How Do You Stay Afloat While Snorkeling?


Natural Floating

The human body is able to float naturally when snorkeling in water. Since our bodies are slightly less dense than water, almost everyone will be floating by themselves.

This being said, we’re not all the same. Therefore, one person will float more than the other. There even are a few exceptions, however, this number is small.

According to this Wikipedia article, our bodies have a 0.98 relative density in comparison to water. This density is not a set percentage, so it can vary between you and your friend for example. Fat tissue assists floating since it reduces this density. As a result, one may float better than the other.

How To Float Best

Have Air In Your Lungs

You need to have air in your lungs in order to float. If not, you will most likely sink. Therefore, most people will be fine when snorkeling since they are able to breathe. If you find trouble, you might end up spending too much energy on staying at the ocean surface. Don’t worry, there are a lot of helpful accessories that can help you out.

Move Hands And Feet

By making so called “flipper movements” you will create a force that pushes you to the water surface. Here’s a link to a Youtube video that explains what we mean by that. The movements are shown around the 1 minute mark, however, it might be interesting to watch the entire clip.

Salty Water

Salty water facilitates floating too. That’s the reason why the Dead Sea facilitates it a lot. If you’re interested, more information can be found at deadsea.com

Floating With A Life Vest

If you find difficulty in floating, or if you’re one of the exceptions that doesn’t seem to float, maybe a life vest will help you out. Most of them are inflatable, but you will also find them as a foam version.

Depending on your personal preferences, both possibilities should be just fine. If yours is inflatable, make sure to add some air before using it. Some fill them up entirely, some partially.

Most of the time you’ll notice that you’re not the only one wearing a vest. Besides that, they add to your safety. You’ll be saving some of your energy which could be necessary in certain situations. They also come in appealing neon colors that will make you more noticeable in the water. Not only for fellow snorkelers but also for lifeguards.

Tip: We’ll be discussing other ways to float, however, a life vest is definitely our number 1 recommendation.

Floating With A Wetsuit

Compared to life vests, a wetsuits (like the name suggests) is more of a “suit” that you put on when snorkeling. You can either go for short or long sleeves. There are a couple of reasons why people prefer to wear them.

Besides keeping you warm and protecting you from stings, they come with a certain amount of buoyancy. The thickness of the neoprene (often 2-3mm) influences floating. If yours is 5mm thick, obviously, this helps you out more.

This being said, it’s not their main purpose to lift you up in the water. Think about the water temperature and whether or not it’s too hot to wear one. You should avoid overheating at any time!

Floating With A Rash Guard

Just like wetsuits, rash guards are not designed for floating purposes. We dedicated a whole separate topic on this equipment called “Snorkel Rash Guards“.

A long story short, it’s their main purpose to protect your body. They are thinner than wetsuits but pretty scratch resistant at the same time. If you’re anxious to hurt your skin in rocky oceans, they could help you out. Another advantage is that they avoid sunburns.

Even though they facilitate floating to a certain extent, the result is usually minimal. However, if you wanted to get one anyways, maybe try it out and discover if your buoyancy is acceptable. If it’s not, but you still like the guard, combine it with a life vest.

Floating With Accessories

Inflatable Gear

This could work for some people. One downside is that some of us don’t think they look “cool”. But if you do a little research you’ll find out this doesn’t necessarily need to be the case.

Obviously you’ve already thought about inflatable mattresses or boats. Sure, you can hang on to those as well. But that’s probably not what you’re looking for right now, if we may say so.

We once covered inflatable buoys in our article about waterproof bags and cases. Most of them are meant for storage, or they function as a snorkeling safety stop. But you could hang on to one if it comes with handles.

A foam roll or a swimming pool tube seems popular in pools. The downside of tubes is that they could fly away whenever a wind suddenly arises. You definitely want to avoid that in the ocean. Thicker plastic ones could maybe be of help.

