A Beginner’s Guide For First Time Snorkelers

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If you are here that means you are in search of a beginners guide to snorkeling. Snorkeling can be an amazing experience once you get over your fear of water.Source

For many travelers who are vacationing in tropical destinations like Jamaica, Mexico, or Hawaii snorkeling is often presented as something anyone can do without even knowing how to swim. 

My husband always say you must respect the water and and snorkeling is so much more than renting gear, putting on a swim nest, and diving in the ocean. Snorkeling is much more complex and you need to make sure you understand the rules of the water. 

Keep reading as I answer all your questions about snorkeling – from how to get over your fear of water, how to prepare for your first time snorkeling, how to defog your mask to how to breathe without dying.  

I have a love/hate relationship with water.  My husband is an avid swimmer and loves snorkeling but me not so much.  I had been tolling around with the idea of snorkeling for about a year or so but I didn’t know how to swim and is/was extremely afraid of water. 

If you’re ready to dive in, here’s what you need to know…

  • Is snorkeling for non-swimmers?
  • Do I need to be a strong swimmer to snorkel?
  • What should I not do while snorkeling?
  • What snorkeling tips do you need to know before snorkeling?

If you have never gone snorkeling, and you are scared AF let me tell you if anyone tells you it is not scary the very first time you go snorkeling they are lying. 

I decided to finally face my fear of water and tackle snorkeling for the first time in Hawaii.  If you’ve ever been snorkeling and seen someone flapping around in the water, almost drowning, and just looking plain crazy well that was probably me or someone like me who did not do enough research on snorkeling for beginners before they decided to take on a new sport.

Snorkeling Tips

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Beginner’s Guide To Snorkeling For Non-Swimmers

SourceSnorkeling can be an rewarding and fun activity because of the simplicity of the sport.  Snorkeling allows you to simply grab a mask and some fins, rather than hauling a bag full of heavy scuba gear.

Snorkeling allows you the flexibiltiy of bringing your gear on trips without worry about weighing down your luggage with heavy scuba gear. Source

Preparation For your First Time Snorkeling

I suggest planning ahead for your fiest time snorkeling by asking yourself a few questions.  What should you bring for snorkeling? What is necessary? What is optional? How do you pack snorkeling gear? What not to bring for your first time snorkeling.

Improve your swimming

If your swimming skills aren’t the best, as mine where not I suggest you take some swimming lessons at your local YMCA.   Even if you’re a pretty good swimmer, I still suggest brushing up on your swimming lessons so don’t panic in the water.  

Focus in particular on the freestyle, as the kicking technique from that style is the one you’ll be using when snorkeling.Source

While a snorkeling vest helps you with flotation, it will also hinder your movements in the water and make it almost impossible to do deep dives to check out a reef or fish.

Learn How To Hold Your Breath

I am still too afraid to go deep because I did not learn how to hold my breath so I simply stayed at the surface, and used the snorkel to breathe while looking down.

My hubby and daughter are more advanced snorkelers and they move with ease without wearing the vest and take the occasional dives below the surface while holding their breath and I’m barely in water looking awkard and uncomfortable. SourceSource

Most people will improve and learn how to hold their breath holds simply by slowing down and relaxing. Swim slowly and efficiently to help conserve your energy and it also helps you to relax.

Snorkeling is Extremely Exhausting

Going for a swim in tropical waters of Turks and Caicos may not sound like serious cardio but let me be the first tell you snorkeling will have you thinking you have been smoking 6 packs of cigarettes for the last twenty years.

Snorkeling can take it out of you especially if this is your first time snorkeling! Propelling yourself forward with fins seems easy enough but it will require you to exert energy as well. The first thing you should do is slow down, relax, and let your fins do the work for you.Source

Save your Air While Snorkeling

The first thing I was told was to breath deep and slow. Breathing through a snorkel almost feels claustrobphoic and is different from regular breathing.

Taking deep breaths helps keep your heart rate down, which in turn helps you relax, conserve energy and will help you stay relaxed and not panic. 

