Dangers Of Snorkeling – 10 Risk Factors To Pay Attention To In Order To Stay Safe

Is snorkeling dangerous? Not if you do it in the right way! Snorkeling is easy to learn, fun and a generally safe outdoor activity. However, as all water sports, it has some potential risks and dangers too. Underestimating the power of the ocean (and sometimes your own capabilities), getting close to marine animals you should not, or equipment failures can put you at risk, so you need to be fit, have comfortable gear and be prepared for various situations. To stay safe while going out into the ocean for some fun under the waves, here we tell you 10 potential dangers of snorkeling you should pay attention to.

Gear failures

Masks, snorkels and fins come in different sizes and quality and in order to have a safe snorkeling experience, your equipment needs to be well-made, durable and comfortable. Don’t buy cheap gear because usually such items don’t last long and are not skin-friendly. Choose products made by reliable water sports gear manufacturers such as Cressi, Mares, US Divers, Seac etc…

snorkeler is wearing a black snorkel mask

Make sure your gear is the correct size (that’s why it is important to have your own equipment and not to rent), moreover, regularly clean and check your mask, snorkel and flippers.

Using damaged or broken gear also poses a threat. In case of tears and wear, repair or replace the damaged parts or if necessary, get a new item.

If you need help with what gear to buy and how to choose the right items, we have separate guides for everything:
Tips on how to choose the right snorkelling mask
Types of snorkels
What are the best fins for snorkeling

Also, make sure to read our full face snorkeling mask dangers article if you are planning to buy today’s popular Easybreath-type mask.

Poor swimming skills

Snorkeling is a wonderfully accessible and popular activity that draws people of all ages to explore the underwater world. However, since it is an activity performed in outdoor bodies of water, it can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing.

Although some might say that snorkeling is performed on the water’s surface, is more like floating than swimming and is safe for non-swimmers too, this is not the case. People who don’t know how to swim well enough can get, in worse cases even drown in the event of trouble.

To avoid injury or death, snorkel only if you are a good swimmer, and if you are comfortable in the water (this means no fear of deep water). If you are not confident in your swimming skills, take lessons from qualified instructors before attempting snorkeling. When in the ocean, don’t be ashamed to use a snorkel vest or life jacket if you feel you need one.

Lack of practice and experience

You should always know your limits and what risks are involved before going into new situations with which you may not be familiar. If you go first time snorkeling in the sea, start in a shallow, protected bay and explore deeper waters only when you have mastered your skills.

practicing snorkeling in shallow water

Getting good equipment is important, but you also need to know how to use it properly. Practice putting on and removing your items before diving in so that they become second nature when needed during an emergency situation.

learning to use a snorkeling mask

Learn how to keep your mask from fogging, what to do if your snorkel is filling with water and how to prevent leg cramps while finning.

Health concerns

One of the most important things you can do to stay safe while snorkeling is to listen to your body. One of the key differences between scuba diving and snorkeling is that the latter does not require a medical check-up, but if you have any condition that makes swimming dangerous, then it is probably better to consult with your doctor before attempting this water activity.

Also, do not snorkel if you have had a bad cold, upset stomach, headache caused by consuming too much alcohol in the bar or are feeling sick in any way. If there is something wrong with your body, the last you want to do is put strain on it by swimming vigorously in open water for hours on end.

Exhaustion, being unfit

Going snorkeling is not safe if you are very tired either: Even though it is not as severe as being sick, it still makes sense not to swim when exhausted since it can lead to careless mistakes that could prove dangerous (like not noticing dangerous marine animals or such as getting separated from your group).

Snorkeling is a total-body activity, so it’s important to be physically fit when practicing this water sport. An intense snorkel session is like a full body workout, and you might experience soreness in your body’s muscles if you haven’t been exercising lately so try to get some exercise before going on a snorkeling trip.


Getting sunburnt is not only painful but can lead to heat exhaustion or in worse case, a heatstroke. Therefore, it is important to take sun protection seriously. Dehydration is another potential danger when out in the heat for long periods of time without shade or access to fresh water.

snorkeler wearing full body uv protective clothing

One way of preventing sun and heat-related risk is by wearing UV protection swimwear, using sunscreen with high SPF ((make sure it is not harmful to marine life aka reef safe) and drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day especially when in places with hot climates.