This all being said, maybe inflatable accessories are not the best choice. A mattress to hold on to, or maybe a (solid) foam roll will do the trick. Just stay close to the shore in case something happens or in case you lose your gear! You want to be able to exit immediately if you snorkel but can’t swim.

Swim Buoys

Designed for lifeguards to rescue people, however, an option if you don’t prefer one of the inflatable series. They come with better grips just like you’ve probably seen in the Baywatch series.

They are much more efficient to hold on to and often come with a safety belt. That way you should regain access whenever you let go by accident.

Newer versions come with an extreme buoyancy and are resistant to UV rays. Here’s an example that’s available in red and yellow. They sell for around 50 bucks, but you can check their latest price at Amazon here.

Foam Boards

If you prefer to go for something thinner, or if you only require a little extra buoyancy, a small foam board could be enough. Bare in mind that they were originally developed for swimming pools. In other words, if you snorkel in calm waters, they could work.

Since most oceans contain currents and there’s no telling about their behavior, maybe this is not you best choice. Opting for one of the above will probably work much better. If however you practice in a quiet pool, why not try one.

Combined Floating

Sometimes it might just be enough to float with your regular snorkel gear. Let’s say you already float quite reasonably, but you’re just missing that last bit of help. Have you tried snorkeling with a mask and fins on?

Masks and fins support you in the water, even if it’s just a tiny bit. Full face snorkel masks cover your whole face, which means there’s a good amount of air inside them. Snorkel fins usually float by themselves as well, bringing your legs up just a little more towards the surface.

If this doesn’t seem to be enough, consider to support your belly as well. There are floating belts that do just that. Maybe all together you’re ready to go?

Important: Make sure you stay safe. Never put on flotation gadgets solely around your feet. That could be dangerous! Make sure you’re able to breathe at all times!

Tip: Here are the links to our full guides about full face snorkel masks and snorkel fins.

Downsides Of Floating Accessories

As you will quickly notice, most of these gadgets are created for swimming pool purposes. They help people to learn swimming or serve as entertainment for kids.

In the ocean the situations are totally different. Like we said, if you choose a calm day with (almost) zero currents, yeah, it should help you out. But what if currents are present or suddenly show up? What if you snorkel in the rain and a storm shows up? Only proper snorkel gear specifically meant for flotation is what you want to hold on to.

Anything that floats can be carried away by these currents. The same thing goes for winds. Not exactly ideal. There is a chance that nature will “take away” your gear which is the last thing that you want. Like we mentioned before, if you need extra flotation, stay in shallow water where you can stand in case of any problems.

Then there’s transportation. You need to bring all the equipment with you whenever you go snorkeling. Not only to the beach, but also if you decide to bring your snorkel gear on an airplane.

Conclusion And Final Thoughts

Almost everyone should be able to float naturally. The few exceptions who don’t, maybe you find help in a life vest. This would be our number 1 pick. A wetsuit could be of help as well, even though their buoyancy can be limited. Rash guards provide even less upward lift, so don’t get your hopes up too high.

If you snorkel in a pool, consider one of the floating accessories we talked about. In a calm ocean they probably work as well. Just make sure you stay close to the beach. It’s even better to stay in areas where you can stand. In case you lose your gear, you can still exit the water immediately.

Don’t take any risks. Make sure to always snorkel with at least 1 buddy and don’t underestimate weather conditions. Check for exit points and on-duty lifeguards.

A Few More Tips

  • If you can, try to not bring any unnecessary gear that will increase your weight (heavy jewelry, Apple watch, camera, coins, etc).
  • In case you want to bring your GoPro, consider one of the floating sticks that we discuss in our guide “Snorkeling with a GoPro).
  • Some people find help in underwater scooters. However, make sure to do some research first.
  • If you’re scared to snorkel, make sure to practice in a shallow and quiet pool first in order to experience floating.
  • Try to be relaxed and to enjoy the experience.

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