snorkeling guide for beginners 4

A Snorkeling Guide for Beginners (How To Snorkel and Essential Gear)

Snorkeling is a perfect leisure activity for the beach. It requires little gear, can be done all over the world, and is a great add-on activity for a vacation in the tropics.

The location you choose will vary based on your skill level and interest. Some places are perfect for beginner snorkeling while other locations require a strong swimmer and seasoned snorkeler.

Given that you and your family know how to swim, snorkeling is relatively easy activity to learn. It also happens to be a great educational activity that helps us learn about ocean ecosystems, sea life, and tides and currents (among many others).

In this article, Beach Life Expert helps get you started as a beginner snorkeler. We’ll share basic information on snorkeling, how to snorkel successfully, beach preparations and safety, and share beginner snorkeling gear. Enjoy!

Snorkeling At The Beach

The reason I created this blog is to share my beach experience. Needless-to-say, some of my best memories were at the beach, and, as I sit and write this article I can’t help but reminisce on a few fun snorkeling memories. Three memories come to mind immediately.

My first memory of snorkeling is from a family trip to Maui. If you’ve ever vacationed to Maui I bet you’ll recognize the name – Kanapali Beach. I remember snorkeling in the evening, near the rocks, and watching a man dive into the bay at sunset.

If you also have this memory leave a message in the comments. We snorkeled every day and purchased bags of frozen peas to feed the fish. The fish practically ate out of our hand. snorkeling guide for beginners

My second memory is snorkeling amongst the seaweed in the Channel Islands (off the coast of Southern California). I believe it was Anacapa Island. My father and I braved the cool water temperatures to search for sea life in the ocean.

We didn’t see many fish that day, but I still remember the long seaweed growing upward from the sea floor. I feared I might become tangled in it.

Mozambique was also memorable. I snorkeled there at a place called Tofu Beach. If you like extreme traveling, Mozambique has one of the most beautiful coastlines (longer than the Western U.S.) along the Indian Ocean, virtually untouched by development.

While at Tofu Beach I free-dove alongside Whale Sharks. They are gentle giants and a sight to behold!

Related: Beach Items You Need

What Is Snorkeling

Snorkeling is a water activity – in both fresh and salt water – that uses a mask and snorkel (think of a straw-like tool). The snorkel allows the user to stay slightly submerged while still breathing.

Snorkeling is usually done on the surface with your body parallel to the water and head facing down, however you can also dive deeper into the water as long as you don’t breathe (as seen in photo). Snorkeling is an activity for viewing sea life such as coral and fish, as well as ruins and rocks.

You might be thinking, “what about goggles?” Here are a few differences between using goggles vs. snorkel and mask:

  • Goggles require us to lift our head out of the water to breathe
  • A snorkel and mask allows us to keep our head in the water
  • A mask covers our nose so we don’t accidentally breathe through our nose
  • A mask has a larger viewing glass
  • Masks have stronger elasticity in its straps and we can attach the snorkel to the strap. Goggle straps are often thin and weak
  • With a snorkel you can still hold your breath and swim into the depths (just make sure you don’t breathe while your snorkel is below the surface)
  • When diving into deeper waters goggles will suction your eyeballs, however a mask rests around your face, not around each eye.

One of the great things about snorkeling is it’s a minimalist activity. By minimalist I mean it requires little equipment and preparation. For travelers who are on a budget, or who don’t want to pack much – snorkeling is a happy medium between swimming and scuba diving.

Although I’ve had my PADI certification for scuba diving for years, I’ve never been inclined to use it. I’d rather snorkel the areas close to shore with less gear. I feel snorkeling gives me more control and flexibility.

People often use fins with their mask and snorkel. Fins help make swimming easier, especially if there are current or waves, however, if you’re a good swimmer and there’s no current they aren’t mandatory.

When I traveled to Lake Malawi I had a snorkel and mask but I didn’t have fins – I still saw plenty of Cichlid fish and enjoyed myself for hours.

Related: Best Natural Sunscreen Good for You and the Environment

How To Snorkel

If you’re learning to snorkel the most important recommendation I can give is to go with a buddy and communicate. As the saying goes “two minds are better than one” and if the current takes you out a bit too far, one of you should notice and communicate to the other.

The great thing about snorkeling is you can come to the surface anytime to take a break, point out something interesting, or chat. Snorkeling is a lot like swimming so it’s not difficult to learn.

It’s really about the getting comfortable with the mask, snorkel, and fins and how quickly you adjust to using them. For most people, it takes a few minutes to learn. Below are a few recommendations to help get you started.

  • Try On The Snorkel

Before you jump in the water, you should try on your mask and snorkel. Make sure it fits snug and adjust the straps accordingly. Early on you’ll be tempted to breathe out of your nose too but it might fog up the glass.

Snorkeling is one of the few instances where being a mouth breather is good!

  • Practice Breathing With Your Snorkel

Next, practice breathing through the snorkel. Long slow breaths work better than short shallow breaths.  Sometimes we start to panic in the ocean and we begin breathing fast.

