Snorkel Styles and Features

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Parts of a Snorkel

Photo of Snorkel Parts
Snorkel Styles and Features A photo showing the basic parts of a snorkel. The Cressi California Snorkel has a classic, simple design. Image of the California Snorkel reproduced with the permission of Cressi.

It's Not Just a Tube!

A snorkel, in its most basic form, is a plastic tube that allows a person to breathe with his face submerged a few inches below the water. Even though divers carry regulators, snorkels are important pieces of safety gear for scuba divers. If the ocean is rough and it is difficult to get above the waves, a diver can breath from a snorkel on the surface if he has an equipment malfunction or is out of air. Dive gear manufacturers have developed innovations to make snorkels easy to use. But really, how complicated can they be? Glad you asked.

A simple snorkel, like the Cressi California Snorkel shown above, is a tube bent at the bottom with a mouthpiece attached. A diver keeps the snorkel in his mouth by biting down on the mouthpiece and sealing his lips around it. The top of the snorkel tube sticks out above the water, allowing him to breathe although his face is completely submerged. Most snorkels can be attached to a scuba mask with a clip or snorkel keeper (such as an ocho), allowing a diver to use the snorkel without holding it.

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Open-Top Snorkels

Image of Open top Snorkels
Snorkel Styles and Features The photo above shows examples of high quality snorkels with a traditional open top design. From left to right: Cressi California Snorkel, Cressi Corsica Snorkel, Mares Pro Flex Snorkel, and Oceanic Blast. Images of snorkels reproduced with the permission of Cressi, Mares, and Oceanic.

Some snorkels have tops which are completely open or slightly angled. These snorkels tend to be less top-heavy and awkward than snorkels with more complicated tops. The simple, classic design may be intuitive and easy to use. The disadvantage of snorkels with open tops is that any water that splashes over the top of the tube will travel directly down into the snorkel mouthpiece. Open-top snorkels are appropriate for calm and slightly choppy conditions, and in situations where it is unlikely that water will enter the tube. Divers considering this kind of snorkel should be comfortable clearing the snorkel of any water that splashes over the open top.

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Semi-Dry Snorkels

Semi-dry Snorkel Photos
Snorkel Styles and Features These semi-dry snorkels are a good compromise between bulk and ease of breathing. Examples of snorkels with semi-dry tops, from left to right: Mares Hydrex Flex, ScubaPro Escape, Cressi Delta 2, and Oceanic Arid. Snorkel images reproduced with the permission of Mares, ScubaPro, Cressi, and Oceanic

Semi-dry top snorkels prevent most water from entering the snorkel, as long as it is not completely submerged. The plastic covering on semi-dry snorkel tops uses various combinations of slits, vents, and angles to divert water that splashes over the snorkel top. These snorkels work well in calm to moderately rough conditions. Semi-dry snorkels are a bit more top-heavy than snorkels with open tops, but are a good balance between bulkiness and ease of breathing.

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Dry Top Snorkels

Dry Snorkel Images
Snorkel Styles and Features Dry snorkels seal completely to prevent water from entering the snorkel tube when submerged. Photos of dry snorkels, from left to right: Cressi Dry, Aqualung Dry Flex, Mares Hydrex Superdry, ScubaPro Phoenix 2. Snorkel images reproduced with the permission of Cressi, Aqualung, Mares, and ScubaPro.

Dry snorkels are designed to completely seal if a divers ducks below the surface. The tops of dry snorkels use a variety of clever mechanisms, such as flaps and valves, to close off the top of the snorkel when it is submerged. This eliminates the need to clear the snorkel when returning to the surface. Although the dry top design is fantastic for snorkeling, some divers find it a bit top-heavy. When diving, the snorkel may trap air, becoming buoyant and pulling on the mask. Some divers will love the dry top design, while others may find it unnecessarily complicated.

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Snorkels Without Purge Valves

Photos of Snorkels Without Purge Valves
Snorkel Styles and Features Snorkels without purge valves take a little practice to efficiently clear of water. Examples of snorkels without a purge valve, from left to right: Oceanic Blast, Mares Pro Flex, and the Cressi Gringo. Snorkel images reproduced with the permission of Oceanic, Mares, and Cressi.

Snorkels without purge valves are common, but take practice to learn to use correctly. If water enters the snorkel, the diver needs to exhale forcefully enough to blow the water out the top of the snorkel tube. While snorkels without purge valves may be more difficult to clear at first, keep in mind that the absence of a purge valve means that there is no purge valve to break. If made by reputable equipment manufacturers, these snorkels tend to last a very long time.

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Snorkels With Purge Valves

Photos of Snorkels With Purge Valves
Snorkel Styles and Features Purge valves make snorkels easy to clear of water. These photos show snorkels with purge valves, from left to right: Cressi Gamma, ScubaPro Laguna 2, Aqualung Impulse Dry Flex, and Mares Breezer Purge. Snorkel images reproduced with the permission of Cressi, ScubaPro, Aqualung, and Mares.

Purge valves are incorporated into snorkels to make it easy for a diver to clear water that enters the tube. A purge valve is a one-way valve at the bottom of the snorkel. If water enters the snorkel, the diver simply exhales and the water is easily forced out through the valve. Snorkels with purge valves are exponentially easier to clear than snorkels that do not have purge valves, and are a rapidly becoming the industry standard.

