What is Snorkeling? Meaning, History & Facts

As a newbie snorkeler, you definitely want to know almost everything about this recreational water activity. Here is a breakdown of what snorkeling means, its history, benefits, safety, where it is applied and done plus more…

Snorkeling Meaning & Definition

The term ‘snorkeling’ or ‘snorkelling’ (British English) comes from the word ‘snorkel’– a J-shaped breathing tube. Snorkeling is defined as swimming underwater, or just near the surface, with a full-face snorkel mask, or with a snorkel and a diving mask.

Basic snorkel set
Snorkel and Diving Mask

You may also need fins or flippers for easy moving. Some snorkelers also opt for wet suits and protective clothing to help maintain their body temperature and pressure in cooler waters as well as guard their skin.

Complete beginners may also need flotation devices to boost their buoyancy.

Snorkeling pronunciation

In British English, it pronounced as snaw·kuh·luhng

In American English, it pronounced as snor·kuh·luhng

Snorkeling in Spanish is called bucear

Snorkeling is a recreational activity, typically popular in tropical areas with reefs and coastlines. The equipment enables the diver to explore underwater treasures and flora and fauna of the seabed with little to no difficulty in breathing.

Life underwater is a whole new world, ready to be explored and snorkeling allows you to do that. Snorkeling gained popularity as it does not require training for a specified number of hours or to learn how to handle complex equipment.

All you need to do is familiarize yourself with water, learn some basic swimming skills, and attend an orientation by an experienced snorkeler, and you’re good to go.

What is snorkeling, Definition, history and application
A snorkeler in action
Picture of a lady snorkeling on surface
Surface Snorkeling

The Origins of Modern-Day Snorkeling

The history of snorkeling can be traced back to the times of Aristotle. At that point, snorkeling was not the luxury activity it is today. Assyrian divers, in 900 BC, used animal skins filled with air as makeshift oxygen tanks. Earlier than that, sponge farmers used hollow reeds to breathe when underwater.

In his book ‘Parts of Animals’, Aristotle recalls an instrument like an elephant’s trunk (hollow on the inside) aiding in underwater breathing.

Da Vinci’s Designs

Leonardo Da Vinci’s scientific prowess is widely known. His collection of sketches included many accurately designed diving equipment. The apparatuses Da Vinci sketched depicted simple diving tubes for breathing (much like a snorkel), diving suits and even modern fins in the form of gloves with webbing between the fingers.

John Smeaton’s Air Pump

As time went on, divers realized that it was impossible to use breathing equipment meant for surface-level swimming for deeper expeditions. Water pressure below the first few initial feet was too much to allow the human lungs to breathe normally as the water weighed down on the body.

In 1771, John Smeaton, a British-born engineer developed an air pump to address the issue. His invention opened up new possibilities for the diving world in the 18th century. Soon divers were exploring territories previously out of reach.

John Smeaton-Air Pump Inventor
John Smeaton

The air pump eliminated the difficulty divers faced when breathing in deep waters by sending air through special pressurized tubes. Smeaton’s invention paved the way for pressurized wet suits and the development of the first SCUBA system.

Who Invented Snorkeling?

Most sources point out that it is Guy Gilpatric in 1930. He was the first to start swim diving with waterproof goggles based on the design of swimming goggles invented earlier.

Modern day Snorkeling Inventor photos
Pictures of Guy Gilpatric

Modern Day Diving Equipment

As years progressed, so did the efficiency of diving equipment. From the hollow reeds used by ancient sponge farmers to Smeaton’s air pump, modern snorkeling gear is created as a culmination of all technological developments of the past, optimized to suit modern snorkelers’ needs.

Now, equipment is made keeping in mind snorkeler safety as well. Goggles worn by divers are produced using plastic and rubber for a more comfortable non-slip fit.

Treated glass is used as well to help improve visibility underwater, where the atmosphere is different than what we are used to on land.

The latest advancement in snorkeling is the full face snorkel mask. It has the snorkel and the mask combined. A very helpful innovation especially for the complete beginners. Some of these masks allow you to breathe comfortably, attach your gopro cameras and much more.

Modern full snorkeling equipment- full face snorkel mask
Full face Snorkel Mask

As a fun and leisure activity, snorkeling is still growing. People are falling in love with it and it is why funny puns, jokes and quotes about it are spreading fast all around the internet.

Why do People Snorkel? Is Snorkeling Beneficial?

The technical definition of snorkeling is swimming in a body of water wearing a snorkel and a diving mask. However, the actual practice of snorkeling involves observing fish, wrecks, reefs and aquatic organisms underwater or taking a closer look at underwater rock formations.

Snorkeling is largely considered a leisure activity due to its non-competitive nature. However, it also has many health benefits, such as:

Stress Relief

The day-to-day frustrations of our hectic lives can leave us feeling chronically stressed. Long periods of stress adversely affect our health and cause problems such as migraines and high blood pressure. One of the many ways to reduce accumulated stress is to exercise – which is how snorkeling is categorized.

The weight of the water makes movement difficult underwater. This means your muscles work harder to move underwater against the flow. Snorkeling is a great way to get some exercise and release stress, which causes the secretion of endorphins, also known as the ‘happy hormones.’

The calming effect of endorphins coupled with mesmerizing underwater scenery will help take your mind off daily life. Snorkeling requires the diver to learn a series of specific and intentional breathing patterns. Coincidentally, focused breathing is also a meditation tactic that allows the breather to relax, balance themselves and concentrate better.

Deep breathing also helps keep oxygen levels high in every organ. A consistent breathing pattern is imperative, and deep breathing allows maximum absorption of oxygen into your bloodstream.

Breathing through a snorkel will feel less than natural due to numerous factors, including your body’s resistance in breathing through the breathing tube, and water pressure.


