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How Does A Snorkel Work?

Apart from scuba diving, snorkeling is one of the most exciting activities you can do underwater, but to do it properly, you’ll need to wear a snorkel. But first, how does a snorkel work? To put things simply, a snorkel is a device you wear around your mouth and face to let you breathe underwater for a certain period of time.

No, it’s not like a scuba diving tank, but it is something that divers or all experience levels wear when they explore what lies under the sea. To help you understand how snorkels work better, how to snorkel underwater, or what snorkelling is in the first place, here’s a quick guide to help you get started:

What is snorkeling?

Snorkeling is essentially an underwater activity that  involves wearing a breathing tube in the form of a snorkel so you can explore underwater canyons and see vivid corals, moss, and fish without worrying about breathing, as the snorkel helps you breathe air instead of sea water.

There are a few key differences between snorkeling and diving. For one thing, you can snorkel with zero experience, whereas diving usually requires a license. You also don’t need to wear complicated equipment or fitted attire. Although you can’t reach extreme depths, with all the beautiful things you can see near the surface, this shouldn’t really be a problem.

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How does a snorkel work?

A snorkel is an underwater breathing mask that lets you breathe while your head is submerged underwater. Modern dry snorkels are designed with advanced technology in order to be light and effective. These make use of covers, sealing mechanisms, and purging valves to keep the water out and the air in.

The plastic cover stops water from entering the tube when it’s above water, while the sealing mechanism seals the tube when it’s underwater, also to prevent water from entering. Meanwhile, the purge valves let you expel any water that does manage to get in so you can breathe normally.

How to use a snorkel

Here is the correct way on how to use a snorkel:

1.   Wear a comfortable mask

The first thing you need to do is make sure that you use the snorkel with a comfortable mask, meaning, one that comes with an adjustable strap to ensure a good fit and prevent any leaks by sealing around your eyes and nose.

2.   Find your breathing

Wear the mask and lay flat on the water, facing down, then bite on the snorkel’s mouthpiece in such a way that your lips seal around it to hold it in place. Then, take slow and deep breaths to get the feel of the snorkel and find the right rhythm that works for you.

3.   Expel unwanted water

If you do get some water in the barrel of the snorkel, the key is to actually put your head further below the water until the end of the snorkel becomes submerged. Then, clear the surface and quickly exhale through your mouth in order to blast the water in the barrel. If there’s any leftover water, do a second forceful exhalation.

Now, if you don’t have enough airlift or there is too much water in the barrel, simply lift your head out of the water, breathe through the mouthpiece, and let the snorkel empty out all the water.

How do snorkels work underwater?

Snorkels technically don’t work underwater, since for most (if not all) types of snorkels, they are made to be used semi-submerged, with the end of the barrel still clearing the water surface. That said, you definitely can breathe underwater with a snorkel, as long as you swim near the surface so that the snorkel tube does not get fully submerged.

Depending on the type of snorkel you use, you can go underwater at slightly different (but all shallow) depths, since snorkels are generally designed to keep the water out while letting air in.

Some snorkels even allow you to stay fully submerged under water for considerably long periods of time, such as high end snorkels that contain an air supply good for ten minutes. Of course, if you can hold your breath, you can stay underwater for longer before having to come up for air.

Types of snorkels

A snorkel at its purest form is essentially a tube designed with a fixed curve section and a mouthpiece at one end that allows you to breathe underwater easily, and makes it easy to shallow dive and loot at coral reefs.

However, there are many different types of snorkels, and they also range in quality. There are basic snorkels used by amateur divers, as well as advanced snorkeling equipment with all the bells and whistles that make for a fun and easy snorkeling and scuba diving experience.

Interestingly enough, many scuba divers and freedivers prefer the simpler and more streamlined designs since they are easier to use and tuck away, and they also reduce drag.

Classic snorkel

The classic or traditional snorkel features a simple J shaped tube with a mouthpiece, and is meant to be attached to a mask or goggles. This simple design allows it to stay above water even when the rest of your head is submerged.

When using a classic snorkel, there are few things you need to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t remove the mouthpiece while underwater,
  2. Only breathe through your mouth and not your nose, and
  3. Keep the tube pointing straight up to prevent water intake.

Full face snorkel

When using a mouthpiece is not ideal, such as when it feels uncomfortable or makes the wearer feel like choking or vomiting, a great alternative is to wear a full face snorkel, also called a snorkel mask. Think welding mask, but fully enclosed and clear.

It covers your entire face, from eyes to chin, and makes use of a tube connected directly to the mask, allowing you to breathe “normally” through your mouth and nose. It also offers a clearer visibility and lets you breathe underwater for as long as 90 minutes at a time, so it’s typically considered a more appropriate underwater snorkel.

But, how does a snorkel mask work?

Well, it has a closed section for the mouth and nose, and there are separate areas that let you breathe in and out, with exhaled air taken through side channels so you don’t breathe your own carbon dioxide filled air. It also has a silicone frame to offer a watertight seal.

Dry snorkel

One type of scuba equipment that has become increasingly popular is the dry snorkel, which is designed specifically to stop water from getting into the tube with the use of a special floatation device located at the tip of the snorkel.

This functions as a one way valve, meaning, the float rises and closes the opening to prevent water intake. Dry snorkels are generally made with robust, high quality, and durable materials to provide a better swimming experience. They are even lightweight and look sleek.

Most new models of dry snorkels involve plastic covers to keep water at bay when above the water, as well as sealing mechanisms for when underwater. Although, if you dip below the surface when the mouthpiece is not in your mouth, there’s still the possibility of getting water into the snorkel tube.

To address this, the snorkel also includes purge valves which let you exhale the water from the tube with one or two deep breaths.

Semi dry snorkel

Quite similar in terms of design to dry snorkels are semi-dry versions, but these ones make use of splash guards rather than dry tops. They also have a one way purge valve to let you flush any unwanted water out of the snorkel tube.

And, the tube section is flexible in order to allow the silicone mouthpiece to hang out of your way if you decide to go scuba diving. When it comes to the question of wet vs dry, aka which type of snorkel is better, it really boils down to your preferences and how you want to use the snorkel.


Snorkeling can definitely be fun, but it does take some adjustment and getting used to, especially with how you breathe underwater with the use of a snorkel. One of the first things you need to learn is, how does a snorkel work?

You also need to understand what a snorkel does and how to use it properly. While we hope this guide has been helpful to you, it’s always best to attend practical snorkeling classes so you can better learn the right information and technique from experienced divers. This is also so you’ll get to learn how to use different snorkeling equipment, such as fins.

Plus, you’ll know safety protocols and techniques so you don’t accidentally dive too deep, inhale too much carbon dioxide, or get into an underwater accident.