How Do Snorkels Work?: Everything You Need To Know!

How Do Snorkels Work

Have you ever gone snorkeling? Snorkels are devices used to breathe air while swimming close to the surface of the water. When snorkels are worn, the face of the swimmer is submerged underwater while the top of the snorkel tube remains over the surface, allowing for air movement through the mouth. Does this mean you can’t completely submerge yourself for a few feet underwater? Well, it depends on the kind of snorkeling gear you have on. Here’s all you need to know about snorkels including all you possible questions.

How Snorkels Work - Different Parts

How Snorkels Work - Different Parts

Before we get started, it’s important to first talk about the different parts of a snorkel. All snorkels, regardless of the type, have three major parts: the tube, the mask clip, and the mouthpiece.

Snorkel Tube

The tube is the longest part of the snorkel. The top of the tube is called the opening and kept close to the surface so you can have easy access to oxygen. The primary purpose of the tube is for air exchange, giving you constant access to oxygen. For this to be possible, the tube needs to be at a specific length. Snorkels have a standard of 38cm with a volume of around 230ml.

This is important because an overly long tube can trap in carbon dioxide, creating a “dead space” that would prevent you to breathe in oxygen. Today, all snorkel tubes have a slight curve to them for a more comfortable fit. Depending on the kind of snorkel, you can find a float valve or purge valve.

Mask Clip

A mask clip is just a simple clip system that keeps the mask and tube together. They’re meant to be a set so the clip makes sure that you don’t lose either one. More importantly, the clip helps keep the tube in position so that it’s always pointing upright.

Snorkel masks are often counted as a separate piece and has two functions. One, it keeps your eyesight clear so that you can see underwater. Second, it helps pinch the nose so that you are more likely to breathe through your mouth. In some circles, this is called a snorkel keeper.

Mouthpiece Part

The silicone mouthpiece has more or less the same design across all the different types of snorkels. It has an extra flap that helps seal the mouth and a bit where the teeth can clamp down. The whole point is to create an air vacuum to prevent water from getting in. If you breathe in through the mouthpiece valve and encounter water, it’s time to purge or rise to the surface.

Different Kinds of Snorkel

Different Kinds of Snorkel

There are currently three different types of snorkel. One is the classic snorkel, the dry snorkel, and semi-dry snorkel.

Classic Snorkels

Also called wet snorkels, this is the type you’d often find in stores. The classic type has a rigid “J” tube shape to better fit the face. They’re very light, easy to pack, and not so expensive. If you’re a beginner, then this is the type that best fits your needs. It’s a fairly straightforward design with no valve inclusion. It requires you to aggressively exhale from time to time in order to remove carbon dioxide.

Dry Snorkels

This type of snorkel has a float valve at the top of the snorkel, a mechanism which prevents water and air from entering. Users can therefore submerge beneath the surface without constantly clearing out air and water. Dry snorkels also comes with purge valves so users can flush out the water in case it enters the breathing tube. Dry snorkels can also be used for diving thanks to the purge valve option, but only for short periods of time.

Semi Dry Snorkel

Semi dry snorkels are a combination of the dry and classic type. Its most distinctive feature is the splash guard which prevents splashes of water from penetrating the tube. This can be very useful if you completely submerge underwater for a few seconds or if a wave hits the top of dry snorkel’s tube. Semi dry snorkels can also have a flex tube to better fit the curve of the face.

Full Face Snorkel Mask

This one is a new addition to the types of snorkels in the market. It covers the whole face so that there’s really no need for a diving mask. The main advantage of this is with the snorkel mouthpieces. Instead of biting into silicone, you can breathe as you normally would and therefore prevent jaw fatigue.

With this equipment, you can also enjoy longer periods underwater as opposed to dry snorkels. Full face snorkels can also come with a float valve, purge valve, or even a splash guard. Using this, wearers can go diving for longer periods on their water tours.

How Snorkel Work vs. Scuba Diving

How Snorkel Work vs. Scuba Diving

How deep do you think you can dive when wearing a snorkel? The safe diving depth for snorkelers is set at around 1 to 2 meters underwater.

Now, does that mean the opening of the tube also goes underwater? Yes. Even if the opening itself is submerged underwater, experienced snorkelers can control and facilitate air exchange so that they can stay underwater for more than a few minutes. The amount of time underwater really depends on how well the swimmer can control his breath. Scuba diving is slightly different because scuba divers can go as deep as 40 meters.

Unlike snorkels, all scuba divers also carry their own tank of oxygen to facilitate breathing. Also note – it takes time and training to scuba dive. Special licenses are often needed while dry snorkels only need a few minutes of practice before getting used to the sport. Another distinct difference between these two activities would be exposure to water pressure.

Snorkeling leaves the swimmer vulnerable to increased pressure as the depth increases. With scuba equipment however, the pressure of the water can be accommodated while diving. Using a snorkel is often a good starting point for scuba diving. Once you get used to having more control of your breathing, diving with scuba minimizes the chance of panicking underwater.

