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Snorkeling is an easy, yet enjoyable and safe activity if you choose the right time to head to the ocean. The weather can change in instant, which can affect the water’s roughness and so your safety, especially if you’re not a strong enough swimmer. To teach you how to determine what is the best time to snorkel, we explain the most important factors such as tides, lighting, waves in this post and tell you what time of the day is the best for snorkeling.
Factors that affect snorkeling conditions
You might think that the most ideal weather for snorkeling is when it’s sunny and the water is calm, which is just partly true. In fact, there are several other factors that can affect your snorkeling experience that we explain now one-by-one.
Wind can stir up the sediments on the ocean floor and create less visibility, spoiling your pleasure in seeing sea life. It adversely can affect the waves, as well. Calm wind provides more comfortable conditions for snorkeling.
But how much wind is too much for snorkeling? Try to go when it is not worse than a light breeze that is 4-6 knots/6-11 km/h wind speed with maximum 1-2 ft/0.3-0.6m wave height.
Mild waves don’t really influence snorkeling conditions, but waves that are higher than three feet can make snorkeling difficult. Wavy conditions can lessen one’s ability to swim well and cause disorientation. Moreover, crashing waves might flood the breathing tube that can result in dangerous situations for people who don’t know how to clear the snorkel.
Another aspect is that that large waves make even boat snorkeling trips uncomfortable. Bumpy rides can cause sea sickness for those who are sensitive to motion and sometimes it can be problematic to get to the snorkel location and also back to shore safely. When looking to book a trip and don’t know when is the best time to snorkel, talk to the tour organizer in advance so they can suggest a good day/time when the ocean is calm.
Clouds and rain
Snorkeling in rain is usually not a problem if it is just a drizzle. But if it is pouring, obviously it is not the best time to snorkel because of several practical and safety reasons.
First, heavy rain can mean less visibility if there is run-off from any areas near where you are snorkeling. Secondly, reduced visibility, as the result of murky water from sediment created from rain is not just a comfort-level affecting factor but can make snorkelers get disoriented and lead to situations such as getting lost, hitting by rocks, or driftwood.
Generally, cloudy weather alone doesn’t mean bad snorkeling conditions besides a little less light underwater but avoid extreme conditions like a thunderstorm. Always follow weather forecasts and sites like windy.com that will provide you with an hourly wind, rain, wave, etc. forecast.
Probably tide is that element that affects ocean conditions in the most complex way, since it means a lot more than increasing and decreasing water level. It also affects the wave, swell and wind activity and like this, visibility and safety too.
Each location has its own features if it comes to tides; at some places, tides are hardly noticeable, while there are some destinations when the ocean completely “disappears” at low tide so you cannot even get to the reef safely. To sync your snorkeling sessions with the tide times, the best you can do to check not only climate charts but also tidal conditions when planning a trip, so you will be able to plan when to go snorkeling.
What tide is the best for snorkeling
Tidal conditions are one of the strongest factors that determine ocean conditions. There is no rule what tide is the best in general but there are ‘best tides’ for each water activity. For snorkeling -depending on the snorkelers’ level and water confidence- both low tide and high tide can be a good choice with attention to timing. This means that ideally, you need to schedule your snorkeling session for the slacks tides when there is little movement in the water with no or weak tidal currents.
High slack tide is when the tide just finished rising, is at its highest. Snorkeling at high tide usually means excellent water conditions since it brings clear and nutrient-rich water that allows to spot exciting marine species, but the deeper waters can create uncomfortable conditions for less-experienced snorkelers and weak-swimmers.
Low slack tide is the opposite; the tide finished falling and is at its lowest. Such conditions are ideal for beginner snorkelers and for families with kids since the calm, shallow water provides safer conditions and a much better view of the sea life (the reef is closer to the surface), however, the visibility can be a little worse than at high tide due to particles in the water.
Advantages of snorkeling in the morning
So now that we’ve discussed what ideal snorkeling conditions mean, let’s summarize what benefits morning snorkeling can provide:
Better visibility in the water
You want calm and clear conditions for snorkeling, and morning is the best time to get them. The ocean usually is the smoothest in the early hours unless weather conditions are generally bad.
Calmer conditions are best for snorkeling. It should never be more than slightly breezy to enjoy good snorkeling – usually, there is no or weak wind in the morning but picks up late afternoon.
Good light conditions
Go snorkeling when the best light is available, which happens mid-late afternoon and in the morning if you want to take photos. Those who are not interested in snorkeling photography just want to observe marine life when it looks the most colorful can choose that time of the day when the sun is high in the sky.
Less disturbed and active marine life
Sea creatures just like other animals are doing different things during the day. Usually, they are the most active during low tide and high tide, but no matter the tide, you have a high chance to see a wide variety of marine life in the morning. This is because there are fewer people and other disturbing factors in the water such as noisy boats and also this is when they start feeding after night predators moved back to deeper waters.
Note: No matter how good the conditions are in the morning, remember not going into the water too early in areas where sharks might be present since they feed at dawn and dusk. To learn how to react if you still encounter one, read what to do if you see a shark while snorkeling.
Snorkeling in the afternoon
Many people like to just take life slowly when on vacation (which is totally understandable) and go snorkeling in the afternoon. It can also be a good time to snorkel if the weather conditions are good.
When the sun is high, it gives lots of visibility to see down to the bottom of the ocean floor so you can see the vivid colors of the corals and creatures, however such harsh light is not ideal for underwater photography. If you want to take good photos and videos, go late afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky.
Folks also like the warmer water the afternoon provides. The downside is that more people are often out in the afternoon, which can scare and disturb marine life. Also trade winds usually pick up in the late morning and don’t stop until late afternoon making the conditions less ideal, so personally, I wouldn’t go on an afternoon snorkel trip if it requires a boat trip because there is a high chance that it won’t be that enjoyable but would go snorkeling from the shore if I see that the conditions are good.
Tip: although it is not an everyday thing and not recommended for everyone, you can go snorkeling at night too. It is a completely unique and exciting experience offering you to observe creatures that are hiding during the day, but it requires planning and preparation. To learn more, read my full article on how to snorkel at night.
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