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Snorkeling mistakes are common among beginners, and let’s be honest, even experienced snorkelers experience difficulties occasionally.
Water and weather conditions can change in a second, dangerous marine animals can appear in the water, you can swallow water, get cold, sunburnt, tired or injured, your equipment can malfunction or get damaged; these situations are uncomfortable and annoying, but with preparation and practice, they are easily manageable and unlikely to pose any danger.
Let’s go through the most common snorkeling difficulties and summarize how to solve/avoid them. I’m sure that knowing what could go wrong and the solutions will increase your water safety so you can enjoy your snorkeling session with more peace of mind.
Your mask strap can break, the snorkel mouthpiece can get chewed, there can be holes in the flexible part of the tube, and your fins can wear out; gear faults happen, but they don’t necessarily cause problems. Have quality equipment (I advise buying from trusted snorkel gear brands), regularly clean all pieces, and check if they are in good condition so you can repair/replace items when necessary.
When traveling, pack spare items. It is not easy to buy new equipment in remote locations in case yours gets damaged. Here are my recommendations that you need to take with you:
- spare mask strap
- extra snorkel mask
- snorkel keeper
- defogger spray / baby shampoo
- extra snorkel with splash guard and valve
- extra neoprene socks(if you use)
- extra rash guard and head scarf
- silicone and spare o-ring if you using a camera
When it comes to the question of renting or buying snorkel gear, I highly recommend the latter.
First, you only need a few pieces of equipment for snorkeling, so it is not a significant investment. Second, having your own gear ensures that everything fits properly, and you can always check if your mask, snorkel, and fins are in good condition.
Finally, you don’t need to worry about hygiene; although tour operators are supposed to disinfect all their equipment, it is safest to use your own gear.
Problems With Clearing Water From The Mask
If you are not an experienced snorkeler, you might panic if water enters your mask and gets into your eyes. If this happens, try to stay calm, become upright in the water, kick your legs to stay afloat, and lift the bottom of the mask slightly to let the water drain out. This should only take a second and you do not need to take the whole mask off.
To avoid water getting into your mask, ensure that the mask is a good fit for your face and that your hair isn’t breaking the seal of the mask skirt that sits against your face. Use a snorkel keeper to attach the snorkel to your mask instead of putting it under the mask strap to keep it to your face (as this might break the seal).
Mask fogging happens, even to experienced snorkelers (I often suffer from it when snorkeling in tropical destinations), so it is essential to know tricks on how to stop/minimize it. A fogged-up mask will impair your ability to view all the exciting things in the water.
A new mask is more likely to fog up as it comes with a thin layer that covers the inside of the lenses. You can take a lighter and burn this layer away (just a few seconds over the inside of the mask glass); make sure not to burn the skirt or mask strap. You can also take toothpaste and rub away the layer with your finger.
To avoid mask fog each time you snorkel, apply a bit of baby shampoo (as it doesn’t sting your eyes) or mask defogger liquid on the inner side of the lens, rub it around, and rinse it quickly before entering the water.
Spitting on the lens will also work if you don’t have access to shampoo or defogger. (I think this is the best option as it is eco-friendly and does not require any store-bought solutions.) Not taking off your mask while snorkeling and minimizing nasal exhalation into the mask also helps a lot!
Water Entering The Snorkel
It can be unpleasant when water enters the snorkel tube and gets into your mouth while snorkeling. This situation is quite rare if you use a snorkel with a dry top but can easily happen if you use a classic “J-type” snorkel and there are waves or submerge yourself underwater.
If this unpleasant event happens, you must know how to clear the snorkel. You can either lift your head out of the water and remove the snorkel from your mouth to drain the water out or if you have air in your lungs, you can “blast” the water out of the top of the snorkel by doing a strong exhale. Mastering this technique will help avoid swallowing water.
Not Knowing How To Use Fins Efficiently
Swimming with fins helps propel yourself through the water effortlessly and maneuver easily, but if you don’t know the right technique yet, you may splash noisily on the water’s surface, wasting energy and getting tired.
Finning is not easy the first time you go snorkeling, but the more you practice it, the more confident you will get. Learn how to kick when snorkeling and you will use less energy, create less noise, and move effectively while keeping a safe distance from the corals and underwater objects.
