prepare for Your Snorkeling Trip

To get the most out of your first snorkeling trip, preparing can be very helpful. If you’re not the best swimmer, then take some swimming lessons at your local pool. Even if you’re an okay swimmer, you’ll still benefit from taking a refresher course. I recommend focusing on the freestyle technique since kicking from that style is what you’ll be using the most when you’re snorkeling.

When you improve and strengthen the muscles that are used when kicking, you’ll be able to snorkel for a longer period of time using minimal effort. This will prevent swimmer fatigue.

You also won’t have to wear a life jacket if you’re a much stronger swimmer, which can help to free up your range of motion and allows you to swim faster.

While wearing a life jacket can help you float, it will also have an impact on your movement in the water, making it harder to do dives to check out fish or reefs.

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Being an excellent swimmer will help to keep you safe in the water. But practicing with your gear, prior to your trip will also be important.

Preparing and practicing will allow you to hit your favorite reef right away instead of hanging back and practicing swimming around with your snorkeling gear.

Learning how to swim with fins can be difficult for most beginners. The extra weight and drag of the fins can put more pressure on the muscles, which is why some beginners struggle with leg cramps. So, as you focus on becoming a better swimmer, take a pair of fins along with you and do some laps wearing them. Wearing some good neoprene socks can provide a type of buffer between your skin and the fins, which can prevent chafing, irritation, and blisters.

I also recommend practicing different finning techniques, mixing it up so that you do both mid-level and long stretches.

Conserve Energy

Snorkeling may not sound like serious exercise, but it can actually take a lot out of you. Even when you’re snorkeling in warm water, the body constantly loses heat due to the water’s heat capacity being higher than the airs.

Additionally, propelling yourself forward wearing heavy fins can also take up a lot of your energy. When you add in the fact that snorkeling trips often involve a day-long adventure, you can see why a day spent in the water snorkeling can be very exhausting.

Most beginners have a tendency of using their arms just like they would if they were swimming in a pool. But with snorkeling, you need to get most of your power from your legs. Keeping your arms relaxed at your sides and relying on your legs to propel you forward is one of the best ways you can conserve energy when snorkeling. You should also avoid kicking too hard since moving too fast not only means that you’ll fly by interesting sights in the water, but you’ll use up your energy reserve.

How to breathe can also have an impact on your energy level. In order to breathe easily and stay relaxed, you’ll need to focus on taking deep breaths. These deep breaths also help to keep the heart rate low which will allow you to conserve energy.

Short Dives

There are many snorkelers who love remaining on the surface of the water throughout the duration of their time in the water, but if you want to get up and close to nature, now’s the time to practice your ability to hold your breath.

While many snorkelers will simply remain at the surface and use their snorkel to breathe as they look down, the advanced snorkeler will be able to occasionally dive below the surface as they hold their breath. This allows a snorkeler to get a closer look at marine wildlife, as they explore underwater features such as reefs.

If you want to give short dives a try when you snorkel, the first step is practicing breathing techniques.

The first thing you should focus on is relaxing. When you’re on the surface, take a few moments to move as little as possible in order to get your breathing under control. Next, take a few deep controlled breaths. Breathe slowly and deeply in order to fully empty and fill your lungs. Make sure you take an extra deep breath in order to fill up your diaphragm, then your chest, and then finally the top of your torso.

When you’re ready to dive, make sure you bend 90° at the waist, so that the torso is submerged and placed vertically in the water. Next, you’ll raise your legs so that they’re also vertical but above the water. What drives you into the depths is the weight of your legs, which can save you a lot of energy. Once your legs hit the water, you’ll use them to gain further depth.

Relax Underwater

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By simply relaxing and slowing down most new snorkelers can improve their breath holds. Try to swim efficiently and slowly, streamlining your body and making every movement count as your legs propel you forward.

Make sure that you come up to the surface before you run out of air. Extend the amount of time for each dive, slowly. With more experience, you’ll soon get the feel for how long you’re able to safely remain underwater.

Mistakes to Avoid

While you may head out to your first snorkeling adventure thinking that it’s going to be this amazing and exciting experience, poor first-time experiences for the newbie are fairly common. If you signed up with a snorkeling tour company, many will lead you to believe that snorkeling is so easy that all you have to do is throw on a mask and jump in. However, the truth is that while snorkeling is pretty easy and very enjoyable, without some basic skills, knowledge about the conditions and dangers of the ocean, and good equipment, your first time can be pretty miserable. It can also be potentially dangerous.

Below, I’ll go over some of the most common mistakes many first-timers make and what you can do to avoid them.

Renting cheap equipment is one of the most common mistakes beginners make. Masks come in different shapes and sizes and can easily be adjusted to your face. Companies that rent out masks are usually in a hurry, so it’s important that you learn for yourself what type of mask will be a good fit, how to determine what a good fit is, and what you can do to prevent your diving mask from leaking.

The wrong mask can make for one miserable time underwater. Masks that fog can be a hassle, since you won’t be able to see very well through them. To skip the hassle of renting a mask, purchase your own. Opt for a dry snorkel mask, one that will fit perfectly and can make learning how to clear a flooded mask a cinch. A flooded mask can be one of the least pleasant experiences you will encounter underwater. Dry snorkels come equipped with special valves located on the top that will seal shut once the snorkel is submerged. They also come equipped with purge valves located at the bottom of the snorkel that make it easier for you to clear your mask. For a beginner, this piece of equipment will be essential and will be worth a higher price tag.

