Are you just learning how to snorkel, or thinking about learning? Snorkeling is a lot of fun, and is usually a very leisurely activity. Floating on and in calm, clear, pristine waters while viewing marine wildlife in its natural habitat is an awesome experience.
However, snorkeling, as with any water sport, does come with some inherent dangers that you should be aware of. Be sure to read through the following tips before your next snorkeling adventure!
Snorkeling can be Dangerous!
In Hawaii, more tourists have died snorkeling than any other ocean-related activity, such as SCUBA diving or surfing. Over a 5 year period, there were 79 snorkeling related drownings, compared to just 8 SCUBA diving, and 3 surfing.
Snorkeling is a lot more strenuous than it seems!
Most of the snorkeling deaths were of people aged 55 and older. A major cause of the deaths can be linked to the fact that open-water snorkeling is a lot more strenuous than it seems, and many tourists are using muscles that aren’t used to the specific strain that snorkeling requires.
Be sure to read our article about getting in shape to go snorkeling!
Tip #1 – Always Swim with a Buddy
There’s a reason this tip is #1. Out of all the tips on this page, this is the most important. If you do get in trouble (possibly due to not following the other tips below) a swim buddy will be there to help, whether that’s taking you to shore, or alerting the authorities that you were lost.
This tip also applies even in a safe, indoor pool environment. No matter your fitness level, it’s never a good idea to swim alone. Even the healthiest swimmers occasionally have unforeseen problems arise while in the water.
Beware of shallow water blackouts
It becomes even more important to have a buddy when diving below the surface on breath holds. A common problem, known as ‘shallow water blackout‘, occurs when you hold your breath for too long. You may not even experience an urgent need to breath while underwater before this happens.
Strangely enough, most people don’t black out while deep underwater, but upon reaching the surface and taking in their first breath.
Tip #2 – Beginners Should Stay Close to Shore
You need to know your limits. When first starting out, it’s impossible to accurately predict just how far you can swim.
Personally, even as an experienced swimmer, there’s been many times in the water that I thought my destination was a lot closer than it really was. It’s extremely easy to put yourself in a compromising situation, where you get to winded to get back to shore.
Know your limits!
The situation gets even worse if on a beach where currents can rise up.
Tip #3 – Be Aware of the Currents
Staying aware of the currents when diving in the open ocean is extremely critical. Many people don’t realize just how strong the currents can be, just off of that idyllic beach with hundreds of people wading.
It’s always important to be aware of what the tide is currently doing, as many snorkeling destinations have predictable currents arising from flooding or ebbing tides. These can be quite strong, and if they arise while you’re out swimming, could prevent you from getting back to shore.
Even a slow current can drastically increase the effort needed to get back to shore
Rip currents are a constant danger to anyone swimming from a beach that has breaking waves. They can be unpredictable, and are not caused by the tide, but are luckily narrow, and the trick to getting out of one is to swim to the side, parallel to the shore.
Tip #4 – Watch out for the Surf
Even small breaking waves, or surf, can be extremely hazardous. Moving water has a lot of weight behind it, and if you’re not paying close enough attention, you can easily get knocked off of your feet by even a small wave.
Waves can also pick up logs and other drifting objects, and throw them on top of you. It’s always important to be aware of what’s floating in the area. If there was a recent storm, it’s very likely that there could be large logs or other debris tossing about in the surf.
Rocky shores + surf = potential danger
If you’re snorkeling off of a rocky beach, it’s even more important to exercise a lot of caution. Even a small wave tossing you onto a rock can cause serious injury.
Tip #5 – Treat Marine Animals with Respect
There’s a lot of amazing creatures in the ocean. Some of them even look quite cuddly, such as seals or dolphins. However, it’s important to remember that these are wild animals, and can behave unpredictably.
The best practice with sea-life is to follow a ‘look, don’t touch’ rule. Before swimming in an area, it’s important to find out what wildlife is likely to be encountered, and what dangers to be aware of. A jellyfish sting is always unpleasant, and can be deadly.
If jellyfish are present, it’s best to wear a full body skin-suit and hood, even in warm waters
Many marine mammals are very curious about us when we enter their environment. If they approach you, try to enjoy getting a closer look at them, but without making sudden movements or attempting to grab them.
I’ve met some very curious seals while out diving, and it’s always an amazing experience as long as they are treated with respect.
I hope I Haven’t Scared You Away…
Seriously, snorkeling is overall a safe, relaxing, and enjoyable time. As long as you stay aware of what could go wrong before you get into the water, you’ll have an excellent time.
If you’re just getting started, be sure to check out our Beginners Guide to Snorkeling!