  1. You do NOT need to know how to swim to snorkel. I took swimming lessons for an entire year leading up to my first time snorkeling so I could be at least comfortable in the water.
  2. Make sure you wear a comfortable bathing suit while snorkeling.  This was not the time to have on a cute tiny little two-piece that is barely held together.  My bathing suit was cute yet practical but some I saw plenty of people with shorts and tee’s on.
  3. Listen very carefully to your instructors before you go out andask any many questions as you like so you feel as comfortable as possible.
  4. Make sure your masks fit comfortably and that it does not leak which is very important.  My instructor showed me how to hold the masks up to my face, the straps fit comfortably around my head,  and I that I knew how to inhale quickly with my nose to suck in any air and form a tight seal around the mask.
  5. You will be able to breathe through the snorkel tube.  This was the most uncomfortable part of the experience for me and I freaked out the first few times.  I was taking short erratic breaths through the tube and got completely disoriented.   Then I had an all-out panic attack and had to be rescued by the crew.  Can you say embarrassing!  I took about a 30-minute break to gather myself and practice on my breathing,
  6. The number one rule of snorkeling is DON’T PANIC! 
  7. Don’t look down. When snorkeling, you should always look straight ahead of you, and then a slight angle.  This keeps water in your tube.
  8. Snorkeling can be a lot of fun but as with anything else, your safety should come first which means there is a risk of drowning.  Make sure you wear a flotation device this means you will need a life jacket or a snorkeling vest.


What Snorkeling Equipment Will You Need 

Diving mask / goggles – These are essential, and they’re going to take a bit of getting used to. Snorkeling / diving masks keep the water out of your eyes and ensure you can see the wonderful wild life under the waves.

Swim Fins – Fins are useful as they help you conserve energy and swim fast. Fins will also come in handy if you find yourself swimming against a current. For these reasons, they’re worth investing in or renting out.

Flotation device – A flotation device like an inflatable snorkeling vest is recommended for added safety. Ensure you have one that inflates or deflates easily.

Snorkel Keeper – The snorkel keep fastens the diving mask to the snorkel and keeps the two safely connected.

Snorkel – Shaped breathing tube to ensure you can stay under water long enough to take in the sights!

Dry Snorkel – Specialized breathing tube that prevents water from getting in. The sole purpose of a dry snorkel is to prevent water from getting into the snorkel itself. It is not intended to allow you to breathe underwater like a scuba tank.

Best Snorkeling Tips For Beginners

1. Find a mask you feel comfortable wearing

I suggest going to a dive shop so you can try on different mask to ensure the mask fits over your eyes and you can strap the elastic over your head.

Make sure there are no twists and that the straps are flat above your ears.  The mask strap should fit snugly around the widest area of your head. 

There are ways to ensure your mask fits your face properly before heading out. Press the mask to your face and breathe in through your nose slightly. 

If the mask fits snuggly to your face once you let go, that’s a sure sign you’ve found the right size, but don’t fasten it too tightly to your face either.

A mask that is too tight can cause a headache, or general discomfort, and besides, the pressure on the mask once you hit the water helps it to stay in place. 

2. Defog your mask with baby shampoo 

Make sur eyou defog your mask which keeps your mask from getting fogged up so you will be able to see under water. Most resorts sell defogging gel or you can simply use baby shampoo.  Defogging gel or the baby shampoo works by creating a layer between the air moisture in your mask and the glass of the mask itself.

3. Get excess water out of your mask

You should know how to get water out of your mask before you even attempt to snorkel for the first time.  There are differnt ways to keep water from filling your snorkel mask.  Don’t panic just simply resurface and get the water out of your mask.  This is always hard for beginner snorklers.  

 To get the water out of your mask simply pull the bottom of the mask away from your face and blow outward. Before going back under water make sure your mask is not leaking and still fits properly!

4. Preserve energy with full-foot fins

While everyone told me I needed to wear fins because they help with mobNewbie snorkelers will find themselves having to choose from full-foot or adjustable fins. Full-foot fins are often the recommended choice for beginners; ensure you find the right fit before you set out. Steer clear from fins that are too tight, too loose, or too painful.

5. Take deep focused breaths to help yourself relax

Breathing is the key to snorkeling so make sure you take deep focused breaths which will help you relax.

Dos and Don’ts for first time snorkelers

  • Don’t touch the coral.  Avoid standing on the coral or what may appear to be rocks. 
  • Use sunscreen – It Protects Your Skin from UV Rays: The depletion of the ozone layer has increased our risk of sun damage from harmful UV rays. Sunscreen blocks these rays, greatly reducing the likelihood of sunburn. … It Lowers Your Skin Cancer Risk: 
  • Don’t touch sea creatures.  Some sea creatures are are poisonous and can be harmful or even kill you.  
  • Respect other people’s personal space – I understand you are excited to be snorkeling but make sure you stay out of others people space.  Don’t reach out and touch anyone you don’t know because everybody is not receptive of people invading their personal space. 
  • Practice reef etiquette. Snorkeling is great for acquiring knowledge on marine life, so take in the sights and sounds. 

Safety precautions for beginning snorkelers

Important: Accidents are avoidable if you stay alert and informed.

It can be hard to find accurate tips for snorkeling that don’t scare you out of getting into the water, but it is important to be informed. Most of the dangers of snorkeling have to do with people not following the rules. This can be you, or others around you, but it pays to stay alert.