Choosing and Fitting a Snorkel Mask

Aside from choosing from the different types of snorkels, it’s also important to find a model that fits well onto your face. It’s a matter of safety concern for snorkelers because you want a fit that lets you breathe instead of constricting air flow. Here’s what you should keep in mind when looking at different snorkeling products.

  • Start by trying to figure out what kind of snorkel activity you’d be doing. Will you be going underwater with a snorkel or do you intend to stay close to the edge of the water?
  • Choose classic snorkel masks if you want to keep things light and basic. If you’re a complete beginner and unsure if you’re repeating the activity any tine soon, wet or classic snorkels would be an inexpensive investment.
  • Semi-dry snorkels may be your perfect choice if you want to go underneath the surface from time to time. Some models come with a purge valve that should help dispatch water should you get any inside. Semi dry snorkels are also a good choice for beginners and would be a good investment if you plan to add swimming to your regular activities.
  • If all you want to do is swim with the top of the tube above the water, a dry snorkel would be ideal. Dry snorkels are perfect for people who just want to observe the under water from a safe distance. Dry snorkels also come with a purge valve just in case the wave is a little high and enters the tube.
  • Also take careful note of the kind of water where you’ll be snorkeling. If the waves are high or rough, opt for snorkels with a splash guard to prevent the water from getting inside the tube.
  • Choose a snorkel with one of those J-shaped tubes. This is more comfortable because it curves to the shape of your head. Remember that the mechanism shouldn’t be too long. Otherwise it can compromise the exchange of air.
  • Also, take a good look at the snorkeling mask that comes with the equipment. You want a mask strap that can be adjusted according to the size of your head. The goal is to stay comfortable but get it tight enough to prevent water from getting to your eyes.
  • Check the mouthpiece. Due to hygienic reasons, it’s not a good idea to put the mouthpiece in your mouth to test the fit. However, just looking at the mouthpiece should give you some idea about how snorkels work in the water. There should be an extended flap there that acts as a barrier.
  • Of course, it’s completely possible to purchase snorkels online. However, make sure to look at comments and reviews about the snorkeling product before pushing through with your purchase. Even if you’re just buying for a one-time vacation, it’s important to purchase good quality to guarantee safety and enjoyment during use.

Snorkeling Frequently Asked Questions

Can you breathe underwater with a dry snorkel?

No – if the snorkel is completely beneath the water, breathing would be impossible. Dry snorkels are primarily made to make your water exploration more comfortable while close to the waterline. If submerged, there won’t be enough air inside the tube to take a breath. Ideally, the dry snorkel should be used only close to the surface with occasional dives.

Note though that this is true for all snorkeling types. Once the topmost portion of the tube is submerged, the amount of breaths are counted. It’s therefore important to float close to the waterline to be able to gulp in some oxygen.

How long can you stay underwater with a snorkel?

If the opening end of the snorkel is above water, you can technically stay beneath the surface for hours! This is because there’s clean gas exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide through the snorkel tube. If you intend full water submersion however, the time limit will be limited by your own breathing skills. You can possibly enjoy a few minutes under the water before needing more air.

What is the point of a snorkel underwater?

Snorkels work by giving you a link for air through the snorkel tube. It can allow you to breathe underwater and have a fun diving experience even if you’re just a few feet underneath. Combined with the goggles, the snorkel will let you observe underwater fish and flora at leisure without having to catch your breath every few minutes.

As a deep diving tool however, snorkels work inefficiently because water can get into the tube. For most people, the point of using a snorkel underwater is for efficiency – giving them longer periods to stay below the surface in between taking a breath. Since the snorkel is also typically paired with a goggle, this also lets them enjoy the underwater sights for longer periods.

What other snorkel equipment do I need?

Note that aside from the snorkel itself, you’d also want purchase fins and a wet suit – especially if you’re diving in cold waters. Note though that they aren’t absolutely essential. You can easily go have fun in the water with just the basic goggles and snorkel combo. If you intend to go snorkelling more often however, it’s important to invest in good snorkeling equipment.

Do I need to learn to swim for snorkeling?

Obviously, yes. It doesn’t matter if you’re just staying on the surface or diving for a few minutes – all snorkelers must have sufficient swimming skills before going in the water. In most cases, you’ll be snorkeling in above-human-height depths, making it crucial that you can support yourself when in the water or in case of snorkel failure.

For beginners, it’s a good idea to practice proper breathing first before combining swimming and snorkeling. This should improve the safety of its use.

Snorkels working blog post

Final Word

To wrap it up, anyone can learn this particular sport if they’re willing to dedicate a few minutes of their day learning the basic mechanism. Once you get used to the slight change in breathing patterns however, the activity becomes almost natural and incredibly fun as you begin to enjoy the underwater view!

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