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Rigid Snorkels

Photos of Rigid Snorkels
Snorkel Styles and Features Rigid tube snorkels do not flex or bend to fit a diver's face. Photos of rigid tube snorkels from left to right: Cressi Corsica, Mares Breezer Junior, and Oceanic Blast. Snorkel images reproduced with the permission of Cressi, Mares, and Oceanic.

A rigid tube snorkel has a solid, rigid or semi-rigid tube which holds its shape without bending when worn by a diver. If a rigid tube snorkel fits a diver well, it can be very comfortable to wear. However, if the snorkel tube is not bent at the correct angle to fit a diver's face, it may pull away from his mouth and may place strain on his jaw. Try on rigid tube snorkels with a mask to make sure that they fit correctly before purchase.

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Flexible Snorkels

Flexible Snorkel Photos
Snorkel Styles and Features Flexible tube snorkels bend to fit almost any diver. Photos of flexible tube snorkels, from left to right: Aqualung Impulse Dry Flex, Cressi Delta 1, Mares Hydrex Superdry F, ScubaPro Spectra. Snorkel images reproduced with the permission of Aqualung, Cressi, Mares, and ScubaPro

Flexible snorkels have a corrugated silicon or plastic tube connecting the rigid portion of the snorkel tube to the mouthpiece. The corrugated tube may be more or less flexible, depending upon the material. High quality corrugated tubes are made of silicon and bend to fit almost any diver. When a diver replaces the snorkel with his regulator to begin a dive, the corrugated hose snaps straight, and the snorkel mouthpiece hangs to the side of the diver's face. This keeps the snorkel out of the diver's way when underwater, but close enough to use on the surface.

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Snorkel Mouthpiece Images
Snorkel Styles and Features High quality mouthpieces are made of soft silicon, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Photos of snorkel mouthpieces from top left clockwise: Cressi Delta 1, Cressi Gamma, Oceanic Ultra Dry, and Oceanic Response. Snorkel images reproduced with the permission of Cressi and Oceanic.

Snorkels have various sizes and shapes of mouthpieces (the part of the snorkel that goes in a diver's mouth). High quality mouthpieces are made of durable, soft silicon, which will not cut or press uncomfortably on the inside of a diver's mouth. Mouthpieces come in different shapes and sizes. Finding the correct mouthpiece for an individual may help reduce jaw strain. Most snorkel mouthpieces can be swapped out for different styles to maximize comfort.

Below the mouthpiece, most snorkels have a reservoir, or extended plastic bowl that drops down below the mouthpiece. Water that enters the snorkel tube will be collected in the reservoir, as opposed to traveling directly to the diver's mouth. A diver can continue to breathe with water in the reservoir until he is ready to clear the snorkel.

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Mask Attachments

Snorkel Styles and Features There are various ways to attach snorkels to masks. From the top left moving clockwise, attachments by Oceanic, Oceanic, ScubaPro, and Cressi. Snorkel images reproduces with the permission of Oceanic, ScubaPro, and Cressi

Almost every equipment manufacturer has developed a unique way to attach snorkels to scuba masks. Most of their methods work quite well, and many allow for the snorkel to be quickly attached or detached from the mask. Just keep in mind that if a snorkel detaches easily in air, it will also detach easily in water. Be prepared to hold snorkels that detach easily every time you roll or jump off a boat to avoid losing them when you hit the water. For optimal fit, a good mask attachment should allow the snorkel to be moved up or down in relation the snorkeler's mouth.

The top left attachment, by Oceanic, uses a loop and hook method to attach the snorkel to a fastener which is permanently mounted on the mask strap. This method allows the snorkel to be quickly attached and detached for the mask.

The photo at the bottom left shows a classic snorkel attachment by Cressi (known as a snorkel keeper or ocho) consisting of two plastic loops connected by a thin plastic strip. The loops are slid over the snorkel tube, and the mask strap is routed between the tube and the strip connecting the plastic loops. This method does not allow for quick attachment of the snorkel to the mask, but is unlikely to detach accidentally.

The two right attachments by Oceanic (top right) and ScubaPro (bottom right) consist of adjustable clips attached to the snorkel which snap over the mask strap. These work well, and allow for quick adjustment and attachment of the snorkel. However, they occasionally get caught (painfully) in long hair.

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Nautilus Snorkel

Photo of the Aqualung Nautilus Snorkel
Snorkel Styles and Features The Aqualung Nautilus Snorkel rolls up into a handy carrying case that can be carried in a BCD pocket. Snorkel image reproduced with the permission of Aqualung.

Carrying a snorkel attached to the mask annoys some divers. However, snorkels are recommended safety gear for divers. The Aqualung Nautilus snorkel rolls up and fits in a handy carrying case which can be stowed in the pocket of a ​buoyancy compensator (BC) or hung from the BC d-rings. When removed from the case, it springs into shape. While the Aqualung Nautilus lacks features such as a purge valve and dry top, many divers find the ability to carry it in a pocket well worth sacrificing the other features.

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Oceanic Pocket Snorkel

Photo of Oceanic Pocket Snorkel
Snorkel Styles and Features The Oceanic Pocket Snorkel folds up to fit in a BC pocket. Snorkel image reproduced with the permission of Oceanic.

The Oceanic Pocket Snorkel, like the Aqualung Nautilus, is designed to be be folded up and stored in a Buoyancy Compensator (BC) pocket. This snorkel comes with a strap to wrap around it and keep it folded. The Oceanic Pocket Snorkel has an incorporated purge valve and semi-dry top, but does not fold up quite as small as the Nautilus. Many other equipment manufacturers have also developed snorkels that fold up and stow in BCs.