So you're interested in learning how to snorkel, that's great! Stay with us through this quick intro to snorkelling guide to get on top of all the basics before you dive in. In this brief guide, we will cover, safety in the water, snorkelling techniques and required equipment.
As with all water sports, safety when snorkelling is an important thing to discuss. So how do we stay safe when we snorkel? The first step is to check the weather and pick your location accordingly. We like to snorkel in bays and off beaches, somewhere where the bottoms slopes away gradually and that is sheltered from the waves and weather. Check the weather forecast for the area before you head out, a strong wind, especially an offshore wind can be a hazard to the snorkeler, so be cautious of this. You also want to check the tides for this region (if you are in the sea). The Atlantic Ocean has a large tidal range and as such, has an offshore draw when the tide is going out. The ideal time to snorkel is during slack tide (the time on either side of high and low tide) or when the tide is coming in.
Another way that we stay safe is by always snorkelling with a buddy. Your buddy should be a capable swimmer and you should both be aware of how to tow. Check-in regularly on your buddy throughout the snorkel, stay close together and always exit the water together.
Anybody can jump into the water with a mask and fins on and thrash about, but if you want to upgrade your snorkelling skills and really enjoy your experience, some basic techniques can go a long way.
The duck dive; this is the snorkellers' way to diving under the water. It's a very simple technique and easy to master for anyone. Simply fin along the top of the water, breathing through your snorkel. Build up a bit of speed and when you're ready, take a breath, hold it and bend at the waist until your torso is at a 90-degree angle to your legs and your head is looking down into the water. Then bring your legs back in line with your body and let their weight push you underwater.
You can then fin along underwater until you are ready to ascend - ascend smoothly and blow out hard through your snorkel.
The other vital technique to know is the Valsalva Manoeuvre. This basic manoeuvre opens your eustachian tube and stops your ears from popping when you duck dive below 3 or so meters. This should be done as you dive down to prevent ear pain or pressure. To do the Valsalva manoeuvre, simply pinch your nose (through your mask) and push the air out towards your ears, like you would when popping your ears on an aeroplane.
When it comes to equipment for snorkelling, there are some essentials and some not-so-essentials, but much of it comes down to personal preference.
Snorkelling essentials include; fins, mask and snorkel.
There are two basic types of fin, full foot and open heel. If you want to wear a wetsuit bootie, be it for colder water, rough terrain or just due to personal preference, selecting a fin with an open heel is important. These open-heel fins have a pocket for your foot to slide into and an adjustable strap on the back of the fin to hold your heel inside.
Full-foot fins have a shoe-like pocket attached to the fin. These are ideal for warmer climates and for travel as they are generally smaller and lighter. If you are buying a full-foot fin, make sure that is in your shoe size, so that the fin stays on your foot in the water.
Your snorkelling mask is another essential piece of equipment. Ideally, you should buy your mask in person, this will allow you to fit the mask to your face and ensure that it is both the right size and comfortable for your facial structure. One basic rule of thumb for checking correct mask sizing is to press the mask to your face and hold your breath. If the mask sticks to your face and holds there, without the strap, then this mask should be a good fit.
The snorkel is basically a glorified length of pipe that the snorkeler breathes through when their face is in the water. A snorkel will very often come with your mask and there is nothing wrong with using this snorkel, the simpler the better. If you need to buy your own snorkel, there are many options available. Some come with “blow-off valves” to allow you to purge water easier when you blow out. These are fine, but your best bet, in our humble opinion, is a simple "J" tube with no additional bells and whistles.
Snorkelling options include; surface marker buoys and wetsuits/rash guards etc
Your wetsuit or rash guard preference will be dependent on the temperature of the water you intend on getting into and your experience with cold water exposure.
When we are snorkelling in warmer climates with water temperatures of 15 degrees or above (warm for us), we opt for just our swimming togs or a thin rash guard. This gives us better manoeuvrability in the water. However, when snorkelling in Ireland, where water temperatures sit around 5 degrees in the off-season, we opt for 5-7mm wetsuits, gloves, hoods and booties.
Sea life, such as jellyfish, can have an influence on your choices also.
Surface marker buoy (SMB)
Surface marker buoys are used by freedivers to indicate their presence in the water. A simple surface marker buoy is like a balloon that floats on the surface and is tied to the snorkeller. It warns boats that you are under the water nearby. These are essential in high-traffic areas.