One of my friends always refers to snorkeling, particularly duck diving as the “graceful entry into the underwater world”. I think this accurately describes snorkeling.
To explore the ocean, let’s see them as phases or steps. I would put snorkeling on the surface as phase one. Once you learn how to snorkel underwater or how to duck dive, this is phase two. Phase three is freediving or even scuba diving. Some people might be worried that it is too hard to learn how to scuba dive and begin with snorkeling.
Learn about the main differences between snorkeling and scuba diving.
How to Snorkel Underwater
First you need to master snorkeling on the surface and feel very comfortable in water too deep to stand up in. You can still use a floatation device or a BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) or life jacket, however should not be dependent on these devices.
Second you need to have good airway control skills. Snorkels are known to leak water through the ill-fitted mouthpieces, peculiar angles or even waves that splash into the top of the tube. Being able to passively manage your airway and not swallow water is key to becoming comfortable while snorkeling.
As mentioned above, snorkels do tend to constantly have residual water in the mouthpiece. Even semi-dry and dry snorkels can leak via the mouthpiece itself. Knowing how to snorkel without swallowing water is important when first learning how to snorkel. When snorkeling you should always try to control each breath.
Airway Control Tips
- Try to find a nice slow rhythm of breathing.
- Whenever you breathe in, do so cautiously, expecting there to be some water to breathe past.
- Always keep enough air to be able to clear the snorkel.
- Use your tongue as a splash guard. This way if you breathe some water in, your tongue prevents it from reaching your throat.
- Be aware that your tube remains above water. Keeping your mask just underwater and letting waves move you up and down.
Snorkels do not work underwater! Yes, believe it or not. In order to snorkel underwater, you need to take a breath on the surface and hold that breath. Then you are able to dive down and snorkel underwater.
It is easier to sink down if you exhale. The air in your lungs gives you quite a lot of buoyancy, making it hard to sink. However, learning how to snorkel underwater properly, requires you to learn how to duck dive while holding your breath.
Do not hyperventilate before diving down! What you can do is take a few nice and deep breaths in and out. Then make sure you take a really deep breath in. The best way to describe this is to start filling your body with air from your stomach up. Imagine you are inhaling into your belly, up your spine, into your lungs, up your trachea even your mouth all the way up. Now you are ready to dive.
How to Duck Dive Snorkeling
Now your lungs are full of air. It is time to relax your body. Less motion equals less energy and therefore a longer underwater exploration. On the surface, you should first angle your body at the hips, reaching down with your arms. Similar to an ‘L’ shape. You can then do one strong breaststroke with your arms, pulling yourself down which should then pull your legs underwater. Once fully submerged, you can now you can use your legs to kick and go further down. A frog kick works better without fins and a flutter kick works better with fins.
Remember to only move when you have to. Try to relax and look around, focusing on what you see. When you start to feel short on breath, look up, and ascend. The air in your lungs can help pull you back up to the surface, not too much swimming is required here.
Pro Tip: Never duck dive or even snorkel on your own. You should always have a buddy. One of you stays on the surface, one of you can dive down.
Below is the trailer for Jago: A Life Underwater, an incredible film about life underwater.
Whenever we descend underwater, static water pressure pushes against our eardrums. Interestingly this pressure changes more rapidly in shallow water, meaning it is felt more intensely at shallow depths. If you plan on conducting multiple duck dives during your snorkeling session, you need to make sure you properly equalize your ears.
You will use some of your available air for the dive to equalize your ears, sinuses, and mask. There are several ways to equalize your ears. The easiest way is the Valsalva maneuver, blowing gently against pinched nostrils. This equalizes the pressure, preventing pain in your ears and sinuses. You need to exhale through your nose in order to equalize your mask.
Clearing a Snorkel on the Surface
Fully submerging a snorkel fills it with water. This water needs to be cleared from the tube before breathing through your snorkel can be resumed. This means that you need to keep enough air in your lungs in order to forcefully exhale once your snorkel breaches the surface. You need to leave enough time to do this before you can breathe in again.
Tips for Clearing a Snorkel
- Forcefully exhale as if saying the number “two” really loud.
- Press your lips firmly on the mouthpiece and use your tongue to block the opening before releasing all the air in one strong exhale.
- Make sure the tube has in fact breached the surface
This is the easiest method and the one to master first. Another method to clear a snorkel is the expansion method. This method uses Boyle’s law to clear a snorkel more effectively. It is, however, more difficult to master.
Clearing a Snorkel with the Expansion Method
- During your ascent, position the snorkel so it is parallel to the surface (you may need to hold it in this position)
- When approaching the last 1.5 m before the surface, exhale very small bubbles into the tube.
- Air volume will expand as you continue to ascend.
- When your face reaches the surface, flick your head forward and exhale forcefully.
Once you master the expansion technique, your snorkel is virtually empty once you reach the surface. This method requires a decent sense of awareness in body position during the ascent, airway control as well as depth perception.
Coming up for Air
Snorkeling is far more enjoyable once you master how to snorkel underwater. This allows you to get a little closer to marine life and corals. Most importantly you experience the serenity that comes from being submerged in the ocean. No artificial sounds, just the gentle crackling of parrotfish and rabbitfish eating algae off the corals below. It truly places you in the present as it is a moment that only lasts one breath.