Snorkeling, by its very nature, allows us incredible top-down views of the underwater world and the marvels of its marine life. There’s so much to see (even from the surface), but what if we want to get a closer look at everything around us? Is it possible to learn how to snorkel underwater?
How to Snorkel Underwater
Let’s first start by answering that basic question: Can you snorkel underwater? Yes, you can snorkel underwater by evenly holding your breath, learning to clear the underwater pressure from your ears by holding your nose, closing your mouth and exhaling, and by using proper snorkel equipment.
That’s great news! Coral forests, here we come! But first, let’s look at 5 how-to steps to actually make diving underwater with a snorkel a reality and learn how to snorkel underwater safely, effectively and with confidence.
1. Use the Proper Snorkel Equipment
Not all snorkel equipment is created equal when it comes to diving underwater. Let’s look at our gear options and figure out which set-up we should pick.
Traditional vs. Full-Face Snorkel Masks
Step one will be determining what kind of snorkel mask is best for snorkeling underwater, and really there are only two general options: a traditional snorkel mask that covers your eyes and nose, or a full-face snorkel mask that covers everything from your forehead to your chin.
Full-face snorkel masks are a really interesting newer invention for snorkeling. The large dome that covers your entire face allows you a fantastic field of vision, and they also come with an integrated snorkel on top with a one-way valve that keeps water out while still allowing you to breathe.
But, even though it’s officially possible to dive underwater with a full-face snorkel mask, it isn’t easy. The larger dome around your face ends up getting filled with air as you breathe in and out, which creates extra buoyancy. This is actually really nice if you’re just out for a leisurely surface snorkel since it helps you to float noticeably easier, but it makes it harder to dive beneath the surface.
In order to really dive with a full-face snorkel mask, you need to force most of the air out of your mask with a long breath out before diving down. But, since you don’t have any air left in your lungs in this case, you can only dive underwater for a few seconds before needing to resurface to get fresh oxygen.
Traditional snorkel masks, by comparison, retain relatively little air by default, and create much less buoyancy. This makes it much easier to dive underwater with a traditional snorkel mask, so that’s what we’ll want to go with if we really want to get underneath the waves.
(For our guides and recommendations on snorkel masks for beginners, intermediates, and experts, check out The 3 Best Snorkel Masks for All Levels: Beginners, Intermediates & Advanced.)
Wet Snorkels vs. Dry Snorkels vs. Semi-Dry Snorkels
Now that we have our mask type picked out, let’s talk about snorkels themselves. We need to breathe, after all.
For a long time, there was only one type of snorkel which was essentially just an open tube that connected your mouth to the surface air (also called a wet snorkel). But, we now also have dry snorkels and semi-dry snorkels in the game.
In general, I only really recommend a traditional wet snorkel — whether you are diving underwater or not — to someone who has snorkeled for a long time and is very used to them. Ultimately, dry snorkels and semi-dry snorkels are just so much better for most people.
Dry snorkels have that same mouth-to-air tube format, but also have a one-way valve at the top of the snorkel that aims to keep water out while still allowing you to breathe in and out normally. Dry snorkels are an incredible advancement in snorkel technology (really!) and make snorkeling so much more accessible for beginners.
(Check out our guide on the best dry snorkels over at The Best Dry Top Snorkel This Year: A Clear Winner.)
Semi-dry snorkels work more like a traditional wet snorkel in that you don’t have anything between your mouth and the air you’re breathing, but they do include a splash guard around the top of the snorkel to help minimize any unwanted water making its way into your snorkel tube. It isn’t as effective as a dry snorkel in keeping water out, but it’s better than a wet snorkel.
What we would recommend between a dry snorkel and semi-dry snorkel for snorkeling underwater differs a little depending on your skill level.
If you are newer to snorkeling, we definitely recommend a dry snorkel. The added peace of mind from minimizing as much unwanted water as possible with the one-way valve is so huge when getting started. And, you can still definitely dive underwater with these. The valve does keep a bit of air in the snorkel tube which does add a small amount of buoyancy, but not enough to really affect you unless you’re really trying to dive deep. And, as a beginner, you should start with more shallow dives anyway.
If you’re more of an expert or an intermediate who’s comfortable diving in the ocean, a semi-dry snorkel might officially be your best bet for snorkeling underwater. You’ll get some added water protection when snorkeling along the surface from the splash guard, and when you do dive underwater, your snorkel tube will fill with water and eliminate any extra buoyancy. (But, if you like dry snorkels instead, those will work just fine, too.)
So, beginners, definitely go with a dry snorkel if possible. Experts and intermediates who want that added edge in diving underwater, take a look at a semi-dry snorkel.
(We also outline prices and our picks for the best semi-dry and dry snorkels in one of our snorkel gear guides, How Much Do Snorkel Masks Cost? 6 Helpful Price & Gear Guides with Examples.)
Fins & Flippers
This one is easy. While not required to snorkel underwater, fins or flippers are super, super helpful. They allow you to get to the depth you want faster, spend a little extra time there, then return to the surface for air more quickly.
If you have access to a pair, definitely use them. If not, that’s OK — you’ll just need to work a little harder to propel yourself down and back up again, which isn’t the end of the world.
Check out our guide on picking out the right set of snorkel fins for your skill level at The Best Snorkel Fins for Beginners, Advanced Snorkelers & Travelers.
