With a little preparation and planning, it is possible for even very young children to experience snorkeling. We have taken our children snorkeling with us since they were toddlers. If a child can hold their breath or blow bubbles in water, then they can experience the thrill of viewing beautiful fish under water.
Buy their snorkel gear before you go. You will most likely not find kid size or even junior size snorkel equipment on your trip. They will need a life jacket, a mask (or swim goggles), a snorkel, and fins (depending on their age). Life jackets are essential for children snorkeling even if they are good swimmers. Do not confuse swim vests, snorkel vests, or any other wearable flotation device with a life jacket. These are all buoyancy devices, not life preservers, which in my opinion, all give the kids and parents a false sense of security in the water. Even though life jackets are designed to keep their heads out of the water, our kids have no problem leaning forward to snorkel. When they get tired or freaked out at all the fish under them, they can face up and relax comfortably in their life jackets. Masks & Swim goggles. Young kids may find the swim goggles more comfortable because they are not as tight and they won’t fog up. Some kids want to breathe in or exhale through their nose when wearing a mask which will cause it to fog up and frustration will follow. If they can wear the mask comfortably then it’s the best choice for viewing fish. Snorkels come in sizes small enough to fit toddlers however, they can be tricky for little ones to work properly. If they are able to manage fitting the snorkel in their mouth properly at this age, they usually have an easy time breathing through it. However, the problem they run into is when they get water in their snorkel. At this young age, they don’t have the lung capacity or the wits about them to blow out hard and clear their snorkel. We often found it was easier to forgo the snorkel and just have them hold their breath and view through their mask. Fins… If they are under age 8, I wouldn’t bother with fins. You won’t be swimming great distances and if you have fins on yourself it’s easier to just tug the kids along with you.
Practice before you go. Have your kids snorkel in the tub (in non-soapy water) and the swimming pool. Practice taking their mask on and off. Fit the mask around their face first making sure that no edges are tucked under. Have them press and hold the mask to their face. Stretch the strap over the crown of their head by placing your hand in the inside of the strap with your open palm facing their head. This is how you would put on your own mask and it will help prevent longer hair from snagging in the strap. Teach them how to defog their mask by spitting in it and rubbing the spit around with their fingers. They’ll love this part but you’ll probably have to help them out a bit.
Note: We are not professionals and our tips should not be taken as professional advice. Snorkeling and swimming are inherently dangerous sports and you should educate yourself about the dangers of the waters you are entering as well as be aware of your own limits in swimming in such waters, especially with children. Secondly, if you are not a good swimmer or you are not familiar with swimming in the ocean, you should seriously reconsider snorkeling with children until your skills are much improved. If you choose to Snorkel with your kids, you and your child should be good swimmers and wear a life jacket.
If you are swimming or snorkeling on the reef, you need to use a reef-safe sunscreen. Some places (we know of Mexico) will require that you do so but it’s an easy eco-friendly thing to do wherever you go. The problem with sunscreen is that it eventually washes off and that tropical “sunburn of your life” ensues.
If you plan on being in the water for an extended period of time, a rash guard is the way to go. This is a tight fitting shirt that surfers and divers wear under wetsuits to prevent (you guessed it) rashes or chafing. When you buy one, I suggest you buy a size larger than you normally wear. It will still be tight fitting but a little less like trying to pull a pair of pantyhose on a hippo, even if you’re not shaped like a hippo.
Ladies, for bottoms, board shorts are the best for snorkeling and swimming in the surf. When you are snorkeling, you are bottoms up the whole time. You know how those bikini bottoms tend to creep up on you? Without going into the blistering details, let’s just say I had a painful experience after a day of snorkeling when the dark side of the moon saw the sun for the first time. I learned it was possible to sit in an airline seat for a six hour flight on one cheek, albeit uncomfortably. Board shorts… not a fashion statement but they will keep you sitting pretty for your whole trip. Plus, the surf won’t rip them off your body and send them out to sea as it will with bikini bottoms. Thankfully, I live in San Diego and never had to learn this one the hard way but you can always tell who the tourists are.
The easiest way to get out to the reef is to just swim there if you’re lucky enough to be at a beach with a reef close to shore. If not, or if you want to see some more spectacular OceanEyeCandy, you’ll need to go with a snorkeling tour boat. Post in the OceanEyeCandy forum or search in the OceanEyeCandy Review Resource to find a snorkeling tour company recommended by other users.
A few of the things you may want to consider when choosing a snorkeling tour company are:
1. Find out if they make everyone wear a snorkel vest. These are inflatable flotation vests used as buoyancy devices by snorkelers. Some companies require these as a “safety precaution”. This really comes down to a personal choice. Just remember, snorkeling vests are not life jackets.
2. Avoid boats that anchor to the reef. Ask if they anchor or use available moorings. Dropping anchor on the reef damages fragile coral. Reputable companies will understand the reason for your questions and they will be upfront about their boating practices.
3. Ask if they feed or bait the fish. This is not a healthy practice for the marine life. There’s plenty of fish to see without having to interfere with the feeding and behavior patterns of sea life.
4. Ask if they are exclusively a snorkel boat or if they take out scuba divers as well. If they take both on the same boat and there are no other snorkeling tour companies in the area to go with, you’ll want to get all of your concerns addressed before you step fin on the boat. Ask questions to find out if they are concerned with your safety and snorkeling experience. Will you be snorkeling on the same reef with the divers? How deep is the reef from the surface of the water? How much time will you have on the reef? Will they be “dropping you off” at a snorkel reef to come back and “pick you up later” when they are done with the divers?
5. Find out if they provide snorkeling equipment. Most companies will provide a mask, a snorkel (often one that you may keep), fins, and a snorkel vest.