Why do divers carry a snorkel? Don’t they have air already?!
If you’re not a SCUBA diver this is an understandable question. Why would we have a snorkel if we’re already carrying air in a cylinder on our backs?
And, if you are a diver do you ever ask yourself this question or have you ever left your snorkel in your dive bag (you don’t have to admit it out loud… just let the voice in your head do the talking).
The answer to the first question is, of course, we do have air but there are some good reasons for carrying a snorkel as a SCUBA diver and some problems as well.
Why have a snorkel?
So, carrying a snorkel on the left side of your mask is standard practice in recreational SCUBA training. Let’s just talk briefly about a few benefits to carry a snorkel.
- You can conserve air on swim out to your descent point
- Snorkeling to the descent point can provide a great preview to the dive
- As a contingency for use on the surface in and out of air situation
We all want to get the most out of every dive. One way to do that is to maximize the amount of air that we have at the point of descent. So, using a snorkel makes a lot of sense if you are waiting for other divers to get in the water or if you have to swim to the point you’re going to descend.
Snorkeling to Descent Point
Snorkeling either while you’re waiting for other divers on the boat or during your swim out to the dive site can give you a great preview of what you will see on your dive and allows you to maximize your enjoyment of the underwater world.
Out of Air
We never want to run out of air but in the event that you are out of air on the surface for whatever reason, a snorkel can be a much more comfortable air source in rough surface conditions that your mouth alone. Especially a dry snorkel that will minimize any water coming into the tube as waves or surf pass over it.
Why not have a snorkel?
- Catch hazard
- It’s an annoying distraction
- It can be mistaken for regulator or deflator hose
A 15″ plastic tube attached to the side of your head with a ‘J’ in one end and a dry valve on the other can (and does) catch on things that get too close. Most of these issues can (and should) be avoided. As divers, if we pass so close to something that we catch our snorkel on it – we’re probably too close. It is very important to be aware of your position in the water and maintain a safe distance from the reef and a comfortable distance from your dive buddy (so you’re not constantly bumping into one another). Fishing line and other catch hazards can be difficult to see and avoid so carrying a knife or line cutter is generally a good practice.
I’ll be honest here. I don’t like having the snorkel flopping around on the side of my head while I’m diving. It’s distracting and interferes with my GoPro. This may seem like a trivial complaint, but I want every moment of my dives to be all about the dive and less about the gear.
The Case of Mistaken Identity
Okay… it’s dive story time. I was at open water training with another instructor and was following the group down. We had just begun our descent and I was at around 8 feet when I went to take a breath and sucked my snorkel into a funny plastic worm as I tried to breathe off of it. I am happy to report all of our students were below me and were far too involved with their training dive to catch my error (whew!). After a brief moment of embarrassment and a good submarine chuckle I grabbed my first stage and problem solved.
I have also seen countless students and new divers grab their snorkel when they are getting ready to make their ascent only to have to fumble around as they figure out that it isn’t their deflator hose.
So what is a diver to do? Do you leave your snorkel in your bag or put up with it?
As with many things in diving you have to make decisions based on your comfort level, diving experience, dive site conditions and good practice.
Having your own equipment that you use regularly will provide the comfort level to eliminate most of the negative aspects of a snorkel.
I prefer to minimize the equipment attached to me while I’m SCUBA diving. Keeping things streamlined makes it easier to move in the water; prevents potential catches in confined areas and keeps the snorkel out of the field of view of my camera.
My answer – when I’m diving in open water I carry a foldable snorkel in my BCD pocket. It’s easy to attach either underwater or on the surface and collapses during the dive.
There are some important reasons to always have a snorkel when diving and some equally valid problems with them.
What is your snorkel strategy?
‘The surface interval’s over… get out there and dive!’
© 2014 Stephen Krausse. All rights reserved.