It is also important to choose fins that are the best for you; they should fit well and be powerful enough, but not too stiff.
Not Respecting Your Limits
Snorkeling is an easy and safe leisure activity if done correctly, but as with all water sports, it has some risks and dangers. I think some people underestimate the power of the ocean and its constantly changing state and go beyond their limits; this is when even small mistakes can turn into dangerous situations.
Know your capabilities and skills! Don’t go snorkeling without knowing how to swim, practice in shallow water before going to open water, wear a snorkel vest if you don’t know yet how to stay afloat, and stay out of the water if you don’t feel well, have been eating too much or are under the influence of alcohol. Remember, your safety comes first!
Poorly fitted fins, too hard kicking and dehydration are common mistakes that can cause leg cramping, which can be dangerous in deep water. To avoid cramps, ensure you are hydrated before snorkeling, and try not to become too cold in the water (see below).
If you experience cramps, try not to panic and lie on your back on the water’s surface.
Take the tip of your fin with your hand and, with a straight leg, pull the fin towards your body. This will stretch the muscles in your leg and relieve the cramp.
If you are not wearing fins, massage your calf and try to bring your toes up so your ankle is 90 degrees. These techniques should help release the cramp.
Getting Too Cold
When we become too cold in the water, we significantly increase our risk of hypothermia. If the core temperature drops below normal level, it affects our body functions. In mild cases, it causes only shivering, but if not addressed, it can lead to motor skill dysfunctions, dizziness, and even unconsciousness.
To avoid getting too cold, limit your sessions and exit the water as soon as you start to shiver (ideally before). Wearing a wetsuit for snorkeling will also keep you warmer for longer.
Even in warm waters, wearing a thin (1-3mm) shorty is recommended to prevent heat loss. When it is colder than 23C/73.4F, I recommend using a full-length wetsuit, which can be 3mm or 5mm thick, depending on your cold tolerance and personal preferences.
Getting Sunburnt Or Sunstroke
When you are in the water for a while, it is hard to realize that you are getting burnt from the sun. Sunstroke and sunburn can ruin your vacation and cause health issues.
It is important to cover your body with a wetsuit, rash guard, dive skin, or a t-shirt (if you only have that) when snorkeling. Stay hydrated and limit your time in the water if it’s a very sunny day.
The best time to go snorkeling is in the morning and late afternoon; at these times, not only the UV radiation is lower but also the light conditions are more favorable to take better underwater photos.
Going Snorkeling Alone
One of the most important safety rules while snorkeling is never to go alone. Even strong swimmers or experienced snorkelers shouldn’t do it. You never know what might happen in open water, so have a buddy or join a group so you can help each other if necessary.
Also, when leaving for snorkeling, it is recommended to tell someone who stays on the shore where you plan to snorkel and for approximately how long so they can send help if necessary.
Encountering Dangerous Marine Life
Some marine life can sting or bite, this is why it’s important never to try to touch or chase sea creatures. The ocean is a “wild” environment, home to a vast array of species, but still, direct attacks are extremely rare.
However, accidental encounters involving biting or stinging creatures can occur. Therefore, you should prepare yourself to deal with common difficulties such as How to react when seeing a shark, how to care for coral scrapes and cuts, what to do if a sea urchin’s spine is stuck in your skin, what are the symptoms of a jellyfish sting, etc… so you will less likely to end up in dangerous situations.
Study marine life guides and learn what corals and creatures can be dangerous and what to do if you accidentally get injured. When visiting a new place, research if any dangerous creature is present at that given spot. Remember that we are just visitors to the ocean so we should behave respectfully and snorkel in a reef-friendly way!
Sudden Change In Weather/Water Conditions
By the ocean and at sea, weather conditions can change quickly; the water can get moderate or even rough in a second, there can be strong currents or tidal movements that can cause difficulties for anyone, regardless of swimming skills or experience.
Therefore, make a habit of checking the weather and wind forecast before going for a snorkeling session and be familiar with the location’s tide and current patterns. Ask locals, look for warning signs and follow beach flags or lifeguard’s guidance and only enter the water when the conditions are good for the entire time you are planning to stay in the water.
My favorite websites to check the weather are windy.com and windfinder.com. These are professional weather apps that work with data from thousands of weather stations around the world providing highly accurate forecast visualization.
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