Snorkeling 101: Tips and Tricks

Everyone should try their hand at snorkeling. It is a simple, low-tech, and easy way to explore the wonderland of reefs, sea grass beds, mangrove forests, and sandy bottoms that exist around the coasts of many popular vacation destinations. These tips will help you enjoy a successful and safe snorkel experience.

A woman snorkels amid boulders under Virgin Gorda's blue skies.
Virgin Gorda’s Baths National Park is one of the most famous sights in the British Virgin Islands. Photo © BlueOrange Studio/123rf.
  • Test your mask to see if it fits properly. Do this by placing it on your face without the band, taking a deep breath in, and holding it. If the mask fits properly, it will stay on your face. If your mask does not stay put, try another size or check for things that could be breaking the seal: beards or mustaches, hair, eyeglasses, or sunscreen.
  • Fogging can also be a problem. You can prevent fogging by rubbing the inside of your mask with saliva or mild dish soap. Commercial defogging solutions are also available.
  • Make sure that your mask strap is not too tight and that it is positioned just below the widest part of your head. Your mask should be secure, but comfortable.
  • Fins help because they reduce the amount of energy you have to use to get around. Your kick should be smooth and nearly effortless. Be careful not to accidentally kick or brush up against coral.
  • If you tend to get chilled easily, it is a good idea to wear a wetsuit or surf shirt.
  • A flotation belt or jacket helps snorkelers who do not naturally float or who want extra security.
  • Underwater visibility is best on sunny days, and when the sea is calm.
  • If you’re entering the water from shore, you can walk backward with your fins on until the water is deep enough to swim. Or carry your fins in hand and put them on in the water. Don’t enter the water where there are a lot of sea urchins, sharp coral, or wave action.
  • Protect yourself from the sun; while snorkeling, your back and legs can be subject to terrible sunburns. Wear a T-shirt and shorts or wetsuit. A bathing cap is a good idea for bald heads. If you are only using sunscreen, apply a reef-safe brand at least 15 minutes before you go in the water and reapply frequently. (Ladies—and Speedo-loving gentlemen—pay special attention to the backs of your upper thighs, right below your bathing suit.)
  • Be sure to tell someone where you are going and when you will be back. Always snorkel with a buddy, and agree ahead of time how far you will separate from each other in the water. If you feel tired, get out and rest.
  • Ask about currents before you go in the water. If you do get caught in a current, do not fight it. Swim across it until you can get out or are washed toward the shore.

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