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The Dreaded Snorkelfish

Should Snorkels Be Required Diving Gear? Scroll Down to Leave Your Opinion

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a scuba diver wearing a snorkel underwater.

Should snorkels be mandatory scuba diving gear?

© istockphoto.com, Mark_Doh

I breathe out, settle into the ocean, and sink slowly into the blue as I begin my dive. I count five divers drifting downwards in perfect unison; everyone is accounted for and descending easily when I notice we have an unexpected guest. A glint of sunlight strikes an object colored what I can only term "recreational dive gear yellow," an unusual hue found nowhere in nature. The garish object streaks past me, intent on freedom. I know its tricks. Once it catches the current, it will drift along the seafloor in a search of a reefy hiding place in which to establish itself. Dive guides call this bizarre creature the snorkelfish, a term for snorkel lost upon entering the water. The snorkelfish is one of the many reasons that, although snorkels are required equipment for most open water certification courses and necessary in many diving scenarios, many dive guides and instructors dislike snorkels.

As most dive guides, I consider it a matter of professional pride to capture any snorkelfish that I see. I prefer not to leave dive gear littering the reef, and snorkels are frequently valuable. For example, two valuable species of snorkelfish are:

1) The recently purchased, fancy new snorkel that matches the diver's newly purchased mask. These snorkels tend to be very expensive and have all the newest styles and features to make them easy to use. The diver will be unhappy if it escapes.

2) The dive shop's rental snorkel. These are not nearly as nice as the previous species, but the guide will pay if the snorkel is lost.

Not only do snorkels tend to wriggle free and begin new lives as aquatic creatures, as a piece of equipment they present other headaches for divers. Many snorkels are floppy, and tend to pull uncomfortably on a diver's mask, sometimes even breaking the seal of the mask and causing it to leak. The snorkel holder that attaches the snorkel tube to the mask sometimes catches on the diver's hair and rips it out. Many divers have complained that their snorkels hit their faces while diving, hover distractingly in their fields of vision, and are just plain uncomfortable.

More about masks and snorkels:

Snorkel Styles and Features
Masks on Foreheads - Okay or Not?
Why Should You Get a Back-Up Mask?

Still, snorkels are required gear for most entry level scuba diving certification courses, and most scuba diving certification agencies insist that dive professionals carry a snorkel at all times. In my experience, this rule has lead to many of my instructor friends "modifying" their snorkels to fit in their buoyancy compensator pockets by sawing off the snorkel tube so only two inches are left or crushing a flexible snorkel tube flat with a hammer (the second method didn't work very well). This seems to be obeying the letter of the law but not the intent. Other friends of mine broke down and purchased collapsable snorkels designed to fit in BCD pockets, such as the Nautilus snorkel manufactured by Aqualung.

With all the apparent disadvantages of carrying a snorkel, a diver may wonder why snorkels are required gear. Although a diver carries (what should be) an excess of breathing gas in his scuba tank and should be able to breathe from his diving regulator on the surface, he may not always want to. A snorkel is helpful when a diver prefers to avoid breathing from the tank until he desends. Furthermore, a diver may be able to float easily with his head above the water in calm seas, but may not be able to do so in rough seas that do not allow him to keep his head completely above the water. Breathing from a snorkel while on the surface can help him to save tank air in the event he must wait on the surface before a dive. A snorkel may become a valuable safety tool should the diver surface with little or no breathing gas remaining in his tank and finds that he must wait for the boat in rough conditions.

Many situations exist in which a snorkel should be used, rough seas being only one example. In other dive scenarios, such as diving in an overhead environment, snorkels are unnecessary and prohibited. The use of a snorkel is mandatory in most scuba diving certification courses, but is not essential in all scuba diving environments. In calm, Caribbean seas, I find it irrelevant whether a diver uses a snorkel or not. My question is, should snorkels be required dive gear for certification courses and guides, or should they only be required in environments that necessitate them.

Do you think snorkels should be required scuba diving gear? Why or why not? Click here to add your opinion. Here's What some divers have to say:

"Snorkels will also not help you in kelp diving, which is the norm on the West Coast. Yes - you can "kelp crawl" but that is very tiring. The best way to dive in kelp is to keep an additional 200 to 300 pounds in the tank, view the boat from underwater, take a bearing and swim under the canopy to the boat."
- Diver Lyn
"The first time I heard my former dive instructor said she wasn't going to attach a snorkel tube during dives, I was scandalised! In all my BSAC lessons (which stretched over 3 months), I met several instructors and all religiously stuck to snorkel in every dive. After my certification, in my recreational dives (almost always with the same group of instructors), everyone had a snorkel when going down.

So, when the instructor told me it was not necessary, I was not only scandalised but scared. Would I be struck dead by lightning when I surfaced without a snorkel?

Anyway, on calmly thinking over the issue I realised I had never used the snorkel, not even on the surface. Since then, I have not taken it down in any dive. However we always have them in the boat, and in between dives, we would snorkel for fun around the boat."
- flightstick
"I agree that the snorkel shouldn't be mandatory. if your diving then you should be able to analyze the situation that you'll be in, just THINK.">
- Emparo
"As with other diving equipment, the use o not of a snorkel should be determined by the type of activity your are planning to do. In some cases is necessary, not in others."
- Gustavo Costa
"Haven't used a snorkel in years. Bring one in a strong current and you'll be clearing your mask every 2-3 minutes or so. When I surface, I most often return to the dive boat on my back. In the rare case I prefer face down, I have the 50 bar left in my tank to take me there.

Surprised to hear that guides have to pay for lost rental snorkels… is that also standard practice for weight belts, masks and fins? Strange way to entice people to come work for you. Lost dive gear should be be run as a regular expense of running a dive operation or charged to responsible the customer."
- Jean
"I remember a quote my dad got from DM just after he got certified when he asked if he needed to take snorkel.

'Are we diving or are we snorkeling?'"
- One of the Mikes
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