snorkeling question | Debbie's Caribbean Resort Reviews Forums

I want to take my wife snorkeling this winter.She is a terrible swimmer.Rather then a snorkeling bouyency compensater vest which may be bulky I was looking at a neoprene vest which should be more comfortable.We will be in Mexico thanks to all who provided me with excellent info. Will a neoprene vest be enough to help keep her floating?I want a vest that will keep her afloat so she can just lay on top of the water.She has never snorkeled before and will probably not try to dive down at all.Hopefully somebody who has done diving or snorkeling before will have an idea which is better for her.Thanks

Peter York

Great advise wossa, if she follows your steps, she should have her dolphin tattoo in no time at all :D. It is very important to feel comfortable in a new enviroment, and following your advise, she should be "ticketty-boo" in no time at all.

Jake, eh

if she is not a great swimmer, she may panic while snorkeling, and that wouldn’t be fun for anyone.When you snorkel and when you dive, you have to let your body relax, if she is nervous because she isn’t a good swimmer it might be a bad idea plain and simple.That says a lot coming from me, because I think everyone should have gills.


thanks for the advise. We did purchase our snorkeling equipment but was holding off on the vest. The course sounds like a good idea and I will buy her a snorkeling vest as you all suggest, That seems to be the majority of opinions from people I talk with.thanks for the help


Hi, Pete,
Something you might want to consider is taking her to a place such as Xel Ha for her first snorkeling experience. They provide good vests and fins for a nominal fee. At least you wouldn’t be out the cost of vests and fins if she doesn’t like it that much (some people don’t). Plus, it would save room in the luggage now that there are so many new restrictions on luggage. They will also rent you snorkels etc. but you are wise to have your own. With one of our first visits to Mx. we took the snorkeling lesson offered at a resort which was great and the teacher was always around for a refresher if needed. Took all of us a while to remember which side of our heads to always put our snorkels on so that the purge valves would drain, duh!! Then we went to Xel Ha. It is a nice big inlet without currents and pretty well a controlled environment with plenty of other people around and really nice marine life to see at least for the first time. Actually, if I remember right, it is a fresh water gently flowing river that meets the Caribbean. We always do our yrly. Caribbean vacation with another couple. Between the four of us there is a variety of swimming abilities and in the beginning some "fear" based thinking! It was nice there for our first experience because there were no threats like currents, lapping waves, or intimidating marine life… Plus, we had a park-like area to rest in and plenty of food and refreshments as desired. I have to say this gave those of us who were more timid with snorkeling a good boost in self-confidence and the realization that it isn’t hard and we wouldn’t drown or choke!! The entrances to the water were steps and easy. We saw plenty of beautiful fish and some of the biggies like parrot fish. There are lots of other fun things to do there as well. You might check out a website on this place. After we got more comfortable with snorkeling then on other vacations we were confident enough to go on some of the more challenging excursions and then saw the really big fish and giant coral. Have a wonderful time. Be careful you might create a monster like me for snorkeling…it’s all I want to do but one can only be in salt water for so long!! caj ;D

Thanks cajthat might be a good thing to do.I’ll check it out. I was wondering about currents there.I also think a lesson would be good for her , give her a little confidense if nothing else.thanks for the tips


My wife is not a swimmer, but has expressed interest in using a mask and snorkel. The fear of not being able to touch bottom is very real. I would at the least take her to a pool with a shallow and deep end and have her make the transition. Have her get confident floating in deep water for a while. Phil

peteyork,You may want to look into getting a mask with a purge value which makes it easy for beginners to clear any water that may seep in the masks and make sure you purchase a good snorkel that also has a purge/overflow value, what usually gives first timers a panic is if they get water in the snorkel and breath it in. For added security a vest like Wossa described would keep her afloat and the salt water also adds allot of buoyancy. There should be lots of shallow areas on most of the beaches down south so she will be able to stand up and if she feels more secure close to shore. Make sure you stay with her the buddy system is always your best bet for safety. You may want to try snorkeling in the pool until she feels comfortable with the equipment and how to clear the snorkel and mask…

I really hopes she get the hang of it as there is nothing better than diving or snorkeling…especially if you get to see some fish and marine life. It is the best part of my vacation..

