Last Updated on July 5, 2023 by Snorkel Ken
Snorkeling can be a dangerous activity. Just when you may think everything is okey-dokey, you could find yourself in rough surf, a strong current, cramping up, a mask or snorkel full of water, scrapes, bumps, bruises, and exhausted. What do you do?
We’re not here to scare you or in any way trying to persuade you from snorkeling but those are the facts. Snorkeling can go from fun to dangerous in a very short amount of time. In Hawaii alone, between 2009 and 2013, 79 people died while snorkeling (KITV.COM).
Keep in mind that much of the information that you hear or read about in regards to snorkeling locations, even on this website, may come from 3rd parties. The best rule of thumb is this: If you’re not looking at the conditions then don’t assume they’re great based on a snorkeling location review.
10 Tips for Snorkeling Safety
To ensure that you have a safe snorkeling experience there are certain fundamental skills and tricks that you should know.
1. Never Snorkel Alone
Many snorkeling accidents and fatalities happen to snorkelers who go it alone. Always have a buddy with you while in the water and stay close to each other. Preferably, this is someone who you know well, are comfortable with, has a decent attention span, and is a good to great swimmer.
2. Never Snorkel if You can’t Swim
This may seem like a no-brainer but you’d be surprised at the number of people who see snorkeling as the easiest thing possible and try to do it with zero to little swimming experience. It’s a bit more difficult than just throwing on a mask, snorkel, flippers and a snorkeling vest. Not a whole lot more difficult, but more so never-the-less.
3. Stay Close to Dry Land
A lot of snorkelers over estimate their ability and their endurance. It is easy to get tired and exhausted when you’re in surf or current. Swimming is strenuous. Be close enough to shore that you have enough energy to get back. Always gauge your ability to get back to shore! If you do get tired, roll on to your back and tread water to regain some energy. Also, staying close to shore gives you a better chance of someone seeing you if you’re struggling, waving a hand for help, or calling for help.
4. Know the Area You’re In
I have a mantra that I live by when I snorkel, particularly in certain areas of Hawaii: “Never Turn Your Back to the Ocean”. It will eat you up. Know the area. Be aware of surf, currents, and where the rocks and coral are. At Sharks Cove on Oahu I was thrown back into shore and up against the rocks during a time when I shouldn’t have been snorkeling there…there was just too much surf that day. Luckily I was not hurt but I did get a little scraped and bruised. It was stupid of me.
5. Energy is Your Friend
I don’t care how great of a swimmer you are or if you were a certified life guard when you were 18 (and your 41 now!) you can never go wrong by snorkeling with a vest. It saves vital energy and makes snorkeling that much easier. Sure, some of us like to dive down every once in a while for a better look or a sea shell but the vest will float and you can put it on again after. Plus, if you have a buddy they can hold it for you. Also, if you’re snorkeling for long periods of time or in cold water, consider wearing a wet suit to conserve body heat and energy.
6. Again…DO NOT TOUCH MARINE LIFE
Anything could happen. That pretty fish may have teeth like daggers and feel threatened by your hand and arms. Probably not, but unless you are a professional at identifying marine life and fish…keep your hands where they belong. Moray eels are notorious for snapping when they feel threatened. Besides that, coral cuts and sea urchin pokes can be a horribly painful and dangerous thing to deal with.
7. Exotic Marine Life Encounters
Fish and turtles are always a treat to see and be around but there are times when you may encounter something that you don’t expect or want to encounter. My daughter was barked at underwater by a monk seal while snorkeling off of West Oahu one time. It really freaked her out and she almost panicked except the seal left abruptly. Also, dolphins show up every once in a blue moon and, more rarely, sharks. Don’t panic. Turn on your back with your mask still in the water and facing the shark. Calmly move away (preferably towards shore). Never panic and thrash…that just gets the attention of predators as they’ll think you’re in trouble. If a shark get’s too close….then kick it in the nose and keep moving away from it. If it goes to one side or another…turn to face it.
8. Gauge the Ability of Your Guest Snorkelers
Sometimes we go snorkeling with people we have never snorkeled with before. Prior to getting to deep and caught up in the snorkeling adventure take the time to gauge their ability in the water. It may just save your life and theirs. Don’t make anyone snorkel where they’re not comfortable and never let anyone tell you “you’ll be fine…just come on. Trust me.” It’s not worth it. When you are comfortable go a little deeper. Until then…enjoy the beautiful snorkeling close to shore and in calm water.
9. Know to Clear Your Mask and Snorkel of Water
Don’t count on dry snorkels to keep all of the water out! The best snorkeling sets will have purge valves at the bottom of the snorkel tube and under the nose in the mask. To clear your snorkel, just sharply blow into it. To clear your mask via the purge valve just exhale sharply through your nose until it’s gone. If a lot of water is in either and your stable enough you can empty them physically.
10. Protect Your Body from the Sun
This goes ignored often. The sun will damage the skin and make for a bad day. Save yourself from a bad burn and future skin cancer. Use a sunscreen with adequate SPF. For even better protection then you could always use a rash guard.
Those are the main snorkeling safety tips that I’m always concerned with. I always gauge these things prior to snorkeling even if I have been to the spot 100 times and I’ve been going with the same person for months. It’s always worth a couple of minutes to sit on the shore and feel what’s going on in the water. Take a look around. Watch other snorkelers. (In Hawaii I never go in the water if the locals are staying away that day.)
For an added intelligence factor the area that you’re in may have a snorkel and scuba report. There are many of them. Just Google (or your favorite search engine: “Snorkel scuba report (the area you’re in)”
Take a look at our other Snorkeling Guides:
Stay Safe and Happy Snorkeling!