Snorkels have been around for a long time. Since most early scuba divers were freedivers or snorkellers before they took up scuba, it comes as little surprise that snorkels were quickly adopted by scuba divers as a way of conserving air on the surface, swimming back to the boat at a dive's end, or as a way of comfortably breathing at the surface under most conditions.
A snorkel is a multi-purpose tool that you can use in all sorts of water-sports to help keep your airway clear. In its purest form a snorkel is simply a tube with a fixed curved section which finishes with a mouthpiece. Its main purpose is to allow the user to breathe easily and efficiently without having to raise their head out of the water but there are other benefits to owning a snorkel.
Scuba divers use simple snorkels whilst on the surface to conserve the compressed air in their cylinders. Why waste gas on the surface when you can just use a snorkel. Freedivers use basic, streamlined snorkels to minimise drag as much as possible to achieve long breath holds and deep depths on a single breath. Rescue divers can use a simple snorkel instead of mouth to mouth rescue breaths for an easy way to keep their airway clear and deliver air on the surface.
Mid range snorkels start to incorporate purge chambers which make clearing water from the snorkel easier and keep any water away from your mouth. Wave deflectors that are fitted to the top of the snorkel are also common and help to prevent water from being splashed into the snorkel. These snorkels also feature a flexible corrugated silicone section between the snorkel tube and mouthpiece to provide a more comfortable fit to the mouth. Simple mask strap clips also appear that make fitting the snorkel to a mask quicker. The majority of snorkellers will use this type of snorkel as they keep the water out of your mouth and a clear airway.
Top of the range snorkels will feature larger, better designed purge chambers to help keep the airway clear even when water is in the snorkel. Advanced mask strap clips allow one time set up and very quick separation. High end snorkels also start to feature dry top valves that use a float mechanism to open and close a valve at the top of the snorkel to prevent water entering the tube if the snorkeller ducks under the surface. These snorkels are great for anyone that isn't confident in the water.
A snorkel seems simple enough — essentially, it's a tube that you use to draw air from the surface while your face is in the water.
But there are more variables than might first occur to you. The size of the bore (tube) of the snorkel is important. It has to be large enough for you to take a deep breath quickly and easily, but not so large that it adds unnecessarily to the volume of air you must move back and forth on each breath.
The length of the snorkel is also important. It has to be long enough to stay above the surface while you swim, float, or otherwise rest or work at the surface. But too long a snorkel can be awkward, and can actually be harder from which to breathe.
Gear manufacturers are more than familiar with all of these factors, as well as the ergonomics that make a snorkel comfortable to use. So if you choose a reputable brand from your professional dive shop, you can rest assured you'll get a solid piece of essential dive gear that works well.
You'll want your own snorkel before the first pool session of your open water diver training. It's a personal piece of gear, and one that you will use often during your training.
While just about any snorkel will work with just about any conventional mask, some snorkel and mask combinations work best together (particularly those from the same equipment line). For this reason, it's a good idea to buy your mask and your snorkel at the same time. As a mask is something you need to try on, the dive shop is absolutely the best place to purchase a snorkel.
Tell your dive shop professionals whether you'll be using the snorkel for scuba diving, snorkelling, or a combination of the two, and what types of diving you most enjoy, or most hope to enjoy! They'll help you pick out a winning combination.
Scuba divers wear the snorkel of the left side of their head. This way the snorkel doesn't interfere with their second stage regulators. So this is what we recommend everyone do.
While you might think it won't matter if snorkellers, freedivers and spearos wear their snorkel on the right side of their head, you could be wrong. Some snorkels aren't symmetrical to permit this. Some snokels are asymmetrically shaped so that they must be worn on the left side of your head to fit properly.
As with all dive gear, you want to choose the snorkel that works best for the type of diving you'll most often do. To do that, it helps to know what each type of snorkel is designed for.
Essentially there are three types of snorkels:
Virtually all snorkelling and scuba diving snorkels sold today are self-clearing snorkels, which have a reservoir and a purge valve beneath the mouthpiece. Water splashing into the snorkel collects in the reservoir and drains out the one-way purge valve when you exhale.
Most snorkels today are also 'contoured' to form around the side of the diver's head. A contour snorkel lays close to the diver, and in currents or waves is more comfortable to use because it presents less resistance to the movement of water over it.
Dry snorkels have a special top that prevents water from entering the snorkel bore when you are submerged or when seas are rough. This virtually eliminates the need to purge water from the snorkel before use.
Flex snorkels have a flexible lower section that allows the snorkel mouthpiece to drop away from your face when you are breathing from your scuba regulator. Flex snorkels can be straight or contoured, and the flex feature can also contain a purge or other features.
Folding snorkels are popular with wreck divers and other divers trained to use guidelines in overhead environments. That way the snorkel can be in a BC pocket and out of the way during the part of the dive when a snorkel cannot be used (such as inside a shipwreck), but it can be retrieved and used once a diver heads back to the surface.
J-Curve Snorkels were among the first snorkel designs. They are commonly sold in sporting goods stores, but are less suitable for scuba diving as the design tends to trap water in the bottom of the deep 'J' shape, and the straight portion of the tube presents more resistance to the water while the diver swims.
Scuba divers generally prefer a streamlined snorkel that stays out of the way when not in use, and clears with a single exhalation. Snorkellers usually look for the easiest-breathing snorkel they can find, even if it is somewhat larger. It's not unusual to encounter divers who own two snorkels — one that they use for scuba diving, and another that they use for snorkelling or freediving outings.
