Many scuba lovers I know often dive without a snorkel. Experienced divers sometimes feel that it can get in the way and as they so rarely use it, it’s not worth having one. Scuba snorkel fans would beg to differ.
They would argue that if you are leading divers in any pursuit, whether fun diving or teaching, it’s important to set a good example and wear a snorkel.
As endorsed by PADI, you may need a snorkel on the surface, especially in choppy conditions, both before you descend, so you don’t use up precious air, and also once you are back at the surface to avoid massive gulps of salty water whilst you’re waiting to be picked up or get back on the boat.
So let’s assume we’re taking our plastic tube with us; what’s the best snorkel for your dive?
Generally speaking, most people that love diving are pretty keen on snorkelling too. Duh.
So, whether it accompanies you on dives, or not, getting your snorkel sorted is important and a worthy investment. Especially as, a bit like masks, holiday rental ones are often pretty snarky (snorkel speak for crap).
There are many types and styles of snorkels available with a surprising number of features, which may enhance your experience. Or, you might prefer to keep it really simple and just go for something well made without additional bells and whistles.
As always, it all comes down to personal preference, how many scuba dive trips you take, how you plan to use it and your budget.
Contoured or Rigid?
A contoured or rigid snorkel is better for activities like free diving as the design helps you to effortlessly keep the mouthpiece in place. Flexible snorkels are more common amongst scuba divers as the design tends to keep the mouthpiece out of the way while using a regulator and you can fold them up and put them in your pocket if you need to.
The mouthpiece should obviously be comfortable and the snorkel should not feel like it is pulling excessively at your mouth. The more comfortable mouthpieces are typically made of silicon, which is quite soft.
There is a bite piece that you bite down on to keep the snorkel in your mouth, but you shouldn’t feel like you’re hanging on for dear life. This could result in snorkel jaw – that achey feeling you get, similar to when you’ve been trying to tackle an overdone steak.
Other features may include a purge valve: This can make it easier and more efficient to clear a snorkel, but they can also add bulk to your snorkel and end up being a fancy feature that doesn’t work as well as you blowing hard through the tube to clear it.
There are also snorkels on the market that proclaim themselves to be “dry” meaning they don't allow water to come in through the top of the snorkel.
This may appeal if you take diving trips in choppy water a lot. Some actually keep water out and others are just gimmicks, but either way a dry snorkel can come at the expense of having a mass sitting on top of the snorkel.
This can impact surface swimming and create drag/bulk when diving. Some snorkels have a very simple semi-dry system that consists of diagonally placed partitions at the top of the snorkel. Some users like this, whereas others have found this system restricts airflow and requires more effort to purge the snorkel.
One of the key things for scuba divers carrying a snorkel is to ensure you’ve got a decent attachment to clip your snorkel to your mask. Cheap ones can frequently break or tend to get more tangled.
Personally, I am a fan of keep it simple. As with all scuba gear, if you have been using something that works and it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it or replace it with new fandangles that don’t add to your experience.
On the other hand, if your familiarity is with extensive features and that’s what makes you feel most safe and comfortable, then that’s what you should go for. Aqualung and Aeris are cited as popular snorkel brands amongst divers.
PS the word "snorkel" comes from the German word "schnoerkel", which was a tube used by German submarine crews in WW2. The subs used an electric battery when travelling underwater, which had to be recharged using diesel engines, which needed air to run. To avoid the hazard of surfacing to run the engines, the Germans used the schnoerkel to feed air from the surface into the engines.
PPS I think snorkel might be a good name for a dog. Thoughts?