Swimming utilizes every muscle in the body and snorkeling is not an intense form of swimming but it is still a dose of a good workout.

While snorkeling, you have to draw strength from your core, leg and arm muscles to move seamlessly through the water. Not only are these muscles used, but also strengthened and toned.

The best part about snorkeling is that although it constitutes as a complete workout, energy levels remain high, as the brain is alert and learning, observing unchartered territory as you explore underwater.

Cardiovascular Benefits

Snorkeling works wonders for all the muscles in your body, especially the heart. The more you swim, the more you strengthen your heart muscles. Deep breathing when the heart rate increases helps decrease the risk of heart disease.

Like any muscle, the more your heart muscle remains active, the healthier it becomes. Common cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, heart failure, and clogging of the arteries reduce through regular exercises, such as snorkeling.

Pains and Aches

The gentle rocking motion of water creates the perfect balance between resistance and comfort for stiff joints and muscles. Snorkeling requires constant movement, allowing your muscles to move in a wide range.

The constant movement of your muscles and the water’s flow quickly loosen stiff muscles and joints.

Water-based exercises are especially beneficial for people who have arthritis or weak bones. Even expectant mothers can snorkel. The water allows low impact during movement due to its buoyancy, unlike during jogging or walking.

What do I Need to Snorkel?

You need basic swimming, and snorkeling skills and some gear to make the best out of a snorkeling tour.

Further Reading:

Some of the gear you need include;


Typically snorkeling is an activity in its own right used for leisure as well as surface-level exploration. However, many spin-offs have come into existence.

Typically, snorkeling is a leisure activity enjoyed by adventurers who want to explore the sea at surface level. Given its popularity, snorkeling has branched off into other kinds of activities as well:

Fin swimming takes upon the particulars of snorkeling and is an individual sport. They use special snorkels made for streamlining. Bog snorkeling is another individual sport, based on speed snorkeling in a bog.

There has also been an increase in underwater hockey and rugby, as teams compete with each other in swimming pools with balls, baskets and snorkeling equipment.

You can use snorkeling basics for scuba diving and spearfishing. Scuba diving also utilizes a self-contained breathing instrument while underwater. Spearfishing makes use of snorkeling equipment and a spear for hunting fish for food or sport.

Is Snorkeling Safe?

Most snorkeling organizations recommend a buddy system in which snorkelers are paired with others so that each can look out for their partner. The greatest threat to snorkelers comes from jet skis and speedboats.

Since snorkelers are submerged underwater with only the tips of their snorkel tubes, chances of accidents exist. Sailboats are also a concern as their quiet engines do not even alert the snorkeler.

Snorkelers can also face dehydration and extreme exposure, which is why experts recommend using proper sunscreen and staying hydrated before snorkeling.

Snorkelers should remain aware of their surroundings near coral reefs, as coral can sting and be sharp and poisonous. Cuts or abrasions will need emergency treatment. Booties and gloves are a good way to help snorkelers stay safe while swimming near coral reefs or exploring their surroundings.

The other safety concerns come from full-face snorkel masks. A substantial number or fatal accidents have been reported in the recent past.

Is Snorkeling Expensive?

For children snorkel trips cost around $25 while for adults it from $30 if you already have your gear. However, it is important to note that the price will vary depending on some factors which include;

  • Snorkeling Equipment:
  • The number of adults and children
  • Duration and number of trips
  • The Snorkeling place/site/destination

Further reading: How much does snorkeling cost?

How many Calories does Snorkeling Burn?

Depending on your weight, and how you snorkel, and the duration you can between 300-450 calories in 60 minutes (one hour)

As already mentioned above, snorkeling is a complete workout on its own. While in the water you involve a couple of muscles which translates to calorie-burning. The deeper you will go down and more time you will spend in the water, the more calories you will burn.

Can Snorkeling cause Sore Throat?

It is not very clear, there are a few individuals who say they have suffered a sore throat after snorkeling. Possible causes include floating algae or infected snorkel equipment. Always disinfect your masks and avoid algae-infested areas.

Can Snorkeling cause Sinus Infection?

Yes, but it depends on a couple of factors such as your health status. If you are healthy it is not likely to happen but if you are already unwell, it can happen. Deep Blue Diving has details on what to do about it.

Snorkeling Videos

Following are nice videos to watch individuals snorkeling underwater.

Locations-Where can I Snorkel?

While snorkeling is possible anywhere, provided you have the equipment and there’s a body of sufficient water, preferred locations include areas with minimum waves and something interesting to observe near the surface.

Anywhere where there is marine life is a good place to snorkel. However, extensive snorkeling could damage underwater ecosystems.

Florida is one of the top sites you can visit. You’re likely to snorkel with manatees, very rare sea creatures.

Brazil has many shipwrecks making it an interesting place to snorkel, as do the waters surrounding Belize where a wide array of marine life can be observed.

Further Reading: Best Snorkeling Destinations Cozumel-Mexico

The Philippines is also good for snorkeling, and you can observe whale sharks and a diverse ecosystem made up of 7000 islands. In the Maldives, you can enjoy undersea gardens and some 700 species of fish in the island’s crystal-clear water.

For a change in marine life, head to Galapagos Islands and enjoy swimming with the orcas and turtles in the natural world of iguanas and finches. You can even encounter humpback whales and Galapagos penguins and sea lions!

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  1. I didn’t know that snorkeling services recommend a buddy system to ensure that someone will look out for the other. It’s assuring to know this fact because I plan on going snorkeling with my sister at the most famous beach in our country. When I meet my sister for dinner later, we’ll choose together the snorkeling agency that can also orient and guide us on what to do underwater.

    1. Hi Luke, thanks for your comment. A buddy is very important. Even professional divers never go deep down there a lone.

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