Snorkels are essential safety equipment, no matter how out-of-date they seem
By H. Kelly Levendorf
H. Kelly Levendorf is Chief Development Officer of Pro Dive International in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A PADI Master Instructor, he has been certified since 1980, teaching through multiple agencies since 1982, and has logged more than 5,000 recreational and technical dives.
Thirty years ago I purchased a cutting-edge piece of equipment called the SCUBAPRO Shotgun Snorkel — a massive, rigid breathing tube with a black rubber torture device for a mouthpiece and a conjoined twin of a chamber for newfangled ease in draining and clearing. Though long since consigned to my collection of antiquated gear, I remember it fondly. Because of these fond memories, I tend to roll my eyes at divers who complain that today’s streamlined, low-profile, lightweight and flexible (read that as having comfortable silicon mouthpieces that drop or swivel out of the way) snorkels are too cumbersome. Admittedly, there are certain diving applications — cave diving for instance — where a snorkel is both unnecessary and a potential liability, but for the vast majority of recreational diving, the snorkel is an asset and should be an integral part of the kit.
Any diver heading to a site from shore is well aware of the advantage of surface swimming with a snorkel versus using precious air from the cylinder. Even certain boat entries necessitate a surface swim to a down line, often against the current, where the snorkel once again preserves irreplaceable dive fuel.
As instructors, we are passionate about teaching proper air management, and in a perfect world every diver would return to the surface with at least 500 psi. In the real world, though, divers occasionally surface with less than optimal air supplies. Here too the snorkel is invaluable for the return swim or even just waiting for the boat to pick you up. As the former owner of a charter operation specializing in drift diving in oftentimes substantial currents, I was only too familiar with divers who would surface at unplanned and, shall we say, generous distances from the boat. The presence of a snorkel during such longer waits for pickup — especially in swift, Gulfstream-spawned surface currents and wave action — was a matter not just of convenience and comfort, but of absolute life safety. And for those who complain that a snorkel is an impediment in drift diving and increases drag, after a deep sigh I suggest investing in a convenient folding type like the AquaLung Nautilus that fits easily into a BC pocket and can be attached in seconds. No diver wants to have to deploy a surface signal device, but only the foolish would consider making a dive without one. The same should be true of the snorkel.
Here at Pro Dive, all candidates in our Career Development Curriculum are required to have snorkels, pursuant to PADI training standards. Pro Dive staff instructors are expected to lead by example, to assure that the next generation of instructors we train will themselves become role models to their own students. The snorkel is an essential part of promoting best practices. And hey, they even come in colors now.
Snorkels are more of a hindrance than a help when you’re underwater
By Ethan Gordon
Ethan Gordon is an instructor and a journalist who works primarily in the diving and travel industries. For 15 years, he has held instructor ratings from both PADI and SSI, and has trained hundreds of people how to dive in New England waters.
As I swim along underwater, my scuba gear on my back, I enjoy the meditative silence and wonders that the reef has to offer. I think how lucky I am to be a scuba diver, to be able to enjoy this subaquatic utopia. All is well. My Chi is in balance.
Suddenly, I’m startled by a tap on my head … and then another, and another as I turn this way and that to see who it is. There’s no one close enough to be tapping me. “What is that phantom flanker that keeps flogging the side of my head?” I wonder. It turns out to be a foot-and-a-half-long piece of plastic bound to my noggin by my mask strap. To add insult to injury, it’s attached to my strap by a piece of rubber that causes the hefty tube to hit me even harder each time I try to remove it. The incessant beating leads to a case of underwater road rage as I fight to release the offensive article of gear. My moment of Zen has passed, all thanks to that snorkel.
I can assure you that if Tarzan had a nice set of scuba gear instead of a muddy reed freshly plucked from the riverbank, he would have used that to aid him in his aquatic escapades. Like a reed, snorkels are primitive. I don’t care how many fancy wave blockers, wind reducers, pan pipes, etc. they put on the top, all of those contraptions add more weight and resistance. Put simply, snorkels are for cruise-ship passengers who enjoy the Caribbean’s reefs from an aerial perspective or for recreational free divers. Scuba divers, on the other hand, are meant to have a streamlined head free of line catchers, drag makers, noggin whackers and the like. After all, what is the meaning of SCUBA? Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. The key word being ‘Underwater’ – a place where snorkels just don’t work.
That being said, I keep a foldaway snorkel tucked in my BC pocket for that rare occasion when I might need it at the surface. However, even at the surface, the snorkel can sometimes become a hazard. For example, how many times have you witnessed someone’s snorkel getting tangled in the drift line that dive boats float off the stern? Underwater, the snorkel is not only useless, but it actually creates a hazard when you consider many of diving’s overhead specialties that require the extensive use of guide lines — wreck diving, cave/cavern diving and ice diving to name a few. Even just being near the ascent/descent line on a typical dive can cause a snorkel to get tangled, resulting in the loss of the diver’s mask while underwater. Regardless of your decision “to snorkel or not to snorkel,” don’t show up to your first wreck- or cave-diving class with a big ole tube stuck to the side of your head. That’s like a college freshman showing up to pledge week with a T-shirt that reads, “Paddle me!”