Pay attention – Please pay attention during safety instructions as these instructions could save your life.  It is better to be safe than sorry. 

Use floatation devices – It is highly recommended that beginner snorkelers use floatation devices especially if you don’t know how to swim.  

Never snorkel alone – Do not snorkel alone especially if this is your first time snorkeling.  Having someone with you can help if something goes wrong. 

Know your equipment – Make sure you understand and know your equipment before your first time snorkeling.  

Know your location – Learn as much as you can about your snorkeling destination. During your snorkeling tour be sure to come up for air frequency to see what’s happening around you. This can also help you keep track of your location as tides can pull you out to sea. Watch your surroundings and ensure there’s not a lot of wave action. Follow all safety regulations, and be vigilant.

Know your limits – Once you get out into the ocean, remember; it’s important not to over extend yourself. It’s a new experience; take it one step at a time. Some first-timers have reported not finishing the snorkeling course as a result of being too overwhelmed. If you are too tired to finish, or just don’t feel comfortable, indicate that to your tour guide. If you’re on a private trip with a snorkeling buddy and feel tired, let them know and make your way back to the boat together.

Secure your belongings – Whether you leave your personal items on a boat or on the beach, ensure your belongings are in good hands. Most resorts will let you leave these in the dive shop, or in a safe location on the boat. It is best to keep valuables at home!

Boat or Beach?

You decide. The pros and cons of boating versus starting off from the beach are important to note.

Boating Pros:

  • Boating plus snorkeling equals twice the fun – you’re not only getting the undersea vantage, but a pretty exciting and scenic boat tour.
  • On the upside, snorkeling by boat is often a better experience because visibility tends to be superior.
  • Out in the open sea, reef and coral formations are often more distinct and there’s wider possibility for the sort of marine life you will encounter.

Don’t Be Afraid

There is a sense of fear and anticipation that always comes with trying something new. Accompanied by rushing adrenaline, being overly excited can affect your experience. 

Think about it this way, if you’ve made it to the water and you’ve done your research and asked all the right questions, relax. Taking the snorkeling tips in this article to heart, you will learn how to snorkel in no-time.

The Best Beaches for Snorkeling

1. Mauritius

A great place to first discover the underwater treasures of this independent island nation east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean is Blue Bay Marine Park.

Visibility is near-perfect and it’s great for beginners, as you can snorkel straight from the beach. The park is home to angelfish, damselfish, parrotfish, and clownfish—among other colorful exotics.

Favorite place to stay:Maradiva Villas Resort & Spa.

2. Big Island, HI

Nearly twice the size of all the other Hawaiian islands combined, the snorkeling on Big Island is fantastic, especially at Honaunau Bay, also known as The City of Refuge, with an historic backdrop to boot.

 Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park has smooth lava rock flats to help you ease effortlessly from shore to sea into year-round crystal-clear water, and you’ll find healthy coral gardens teeming with tropical fish, moray eels, and even turtles in shallow depths to the right. Spinner dolphins frequent deeper waters to the left.

Favorite place to stay: The Westin Ka’napali is about an hour’s drive north.

3. Turks & Caicos

Directly off Grace Bay Beach, and protected by Bight Reef a mile offshore, the White House Reef Snorkel Trail is well marked and a delight for anyone on the look out for barracuda, spiny lobster, or harmless nurse shark or two.

Favorite place to stay: The nearby Beaches Resort has cleverly managed to combine urban sophistication with beachfront relaxation and is perfect for families.

4. Oahu, HI

It’s hard not to pick Hanauma Bay for Oahu’s best snorkel spot as it’s filled with so much to see, including Reef triggerfish, known in Hawaiian as Humuhumunukunukuapua’a.

This nature preserve, an ancient volcanic crater, used to be mobbed but now allows only a maximum of 3,000 visitors per day.

Favorite place to stay: The Kahala Hotel & Resort.

5. Maui, HI

Maui has many ideal snorkel spots, but for something completely different don your gear and sail on the luxury catamaran Kai Kanani to Molokini Crater—a tiny, volcanic crescent off the island’s southernmost shore.

A State Marine Life & Bird Conservation District, it is home to dolphins, manta rays, turtles, and dozens of varieties of insanely colorful tropical fish.

Favorite place to stay: You can’t go wrong at the chic Grand Waldorf Astoria.

6. The Maldives

It’s no surprise that the Maldives tops your list of best islands to snorkel. A chain of 26 atolls and over 1,000 islands in the Indian Ocean, it’s the world’s most geographically dispersed of countries, and can’t be beat for underwater exploration.

