How To Choose A Snorkel

Author: Njage Wambui

Types of Snorkels

Snorkeling is a popular pastime in many tropical countries. A snorkel is equipment that helps a diver to breathe while beneath the surface of water. It is made up of a face mask, tube and a mouthpiece. It is a very recognizable device and many people have probably come across it once or twice in their lifetime.

Editor’s Note - The mask isn’t technically part of the snorkel (except for the full face snorkel listed below which you shouldn’t get anyway).

Snorkels are used for snorkeling, scuba diving and underwater sports such as underwater hockey and rugby. Snorkels come in different styles. Depending of the purpose for which the equipment is being acquired, different snorkels will serve their owners differently. For instance, recreational snorkelers believe that the mask is the most vital part of the snorkel because you will need to see through the goggles.

For others, the tube is the most essential part since you will need a clear passage of air in order to breathe. Whichever the case, the kind of snorkel you acquire should be fit for the purpose it is acquired for.

Some considerations that should be made include the snorkeler’s age, underwater experience, the purpose of diving, durability of individual parts of the snorkel, and finally the fit of the snorkel. Kids, for example should have something exclusively designed for them. These have smaller mouthpieces and smaller diameter tubes which are more suitable for children.

The main types of snorkels are the classic snorkel, dry snorkel, full face snorkel and semi-dry snorkel. Each different type of snorkel is uniquely modified to carry out different functions. You might find other kinds such as drop away snorkels and purge valve snorkels which primarily fall into one of the four categories listed below.

Classic Snorkel

The classic snorkel is sometimes referred to as the simple snorkel. It is the most basic form of the equipment. It is made a vertical tube with a mouthpiece that connects to the face mask. The tube is often made of rigid plastic while the mouthpiece is made of silicone or rubber. The plastic tubing emanates from the face mask in such a way that if forms a J shape with the top of the tube above the water.

Although there is elegance in simplicity, the classic snorkel is quite uncomfortable. The rigid tube does not bend as the snorkeler moves through the water. This causes the mouthpiece to move consistently which may cause discomfort. It is also highly susceptible to leakages when submerged in deep water. Moreover, when the classic snorkel is completely submerged in water, the user has to forcefully expel the water that gets in by exhalation.

This equipment is good for beginners because it is easy to use. Classic snorkels are more affordable and are found readily in sports stores.

Dry Snorkel

The dry snorkel completely blocks out water from entering the vertical tube. It has a valve at the top of the snorkel usually known as a dry top. This valve is made of a material that floats. Once the diver or snorkeler is submerged, the valve blocks out any air or water. At the base of the tube, near the mouthpiece, there is another valve called the purge valve. This valves allows the user of the snorkel to expel any water that inadvertently gets into the tube. The purge valve also allows the user to exhale quickly beneath the surface of water.

The dry snorkel allows the user to partake in an array of activities including snorkeling, scuba diving, and water sports. They are ideal for the more adventurous snorkelers.

Semi Dry Snorkel

Semi dry snorkels merge the features of the simple snorkel and the dry snorkel. It works almost in a similar fashion as the dry snorkel. It is designed to keep water out of the vertical tube using a splash guard instead of a dry top. The splash guard however, does not manage to keep all the water out. When the waters are turbulent or during splashes, some water may find its way into the tube. The purge valve at the bottom of the plastic tube is used to flush wayward waters out of the snorkel. Often, the simple act of exhaling will push the water out.

It is not unusual to find semi dry snorkels with a corrugated flexible part on their vertical tube. This flexible part of the tube is used to keep the mouthpiece steady when there is excessive motion. The flexibility promotes the comfort of the mouthpiece. The flexible tube also allows the user to rotate the tube through different angles.

Semi dry snorkels, are a bit more complex to use than the simple ones. They require some form of experience or expertise. The many connecting parts means that it is vulnerable to leakages especially when sand or dirt gets into the tube. Further, semi-dry snorkels are expensive.

Full Face Snorkel

Warning - These masks could kill you. Due to improper CO2 venting people have been known to pass out and drown in the water with some models. See below.

The full face snorkel is a combination of the face mask and snorkel. The equipment features a full face mask and a snorkel tube at the top center of the mask. The tube runs backwards along the width of the divers head. There is no mouthpiece on this contraption.

Full face snorkels are suitable for surface snorkeling only. Scuba divers are highly discouraged from using them. This is because scuba divers pinch their noses below the water surface in a bid to stabilize body pressure. Also, you wouldn't be able to get the mouthpiece of your regulator in your mouth. The full face snorkel is not adapted to this purpose.

There are many advantages to using a full face snorkel. It is the most comfortable of all the snorkel since it does not have a mouthpiece. Also, since it covers the entire face, snorkelers can breathe normally through the nose.

Full face snorkels are very costly.

Additional Considerations

Whether a dry, semi dry or classic snorkel, there are other secondary considerations one needs to make. The hydrodynamics of the snorkel should ensure that the equipment is perfectly streamline in the water to avoid any counteractive force or buoyancy while gliding.

Colors will promote or reduce visibility depending on the mission. Bright colors such as luminous green or pink can be seen from afar while darker shades like black or dark blue are hardly noticeable under water.

Most often, the vertical tube is made of plastic but the mouthpiece may be made of rubber or silicone or any other suitable material. Silicone mouthpieces have consistently proven to be more comfortable and durable than plastic and rubber. Whatever the case may be, there is a snorkel for almost every need. It is best to seek professional advice before acquiring one. ( Or just go out and buy one right now; it's totally fine. )