Learning how to snorkel is a fantastic way to see the underwater world. Turtles, whale sharks, reef fish, coral and more – they’re all viewable from the ocean’s surface, and you don’t have to learn to scuba dive to see them. But learning how to snorkel does require some basic skills to ensure you and the reef remain safe.
If you have family or mates heading on a beach holiday soon, be sure to share this article so they can learn how to snorkel responsibly too.
Wear Reef Safe Sunscreen
Before you even get into the water, make sure that that you’re not unintentionally killing the reef. Read the label of your sunscreen, and don’t use it if it contains oxybenzone, octinoxate or octocrylene. The term “reef safe” doesn’t have an agreed-upon definition, so you’ll need to check yourself. These ingredients are renowned reef-killers, and they have no place in our oceans. Also, make sure you’re using sunscreen lotions, pastes and creams as opposed to sprays.
Make Sure You Can Swim
Your first snorkelling trip is not the time for you to learn how to swim. If swimming isn’t a skill you have under your belt yet, it’s best to get lessons in a confined and shallow area, like a swimming pool. Many resorts and dive shops will have swimming coaches for you to work with so you can safely enter the ocean. And you’d be surprised how quickly you can learn to swim as an adult with the right coach! Learning how to swim before you learn how to snorkel will ensure both end up being a safe and fun experience.
Plan Your Entry
Instead of walking straight into the water, you’ll need first to assess your plan of entry. Ensure that there’s enough space for you to put your fins on in the water and that currents or waves won’t pull you into any coral. You might feel more comfortable sitting on the sand to put your fins on, so work out where that will happen from the shore. The last thing you or the reef need is for you to go hopping around on delicate corals while you try and get your fins n in the wavey shallows.
Don’t Touch anything
As tempting as it may be to touch coral or marine life – don’t. You are a visitor in the marine world and have no rights to do anything other than observing the underwater happenings. Imagine if a stranger came into your home and started breaking furniture and poking your kids in the face – you wouldn’t be too happy about it, would you? Learning how to snorkel responsibly should be ingrained with learning how to respect the ocean.
Be Fin Aware
Knowing where your body sits in the water when learning how to snorkel can be confusing at first. The thing that takes people a while to learn is just how much longer you are in the water with fins on. So when you’re manoeuvring around the reef, be hyper-aware of your fins and make sure they don’t bump into anything. It’s easy to get excited when you spot your first fish and kick up sand or silt in your buddy’s face, or knock a piece of coral off a rock. So remain calm, and just take in what you’re seeing like a zen ocean master.
Keep Your Arms Still
It can be tempting to use your arms to try to balance yourself in the water or use them to paddle when first learning how to snorkel. But if you remain horizontal in the water (with your legs out behind you and arms in front), you’ll find your balance in the water improves significantly. You don’t need to use your arms at all, because there is more than enough propulsion coming from your fins to manoeuvre around. Try crossing your arms in front of you when you swim – it’ll take away the temptation to flail your arms.
Small Fin Movements
Big kicks may seem like the way to go because they’ll make you move faster in the water. But snorkelling is about taking in the underwater world thoroughly, and to do that you need to move slowly. Big kicks also use more energy and create unnecessary splashes, so small fin movements (either straight-legged kicks or butterfly kicks) are much more effective. Have a play around with both styles, as you will find that each feels right in different situations.
Don’t Take Any Souvenirs
A beautiful shell, a pretty piece of coral, some vibrant seagrass. These may look nice on your mantle at home, but they look even better in the ocean, where they belong. It may not seem like it, but coral is a living organism, shells are potential homes for many creatures, and seagrass is integral to the wellbeing of the ocean. So please leave them be. And if you see others collecting things that belong in the ocean, a friendly reminder from you to them would not go astray.
Follow this guide when learning how to snorkel, and every time you head out into the water. You’ll feel more confident in your skills, and snorkelling will become a truly magical experience. You’ll also have peace of mind knowing that you aren’t damaging the beautiful reef you’re visiting. So get out there, have fun, stay safe, and be a responsible snorkeller!