Choosing a Snorkel
A snorkel is a multi-purpose tool that you can use in all sorts of water-sports to help keep your airway clear. In its purest form a snorkel is simply a tube with a fixed curved section which finishes with a mouthpiece. Its main purpose is to allow the user to breathe easily and efficiently without having to raise their head out of the water but there are other benefits to owning a snorkel.
Scuba divers use simple snorkels whilst on the surface to conserve the compressed air in their cylinders, why waste gas on the surface when you can just use a snorkel. Freedivers use basic, streamlined snorkels to minimise drag as much as possible to achieve long breath holds and deep depths on a single breath. Rescue divers can use a simple snorkel instead of mouth to mouth rescue breaths for an easy way to keep their airway clear and deliver air on the surface.
Mid range snorkels start to incorporate purge chambers which make clearing water from the snorkel easier and keep any water away from your mouth. Wave deflectors that are fitted to the top of the snorkel are also common and help to prevent water from being splashed into the snorkel. These snorkels also feature a flexible corrugated silicone section between the snorkel tube and mouthpiece to provide a more comfortable fit to the mouth. Simple mask strap clips also appear that make fitting the snorkel to a mask quicker. The majority of snorkellers will use this type of snorkel as they keep the water out of your mouth and a clear airway.
Top of the range snorkels will feature larger, better designed purge chambers to help keep the airway clear even when water is in the snorkel. Advanced mask strap clips allow one time set up and very quick separation. High end snorkels also start to feature dry top valves that use a float mechanism to open and close a valve at the top of the snorkel to prevent water entering the tube if the snorkeller ducks under the surface. These snorkels are great for anyone that isn’t confident in the water.
For a large range of Snorkels for all conditions visit our Snorkel department in Simply Scuba.
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WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
Silita, No. Silicone, Yes. Snorkels are not all made equal and can range from sub standard models found in supermarkets or a seaside store to very high specification snorkels that are made from high grade materials and loaded with features.
Check that the snorkel or snorkelling set is CE marked. All products sold in the UK and Europe should be CE approved to make sure it is fit for purpose and complies with all current regulations. All of the snorkels or snorkelling sets that we sell here are CE marked to ensure they are safe to use.
Another thing to look out for is that very cheap snorkels typically use silita or PVC as a silicone ‘like’ material in key components such as the mouthpiece. Unlike silicone, silita is a hard material which makes it very uncomfortable to use, especially if it is used as a mouthpiece which will likely rub and cause soreness. Silita also has a habit of warping and losing its shape when it gets warm and quickly discolours. Silicone doesn’t have this problem and is a comfortable, soft and flexible material making it a much better choice for use in snorkels.
The top of the snorkel will either be a simple opening or will have a wave deflector or dry top valve fitted. The simple opening is the most efficient option and allows unrestricted flow of air in and out of the snorkel but water can splash in so best for swimmers with confident airway control.
A wave deflector top effectively caps the top of the snorkel and works to direct water that splashes over the top away from the snorkel opening. Great for keeping splashes and waves out but water will get in if you submerge, if you're pretty confident in the water these will be a great option.
A dry top valve uses the outer design of a wave deflector to push splashed water away from the snorkel opening but also features a float mechanism that will shut a one way valve as the snorkel is taken below the surface, preventing water from entering the snorkel all the time it is underwater. As soon as the valve clears the surface the float drops down and the valve opens keeping your snorkel full of air even if you swim under the water.
The snorkel tube itself can vary in shape, diameter, cross section and material to achieve a variety of effects. A basic snorkel is likely to feature a rigid, circular cross section tube but this is not always the best option for two reasons:
- A hard rigid material is prone to damage and it would only take someone to step on it to irreparably reshape the snorkel, rendering it unsafe to use. A lot of snorkels use a more flexible material that has a rigid form that is able to bend and flex but crucially it will return to its original shape.
- The shape and cross section of a snorkel tube is also important for drag. When in use the snorkel sticks out from the side of the head and drags in the water when finning. This drag can cause the snorkel to flap uncomfortably against the side of the head. Rather than use a perfectly circular cross section and straight tube a snorkel should hug the side of the head and wrap around as it moves up. An oval shaped cross section lowers the profile of the snorkel but maintains the same flow efficiency.
MASK STRAP RETAINERS
The most basic way to secure your snorkel to your mask strap is by using a snorkel retainer. Simple snorkels are still supplied with this form of retainer but they are not particularly easy to adjust once the mask and snorkel are on and often require removal to adjust for the best fit and will require adjusting again every time you take the snorkel off.
To make it easier new retainers and clips were developed to allow the snorkel to slide up and down for optimal positioning and the snorkel to be quickly removed without the need to adjust every time. These clips and retainers come in a huge number of variations from simple plastic ones to two piece quick release versions.
LOWER CURVED SECTION
This component of a snorkel curves the tube round towards the mouth so that the mouthpiece fits comfortably without pulling. A basic snorkel will feature a fixed angle piece that is usually made from silicone but more advanced snorkels will use a flexible corrugated section to allow the mouthpiece to be more comfortably positioned towards the mouth.
It is important that the corrugation is only on the outside with the inside of the tube being smooth to prevent turbulence that can restrict air flow and also hinder clearing water from a snorkel.
This section is the only time a harder silicone might be used in a more expensive snorkel and it is only used to achieve a purpose. By using high grade silicone the mouthpiece is allowed to drop away from the mouth but this isn’t preferred by all snorkellers so some snorkels will have a harder silicone section to help retain its curved shape but still provide flexibility for comfort.
CHAMBER & MOUTHPIECE
For comfort a mouthpiece should always be made using 100% pure high grade silicone as it provides a soft flexible finish that is unlikely to rub or cause irritation even after prolonged use. Most manufacturers even round off the edges of mouthpieces to achieve the best comfort level possible. Some snorkels are fitted with a smaller mouthpiece that is designed to provide a better and more comfortable fit for younger teenagers and women that find standard mouthpieces too large to use.
The mouthpiece is attached to a lower chamber which in a simple snorkel just provides the final turn towards the mouth. More expensive snorkels begin to feature water collection chambers (or purge chambers) with a one way valve which help to drain water away. This helps to eliminate the need to exhale sharply to clear the water by pushing it up the snorkel tube. These chambers help keep the airway open even if there is water in the snorkel. The size and shape of a purge chamber can vary but the principle is the same.