Do I need to Know How to Swim to Snorkel?

Do you have to miss out on the magic of the underwater world if you are not a strong swimmer? Not necessarily, but the better your swimming skills are, the safer you will feel, and the more you can see.

I have been on lots of tours where the excitement of a snorkelling experience has lured people into water only for them to realise that they are, literally, out of their depth.

In addition to being an experienced snorkeller, I was a swimming teacher for 15 years so I know what it takes to transfer the skills you might have in a backyard pool to a coral reef.

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Learn to Swim
Swimming Confidence

The Bottom Line…

While you don’t need to be a strong swimmer to go snorkelling, basic swimming skills are required for you to stay safe and have a good time.

Snorkelling is a lot different to cooling off in a swimming pool or wading through the shallows at the beach.  In a pool you can see the bottom, it is shallow enough to stand up, and you don’t have to deal with currents or ocean swells.

So, if you are wondering whether you are a strong enough swimmer to try snorkelling, let’s run through a few questions you should ask yourself before you slip on your facemask and fins.

We’ll also look at how to prepare yourself for a safe and fun snorkel.

Be Honest with Yourself

One of the main reasons people get into trouble in the water is they overestimate how well they can swim. So, as tempting as swimming with a manta ray sounds, ask yourself…

  • Does putting your face in the water make you nervous?
  • If you are in a swimming pool, can you float on your front and back?
  • Can you tread water? That means in water where you can’t touch the bottom, can you use your arms and legs to stay afloat in a standing position?
  • If you fell into a swimming pool where you can’t touch the bottom, could you get yourself back to edge of the pool 20m away?
Snorkelling in deeper water

Snorkelling can make Swimming Harder

In ideal conditions, you might think, yes, I could manage that. But remember, snorkelling throws several extra factors into the equation.

You also need to breathe through a snorkel, kick with fins and be comfortable with the feeling of a mask around your mouth and nose. You might also be wearing a wetsuit or stingersuit for the first time.

On top of that, the water might be deeper, rougher and colder than you are used to.

It is when you combine these complications with any nervousness you have about swimming that people get into trouble. It is very easy to feel overwhelmed and panic.

You can Learn to Snorkel!

Okay, that might all sound a bit scary, but you can go from nervous swimmer to confident snorkeller – it just takes a bit of practise.

Learn to Swim
Learn to Swim

Here are a few things to try…

Swimming Lessons

You really will enjoy any snorkel more if you feel comfortable in the water. This might mean taking lessons so you can build up your confidence by learning to float and move in the water. Find a professional swimming teacher or qualified friend to help you out.

Spend more Time in the Water

Confidence comes with practise and familiarity. You might need to spend more time in the water getting comfortable with water on your face and being underwater. This could be in a local pool or a safe swimming spot with friends. The happier you are in the water, the more snorkelling you can do.

Feel Comfortable in Snorkelling Gear

Once you are water confident you should get dressed in your well – fitted snorkelling gear and practise in a swimming pool or somewhere you feel safe. Learn how to kick with fins and get used to breathing through a snorkel.

Start Small

When you do your first open water snorkel, choose a good location. Avoid deep water and waves or crowded tours where there are lots of people crashing and bashing in a small area. Use a flotation aid for extra buoyancy.

Snorkel with a Buddy
Snorkel with a Buddy

Snorkel with a Buddy

Snorkelling with a buddy is good practice even for experienced snorkellers but it is super important for new snorkellers, nervous swimmers or if you are snorkelling with children.

Having a snorkel buddy helps you relax so you can gain confidence and enjoy the snorkel. And of course, your buddy is there to lend a hand if need be.

If you are looking for a snorkel buddy, check in your local area for snorkelling or diving clubs and snorkelling groups on Facebook that arrange group snorkels.

Snorkelling Tours

Many snorkel tour providers will require you to have basic swimming skills to take part in the activity so be honest about your skill level before joining one of these. There are some tour providers that offer one to one assistance for less confident swimmers. These can be a good stepping stone as you build up your swimming skills.

Snorkel in Shallow Calm Water
Snorkel in Shallow Calm Water


I have been on lots of tours where snorkellers have only lasted in the water for a few minutes before their confidence and skill is overwhelmed by the experience

To get the most from snorkelling you need to have basic swimming skills, develop water confidence and know how to use your snorkelling gear

By improving your swimming skills, having the right gear and choosing appropriate snorkelling spots, you’ll be a confident snorkeller in no time!

Steve Klein
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