Fins that Don’t Fit

Purchase fins that aren’t too loose or tight. Basically, when you wear the fins they should not hurt. Having your fins fall off when you need them the most can be potentially dangerous. You may also end up with fins that are too tight which can give you sores and blisters on your feet, causing pain and discomfort when you’re underwater. Keep in mind, when your feet are wet, they will slightly shrink in cold water, so fins that offer a snug fit will be important. Wearing fins when you snorkel is essential for safety since they can provide the user with an impressive amount of swimming force, saving the wearer tons of energy.

Not Buying Your Gear Way Ahead of Time

Buy your gear weeks in advance of your trip. This will give you plenty of time to adjust to your new gear. Practice putting your mask on and taking it off. Learn how to adjust the straps so that the mask fits snug but not too tight. When you slightly inhale the mask should easily suction to your face. Suction is what mainly holds the mask to your face. Now comes the snorkel. How does it feel when it’s placed in your mouth? With most models, you can easily adjust the height and angle of the snorkel, which you’ll need to do if you feel as though it’s pulling on your mouth awkwardly. You can also adjust the mask where it attaches to your face. Some models will allow you to rotate the silicone bottom for a better angle.

Not Choosing the Right Location

In most cases, a new snorkeler will just take a boat tour, or they’ll head to their local beach. Instead, it’s important to do some research in order to find a spot that’s right for you and your skill level.

For your first time, I recommend going from a beach and not a boat. For many new snorkelers jumping off a boat into the water can be daunting. Many beginners are afraid that they will not float easily. Add that to being uneasy about breathing through a snorkel for the first time and you’ve got yourself a scary first experience.

Find a spot on the beach that’s alive. This means it contains coral and lots of fish. If you choose a boring or dead spot for your first snorkeling adventure, you probably won’t understand why people enjoy snorkeling so much. Search online for snorkeling forums that can point you in the right direction in terms of where you should go your first time in the water.

Not Researching Water Conditions

Only head out if the water is calm. Many beginners fail to research water conditions for the day of their trip and can end up in choppy water conditions that can ruin the entire experience. When you’re dealing with waves, it can make swimming, exiting, and entering the water dangerous. It will also make using your equipment correctly the first time more difficult. Additionally, waves will reduce underwater visibility, so you won’t be able to see much. I recommend choosing a beach that has a lifeguard or going with a buddy that has experience with snorkeling.

Safety Precautions

  • Never go snorkeling alone. If you’re new to this watersport, make sure you partner up with a friend or family member with experience. Snorkeling is considered a fairly safe watersport, however, you’re still swimming in open waters which makes you vulnerable to marine wildlife, sharp reefs, and currents.
  • If the water temperature is sixty degrees or below, then you’ll need to wear a wetsuit or dry suit. Both types of suits come with their own pros and cons. For more information, click here to learn the differences between dry suits and wetsuits.
  • Avoid touching anything while snorkeling. Even if a fish looks harmless, avoid touching it. The same also applies to cute sea anemones and coral. Some types of marine life can feel threatened when you touch them especially if you’re swimming too closely. Make sure that you keep your hands to yourself and avoid touching things or picking anything up.
  • Avoid panicking underwater and hanging onto your snorkeling buddy. If you find yourself starting to panic then instead of grabbing the person next to you, float on your back and inhale deeply. Even if you’ve just purchased new snorkeling gear and you’ve tried everything on at home, make sure you do a safety check before you hit the water. The last thing you want is a piece of gear malfunctioning when you’re in the middle of the ocean.
  • Never go snorkeling immediately after you eat a heavy meal. Accidentally drinking saltwater and the motion of the waves can make you feel uncomfortable and seasick on a full stomach. Instead, eat a light but nutritious meal that consists of fruits, veggies, or whole wheat pasta, all of which will give you the energy that you need to swim.
  • Avoid consuming alcohol the night before. Instead, your focus should be on hydrating yourself for your trip the following day. Nothing can be more dangerous then heading out to the open ocean when you’re hydrated and exhausted. Swimming under the impact of alcohol can lead to a dangerous situation. Staying hydrated will be important on snorkeling trips especially if you’re snorkeling in high temperatures.
  • If you’re fighting a cold or you’re exhausted, avoid snorkeling for the day. Never head out when you’re not feeling 100%. If you’re battling a cold, sun stroke, or exhaustion, you will not be up to the task of fighting a strong current should you accidentally swim too far up from your entry point. When you go snorkeling you will want to be at your best.
  • Sunburns can be dangerous and painful. Make sure that you protect your skin against harmful rays of the sun when you go snorkeling. Do this by wearing a rash guard which will have UV protection.

Final Thoughts

Snorkeling may be easier than scuba diving, but it’s not without its dangers. Following these snorkeling tips for beginners will keep you safe during your first time in the water and can ensure that your first snorkeling trip is one that you’ll remember fondly. There are many common mistakes beginners make that can easily be avoided. Remember, always snorkel with a buddy, someone who has past snorkeling experience. Use the right gear, stay close to shore, always check water conditions before you head out, and focus on staying calm. While snorkeling can be an easy, simple, and fun way to explore the ocean and get up close to marine wildlife, it can also go dangerously wrong if you’re not prepared.