Do you need to know how to swim when you want to go snorkeling?
Snorkeling is one of the best ways to witness marine life in its natural habitat. Unlike scuba diving, snorkeling requires minimal equipment and can be done in almost any body of water.
It opens up a colorful, underwater world that we terrestrial animals rarely get to witness, and it’s also a great way of getting a serious health kick.
Even if you can’t swim, snorkeling is a great form of exercise that “improves overall strength and endurance, reduces stress, and burns about 300 calories an hour.”
All you need to get started is some basic snorkeling gear, calm water, and the willingness to get wet.
Can You Go Snorkeling if You Can’t Swim?
Basic swimming skills make snorkeling more rewarding, but they’re not essential. Snorkeling is a surface sport that involves more floating than actual swimming.
A little bit of pre-planning can ensure non-swimmers enjoy the snorkeling experience just as much as strong swimmers do.
When swimming, you use your arms and legs to propel you through the water and maintain your buoyancy, but when you go snorkeling, you don’t want to move about too quickly in case you disturb the marine creatures you came to encounter.
Snorkeling requires more floating and drifting on the water’s surface than propelling yourself through it, so it can be easily done even if you don’t know how to swim.
You can also use various buoyancy aids and other equipment to make the experience more comfortable.
Reading Suggestion: World’s Best Places to go Swimming With Whales
Most snorkelers wear fins or flippers that enable them to move around quickly using minimal physical exertion.
Fins also improve stability, making it easier for non-swimmers to maintain their position in the water.
Most snorkeling occurs in the ocean where salt water is denser than freshwater, providing more resistance.
This resistance helps to keep you afloat, although non-swimmers may also want to use a life jacket or personal floatation device to improve their buoyancy even more.
If you don’t know how to swim but already booked a snorkeling trip, the best way to prepare is to go for a few swimming lessons.
You won’t turn into Micheal Phelps overnight, but you will start to feel more comfortable in the water and better know how to control your movements.
Snorkeling will be a lot more enjoyable if you know “how to float on the surface of the water, stay relaxed, and control your breathing.”
Don’t worry too much about learning complicated swimming strokes, just focus on your breaststroke and kick.
Learning the breaststroke will help you move around in the water more freely, while your kick is essential if you want to snorkel efficiently and conserve energy.
Reading Suggestion: Are There Sharks in Aruba? Shark Attacks, Sightings and Swimming
Experienced snorkelers keep their arms at their sides and float on the surface, using their legs and fins to propel them slowly forward.
You’ll unlikely enjoy snorkeling if you feel uncomfortable in the water. If this is the case, you should stick to shallow water where you can easily stand up should you start to panic.
Only once you feel comfortable should you consider going out of your depth. Even then, it would be advisable to do so with a flotation device and a buddy close at hand for your own safety.
Snorkeling with a life jacket is a good way to get started if you don’t know how to swim. It allows you to move your torso in and out of the water without losing buoyancy.
It may feel a bit cumbersome to swimmers, but for nervous non-swimmers and first-time snorkelers, it’s a great way to remain calm while getting used to the water.
Not all snorkeling trips are designed for non-swimmers, and you should accept your limitations and avoid those aimed at the more confident swimmer.
Reading Suggestion: THE 10 MOST DANGEROUS SEA CREATURES IN THE WORLD
Some of the best places to start snorkeling are those that offer guided tours for non-swimmers. Places like Total Snorkel Cancun give non-swimmers a full introduction in shallow water before heading out to sea.
Accompanied by experienced guides armed with good quality equipment, tours like these give non-swimmers the ideal introduction to the art of snorkeling and the opportunity to develop basic snorkeling skills in an incredible location.
Depending on the conditions, snorkeling can be dangerous even for strong swimmers.
Calm waters make for a pleasurable experience, but when the waves increase in size and strength, they can push you around and even dislodge your snorkel mask.
This isn’t too much of a problem for a confident swimmer, but the same conditions could cause a non-swimmer to panic.
Currents are also potentially dangerous, with rip currents killing more people each year than sharks. Even a good swimmer will struggle to fight a strong current pushing them out to sea, and for a non-swimmer, it could prove fatal.
Snorkeling from the beach might appear safer than jumping off a boat because it means you can choose to stay in shallow water.
However, you need to remain aware of your surroundings and ensure you don’t drift too far away from shore or your fellow snorkelers.
Jumping into the water on a boat tour may seem a lot more frightening for a non-swimmer, but, as there’s usually a qualified skipper or guide on board, you’ll benefit from their professional advice and supervision.
You don’t need very much equipment to go snorkeling, but what you do have should be good quality and fit well.
