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Why Do You Need a Snorkel When Scuba Diving?

Why Do You Need a Snorkel When Scuba Diving?

Many divers have questioned if a scuba snorkel is really necessary for scuba diving, and the topic remains a controversial issue. While it isn’t considered necessary for technical divers, recreational divers are often advised to wear them when taking entry-level scuba certification courses

The truth is, there is no straightforward answer to this question when it comes to commercial diving. Some seasoned divers argue that they never bring a snorkel with them as they never encounter scenarios that require them. Others stick rigidly to this rule and always have a snorkel tucked in their BCD pockets. 

To help you figure out if snorkels are right for you, we’ve listed down some of the pros and cons of using a snorkel when diving. 

The Pros and Cons of Diving with a Snorkel

scuba instructor demonstrating the use of snorkels

Pros

  • Shore divers are often advised to bring a snorkel if they have to swim a considerable distance to their dive sites. By using a snorkel, they’ll conserve the air in their tanks and enjoy a more comfortable swim. 
  • Having a snorkel attached to your mask will allow you to conserve energy while waiting to be picked up by your dive boat. This is particularly important if conditions are rough and you’re exhausted. By breathing through the snorkel, you’ll avoid swallowing lungfuls of water and emptying your dive tank. 
  • A snorkel can help you assess dive conditions from the surface. If you’re on a dive boat, you could get into the water first while wearing your mask and snorkel to assess the current and level of visibility. 
  • A snorkel will come in handy when you’re towing a fellow diver and need to breathe properly will surface swimming. 
  • In short, your snorkel is an essential safety tool that will come in handy in various scenarios, not just when you’re surface swimming. 

Cons

  • A snorkel is obviously a great way to swim on the surface without using up the air in your scuba tank. However, once underwater, they can be unwieldy. When the current is strong, the snorkel may pull or tug on the mask strap, causing the mask to flood with water. A wobbling snorkel may also cause discomfort if it keeps hitting your head or scuba equipment. Thankfully, discomfort can be reduced if snorkels are worn closer to the head or have a streamlined design. 
  • Snorkels have a tendency to get entangled in divers’ hair. To prevent this from happening, consider wearing a swim cap or similar head covering. 
  • Snorkels create additional drag, especially when the current is strong or when you’re first entering the water. Snorkels also come off easily if they aren’t secured properly.
  • Aside from your long, flowing locks, snorkels have a tendency to get caught in other things, including current lines, down lines, and reel lines. To avoid danger, student divers are advised not to wear snorkels when exploring underwater caves and wrecks. On the other hand, highly experienced divers who’ve worn snorkels for the longest time know how to avoid entanglement issues during their dives. 

Choosing the Right Scuba Diving Snorkel 

dive mask and snorkel hanging from a branch

Different types of snorkels are available, including classic snorkels, dry snorkels, and semi-dry snorkels. 

Classic snorkels are popular with experienced freedivers and spearfishers since they are low volume and not prone to drag. This type of snorkel is also suitable for snorkeling and scuba diving. Dry snorkels, on the other hand, have mechanisms that prevent water from flooding in as the person dives underwater. This mechanism is usually a floatation device that moves upward to shut the air pathway. 

Semi-dry snorkels, meanwhile, have splash guards at the top of the tube which prevent sprays of water from easily entering the tube. This type of snorkel is best for divers who want to conserve the air in their tanks while surface swimming without having to deal with the bulkiness of a dry snorkel.

To avoid many of the issues that come with using a dive snorkel, consider getting a foldable or collapsible snorkel. Choose one that can be folded and stored in your BC pocket or attached to your buoyancy compensator during your dive, then attached to the mask strap when swimming along the surface. 

14 Comments

  1. The idea that it’s a safety issue is a crock of dookie. It is no more difficult to breathe with your face up to the sky without a snorkel than your face in the water with a snorkel. If you dive without a snorkel, when you surface just roll over on your back and float face up. It’s a matter of personal preference, and safety is not a legitimate issue when considering whether or not to don your snorkel for a dive.

    1. I’m a new diver and the snorkel is making my mask leak!! I don’t want to use it. Can I just put it in my BCD pocket incase I need it?

  2. It’s taught as a safety issue in PADI, however PADI is quite over the top with its safety precautions, which extends to NDL’s as well as a few other things. I was taught in a BSAC school which is far more practical in its teaching, and we had a big discussion on this topic. It’s considered good form to swim on your back while on the surface, and not facing down for several reasons.

    Firstly, if the dive boat is coming towards you, you won’t be able to see it while facing down. Secondly, you can communicate and hear your buddy/group while on the surface which is very important, and thirdly it’s actually easier to swim on your back, as your tank and jacket keep you quite afloat above the waves. Because of these reasons, having a snorkel becomes unnecessary as if you try and use it while on your back water will get in. From this point all of the con’s from above come into play.

