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Advice for first time snorkelers

Snorkeling is an excellent, low impact way to view the beauty of the sea and interact with fish and other aquatic life. If you are going out for the first time or if you just need a refresher on the snorkeling dos and don’ts, keep in mind these helpful tips and advice so that your adventure goes as smooth as possible.


Do

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  • find equipment that fits you
  • be comfortable in the water
  • practice before going out
  • ask the locals for the best places
  • always go with someone
Don’t

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  • forget to control your swimming
  • just show up
  • push it
  • under or over eat
  • drink alcohol

Do

Do find equipment that fits you

Nothing is more unpleasant than being in an idyllic place, and having it rain. The same thing goes for a mask: if it doesn’t fit, it will leak, making the experience quite unpleasant. A mask fit can be tested by placing it on your face out of the water, without using the strap, and inhaling gently. If the mask doesn’t leak while inhaling air, it will stay on your face and will not leak under water.

Having fins that fit your feet will also help, by allowing you to get where you want to be. If you are using full footed fins, the fins are sized like shoes. Open heel fins are adjustable, and should be used with booties. Cold water diving will probably require booties to keep your feet warm, so open heeled fins are required.

If you need a wet suit in the area where you are going, know if you need a full suit, or a shortie. When the water temperature ranges between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, a shortie wetsuit will allow you to stay in the water longer. A full wetsuit will be needed if you are going to be in cooler water, or in the water for a long time. The wet suit will add buoyancy, so be prepared to have enough weight to keep you neutral.

Do be comfortable in the water

If you aren’t a good swimmer, use a life jacket to keep you afloat. Using a life jacket will limit how deep you can go, but allows you to at least view the environment from above. If you are comfortable in the water, it is still a good safety measure to have a life jacket or float available. Leaving the float at the surface near where you are snorkeling can allow you to rest between dives.

If it is murky, or you are going deep bring a light. The light may make it easier to see in the murkiness. Going deep will remove colors from your vision, bringing a light will allow you to see the full colors that exist in the deep.

Do practice before going out

Spending time in a local pool will allow you to test your equipment and prepare you for your trip to that special place. Knowing that you are in shape and your equipment is working will allow maximum time viewing and interacting with the environment.

While swimming at the surface, laying flat, it should be easy to breath through the snorkel. Occasionally water will get in the snorkel, so it will be necessary to carefully breath in. If you are nervous and breathe faster than normal, a little water may be quite upsetting. Simply exhale extra hard, the water will leave the snorkel.

To go down, take a deep breath, bend at the waist lowering your head, and proceed in a vertical fashion down. Once about vertical, then raise your feet so your body is straight. With your feet above the water, gravity will start your descent. Waiting until your feet are under water, you can start kicking, to accelerate your descent rate. Kick until you are at the depth you want to be.

As you go under water, the snorkel will fill with water. When you come up, you will want to clear the water out of the snorkel. The most common way to get the water out of the snorkel is to exhale sharply once your head breaks the surface of the water.

As you go If you are good at clearing a snorkel by exhaling, then try using an equalization method (puff of air in at depth) to clear the snorkel. While coming up, still at depth, exhale gently in the snorkel. As you come up, the air in the snorkel will expand and displace all the water, making it ready to breath once at the surface. It takes practice, but is the easier way to clear a snorkel.

If you are not comfortable with clearing the snorkel, work with someone who is. Know how to clear your ears (yawning, valsalva, etc) to prevent pain when diving deep.

Do ask the locals for the best places

Knowing where to go will maximize your enjoyment. Ask about several places just in case the best place has weather or other issues. If there are boats available to take you to a reef, then take advantage of them. There are many reefs that are so far out away from shore that is may be too far to swim. However, these reefs can be easily accessible from the surface (10-30ft). The guides on the boat usually have some secret place they know about.

Resorts and hotels sometimes have snorkeling packages. These packages can include the equipment, boat rides and dive masters who can help find the best places. The packages may include a dozen people, so ask before signing up if you want privacy.

Taking certain undersea game is sometimes allowed when using snorkels and the guides will tell you the local requirements. If you want fresh lobster, then ask at a dive shop or on a boat about what is in season and what license is needed to keep your find. Even souvenir shells may be protected, so know before your go.

Do always go with someone

Sharing is caring. When you go have a great experience, it is always better with someone. Sharing a mutual experience will allow you have a memory to talk about. Having a partner or group of friends makes the trip safer as well. If you or someone else gets in trouble, then there will be someone who can help.

Going with someone more experienced at first can make the whole trip smoother. They can help choose the right equipment and know what areas are as advertised.


Don't

Do not forget to control your swimming

If you are uncomfortable or tired, it might be time to rest on the surface. Controlling your arms and legs is critical in a reef environment. Breaking coral can sometimes be illegal and is generally considered bad form. Kicking your partner will likely make them have a bad time as well. Make sure you control how and where you swim.

Do not just show up

Everything worked last time you went snorkeling 4 years ago. Your bag has been hanging on a nail in the garage and the tickets are purchased. You get on the boat only to remember the mask strap broke on the last dive and your feet grew a size bigger. If you scramble and the dive master takes pity on you, he/she may have a spare mask strap. And yet, you will still be diving with a dirty mask and a pair of fins that are too tight. Make sure you check all of your equipment functionality prior to going diving.

Do not push it

Stay within your limits. If the weather is crummy, the water murky or something isn’t right, just pass on the dive. It is better to do things safe than to make a bad situation worse by going anyway. If you loose your partner in the murk, have a plan, meet somewhere on the surface, and reevaluate the situation. Don’t let your partner push you to do something you aren’t comfortable doing. It is better to have a good time during and after the dive.

Do not under or over eat

If you know that riding on a boat sometimes upsets your stomach, then only eat something light. Even bobbing at the surface of the water can make some people seasick. If you are prone to motion sickness, be prepared, ride it out, or find that comfort spot.

Do not drink alcohol

You are going snorkeling because you like the experience. Being drunk will not make the experience better. It will only make it more challenging. Alcohol may also have a different effect on you while underwater, especially at depth. Enjoy the experience, and then if you choose, have some refreshments after the dive.


Summary

Snorkeling is a great way to enjoy the underwater environment. There are many places that snorkeling will allow you to visit without much planning. Snorkeling equipment can be packed in nearly any travel bag and be pulled out with little planning. With practice, there are few places a snorkeler can’t go. Keep these tips in mind when on your snorkeling adventure.

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