Family Snorkeling Gear

Snorkeling is a great spectator sport.  Equipment is minimal and everyone in the family can enjoy snorkeling excursions together.  At first snorkeling seems self-explanatory--put on a mask and snorkel and jump in the water.  However, knowing a few expert tips and tricks can make the process much easier and more fun for everyone.

  • Above all, remember that the underwater world is a living ecosystem.  Treat it with respect. Do not take shells, pieces of coral, or sand from the coral reef.  Do not stand on, step on, or kick the coral.  Coral is very delicate and keeping it healthy is of vital importance.  In addition, many marine organisims can be harmful to you if touched.  Be familiar with the marine life you will be snorkeling around.  Consult a marine guide book for the area or ask at a local dive shop.  Take only pictures and leave only bubbles--in other words, leave the reef just as you found it for others to enjoy!
  • Always snorkel with a buddy. No exceptions.  Always make sure someone on land knows that you are going snorkeling, where you will be, and what time you plan to return.
  • Before leaving for a snorkeling excursion, check the fit of your mask.  Slick back all your hair.  Even one piece of hair can disrupt the seal of your mask and cause it to leak.  Hold your mask up to your face.  Breathe in through your nose and hold your breath, then remove your hands.  If your mask stays on your face, you have a good fit!
  • Your snorkel goes on the left side of your mask.  Most snorkels include some type of snorkel keeper to attach the snorkel to the mask strap.  It is always a good idea to invest in a spare.  Most are very inexpensive and can save a snorkeling trip.
  • Do I really need fins?  Unless you are an Olympian swimmer, the answer is most likely yes.  Your feet and legs can tire easily trying to push your body through the water.  Fins reduce the workload on your feet and move more water in one stroke, allowing you to snorkel farther and with less effort.  Pushing your fins through the water is much easier than pushing against the surface of the water.  Splashing your fins on the surface doesn't do much but scare the fish and tire you out very quickly.  Position your fins under the water and use a narrow scissor-style kick or frog-style kick.
  • Try not to use your arms when snorkeling.  You can hold your arms at your sides, pointed in front of you, or crossed on your chest or stomach.  Your body should float without the help of your arms.  If you are having trouble staying bouyant, a snorkeling vest or jacket will help keep you afloat and stable in the water.
  • Putting on your mask is very simple.  Slick back all your hair.  Fit the mask to your face, then slide the strap over your head.  The strap should fit high on your head and above your ears.  Positioning the strap too low can cause your mask to leak.  Strap wrappers are very advisable for snorkelers with long hair.  If a strap catches in your hair, don't panic--a snag should not impede your dive.  Leave it alone and work out the tangle on the surface with the help of your snorkeling buddy.
  • Check the position of your snorkel.  Your snorkel should be as vertical as possible when your face is in the water.  Too far forward or backward will put the top of the snorkel too close to the surface of the water and cause constant leaking.
  • Even the best-fitting masks can leak.  Mask clearing technique differs a bit if you have a non-purge mask or purge mask, but the idea is the same.  To clear a non-purge mask, lift your head out of the water and lift the skirt of the mask to drain the water.  You can also tilt your head upward to let the water collect in the nose pocket.  Press your fingers to the top of the mask close to your eyebrows to lift the bottom of the mask from your face.  Give a quick breath out through your nose, then remove your hand.  The water should be gone.  To clear a purge mask, tilt your head down to collect the water against the purge valve.  Give a quick breath out through your nose.  Sometimes you may need to hold the mask to your face at the same time.  Both techniques take a little bit of practice but they will become second nature after a while.
  • At one point or another, your snorkel may fill with water.  One strong breath out and the job is done.  Many snorkels feature a purge valve near the mouthpiece to make clearing easier.
  • If you have tried on your fins when you received them, you may have already discovered it is difficult, even dangerous, to walk normally while wearing fins.  The best way to get around on land while wearing your fins is to walk sideways very slowly, taking small steps.  This technique works well both on land and in shallow water, like when entering the water from the beach.  Another tip for beach entry:  leave your fins off until you reach about waist-deep water.  Put your fins on where it is easy for you to begin swimming.
  • To enter the water from a low ledge, like a dock or boat ladder, sit down and raise your arms above your head.  Pivot from the waist, keeping your arms extended.  Holding your arms up will prevent you from bumping your head.  Always look before you leap.  Make sure the water you are entering is deep enough to accomodate you.
  • A "giant stride" entry is best for high ledges, like boat decks and piers.  Be sure the water is deep enough to enter before you attempt an entry.  Use one hand to hold your mask to your face and have your snorkel in your mouth.  Lift your foot and "step" into the water.  It is very important to keep looking ahead, not down--looking down while performing a giant stride can shift or even remove your mask on entry.
  • You can snorkel almost anywhere, but pinpointing a great view can be a little tricky.  Ask a local dive shop or hotel information desk where the best snorkeling is at your destination.  There are many good diving-oriented guidebooks on the market.  Take a look to find one that includes snorkeling sites.
  • Plan your snorkeling route before you enter the water and do not overexert yourself.  Snorkeling is a relaxing activity and you should not stress yourself too much.  Do not travel too far from your starting point, and always be aware of the movement of currents.
  • Do not dive headfirst while wearing your mask.  The pressure of the dive on the mask can cause the lenses to break.
  • Snorkeling is a great activity for children of all ages, but there are special concerns.  Kids can tire much more quickly than adults, so plan a shorter snorkeling trip with a break before getting in the water again.  Children who are unsure of themselves in the water feel safer with a snorkeling vest; however, please remember that a child needs to know how to swim before trying to snorkel.  A snorkeling vest is not a lifesaving device, so keep an eye on any kids in the water for signs of distress or fatigue.  Kids can drift away very easily.  Holding a child's hand while snorkeling is a fail-safe way to keep track of youngsters in the water.
  • In many countries it is obligatory to carry a dive flag or marker bouy.  If this piece of gear is not a requirement, it is always advisable.  Often dive flags and markers can be rented at a local dive shop.  Call ahead to check what the laws and ordinances are where you will be snorkeling.  A marker bouy will indicate your presence at great distances, and boats should stay well clear of you. You must not enter the water in places populated by boats, like mooring or anchorage areas, canals, and marinas unless instructed to do so. Even when using a marker buoy, always keep an ear open for the sound of propellers coming your way and don’t hesitate to wave your arms and splash water to show the boater where you are. Unfortunately, sail boaters and windsurfers don’t announce themselves with the sound of propellers. It is up to you to avoid areas where people practice these sports and always be on the lookout for them.

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