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Snorkelling is great fun and a fantastic way to explore the coast and shallow reefs but with all things it helps to know the fundamentals and at least be aware of the dangers so that you can make the most out of such an enjoyable the experience.
Snorkelling isn't just limited to tropical destinations either. We have so many spots in the UK that are perfect for exploring with just a mask, snorkel and a pair of fins (well....ok maybe a wetsuit as well)
We've covered how to choose a mask in a previous post so we won't talk about Masks here but just remember that comfort and fit are paramount. Always choose the mask that offers the best fit otherwise you'll end up regretting it and spoiling your experience to a degree. Also, don't forget to grab some mask Anti-Fog to help prevent your mask from misting up as there is nothing more annoying than having to stop every few minutes to clear it.
Snorkels come in a variety of forms from basic tube versions to advanced dry snorkels that feature float valves and splash deflectors to help prevent water entering the snorkel. Most snorkelers will opt for something with at least a one way purge valve beneath the mouthpiece to makes clearing water from the snorkel much easier but if you aren't so confident in the water you might find that opting one of the more advanced snorkels to ease your mind and make you feel more relaxed and comfortable in the water.
Fins take a lot of the effort out of snorkelling, allowing you to glide over the surface with just a slight kick rather that thrashing and flapping around without them. They make snorkelling such a more relaxed and pleasurable experience.
Snorkelling fins typically encapsulate the whole foot in a soft rubber pocket (known as Full Foot) but open heel fins similar to scuba diving fins but designed to be worn on bare feet are also available. Fins are supposed to be snug fit but not so tight that they hurt or cause cramp. If you get cold feet, find the fin pockets uncomfortable or your fins are just a little too loose you might want to look for a pair of neoprene or similar fin socks that add just a little extra comfort and warmth.
Snorkelling sets and packages are a great way to save a little extra money but just remember fit and comfort are the most important thing if you are going to make the most out of your snorkelling experience. That cheap set from the local shop may seem like fantastic value but they are often made far inferior materials and most end up replacing them anyway.
Depending on where you intend on snorkelling and for how long you might need some level of protection but it won't necessarily be to keep you warm. In fact in tropical areas you are more likely going to want to cover up with a simple rash vest or suit to protect your skin against UV damage, jellyfish stings, etc.
This images gives a basic guide to suitable suit thicknesses and styles based on water temperature but ultimately whether you will need a wetsuit will depend on how quickly you get cold.
Remember to be sensible about how and where you snorkel as well as snorkelling within your own and your buddies abilities. NEVER snorkel alone and if you haven't snorkelled before or it has been a while it is always a good idea to start off in shallow water until you are confident with your abilities and your equipment. If you aren't too confident in the water, snorkelling aids such inflatable snorkelling vests are available but remember these are 'aids', not life preservers or life jackets.
If you are snorkelling somewhere new make sure you have done some local research so that you are aware of any potential hazards like strong currents, underwater objects or surface traffic.
There isn't much to get ready before you head out snorkelling. Get all your kit together and give it a quick check to make sure none of it has been damaged since its last use. If you are using an Anti-fog you can prep your mask according to its instructions before you head off.
Snorkelling should be a stress free and relaxed activity full of gentle movements that feel effortless. If you find yourself breathing hard you are almost certainly swimming too fast and if you are swimming fast you are missing so much. By speeding around you miss all the small things that experienced snorkelers look out for like camouflaged or concealed fish or other marine animals.
Swim at a pace that you can maintain at your normal breathing rate. It stops you burning through all your energy and gives you time to have a good look around. Use your fins to do all the work with slow leg movements. As soon as fins break the surface into the air they offer no propulsion so keep them in the water and the splashing to a minimum.
Once you have mastered finning you should be able to manoeuvre without the need to use your hands, leaving them complete free to operate a camera or just tuck out of the way to reduce your drag through the water. With a quick twist and flick of your fins you can turn and hold your position over a fixed spot.
It is very easy to spend hours drifting around watching the fish, especially if the water is lovely and warm, the sea is calm and the sun is shining but don't forget to keep an eye on how long you have been out. Remember to keep yourself hydrated and top up sunscreen often if required.
It is important to remember that you are snorkelling in a delicate eco-system so every care should be taken to avoid disturbing and damaging it so that you and other snorkelers can enjoy it again and again.
All reefs, not just coral reefs, can be very fragile and can take many years to grow. Be conscious of your movements and your fins to prevent them damage from corals and plant life as you come out of the low point of your finning cycle.
Be respectful to the local environment. Don't take any souvenirs home with you like corals or shells that other marine life might make their home and don't leave any rubbish or litter behind that could hurt or become a hazard to the fish and other marine animals.
Finally, remember to enjoy yourself. If you aren't confident about snorkelling a particular location it is safer not do it.