Have you seen a whale up close and noticed how it blows water out of the blowhole on top of its head? This physical attribute allows the whale, and all other similar surface skimming ocean mammals, to keep its head in the water for extended lengths of time, while still allowing it to breathe. This allows the whale to swim more efficiently while maintaining the energy level needed for constant motion. A snorkel gives you, the scuba diver the same advantage.

Every scuba diver spends time on the surface while preparing to descend for a dive. A snorkel allows you to conserve energy by letting you keep your head in the water while swimming and enjoying the pre-dive sights without ever having to remove your head from the water.

A good rule of scuba diving is to always have something in your mouth, your snorkel or your regulator. When you are on the surface of the ocean waves can suddenly swell and overcome you, so if you do not have your snorkel or regulator in your mouth you could find yourself in a life-threatening situation. Your snorkel not only allows you to breathe in unexpected situations, while on the surface, it allows you to conserve the air in your scuba tank for the dive. Choosing the snorkel that is right for you and learning to use your snorkel correctly is one of the most important skills you can learn.

Choosing A Snorkel

Just as there are a wide variety of shapes and sizes in scuba masks there are many different types of snorkels. A basic snorkel is a simple “J” shape, with a hard inflexible barrel, plastic snorkel keeper, mouthpiece and drain chamber. A simple snorkel is just as effective as a complex snorkel, but with a complex snorkel you have more options. 

Snorkels come with a variety of features, including:

  • Flexible barrels
  • Rotating mouthpieces which allows the mouthpiece to move with you
  • Hose covers to prevent water from splashing down into your snorkel
  • Purge valves which direct water down and out of your snorkel

A snorkel must fit comfortably in your mouth, allow you to purge water out of the mouthpiece and hose quickly and help you to swim efficiently. But, the most important characteristics to remember when choosing a snorkel are its length and the diameter of its barrel.

Snorkels must not be too long or too short. If a snorkel is too long it will be difficult to breathe because the barrel will fill up with carbon dioxide. Every time you breathe out carbon dioxide through your snorkel your breath must travel up and out of the barrel of your snorkel to allow you to draw oxygen back down the barrel and into your lungs. If your snorkel is too long you will only push a percentage of the carbon dioxide up and out of the barrel during your exhale. You will need to inhale oxygen before all the carbon dioxide has been pushed out; leaving the percentage of carbon dioxide entering your bloodstream higher each time you take a breath. This cycle could lead to suffocation. If a snorkel is too short it will constantly fill with water, requiring you to constantly force the water out of your snorkel which can be very exhausting.

The inside diameter of your snorkel must be approximately three quarters of an inch or 1.9 cm. If the snorkel is thinner than .75 inches it will be difficult to breathe because there will not be enough room in the barrel for you to draw enough air into your lungs. This will cause you to breathe harder and rapidly, which could cause hyperventilation. If the barrel is thicker than .75 inches it will be too large and will be uncomfortable to use and attach to your mask

Learning to attach your snorkel to your scuba mask to make sure it is easy to grab and use is an important part of safe scuba diving practices. Snorkels are attached to the left side of your mask with a snorkel keeper. Snorkel keepers are either plastic or rubber and most use a post-hole closure. Each snorkel keeper is different and attaching your snorkel to your mask with a snorkel keeper requires practice. If you will detach your snorkel from your mask after each dive you should practice attaching your snorkel, as it can be a little tricky. Alternately, you can leave your snorkel attached to your mask if you are diving more than once in a day.