  3. I have always instructed using the snorkel, and it serves a very necessary purpose – saving your air for DIVING. Properly used, there is little water taken in (especially if you pay attention to the training and EXHALE HARD before taking a breath) and swimming face down conserves energy if your BCD is correctly inflated. You can periodically lift your face to check your path (if not using a compass) and I’ve never had a student who failed to stop swimming and look up when I tapped my tank with my signal hammer (small polyurethane hammer which generates quite a clang but doesn’t damage tank coating).
    While I understand that some divers no longer use the snorkel, I was certified as an Open Water Diver in 1975, and would no more enter the water without my snorkel as enter without my mask.
    In heavy seas, the snorkel can be the difference between comfortably negotiating back to the rear of a dive boat and becoming sick from ingesting salt water. If you have sufficient air to use the regulator, fine, but 200# can go away quickly on the surface… and then what do you do?
    Mac
    PADI Divemaster/Assistant Instructor
    NAUI/SSI Instructor

  4. a snorkel is a safety peice of equipment, necessary in an emergency-scubpro stoped making the folding snorkel which allowed you to have it in the bc pocket and attach when needed unlike the flexible or telescoping snorkels , this one worked

  5. It’s sad that this is pushed as a safety device when the truth is exactly the opposite. Unfortunately not all instructors are able to think beyond what their marketing oriented organization tells them.
    Proper training from good instructors that actually dive (possibly find a tech instructor that also teaches recreational) is key. They’ll teach you about proper gear and what not to buy (90% of the crap out there).
    If you must carry a snorkel stick it in your pocket. in the unlikely event that you’ll feel compelled to use it it will be available. If you dont have a pocket stick one (or two) on. Yes even on a wetsuit. That way you dont look like a Christmas tree.
    In all other cases swim on your back (you know that you accumulate a lot more CO2 breathing through a tube right?) do your dive and when you come up from the dive climb on the boat with all your gear in place. That is mask, fins and regulator in your mouth until your on the boat. If you can’t think of the reason ask a tech instructor.

  6. Anton-

    I’d like to see you get back on a boat with your fins on. I’ll keep my snorkel, thanks. And who cares if you look like a Christmas tree? Have you ever looked at yourself with all your gear on?

    1. Actually Anton is right. It’s not difficult to do and divers up here in the NE get (rightly so) screamed at by the crew if they try to remove their fins. Should you loose your grip even in a minimal current without fins you would have a hard time getting back on the boat.

      Even if you are not interested in technical diving, picking up a few good things here and there is beneficial. The pockets are a great way to store things you may need while at the same time reducing drag. Properly trained tech divers are far more efficient in the water with a set of doubles and 2 deco bottles than the average recreational diver with poor trim and “christmas” tree decorations creating drag. Finally to the snorkel (the subject of this whole thread). It’s really useful only when snorkeling. When diving it’s far better to swim on your back at the surface. Why some training organizations insist on it in basic training (but make it disappear down the road) baffles me…

  7. I am a technical diver. I consider on every dive exactly what I need and ONLY take that with me. I only take a snorkel with me when there is possibility that I may need to spend a great deal of time on the surface waiting for pick up in rough salt water. Period. I use it to be more comfortable with waves splashing me in the face. It is not a guarantee that I still will not get a mouth full of salt water.

    For me personally a surface swim is much easier on my back. If waves or current makes it to difficult then I find it better to descend and swim underwater.

    Bottom line is to think and figure out for yourself what is the safest and therefore best solution.

  8. Maybe I should leave the war of opinion to actual divers (I just stumbled here out of interest) but I do have one point of observation: Discovery Channel type marine sequences often show professional (technical) divers and I you rarely see a snorkel. Just saying.

  9. other cons of snorkels:
    novice divers grab them instead of their inflator and waste precious time not to mention tranquility when wanting to dflate as they are starting to ‘float’ up to the surface.
    Also have your ever tried putting your mask back on underwater when you have long hair tied back and there is snorkels attached to it, it’s really difficult. It gets tangled and into the wrong position making this skill, that a lot of people find difficult anyway, worse; not to mention a real life situation where additional tension is just not needed…
    Finally , have you ever tried to snorkel in a choppy sea? Loads of water gets in and you end up spluttering and coughing , definitely not what you want when doing along surface swim…
    And also saving air to to find the dive site on the surface?, come on, you can’t hold your breath for 10 seconds to check where you are? you should not be diving my friend if you are that unfit!
    In fact the ONLY time a snorkel could be useful is if your BCD will not inflate and you need a long surface swim, but then you might just ditch the gear and swim no?

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