Snorkeling is a fun and exciting way to check out the underwater world. After all, 71% of the planet is covered in water, so there is a lot to explore. But if you are new to snorkeling, you might be worried about getting into the water. You might even be asking, do you need to know how to swim to snorkel? The answer is that while you should be comfortable in the water, you do not have to be a strong swimmer or know how to swim to snorkel.

Do you Need to Know How to Swim to Snorkel?

Technically you do not need to know how to swim to snorkel. This is because there are pieces of equipment that can help non-swimmers get into the water to go snorkeling. These include life-jackets, wetsuits, and fins. This allows non-swimmers to float on the surface of the water with little swimming experience required.

Read How Does a Snorkel Work?

However, we do recommend you know how to swim a little bit, as this will make the snorkeling experience much more enjoyable. Let’s have a look at the differences between traditional swimming vs. snorkeling.

Body Positioning

When swimming, you need to stretch your body out and use your hands and legs to move forward. This can be exhausting as you are swinging your arms over your shoulder, and using your legs to constantly kick.

In snorkeling, you will not be moving as much. You will want to move and ‘swim’ slower as this allows you to observe the fish and coral below. You do not need to move your arms at all. Some people cross their arms, have them on their sides, or even behind their backs.


When swimming, you only use your arms and legs to stay afloat. This can be tiring as you will need to constantly coordinate your arms and legs and breathing pattern.

In snorkeling, most beginners and even experienced snorkelers may use a Personal Floatation Device (PFD). This can be a life-jacket and is designed to keep the wearer afloat on the surface. As long as the jacket or PFD is inflated, then you will float too!


You do not need additional equipment when swimming. Just your arms and legs.

At a minimum with snorkeling, you will have a snorkeling mask. This allows you to see underwater. It will also have a nose pocket to stop water from getting into your nose. This is something that can cause discomfort for some non-swimmers. You will probably also use a snorkel; a tube that goes from your mouth to the surface of the air. This means you do not have to lift your head up to breathe.

Other equipment for snorkelers includes; fins or flippers that you will wear on your feet. The fins help move the water up and down when you kick. This allows you to move efficiently with less exertion.

As mentioned earlier, you can also wear a life-jacket to help you stay afloat!


When you are swimming, you will probably be in a swimming pool. Whereas, with snorkeling, you will most likely be in the ocean to see the fish and coral. Salty ocean water is denser than fresh or chlorine water (there’s more salt in it!), which means it is easier to float in the ocean.

Feeling Comfortable in the Water

Despite the big differences between swimming and snorkeling, it is preferable to have some experience of swimming before you try snorkeling. This is because you will feel more comfortable in the water, and will enjoy the snorkeling experience more.

If you know how to swim a bit, it allows you to control your movements while snorkeling. You can turn around in the water, swim against a current, or even duck-dive down to check out a turtle up-close!

If you are a swimmer, or comfortable in the water, then you can minimize the potential risks in snorkeling. Let’s take a look at the risks that could occur while snorkeling.

Risks for Non-Swimmers

If you are not comfortable in the water, then the following things may be more difficult for you while snorkeling.

Surface Waves

If the ocean is flat and calm, snorkeling can be relatively easy. Even for a non-swimmer. However, the conditions can change quickly. If there is some wind, this will create waves. The waves can make you uncomfortable as they push you around and can move your mask and snorkel. Water can also get into your snorkel if the waves reach over the snorkel.

What you should do: Keep an eye on the conditions. If you are feeling uncomfortable and the conditions are changing, exit the water as soon as you can.


Currents can be quite strong on the surface of the water. This will move you in a certain direction and if the current pushes you out to sea, you may find yourself away from shore very quickly. If you are not a swimmer, you will struggle and get tired from trying to swim against the current.

What you should do: If a current is moving you away from the boat or land, keep calm. Try to get upright in the water and wave your arms around to get someone’s attention. Yell for help.

Equipment Failure

The equipment may not necessarily be failing, but if the equipment is not working how you expect, then this can be a problem. The most common problem is water leaking into your mask and this can cause you to feel uncomfortable.

What you should do: Learn how to clear a mask while in the water. Push the top of the mask frame, take a breath of air through your snorkel and use your nose to blow the water out.

The snorkel can also be problematic if water gets in. If there is water in your snorkel, you may accidentally breathe or swallow it, leading to choking or in severe cases, near-drowning.

What you should do: Learn how to clear a snorkel. You can blow/spit the water out from inside the snorkel tube so the water is pushed up and out of the snorkel. If that is not working, then you can get up-right in the water, take the snorkel out of your mouth and empty it before putting it back in your mouth.

Fear or Panic

Fear or panic can set in if the above problems arise. However, you can also feel fear or panic even when everything is going perfectly. You might not feel comfortable, or you might feel a bit nervous about the fish below you, etc. This is normal if it is your first time snorkeling.

Signs of anxiety can include; breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), muscles getting tense, trembling, and increased heart-rate.

What you should do: If you do not feel comfortable and you are feeling signs of anxiety, tell your buddy or friend as soon as possible. ‘Perceptual narrowing‘ can cause you to focus too much on one thing and lead to irrational thoughts and actions. To avoid this, try to distract yourself, (talking to yourself helps), and think about each step carefully to not overwhelm yourself.

Tips for Non-Swimmers Going Snorkeling

So you’re not a swimmer but you would love to try snorkeling. Great job! But here are a few tips before you jump into the water. This will keep you safe and allow you to enjoy the snorkeling.

  • Make sure you know how to float in the water. This can be laying on your back like a starfish, or kicking your legs like an egg-beater. Knowing how to keep your face out of the water is essential.
  • Always go with a buddy or a friend. Do not go snorkeling alone if you cannot swim. If the conditions change or you get tired, it is important to have someone close by to assist you.
  • Join a snorkeling trip. Reputable snorkeling trips will have a snorkel guide who will get into the water with you. They can help you with snorkeling techniques and assist you if needed. They can also show you where all the cool fish are!

The Lowdown

So do you need to know how to swim to snorkel? The answer is no. You can still enjoy snorkeling without being a strong swimmer. However, we do highly recommend that you are at least comfortable in the water, and can float or control your breathing in the water. This makes your experience so much more comfortable so that you can spend more time enjoying the fish below!