Seeing as each island is barely the size of a small estate in the Hamptons, we’re hard-pressed to pick a top spot, but consider the Anantara Kihava Villas Maldives your first stop.

Favorite place to stay: Adaaran Overwater Villas are a standout.

Best places to snorkel

My First Time Snorkeling

After taking swimming lessons for a little over a year I decided I wasn’t going to let a little thing like fear get the best of me.  I booked my flight to Maui and decided I was finally going to conquer my fear of water and snorkeling.

Once I arrived in Hawaii I booked a tour with Tom Barefoot adventures.

The day of the tour I was really nervous because this was not the swimming pool at the local YMCA.  This was a big ass body of water.

The tour guide went over safety instructions, I tried on my mask, life jacket and made sure all of the equipment fit comfortably and begin practicing on my breathing before I actually got the nerve to get in the water.

I slowly made my way into the water holding tightly onto the life jacket as fear started to cripple me and I froze in a panicked state.  The waves began to push me around like a rag doll. 

The crew had to jump off the boat and come save my black ass because I started to panick and jump around like a fish out of water and almost drowned.

At that point, I promised myself, if I came out of the water alive, I owed it to the universe to write a post detailing what nonswimmers like me needed to know about snorkeling for the first time.

Guide To Snorkeling

I Did it Y’all

I gathered my shit and got back in the water and this time I went in with nerves of steel.  I kept saying to myself you can do this, you can do this, you are fearless, you are strong! 

I was still just as horrified as I was before but I took slow deep breaths and calmed my nerves and took a peek under water.   

That wasn’t so bad let’s try it again.  There was a sea turtle, there were fish, OMG I am finally snorkeling and I didn’t die.

The biggest thing lesson is learning how to breath.  Breathing is the key and it will help you not to panick so if you take one thing away from this article it is learn how to breath properly.

After an afternoon of snorkeling, I was starving and thank God my adventure came with food.  We had our choice of hamburgers, marinated chicken breasts, hot dogs or veggie burgers complete with all the trimmings and tasty Maui-Brand potato chips!

Once I got back onboard the smell of sizzling BBQ on the grill was just what I needed… YOU’LL BE HUNGRY! Great way to end an adventurous day!

Ready to plan your trip, grab my FREE  Vacation Planner to help you plan your trip in the time it takes to watch your favorite TV show!

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  1. I have always wanted to snorkel but like you, I can’t swim to save my life. This gives me hope that I’ll be able to do this one day.

  2. I was supposed to snorkel when we were in Puerto Rico but it was so cold that day I renigged..LOL. Glad you faced your fears and had a good time!

  3. This was meant for me. I am that girl that can’t swim and fear ocean water. I am that girl that would freak out like a fool. Congrats on conquering your fear, I will totally conquer mine.

  4. This reminds me of my failed snorkeling adventure in Puerto Rico. I had a little bit too much to drink. I got water in my mask and I completely freaked out. Mind you I love being in the ocean. I need a do over.

  5. Snorkeling!!! That looks so much fun. I wonder if I would be too afraid to try it. I am afraid of heights but I wonder if it feels different in the ocean. I probably would need that floatation device that you mentioned for non-swimmers.

  6. Madison’s Mom, PLEASE do not drink alcohol before water activities! That said, good on you for conquering your fears. This from a retired divemaster.

  7. This was so so helpful. I love the water but have always been terrified to snorkel. I legit got tense when I started reading this but felt some ease by the end. Drowning or just water death in general is one of my biggest fears but this gave me some important things to think about. I can’t keep missing out on things due to fear. Taking these tips to prep for my first try.

  8. Thank you for stating that you should know your location when snorkeling. My friends and I are going on a cruise this summer and might want to snorkel for the first time. I will definitely keep all of your great tips and information in mind if I do end up snorkeling.

    1. Keep me posted! I just went again in Turks and Caicos and while I stayed close to the water I definitely felt more at ease. I have got to keep going so I can feel comfortable in the water.

  9. I loved that you mentioned taking swimming lessons prior to your snorkeling trip can help you to make the most out of the experience. My husband’s friend invited us on a snorkeling trip, and we are looking for advice. I will let him know about the benefits of improving our swimming skills to enjoy our experience at its best.

    1. I am afraid of water even though I love the water and love tropical places. taking swimming lessons has really helped me to become more comfortable in the water.

  10. Thank you for your great tip on how you should take swimming lessons before you snorkel. My husband and I are going on a  cruise this summer, and we are signed up to go snorkeling, but I’ve never done it before and I don’t know what to expect. I will definitely keep all of your great tips and information in mind when snorkeling for my first time on my cruise this summer.

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