Snorkels, should they be part of your equipment?

Some like, some loath them!

The snorkels background history.

A snorkel, the first piece of dive gear to be invented way back in ancient Greece. Aristotle refers to a stick of bamboo to breathe with underwater. This method was recorded way back in 400 B.C., but still today, the idea has remained unchanged.

Throughout the years things have progressed, both in design, appearance and comfort. Gone now have the bad purge systems, narrow tubes and uncomfortable mouth pieces. The snorkel range from today has become very efficient, comfortable and come in many designs.

What is snorkelling?

A popular in-water activity for all the family, and requires a mask and snorkel. The participant swims face-down in the water with the mask and snorkel in place. The snorkel allows you to breathe air from the surface whilst the nose and mouth are submerged. Air from the surface is inhaled through a slender plastic tube whith a mouthpiece at one end. This much loved activity allows the snorkeller to watch and appreciate submerged objects and marine life. This is a great way to discover the underwater world, act quietly with the aquatic life and no specialized course is required.

Do I require a snorkel?

If you are a scuba diver, a snorkeller or a free diver, the snorkel must be an integral part of your equipment. It is there to help us breathe on the surface in a variety of situations. We should not under-estimate the use and value of the snorkel.

Snorkel designs.

The snorkel design of today offers a gum-friendly silicone mouthpiece, with or standard or comfi-bite mouthpiece. The barrel of the snorkel should have a wide diameter to ventilate correctly. Strict regulations set in the EU for the diameter of snorkel barrels say; for users with larger lung capacities, it should not exceed 38 centimetres in length and 230 cubic centimetres in internal volume, while the corresponding figures for users with smaller lung capacities are 35 cm and 150 ccs respectively.

Modern snorkels.

Modern snorkels have a quick purge valve to eliminate any excess water that may enter the snorkel. There is a one-way valve at the bottom of the mouthpiece chamber. This valve will not allow water to enter the mouthpiece when the user inhales. The mouthpiece chamber should be kept small, which makes the snorkel easier to purge. A splash guard, which is fixed at the top of the barrel will eliminate water entry from above. This feature is available on some models. Snorkels have become elegant in design, a fashion product and refined through modern technology.

Air flow is very important.

Snorkels constitute respiratory dead space. This means when the user takes in a fresh breath, some of the previously exhaled air which remains in the snorkel is inhaled again. This action will reduce the amount of fresh air in the inhaled volume of air. This will increase the risk of a build-up of carbon dioxide in the blood, which can result in hypercapnia. The greater the volume and diameter of the tube, and the decreased tidal volume of air, the more this problem is increased. A smaller diameter tube reduces the dead volume, but also increases resistance to airflow and so increases the work of breathing. Whilst snorkelling, if you occasionally exhale through the nose it will slightly reduce the build-up of carbon dioxide. The down side to this is that the mask may fog up.

Snorkel components.

You can buy snorkels and masks for that matter in any sports goods shop, even in some supermarkets! Before you go ahead and purchase a snorkel, let’s take a closer look at this piece of equipment.

Good quality snorkels should be made of silicone, not plastic, this applies to masks also. Silicone is more resistant to the elements such as sea water, ultra-violet rays and chlorine. Through prolonged use, clear silicone will take on a yellowish tinge, but it does not affect the performance of the snorkel. The mouthpiece that you insert in your mouth should be made of silicone, not rubber. A snorkel will require a retainer which is used to attach it to your mask strap. Retainers may come in forms of clips, silicone figure of eights which fix around the snorkel or a slider connection that fixes both onto your snorkel and mask. Pay attention to these, as they are often the weakest part of a snorkels design. If they break or come open, you will loose your snorkel and it will sink to the bottom.

Fit of the snorkel is key.

The fit is paramount to provide comfort and ease of use. It must feel comfortable and sit right you try it on, with no pressure points. Place the mouthpiece firmly in your mouth. The curved piece (barrel) of the snorkel is designed to go up the side of your face and stick out of the water. The barrel should be wide enough to provide enough air and let you breathe easily. If you are a snorkeller, you can wear the snorkel on either side of your mask. Check first in which direction the splash guard is turned? Make sure you wear it with the splash guard turned inwards to your head.

For Scuba divers.

The snorkel is intended to be worn on the left-hand side of the dive mask. The primary regulator and its supply hose are designed to come over your right shoulder, snorkels should be kept to the left side. This way round will prevent entanglement in your regulator hose and provide more comfort too. These skills you will learn in your PADI Scuba Diver course or Open Water course. Free divers use snorkels to move around at the surface. Sometimes, free divers may use snorkels at the surface to perform their breathe-up, other free divers prefer not too. Small volume masks are worn by free divers, snorkels will be discarded before the free diver leaves the surface. A buddy  picks up the snorkel to prevent it being lost.

Would you like to enjoy the underwater water world? Come and learn the skills in a PADI Skin Diver course or take part in a snorkelling tour – it’s great fun!

Snorkel tours and PADI Skin diver courses are also available at Dive Smart Gozo.

Please contact us for more information at