Should Snorkeling Require Training?

Some scuba diving instructors think it’s not a bad idea to require some form of training to don a mask, fins and snorkel.

Should snorkeling require training? A number of dive professionals and operators have begun to suggest that snorkeling takes a bit more practice than we thought. At tropical vacation spots around the world, thousands of people enjoy snorkeling every day. Whether they head out on their own or as part of a snorkeling trip, very few places, if any, require any training or certification before donning mask, fins and snorkel. The general assumption seems to be that if you can swim (kind of) and you can breathe, you can snorkel. Should snorkeling require training? Here we’ll examine the arguments in favor of snorkel training.

Why should snorkeling require training?

First, there have been quite a few problems with snorkelers endangering not only themselves, but their surroundings. The problem, as mentioned, is the notion that anyone can snorkel regardless of skill level, age, or fitness level. Swimmers and snorkelers have caused substantial damage to the shallow-water coral in Sharm el-Sheik’s Naama Bay area. Because snorkelers don’t have dive training, they don’t always think of the damage they can do by putting their feet down on top of a sensitive coral reef.

In Hawaii, there’s a general call for more safety considerations when it comes to water sports and tourists. Compared to other coastal vacation spots, the state has a fairly high rate of drowning. It accounts for almost half of all tourist deaths, and quite a few of these from snorkeling specifically. The death of a Korean man while snorkeling resulted in a call by Australian dive instructors to require training for snorkeling, led by former dive instructor Brett Bell. Poor swimming abilities, lack of knowledge about currents, marine life, and other risk factors can all put a snorkeler in danger.

Some snorkelers, driven by curiosity or inspired by the popularity of breath-hold freediving, venture far beneath the surface with no training in extended breath-holding. Bell sites shallow-water blackout as a significant danger to inexperienced snorkelers. This can happen when they dive deep while holding their breath. They may faint just before reaching the surface as the oxygen partial-pressure drops below the threshold required to maintain consciousness.

What should a snorkeling course include?

Because of these risks to both the practitioner and the environment, a snorkeling course should include swimming skills, gear familiarity, environmental awareness and safe breath-holding techniques. This should be coupled with a warning not to push a short dive below the surface into full-on freediving territory. Bell also points to the value of teaching the one-up-one-down buddy system known from freediving to further ensure snorkel safety.

A lot of dive organizations already have snorkeling or skin-diving courses on offer. They’re taught infrequently, however due to lack of interest from the public. But perhaps it’s time to turn a course on these foundational skills from an elective to a requirement.