Be cognizant of your breathing in the water – slow breathing will also help relax your mind and body.

Also, learn how to use the purge valve at the bottom of the snorkel (cheap snorkels won’t have purge valves but quality snorkels will). A forceful exhale will push air through the bottom of the snorkel – the purge valve is used when water accumulates in the snorkel.

For example: if you dive below the surface with your snorkel it will fill up with water. When you return to the surface give one forceful exhale to clear the snorkel then resume breathing.

  • Try The Snorkel With Your Head Underwater

The best way to learn how to snorkel is to try in in a pool before you go to the beach. Most of you probably have access to a pool at a friends house, a local gym, or YMCA.

Take your snorkeling gear to the pool to test the waters. A pool will be much easier to learn than the ocean.

While in the pool put on your fins first and start by making slow long strokes with your legs. When wearing fins you want to keep your legs in a straight, locked position.

Practice keeping your body on the surface of the water and parallel to the water – should be a straight line from head to toe. You can also practice bending your body and diving down, deeper in the water.

Once you’ve got the hang of your fins, put on the mask, stay in one spot, and practice breathing out of the snorkel, then slowly put your face into the water while breathing. It will take some getting used to.

Now swim horizontally and use your hand to feel the snorkel is sticking up out of the water. Don’t forget to try out the purge valve too!

If you don’t have access to either, then try in your bathtub or fill up your kitchen sink (seriously)! You won’t be able to swim in the tub or sink but you can submerge your head and practice breathing.

When snorkeling, you don’t have to move fast – it’s more about floating and learning how to relax while breathing with your face underwater. Even for the most water-savvy individual, getting comfortable breathing through a large straw is tough at first.

You’ll need to teach your body that breathing with your head submerged underwater is ok. You’ll likely have a rush of adrenaline your first few breaths because your brain will panic before realizing everything is fine.

2 Tips For Beginner Snorkelers:

Now that you know how to snorkel, here are a few tips before you jump in the water.

No. 1 Don’t put your fins on before getting in the water – this is a rookie mistake and you’ll look ridiculous walking on the beach flipping sand everywhere. Carry your fins to the water, wait until you get about chest high, and slip on the fins. Once fins are wet they’re much easier to slip on and off.

No. 2 Rub a little baby shampoo on the inside of the mask. Some people use spit, but baby shampoo works great (baby “tear free” shampoo in case it gets in your eyes). This will help reduce fogging once you’re out in the water. A foggy mask is irritating and affects vision. Even masks that advertise “fog resistant” can be prone to fogging so I strongly recommend this.

Related: Sand Socks and Under-the-Radar Products

How to Prepare for a Day at the Beach: Snorkeling Gear You Need

We’ve learned about snorkeling and how to do it, now let’s discuss preparation. You’re headed to the beach or going on vacation. Some vacation spots will have snorkel rentals but not all.

Most of the beaches I go to are away from tourist areas so I always bring my own. Thankfully, snorkels and masks pack light and I go without the fins. Frameless snorkel masks are particularly good for travelers.

There are also a few additional items you might be interested in. If you’re all about safety then a couple more items will ensure you and your children don’t step on coral or end up with a sunburned back. Below is a checklist of snorkeling gear for the beginner:

Snorkel (essential)

Obviously, the snorkel is required and you’ll find many options that work equally well. In most cases you won’t have to worry about sizing, although there are smaller, junior, sizes available for kids.

You should be aware of the purge valve found at the bottom of the snorkel.

If you’re doesn’t have a purge valve it’s probably not high quality. The mouthpiece should be made of 100% silicone and most adult sizes are uniform. You can purchase a snorkel on it’s own however most will come with a mask (below).

Mask (essential)

The mask is also important for your snorkeling adventure. Take a look at the viewing glass – it should be wide to maximize your vision in the water. It can also be tinted depending on the brand and model. Some masks will have a frame, while others will be frameless.

I actually prefer frameless because it adapts to my face better. Some masks will have a sizing option for wide or narrow faces. Also take a look at the straps, they should be thick and fit around the head securely.

Our Pick for Snorkel and Mask: Cressi is one of the best snorkeling brands and offers its product at an affordable price.  Cressi’s scuba diving and free diving mask (pictured right) has a sleek design and is great quality.  It has everything the beginner and advanced snorkeler needs and comes in a bunch of colors. Over 1000 reviews give it excellent ratings – that’s great feedback!

Sunscreen (essential)

You’ll be in the water but you’ll still need sunscreen. Snorkeling is especially prone to sunburns because you’re at the surface and your back will be exposed to the sun. This means you should protect your ears, neck, shoulders, and back, and legs.

As someone with sensitive skin I’m always weary about sunscreens and chemicals. I’ll develop a rash from just about any application of lotion. As a result, Beach Life Expert reviewed the best natural sunscreen for babies, kids, and adults.

Our list is chemical free, not harmful to the environment, and best of all they work! Be sure to apply a generous amount of sunscreen every hour, and more often if you’re in and out of the water.

