Thousands of years ago, someone discovered that if you cut a short length of hollow reed from the riverbank, you could breathe through it and sneak up on people underwater.
Now there are hundreds of models of snorkels on the market with so many gadgets and features it’s hard to make sense of it and choose what’s best for you. Just like with fins, it depends on what you are going to use it for. There are several main categories of snorkel users but there are a few fundamental things to look for in a snorkel no matter what the end use. First, make sure it has a reasonable bore diameter. One that is too thin or too long can cause CO2 build up, reduce your stamina, make you dizzy, and give you a headache, none of which are fun. Then make sure that the mouthpiece is comfortable and will not exert pressure and give you sores from rubbing. Nearly all snorkels on the market today have a water purge valve at the lowest point on the mouthpiece, to make clearing the snorkel as easy as possible.
“Snorkelers” – probably the largest single group worldwide. They float around on the surface, looking down at the reef, and are usually the least experienced of the all the users. They may never have had any exposure to a dive shop, or had any lessons, and have a relatively low skill and comfort level. Snorkelers love the many styles of “Dry Top” snorkels, as they are almost completely dry, meaning they don’t allow waves splashing over the top of the snorkel to get into the tube. Water down the tube causes the novice to sputter and cough when they inhale it, which is never any fun. The down side to a completely dry snorkel is (Basic physics from your first dive class…) when you actually start to dive down, and reach any depth at all; the dry snorkel’s pressure imbalance because it is sealed at one end, will try to extrude your tongue into the mouthpiece. Not comfortable.
“Free divers” – very often much more skilled than snorkelers, and also may be certified SCUBA divers taking a break, free divers don’t just float at the surface. They make repeated dives to the depths that the dry top becomes a nuisance, but they still don’t really want a lot of waves coming down the tube. This is where the “Semi-Dry” or “Splash Proof” snorkel top comes in handy. They are designed to deflect most of the water that comes along, and helps prevent those nasty surprises. It is important to keep in mind that any design that resists water flow can also create more air resistance and increase the work of breathing through the snorkel, possibly adding some CO2 build up.
“Scuba Divers” – Many divers today feel that a bulky snorkel dangling off their mask strap throughout the dive is a distraction they can live without, and like the simplest snorkel they can find. Some even are soft enough to roll up and store in a BC pocket, only to be pulled out and attached to the mask in case of emergencies, such as surfacing a long way from the boat or shore, with not enough air remaining to return on SCUBA. These often have no dry or semi dry top treatments at all, but the simplicity makes them compact, foolproof, and there when they are needed. Full circle back to the hollow reed…..