How Does Snorkeling Work?

Snorkeling is a great way to get up close and personal with marine life on your next outdoor adventure. But just how does snorkeling work?

How Does Snorkeling Work?

If you’re new to snorkeling, you’re not alone. It’s one of the most popular ways to explore the water, surpassing even water sports such as scuba diving. While some 7.7 million Americans strap on a snorkel each year, only around 2.6 million participate in scuba dives.

how does snorkeling work
How does snorkeling work?

One reason for snorkeling’s massive popularity is its accessibility. As long as you’re a good swimmer, you’ll be able to master the basics of snorkeling with no trouble. All you need is a good snorkel and clear conditions to experience a whole new underwater world.

Snorkeling enables you to swim with tropical fish in the ocean, explore the beautiful cenotes in Mexico, snorkel around some of world’s best reefs, and more.

Read on to learn more about what snorkels are, how they work, and the best snorkeling practices for your next undersea adventure. 

What Is a Snorkel?

In simple terms, a snorkel is a short tube that allows you to breathe underwater. On one end is a mouthpiece, while the other is open to the air. As long as the top of the tube sits above the water, it gives you an unlimited oxygen supply to breathe as you swim. 

The very first snorkels were likely made using plant stems. The ancient Greeks were the first to record using reeds as snorkels dating as far back as 500 BCE

Nowadays, most snorkels are plastic or silicone for durability. The top of the tube is rigid and watertight, while the bottom is flexible. This design allows you to adjust the mouth position as needed and avoid accidental water intake. 

In most cases, there will also be a small reservoir with a purge valve close to the mouthpiece. If water gets into the snorkel, it will flow here instead of into your mouth. You can use the valve to force excess water out of the snorkel and keep it clear for breathing. 

Most snorkels come with a mask to protect your eyes. Many also include a plastic nose covering so that fluid won’t enter your nostrils. A built-in clip can help keep your snorkel upright and in position, preventing water from getting inside. 

Types of Snorkels

There are three main types of snorkels available on today’s market. The design that’s best for you will depend mostly on your swimming style and skill level. 


Wet snorkels, also known as J-style snorkels, are the most simple and usually the cheapest variety you can find in sporting goods sections. The design includes nothing more than a tube and a mouthpiece. 

There is no splash guard, float valve, or purge valve, making it easier for water to enter the snorkel. Wet snorkels are best for more advanced users.


Unlike wet snorkels, semi-dry snorkels contain a splash guard that helps prevent water from entering the tube. This guard is not entirely watertight, though, so water can still enter the snorkel when it’s submerged. A purge valve at the bottom of the snorkel allows the wearer to expel water with a short burst of air. 


Dry snorkels are the only style that keeps water out even when submerged. In addition to a splash guard, dry snorkels also boast an airtight float valve. When water threatens to spill into the tube, this float valve forms a seal to protect the wearer.

Dry snorkels are often a good choice for beginners, as they prevent water from getting inside. Keep in mind that they can increase your buoyancy, however. It may be harder to master techniques such as freediving with a dry snorkel. 

How Does a Snorkel Work?

If you’re new to snorkeling, you’re probably wondering: How does a snorkel actually work?

A snorkel is one of the simplest ways to get oxygen to your lungs while swimming underwater. A watertight tube allows you to breathe in air from above the surface, even when your face is completely submerged. You don’t have to interrupt your underwater viewing experience by coming up for air. 

If you want to dive down for a closer look, you can do so while wearing a snorkel. Some people even wonder: How long can you stay underwater with a snorkel?

Unlike scuba gear, snorkels don’t actively provide you with oxygen. They simply give you easy access to breathing air above the water’s surface. If you dive underwater with a snorkel, you’ll only be able to stay underwater for as long as you can hold your breath. 

Some snorkel designs include features that offer a safer, more comfortable underwater experience. Semi-dry snorkels boast a splash guard to protect against waves, while dry snorkels include a float valve for an airtight seal even when submerged. 

Regardless of the design, almost all snorkels include a reservoir and a purge valve for safety. If water gets into your snorkel tube, a reservoir protects against accidental aspiration. Instead, you can allow leaking water to collect in the reservoir before blowing it out through the purge valve.

How Does a Snorkel Keep Water Out?

Strapping on your snorkel for the first time can be nerve-wracking. Before diving into the water, many beginners wonder: Does a snorkel actually work?

When worn properly, a quality snorkel shouldn’t let any water into the main tube. All components should be sealed and watertight. The mouthpiece should also fit snugly inside your mouth without allowing any water to leak inside.

The only way that water should be able to make it into your snorkel is through the top of the tube. If you dive under the water, you will get water inside unless the tube design contains an airtight float valve. A large wave may also wash over your snorkel, allowing water to flow inside.

If you get water in your snorkel, don’t panic. Most have a reservoir at the bottom of the tube to catch excess fluid before it can get in your mouth. If water builds up in your snorkel’s reservoir, a forceful blow of air will clear it out again for easier breathing. 

Using a Snorkel Safely

Using a snorkel is easy with a little bit of practice. Beginners may feel more comfortable practicing in a safe space such as a pool or tub on their first few tries. Once you’ve mastered the basics of wearing a snorkel, you’ll be ready to explore the great outdoors.

Mask Up

Before putting on your snorkel, you should fit your mask. The seal should be snug around your face and nose, with no breaks to allow for leaks. A tight seal will also prevent your mask from fogging as easily and improve your visibility. 

Attach Your Snorkel

Once your mask is in place, use the snorkel clip to attack your snorkel tube. This clip will keep it upright to prevent accidental submersion. You should adjust the height of the snorkel tube so that the mouthpiece rests at a comfortable level. 

Insert the Mouthpiece

With both your mask and snorkel secure, you’re ready to insert the mouthpiece. It will usually be made of soft rubber or silicone to improve the fit and reduce mouth fatigue. Bite down to hold the mouthpiece in place.

Breath Slowly

Now that your snorkel is on, you’re ready to get in the water. You can submerge your face, but be careful to keep the top of your snorkel tube above the water level.

Breathe slowly, deeply, and evenly to avoid taking in water. Doing this will also improve your stamina as you swim. 

Wrapping Up – How Does Snorkeling Work?

Before strapping on their new snorkel, many first-timers ask themselves: How does snorkeling work?

Snorkeling offers a fantastic and affordable way to explore underwater on your next getaway by allowing you to breathe underwater. Unlike scuba diving, you don’t need to invest in expensive lessons and bulky equipment. All you need is a quality mask and snorkel set to start exploring.

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