Ten Top Tips for Tip Top Snorkelling

Each year in the Bahamas we take our students to one of my favourite places in the world – underwater – on a daily basis. Our students will come back with tens of hours logged in the water and will be adept at snorkeling. However, snorkeling isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do without some guidance, so here are my top tips for a great snorkeling experience:

1. Get the right mask
Your mask is your window to the underwater world. With the wrong mask, water may leak in, it may mist up frequently, you may feel like you can’t see what’s going on and potentially get a headache. With the right mask, you’ll not even notice you’re wearing one and can focus on the beautiful fish and corals. I can’t emphasise strongly enough how important the right mask is.

2. Clean your mask before you jump in
There’s nothing worse than your mask fogging up again and again throughout a snorkel. You can avoid this by giving your mask a really good wash the night before you go snorkeling and letting it properly dry. Wash it out thoroughly with washing up liquid to really get all the grease out (toothpaste apparently also works!) and give it a really thin coat of mask defog when it’s dry. Let the defog coating dry completely and only wash the defog off immediately before you put the mask on your face.

3. Don a fancy hair do for the fishes
I always French plait my hair before snorkeling as floating bits of hair not only block your view, they also can get in your mask seal and cause leaking. I know it sounds silly but give it a go if you have enough hair! Alternatively, a buff style bandana can also do the job.

4. Wear a wetsuit
Even when the water is warm and you want to top up your vitamin D (aka get a tan) it’s a good idea to wear at least a very thin wet suit for several reasons: i) it’s hard to tell when you start to get sunburnt; ii) you’ll be protected from jellyfish stings and coral burns; iii) they provide a little bit of buoyancy, which is great for the nervous or new snorkelers. They also help save your knees as you climb in and out of boats.

5. Relax and breathe!
It’s easy to feel quite uncomfortable breathing when snorkeling (we don’t usually breathe through small tubes and it can be easy to panic about swallowing water). Every time I snorkel, when I first get in, I bob on the surface, face down and motionless like a jellyfish for a few minutes consciously relaxing and breathing (unless there’s something too exciting to stay still!). I notice how relaxing it is to see the water around me and listen to the fizzes and clicks of all the marine life moving, foraging and interacting below me. When I feel relaxed, I am ready to snorkel off!!

6. Be ready for leg cramp
Even if you’re a super fit athlete, you rarely contract your calf muscles in the way that you do when you snorkel. Sooner or later, you’ll get cramp in your calves. This is both totally normal and totally manageable and needn’t cut your snorkel short. To release the cramp, simply sit upright in the water, grab the far end of the fin on the leg with the cramp and pull the fin tip towards you, straightening out the leg as much as you can manage. The cramp should release immediately. Hold for 10 seconds or so. After a few days, the cramping shouldn’t happen anymore.

7. Diving
Sooner or later you’ll want to dive under the water to see something more closely, to lay down a survey tape or quadrat or just to feel like a fish (if you’re like me). This is considered an advanced snorkeling skill but it’s not hard and it’s really fun! The best way to dive down is to jack knife – this means to lie face down in the water, and bend forward at the waist, kick your legs up straight above you and let the weight of your legs push you down from the top. Kick with your fins as they go under the surface and you should be heading underwater in slick fashion!

8. Popping
In the first 10 metres underwater you’ll feel a strong squeezing sensation in your ears. This is caused by the pressure of the water around you becoming greater as you dive deeper. This ‘squeeze’ can become quite painful so you need to equalise the pressure between your ear canal and water to make it stop. Some people’s ears are better at this than others – some people’s equalize themselves but most people’s need to be ‘popped’ (and some people’s won’t pop at all!). To ‘pop’ your ears, hold your nose, close your mouth and try to blow out through your nose. This sounds silly, but it increases the pressure in your sinus and you should hear a squeaky pop and feel the squeeze disappear. Good eh? Be prepared to do this all the time – as you go down, as you go up again and sometimes even on the surface after a dive down!

9. The Big Spit
When you come up from your jack knife dive under, you’ll have filled your snorkel up with water. You’ll need to clear it so you can breathe again. You can either sit up with your head out of the water and take your snorkel out your mouth to empty it OR if you want to look slick you can do the Big Spit: As you surface, with all your might, give one massive spit / blow / exhalation and if you do it right, all the water in the snorkel will come out. Your next breath should be slightly cautious, in case you didn’t get all the water out. If you do it well, you’ll have no need to stop looking under the water, which might be important if you are taking part in a survey or following a particular animal underwater.

10. Don’t touch!
Apart from the fact that touching marine life (corals, urchins, sponges and the like) can damage them, you can get some extremely sore burns and stings from underwater marine life. Don’t swim close to corals and other underwater animals unless you are sure you are skilled enough not to touch them. Remember the mantra – take only photos and leave only bubbles!

lh225    December 27th, 2014    Bahamas archive