Perhaps someone can enlighten me as to why people advocate vests to "keep you floating" in salt water. Personally, I’ve never found myself able to do anything else! Salt water is very buoyant. Just relax and hang there…’ll float! The illusion of added security with a vest is just that… illusion, IMHO. These vests will not keep you from drowning, (a proper life jacket will, because it is designed to turn you over and keep your head above water). I’ll play devil’s advocate here and suggest that the perceived "safety" of a vest may tempt people into deeper water and situations with currents that they wouldn’t encounter otherwise. Stay within your limits…..if that means snorkelling in shallow water close to shore, well, that’s a good beginning.
For many people, remaining positively buoyant is a struggle, even in salt water because they find it hard to relax and tend to breathe harder when they are not comfortable in that environment.

I don’t think snorkel vests are an illusion, they will give you added buoyancy and will help you spend less energy within the water that allows you to concentrate on the reef below.

O.K., maybe it’s me, but in salt water I expend basically zero energy staying afloat, whether I am breathing hard from swimming or not. I can lie on my back, cross my ankles, totally relax, and probably go to sleep. I don’t sink. Snorkelling, I can cease any arm or leg movement and lie there looking down, not conscious of moving any muscles, and I don’t sink. Fresh water is a whole other thing, of course. Rough water and currents are a different proposition, but I don’t see where the increased resistance of a vest would assist you if you are having difficulty making headway. If a person truly gets into trouble, getting water into the lungs, then I suppose you might sink without a vest…..but in those conditions staying afloat only makes it easier to locate the body. ;DAs far as "concentrating on the reef below", I think that is the hidden danger in snorkelling. Getting caught up in the underwater world to the point where you are not paying attention to your above water surroundings can lead to unfortunate consequences. To me, snorkelling is a bit like driving a car. You have to check your "blind spots" on a regular basis!

Bottom line, go with what works for you, but beware being overconfident because you are wearing a vest. For me, the freedom to be able to dive down and check stuff out, plus the fact that I find it a considerable effort to even get below the surface of the water means a vest is a liability, and if I do get myself into serious trouble I know it isn’t going to save me, as a life jacket might. (another topic for another thread, perhaps, but people put far too much confidence in PFD’s, which in most cases will not turn you over and support your head. Try jumping in with one of these and lie face down. A proper life jacket will immediately turn you over…..most PFDs won’t!)

if peteyork’s wife wears a life jacket and she turns over then it would defeat the purpose as you can not snorkel face up if the vest helps her relax a bit to get used to having her face in the water then I do not see the harm as long as she has a buddy and they take it slow and easy.

I totally know what you mean about the bouyancy in salt water I have a hard time going under too, but that is because I am secure in the water and can relax enough to enjoy the experience.

Buoyancy in salt (or fresh) water is entirely personal. Everyone’s different. Sounds like she is like me, very negatively buoyant. But in salt water I can actually float. I never used a BCD when snorkelling (35 yrs. before scuba certified). Don’t know what to say, other than maybe a wetsuit–3-5-7 mil (?). BCD is too cumbersome IMO for snorkelling. Eventually she may want to dive to the bottom, and a BC is just too much stuff getting in the way. Good luck.

I would suggest practicing in a pool first. It can be quite tough to convince yourself that you can actually breathe underwater.

I also agree that a proper flotation device is better, especially if she is nervous about the whole thing.

I should add that I agree with what some have said about comfortability in the water. I know everyone’s different, but off the cuff I would be concerned with someone snorkelling in water over their head if that person is not very comfortable in water. And can swim reasonably well, without fear of going under, etc. Perhaps an idea is to do some snorkelling in water that is not over her head and see how it goes–get comfortable, dive down to the bottom, etc.

My advice is to get her to take swimming lessons, or at least work with a freind who swims. Timing of arm strokes per kick, how to get the most power from each arm stroke and how to breathe properly–not too much or too little. I have seen many people take the beginning Open Water Scuba class who basically had no swimming form to speak of. And they were taking SCUBA??!! But you can get yourself in some trouble while snorkelling also–ie. the current picks up or changes direction, rip currents, etc. You need not be an olympic swimmer to snorkel or scuba, but not having the basics down scares me.

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