How to use a mask and snorkel
Here are some tips on how to use a mask and snorkel if you have never tried snorkeling before. Snorkeling is easy. The important thing is to start slow and stay relaxed. Know your limits, if you are not a strong swimmer stay close to shore or the boat.
First you need to choose a good mask and the right snorkel. If you have the right gear you’ll spend more time enjoying the underwater world and less time adjusting ill fitting uncomfortable equipment. A mask and snorkel is essential, fins are optional, you can enjoy snorkeling without fins. If you are not comfortable swimming you may choose to use a flotation device. Ideally start in shallow water that you can stand up in, somewhere with a sandy bottom. Avoid areas with strong currents or surge.
Ideally you will be using your own mask and snorkel but if you have hired gear you must first check that the mask fits properly. Place the mask on your face without the strap in place and breath in through your nose. The suction created should hold the mask to your face for as long as you are breathing in, if air is escaping through the skirt you need a different mask. Next adjust the strap so the the mask will fit snugly but not be tight. The strap should sit around the widest part of your head. Sometimes the strap slips down to the neck which can cause the mask to leak, if this happens just readjust the strap.
Defog your mask using a defogging product or your own spit and rinse with water (salt water works best). Put the mask on and leave it on. Every time you remove the mask you will need to defog again. Make sure your hair isn’t under the mask skirt which will cause leakage. If you are not wearing your mask in the water it’s best to keep it around your neck. Don’t put it up on your forehead because it’s easy to lose.
Place your snorkel mouthpiece in your mouth and try breathing through the tube. Breath naturally with long slow breaths. Long breaths are important when snorkeling because the snorkel increases the “dead air” space between your lungs and the air around you. When you breath out you expel carbon dioxide so it’s important to make your next in breath a big one to get lots of fresh oxygen into your lungs, not just the old CO2 that you just breathed out. The snorkel mouthpiece is similar to a sports gum shield. It should sit loosely in your mouth, it’s not necessary to grip hard or bite down on the mouthpiece, doing so will soon cause jaw ache.
Once you are comfortable breathing above water place your face in the water and start breathing through the snorkel in the water. Try to float horizontally on the surface and look down. There is no need to move too much, if you stay still you’ll be amazed how much marine life finds you. Your mask and snorkel should stay fairly dry if they fit properly but it is inevitable that a little water will enter at some point.
To expel water from the mask look up and push on the top of the mask frame on your forehead. This will pool the water at the bottom of the mask and loosen the seal at the bottom. Now just breath out though your nose and the water will drain out of the bottom of the mask. To expel water from the snorkel just give a forceful breath which will clear the water either from the bottom purge valve or out of the top of the tube. Make your next breath a cautious one in case water is still present. It’s worth practicing mask and snorkel clearing techniques by deliberately flooding your mask and snorkel. Practice makes perfect 🙂
If you are using fins you should keep the fins just below the surface. Kick gently from your hips in a fluid motion for maximum efficiency. Be careful in shallow water that you do not damage delicate coral or sea fans with your fins. Also avoid kicking up sand which will reduce underwater visibility and scare off the fish. Do not stand on coral.
Avoid touching coral, much of it is sharp and you can easily cut yourself. Coral cuts in tropical water can become infected easily. Other coral can sting or cause burning or itching reactions. Also avoid touching marine life which could also bite or sting. Most marine life will leave you well alone but if you touch it you could be in for a very nasty shock. Things like lionfish, stonefish and scorpionfish are especially venomous. Sea snakes, moray eels and stingrays are also potentially dangerous. Shells which may look beautiful resting on the sea bed can have dangerous barbs, cone shell barbs can be fatal.
If you find yourself in trouble in the water and cannot stand or swim back to the boat or shore signal your distress by waving both arms above your head. This is the universal distress signal. When swimming in open water watch out for other water users and boats, watch where you are swimming to avoid collisions. If you dive below the surface it is important to look up as you surface.
Finally, be aware that the sun in the tropics is incredibly strong and the water just magnifies it’s strength. It’s advisable to wear an old t-shirt or a rash vest to protect your back from the suns powerful rays.