Unlike scuba divers who need wet suits, weight belts, regulators, and scuba tanks, snorkelers only need three basic pieces of gear.
Reading Suggestion: Are There Sharks in the Atlantic Ocean?
These are a snorkeling mask, fins, and a snorkel. As a non-swimmer, you should also consider getting a snorkeling vest.
Not only will a vest or life jacket help you stay afloat, but it will also help you conserve energy so you can enjoy the underwater world for longer.
Before you head out for your first dive, test your equipment in a safe place, like a swimming pool or a shallow beach area.
This will allow you to familiarize yourself with your snorkeling gear and ensure everything works correctly.
A dry snorkel is recommended for non-swimmers because it has a mechanism known as a float valve that “seals the snorkel tube if it becomes completely submerged.”
This keeps water out of the tube should a large wave come and also means you can perform basic snorkeling maneuvers like duck dives without your snorkel tube filling up with water.
Some non-swimmers feel more comfortable in a face mask that fully covers their head and face so they can breathe using either their nose or mouth.
A traditional snorkeling mask covers only the eyes and nose, forcing you to breathe using only your mouth.
Although face masks may sound appealing, they are difficult to remove, which could cause a non-swimmer to panic in an emergency.
There’s also the possibility of a carbon dioxide buildup inside the mask that could cause you to become dizzy or disoriented.
Reading Suggestion: How Fast Can a Great White Shark Swim?
Whatever type of mask you opt for, it should fit snugly around your face and have a high-quality silicone skirt that seals the mask to your skin.
The strap holding the mask in place should sit comfortably at the back of your head and apply just enough pressure to create an airtight seal.
Fins need to fit snugly without being too tight and be short enough that you can maneuver effectively in the water.
Tips if You Want to go Snorkeling but Can’t Swim
#1 Stay Afloat
Before you embark on a snorkeling trip, ensure you know how to float.
Whether that means lying on your back like a beached whale or kicking your legs like a demented fly, as long as you can keep your head above water, you’ll be fine.
#2 Stick to Shallow Waters
Calm, shallow waters are far easier to snorkel in, even for those with Olympic-standard swimming skills, and they’re definitely the best conditions to learn in.
Reading Suggestion: Can a Shark Drown if They Stop Swimming?
Check the weather forecast before donning your snorkel vest and taking to the water. If there are any storms on the horizon, take a rain check. In fact, if anything makes you feel uncomfortable, save your snorkeling trip for another day.
#3 Take a Buddy
Non-swimmers should never go snorkeling alone. If you get tired or the conditions suddenly worsen, you could find yourself in dire straits.
Ideally, you should only go into the water when you have a strong swimmer to assist you and give you confidence.
#4 Book a Snorkeling Trip
Taking to the waters with an experienced snorkel guide is one of the safest ways to get your first snorkeling experience.
They can offer qualified personal guidance that will improve your basic snorkeling skills and give you more confidence in the water.
They can also show you where all the most interesting sea life hangs out.
Why Snorkeling Will be Much More Fun When You CAN Swim
You don’t have to be able to swim to snorkel, but it does help. Knowing how to swim makes you more comfortable and competent in the water, so you can relax and enjoy the experience rather than worrying about staying afloat.
If you know how to swim, you’ll be able to move around in the water more effectively, so you’ll see more of the sea life surrounding you.
The more confident you are in the water, the more able you’ll feel to perform basic snorkeling skills, like keeping your airway clear.
In time, you may even feel confident enough to duck dive down into deep water to get a closer look at a turtle or brightly colored sea snake.
Reading Suggestion: Can a Shark Drown if They Stop Swimming?
Knowing how to swim will also open up more varied locations for you to snorkel in. No longer restricted to calm, shallow waters, you could find yourself snorkeling with whale sharks in Mozambique or floating alongside Hawaiian green sea turtles off the coast of Maui.
As long as you’re confident in the water, you don’t need to be able to swim to snorkel. You can enjoy the spectacular underwater world just as much as the strong swimmer next to you, especially if you have good equipment that fits well.
Life jackets make snorkeling safe for non-swimmers and give them more confidence in the water, so they can relax and soak up the experience.
You may be a little limited in where and when you can go snorkeling if you don’t know how to swim, but you’ll still manage to see some colorful marine life.
Snorkeling is a fun and relaxing activity and has numerous health benefits, so it’s well worth getting into it, whether you plan on learning to swim or not.
Nicky is a British adventurer and animal lover who spends her time exploring the natural world and writing about her experiences. Whether on horseback, underwater, running, hiking or just standing with a fishing rod in hand, she embraces everything her adopted home of South Africa has to offer.