Weather and water conditions

In coastal areas and at the sea can change unexpectedly resulting in dangerous situations. Therefore, checking the weather report, wind and wave forecasts is essential before hitting the water.

There are dangerous places to snorkel where strong currents are present, there is debris in the water or threatening animals were spotted. Such hazards are usually indicated, so be familiar with the beach warning flags system. In areas with heavy boat traffic or while swimming far from the shore, carry a high-visibility snorkeling dive flag. If you don’t know if a spot is safe to snorkel or not, research online and ask locals about the conditions.

red flag on the beach due to rough seas

Learn what determines what is the best time to go snorkeling. Factors like tide, wind and the time of the day make a big difference not only in terms of what you see, but also in terms of safety.

Practice extreme care when snorkeling in cold water. Hypothermia is wrongly associated with swimming in cold water, but in fact, it can happen in tropical waters too. Therefore, if you plan to snorkel in cold water or in warm water for a longer time, wear a wetsuit to avoid heat loss.

Snorkeling alone

Sometimes it might seem to be safe to snorkel by yourself but even when the weather is nice and the sea is smooth, but many unexpected things like leg cramping, injury, a sudden weather change or rough seas can occur while out in the sea.

four people snorkeling together

Such situations are usually not dangerous but can pose a threat and put you in danger if you are alone. Therefore, one of the most important snorkeling safety tips is that always snorkel with a buddy or with a group so you can help each other if needed.


The main principle of scuba diving and snorkeling etiquette says ‘Do not touch anything in the ocean’. If you follow this rule, you will unlikely suffer any serious injury. However, accidental contacts with marine life is a potential danger of snorkeling.

big fire coral in the Red Sea

The most common injuries are stepping on sharp rocks, fire coral cuts, sea urchin or jellyfish stings and hitting underwater objects due to low visibility. These can cause severe pain, allergic reaction, and can lead to infection. Safety precautions should involve knowing about these risks and learning how to treat such injuries.

Dangerous marine life

Most people are afraid of being attacked by predatory animals while in the ocean but such incidents rarely happen. Encountering a shark while snorkeling is common when visiting destinations like the Maldives, Thailand or Caribbean countries, but you will probably see only species that are not aggressive like black tip reef sharks or nurse sharks.

juvenile blacktip sharks

Some marine animals can bite or sting (like moray eels and rays) but this happens only when they are disturbed; just keep your distance and this should not be a concern. Also, there are species such as lionfish, stonefish, certain sea snakes, snails and slugs that have poisonous properties or are venomous, so you need to learn to identify these by studying marine life guides.


We hope that this article has helped you understand some of the dangers associated with snorkeling. While it is true this water sport has some risks and hazards, there are ways to ensure a safe and fun experience. If there is any sign telling you not to go in the water, then don’t get in no matter how much fun it looks like other people are having. Following some basic precautions and knowing your limits will guarantee that you will stay safe while in the water.

  • Wear gear that fits well on you and use safety accessories when necessary.
  • Check the weather before getting in the water to make sure it is safe for you to go out.
  • Only snorkel if you feel comfortable doing so – if it makes you feel unwell or unsafe in any way, then don’t do it!
  • Finally, educate yourself about marine life; know what animals and creatures can be dangerous and how to treat injuries.

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Anett Szaszi

Anett is a certified scuba diver, freediver and an expert in snorkeling with more than 10 years experience. She fell in love with the ocean when she put her head underwater in the Red Sea in 2008. Since then , she is traveling all over the world to discover our waters. Wherever she goes, she takes her mask, fins and underwater camera with her. Visiting mega-cities is not her style but getting lost in tiny coastal villages, capturing the beauty of the sea while snorkeling. She is interested in sustainable traveling and marine conservation. She is hoping to inspire people to protect our oceans by sharing her underwater stories. Find her photos on @anett.szaszi Instagram too!