Snorkels are not all made equal and can range from sub standard models found in supermarkets or a seaside store, to very high specification snorkels that are made from high grade materials and loaded with features.
Check that the snorkel or snorkelling set is CE marked. All products sold in Europe should be CE approved to make sure it is fit for purpose and complies with all current regulations. So that's an indication that they are safe to use. However, it's not a requirement here in Australia.
Another thing to look out for is that very cheap snorkels typically use Silitex, Silita or PVC as a silicone 'like' material in key components such as the mouthpiece. Unlike silicone, these are hard material which makes the snorkel very uncomfortable to use, especially if it's used as a mouthpiece which will likely rub and cause soreness. These cheap materials also have a habit of warping and losing its shape when it gets warm and quickly discolour.
Quality snorkels are made from silicone which doesn't have this problem and is a comfortable, soft and flexible material making it a much better choice for use in snorkels.
The top of the snorkel will either be a simple opening, or will have a wave deflector or dry top valve fitted. The simple opening is the most efficient option and allows unrestricted flow of air in and out of the snorkel, but water can splash in so best for swimmers with confident airway control.
A wave deflector top effectively caps the top of the snorkel and works to direct water that splashes over the top away from the snorkel opening. Great for keeping splashes and waves out but water will get in if you submerge. If you're pretty confident in the water these will be a great option.
A dry top valve uses the outer design of a wave deflector to push splashed water away from the snorkel opening but also features a float mechanism that will shut a one way valve as the snorkel is taken below the surface, preventing water from entering the snorkel all the time it is underwater. As soon as the valve clears the surface the float drops down and the valve opens keeping your snorkel full of air even if you swim under the water.
The snorkel tube itself can vary in shape, diameter, cross section and material to achieve a variety of effects. A basic snorkel is likely to feature a rigid, circular cross section tube, but this is not always the best option for two reasons:
The most basic way to secure your snorkel to your mask strap is by using a snorkel retainer. Simple snorkels are still supplied with this form of retainer but they are not particularly easy to adjust once the mask and snorkel are on and often require removal to adjust for the best fit and will require adjusting again every time you take the snorkel off.
To make it easier new retainers and clips were developed to allow the snorkel to slide up and down for optimal positioning and the snorkel to be quickly removed without the need to adjust every time. These clips and retainers come in a huge number of variations from simple plastic ones to two piece quick release versions.
This component of a snorkel curves the tube round towards the mouth so that the mouthpiece fits comfortably without pulling. A basic snorkel will feature a fixed angle piece that is usually made from silicone but more advanced snorkels will use a flexible corrugated section to allow the mouthpiece to be more comfortably positioned towards the mouth.
It is important that the corrugation is only on the outside, with the inside of the tube being smooth to prevent turbulence that can restrict air flow and also hinder clearing water from a snorkel.
This section is the only time a harder silicone might be used in a more expensive snorkel and it is only used to achieve a purpose. By using high grade silicone the mouthpiece is allowed to drop away from the mouth but this isn't preferred by all snorkellers so some snorkels will have a harder silicone section to help retain its curved shape but still provide flexibility for comfort.
For comfort a mouthpiece should always be made using 100% pure high grade silicone as it provides a soft flexible finish that is unlikely to rub or cause irritation even after prolonged use. Most manufacturers even round off the edges of mouthpieces to achieve the best comfort level possible. Some snorkels are fitted with a smaller mouthpiece that is designed to provide a better and more comfortable fit for younger teenagers and women that find standard mouthpieces too large to use.
The mouthpiece is attached to a lower chamber which in a simple snorkel just provides the final turn towards the mouth. More expensive snorkels begin to feature water collection chambers (or purge chambers) with a one way valve which help to drain water away. This helps to eliminate the need to exhale sharply to clear the water by pushing it up the snorkel tube. These chambers help keep the airway open even if there is water in the snorkel. The size and shape of a purge chamber can vary but the principle is the same.
Snorkels are very easy to care for — rinse with clean, fresh water after a dive, dry, and they're ready for the next outing. (Some people advocate rinsing the mouthpiece in a mouthwash and then rinsing with fresh water.) Snorkels that have clear silicone components should be stored away from black latex rubber items so the snorkel doesn't discolour, and for longest life, snorkels should be stored away from heat sources and out of direct sunlight.
For more information about how to keep your snorkel in great shape, please see Snorkel Care.
These are the snorkels we most highly recommend.
The vast majority of snorkels sold for snorkelling separately and in snorkelling mask and snorkel sets are Scuba Diving or Flexi snorkels. We no longer keep any adult snorkelling snorkels in stock.
Apollo SVS Pelagio 'J' Spearfishing Snorkel
RRP: $40, Our Price: $36, You Save $4 (10%).
The 'J'-style tube is built from a special polymer with amazing memory properties that allow the snorkel to bend against objects and then spring back into its original position.
Cressi Corsica Snorkel
Our Price: $44
A classic 'J'-style snorkel that has been tried and true, designed specifically for deep spear fishing and free diving.
For more advice on choosing the right snorkel, please see Snorkel Features.
For a large range of Snorkels for all conditions and activities, please visit the Scuba Diving Snorkels, Snorkelling Snorkels, Freediving Snorkels, or Spearfishing Snorkels, sections in the The Scuba Doctor Dive Shop.