Other Gear to Keep in Mind
Depending on where you are, diving down even something like 10 feet can really change the temperature of the water. If you’re someone who chills easily or you’re not snorkeling the tropics in the first place, you might want to look into wearing a rash guard (or even a full wet suit) to give you just a little extra insulation.
I don’t chill that easily, but when I know I’m going to spend extended time in the water, I like the Volcom Men’s Lido Solid Short Sleeve Rashguard (Amazon) since it keeps my core warm without too much extra contact on the arms. My wife, who does chill easier, uses the REKITA Women’s Long Sleeve Rashguard (Amazon) since it has more protection on the arms and hands. Plus, it just looks cool.
Also, if I’m snorkeling underwater, I know I’m going to experience some awesome stuff and make memories that I’ll definitely want to hold onto. If you’re someone who likes taking pictures or video even a little bit, I always recommend looking into getting an underwater action camera like a GoPro. It’s a blast when it comes to underwater snorkeling, and you can learn more about it over at The Best Underwater Action Cameras for Snorkeling: GoPro & More.
And, if you could use a helpful guide on finding the right snorkel gear overall, including some things that you might not know you’ll need, check out What Snorkel Gear Should I Buy? The Full Guide to Getting Started Affordably.
2. Hold Your Breath and Dive
Holding your breath is probably a bit of a “well, duh” step to take before snorkeling underwater, but there is a bit of an art to it.
When preparing to dive down and snorkel underwater, be mindful that you are taking deep, even breaths into your stomach (which pulls in more air) rather than your chest. This helps your body to stay relaxed and allows your lungs to prepare to hold more air. Make sure to not breathe quicker than normal since that will stress your body.
Just before you do head underwater, take a deep breath, but fill your lungs to maybe 80-90% capacity. If you take in every bit of air that you can, you might be able to stay underwater longer, but the added pressure on your chest that deeper water causes might feel uncomfortable.
Then, when you’re ready, arch your back forward so that your face heads underwater but your feet are still making contact with water (if your legs are up in the air, they won’t be able to kick against anything to help you dive), focusing on pointing your torso nearly straight down toward the bottom. Use that feet-to-water contact to kick your legs and push off of the water to propel yourself forward and down until you can straighten out without your feet leaving the water. Hey, you’re snorkeling underwater!
3. Learn to Clear the Pressure from Your Ears
One key skill to learn when you start snorkeling underwater is how to clear the pressure from your ears. Once you head underwater more than a few feet, you’ll start to feel the weight of the water above you create pressure on your body, especially against the sides of your head. It’s uncomfortable, but completely normal.
To equalize the pressure between yourself and the water around you, pinch your nose shut, close your mouth and exhale a bit toward your nose. This is called the Valsalva Maneuver. Until you have a good idea of just how much force you need to put into that exhalation (it’s still pretty small), start on the gentler end and work your way up. It’s a good idea to start practicing on land with some shallow dives to follow to learn this before you work your way deeper.
Marcel below has a good summary of this technique to equalize your pressure:
4. Return to the Surface Before You Need Air
When snorkeling underwater, it’s sometimes easy to get swept up in all of the amazing scenes of the undersea world around you. But, stay mindful of how your need for air feels, and swim back up to the surface before you actually need air.
For one, this is needed because it will typically take a few seconds to get back to the surface and you don’t want to cut it close when it comes to air. And two, if you always push yourself to the limit on air, your body will become stressed and it will be more difficult to hold your breath for very long underwater until it calms down.
5. Clear Your Snorkel Tube
When you return to the surface, you’ll likely have some water in your snorkel tube, often even if you’re using a dry snorkel. Once you reach the surface and before using the snorkel to breathe in, tilt your head back a bit and blow hard out of your snorkel tube. This should expel any residual water and allow you to get back to breathing normally.
Alternatively, if needed, you can just take the snorkel out of your mouth at the surface and give yourself a few normal breaths before blowing the water out of your snorkel tube.
What to do When Snorkeling Underwater
My first rule of snorkeling underwater: enjoy it! It really is an incredible experience to glide through coral forests or alongside feeding sea turtles or gigantic whale sharks. Take it all in.
And, my second rule of snorkeling underwater: don’t touch anything. That goes for… pretty much everything. We’re guests in this undersea world, so we want to be good temporary citizens.
Coral is increasingly fragile and can easily break (which takes a long, long time to grow back, if it’s able) and can also provide a nasty infection if it happens to cut you, so make sure to hold some space between you and it. If you do happen to come in contact with coral and it does break the skin, go ahead and exit the water and disinfect the cut as soon as possible.
Next, marine life is always an incredible sight, and we always want to be sure to treat it well. Give any creatures you see a bit of a wide birth at first. Often, if you’re calm and respectful of them, animals like sea turtles, dolphins or manatees have been known to let curiosity get the best of them and come over to you to interact a bit.
But, always keep your hands to yourself. It’s just good form, and it keeps the animals healthy (for example, the oils in our skin can break down the water-resistant coating on many marine mammals’ skins).
The Deep Dive
Snorkeling is a beautiful experience from the surface, but when you add in the ability to snorkel underwater, you have something extra incredible.
If you follow the steps above and use the right equipment (like a traditional snorkel mask paired with a dry snorkel for beginners or a semi-dry snorkel for those more advanced), you’ll be able add this new dimension to your snorkeling repertoire in no time.
It takes a little practice and you always want to start small/shallow and gradually ramp up as you build your skills. But, with a little effort, it will soon start to come naturally. See you out there!
Take the next step with the snorkeling knowledge and skills that you gained here with other helpful guides below: