How Long Can You Stay Underwater With A Snorkel?

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How long can you stay underwater with a snorkel? Here is Szandra Lukacs snorkeling in tropical waters.
How long you can stay underwater with a snorkel will be determined by a number of factors. Image: Szandra Lukacs

Snorkeling in the water will most certainly open up a whole new world for you. It will give you the chance to see some incredible sights that only belong underwater. So how long can you stay underwater with a snorkel, and can you breathe underwater while snorkeling?

Read More: Snorkeling Tips for Beginners!

Can you Breathe Underwater With A Snorkel?

Well, a snorkel works by allowing you to breathe air through one end of the snorkel. By laying and swimming on the surface of the water, the snorkel allows you to face down into the water without having to lift your head up to breathe. It is a tube that pulls air and oxygen from the surface.

This means if you are completely underwater, with the snorkel submerged underwater, then you will not get additional air from the snorkel. You may have seen pictures of people snorkeling underwater, this means they are holding their breath (or exhaling/breathing out slightly) while submerged.

This differs to the sport of scuba diving which allows you to go underwater with a breathing apparatus and a tank of air to breathe from.

Read More: The Differences Between Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

So no, technically, you cannot breathe air underwater with a snorkel. But you can be underwater without breathing.

Man showing how to snorkel underwater
Snorkeling underwater. Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

How Long Can You Stay Underwater With A Snorkel?

So how long can you stay underwater with a snorkel and mask? The question is more how long you can comfortably and safely hold your breath underwater. For example, professional freedivers can hold their breath for over 3 minutes or longer while swimming underwater. This means they can stay underwater with a snorkel for quite some time. A novice to snorkeling however, may only have a breath-hold capacity of 30 seconds to 1 minute. So being able to stay underwater with a snorkel will be determined by several factors and will impact how long you can hold your breath for while swimming underwater.

Fitness

When you work your muscles by exercising, you increase the amount of oxygen your body requires. Over time, regular cardio exercise will make regular activities seem easier as your muscles adapt to an increased workload. Cardio exercise and increased fitness will strengthen your heart and your lungs, allowing you to stay underwater for longer on a single breath.

Here are some workouts we recommend for scuba divers, snorkelers, and freedivers!

Experience

If you snorkel regularly, your snorkeling experience level increases. You will feel calmer and more relaxed with each dive. By relaxing and bringing your heart rate down, you will require less oxygen, and less of an urge to breathe. You will find that you can increase the time spent underwater on a single breath.

Read our interview with Freediving Breath-Hold Coach, Tom Peled.

Exertion

The more we move, the more oxygen is required for our bodies. The more oxygen we require, the more frequent we want to inhale and breathe. Over-exerting our bodies means we will breathe harder and heavier, trying to suck in more oxygen. Think of how much you are breathing in during a leisurely walk compared to a run or a sprint. This applies to how we move in the water too. Swimming slowly vs. swimming quickly and having to catch your breath.

Lung Capacity

Lung capacity and lung volumes refer to how much air is in the lungs at different phases of the respiratory cycle of inhaling and exhaling. The average total lung capacity of a healthy adult human male is about 6 litres of air. A number of factors, including your size and your age, will impact your lung capacity which will impact how long you can hold your breath for.

According to Lung.org “There are several natural body changes that happen as you get older that may cause a decline in lung capacity. Muscles like the diaphragm can get weaker. Lung tissue that helps keep your airways open can lose elasticity, which means your airways can get a little smaller. Also your rib cage bones can change and get smaller which leaves less room for your lungs to expand.”

Water Conditions

The conditions of where you are snorkeling will greatly impact how long you can stay underwater on a single breath. Snorkeling in calm waters and propelling ourselves with one gentle fin-kick is going to be very different to snorkeling against a strong current while kicking out legs furiously.

Temperature

The temperature of the water will also play a factor in how long you can hold your breath underwater for. This is because your body will work harder in colder temperatures in a bid to stay warm. Your body moves warm blood away from the surface of the body to lessen the amount of heat lost from your skin. This action causes the pressure in the blood vessels to increase which makes the heart work harder. And as we saw before, the harder your heart and body is working, and more oxygen your body requires.

Snorkeling in warm waters will be much more relaxing and calming, then shivering in cold waters where your body is struggling to retain heat.

Read this scuba diving instructor’s tips on how to prepare for diving in cold waters!

Leading a Duck to Water

The time you can stay underwater with a snorkel directly correlates with how long you can hold your breath for. The best way to increase this time underwater is by becoming a more experienced snorkeler. Check out our article on how to snorkel underwater and the tips to becoming a more proficient and comfortable person in the water!

Emma was initially terrified of the deep ocean but dived right into scuba diving years ago and hasn't looked back since! She worked as an underwater videographer for several years and is now a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer. She currently runs a dive shop on the island of Koh Tao in Thailand and her favourite fish is the barracuda!