Our Pick: Badger Natural and Certified Organic Sunscreen SPF 30

Fins (optional)

Snorkeling fins aren’t mandatory but they certainly help. They are often included in a snorkeling set/package. Fins for snorkeling and scuba are usually long and work best with long slow strokes.

If there’s a current or if you’re snorkeling in waves, fins will help immensely. If you are traveling with your snorkel gear, I’d recommend going without so they don’t take room in your suitcase.

Sizing will usually range from small, medium, and large and encompass multiple shoe sizes in each fin size. Quality fins are made from stretchy rubber and can be 17” long or larger.

Our Pick: Cressi Snorkel, Mask, and Fin Set – If you want fins, it’s best for your wallet to buy a set with mask and snorkel.

Sand Socks (optional)

Beach Life Experts talks a lot about the benefits of sand socks. Forget the name, sand socks also work great for snorkeling in areas with coral or rocks.

They aren’t impenetrable, however they will provide an extra layer of skin that is effective for a rocky sea bottom or coral reef.

We like sand socks a lot and if you have kids it might be a good option to include with snorkel gear.

Our Pick: Vincere Sand Socks

Rash guard (optional)

We mentioned sunburns above and rash guards will help with sun protection. A rash guard is a tight fitting shirt that surfers and bodyboarders use.

They were made to reduce friction rubbing between the chest and surfboard but they’ve become ubiquitous on beaches for sun protection as well. Anyone can wear a rash guard and they’ll reduce UV sunlight while snorkeling.

Our Pick: O’Neil’s Rash Guard comes in a variety of colors and is a well-known surf company

Snorkel Gear Packages

As we mentioned above, purchasing a snorkel set will save money.  The set includes a snorkel, mask, fins, and usually comes with a handy pack.

Our best overall snorkel package is the same we listed above.  Cressi Snorkel, Mask, and Fin Set is the way to go and won’t break the bank. Cressi is an Italian diving company that knows diving!

Kids Snorkel Options

Cressi also makes smaller sized snorkel gear called juniors. Their Cressi Rocks Kid Mask comes in a bunch of fun colors that your kids will enjoy and offers the same quality at an affordable price.

Choosing A Place To Snorkel

Snorkeling can be done all over the world, from the East and West Coasts of the U.S.A., the Hawaiian Islands, to South East Asia, Australia, Africa, and the Caribbean.

There are literally thousands of beautiful beaches that are perfect for snorkeling and all countries allow it.

When looking for the perfect place you’ll want to do some preliminary research to find the best beaches for snorkeling in your area.   Some of the best beaches for snorkeling are tucked away from tourist areas where the ocean is calm.

  • Avoid the Masses

Or don’t… crowded areas aren’t always enjoyable for snorkeling but it might be crowded because the snorkeling is great. If the place is listed as a top snorkeling destination there will be other people looking to do the same.

  • Find Calm Waters

You can still snorkel in heavy surf but it might be a challenge. Fish love hiding under rocks and in coral.

They also like calm water, so jetties are a good place to start. Examine the beach to look for rip tides or strong currents. Even the most advanced swimmers avoid rip tides.

  • Ask A Local

Locals always know the best spots for surfing, fishing, and snorkeling. If you can’t find information online for the snorkeling in your area, ask a local.

Know that they’ll give you good spots but keep the best locations secret from tourists!

What Can Go Wrong When Snorkeling

Murphy’s Law: What can go wrong, will go wrong

So, this statement is rarely true, but be prepared. Understand that your snorkeling experience probably won’t be perfect.

I’ve snorkeled a lot, yet for some reason, I feel a little panic set in every time I put my head under the water and breathe (it goes away quickly).

Panic might occur when you get close to rocks, or there might be strong currents or large waves that make swimming difficult. Just remember to stay calm and stay aware.

If boaters or surfers are in the area an orange colored safety vest might be a good option (or find another place altogether).

One thing I can guarantee is that you’ll get water in your mask. When it happens don’t panic and keep your head above water while you tilt your mask to release the water.

When doing so make sure you are clear of rocks and waves. If you’re using fins it should be easy to use both hands while staying above water.

It will be much more difficult to tread water if you aren’t wearing fins. When I snorkel I’ll reset my mask multiple times while I’m in the water – it happens to all of us!

Conclusion

If you’re a beginner snorkeler the concept might seem foreign and dangerous when, in fact, snorkeling is a fun, relaxing activity for the whole family.  If you’re a good swimmer then you should pick up the activity quickly.

Practice at home or at a pool and get comfortable in your new snorkeling gear.  Find a good location that is calm and known for snorkeling, and practice in the shallow water, away from surfers, waves, and rocks.

Before you know it, you’ll be floating on the water, enjoying the scenery below the ocean’s surface.  This is one of my favorite beach activities and doesn’t require much equipment or investment.

We hope you enjoy it as well.  Be sure to visit Beach Life Expert for more articles about the beach.  We’ve got a lot of helpful tips and reviews that will make your trip to the beach a success.