Picture a vacation on the seashore and think of some of the most common images associated with beach-side holidays. Most people will think of beach blankets, umbrellas, and swimming — and most often, when we picture those swimmers, we picture them with a snorkel mask! There's a good reason for that: many people go snorkellingevery year, andit’s an excellent, accessible activity that provides a unique way to interact with the environment. In tropical destinations and places with calmer waters that are easier to swim in, snorkellingis a major tourist attraction. As an activity open to practically everyone, it's popular for a reason.

That means it's perfect for children and adults alike. With the right equipment, a little practice, and some pre-existing swimming knowledge, anyone can enjoy snorkellingand experiencethe underwater world in a more personal way than ever. When you can duck your head below the surface and watch the waters beneath you teeming with life, you can come away with a real sense of nature. So what should you or your family keep in mind if you're planning on diving in to the waters for a snorkellingadventure? Check out this overview of everything you need to know to stay safe and have a good time.

How good do you need to be at swimming to snorkel?

Thisquestion is often the first thing most people ask when they are first considering heading into the water, especially if they have children. While some snorkellingexperiences take place in locations with a highly structured environment, many others take place in areas of open water, though they still remainnear the seashore. Snorkellingsessions can last for some time, too, though there may be a boat or the nearby shoreline where you can take rest breaks. For that reason, it’s a good idea not to take especially young children snorkelling. All those who intend to strap on their fins and a mask should have a reasonable level of competence when it comes to swimming.

What does that mean? You should be able to swim without stopping for more than just a few minutes, for one. After all, fins may help you glide through the water, but they also add a lot of resistance for your muscles to overcome. Breath control is also of some importance as you will need to adjust to breathing solely through your mouth while your face is underwater. Finally, you should feel comfortable in open water situations such as these. While there may be instructors and safety precautions in place, it's always a good idea to bring your ownconfidence along for the journey.

The equipment and gear snorkellers use

While you don't need a lot of things to go snorkelling successfully, you will need a few items. You can choose to purchase these yourself if you plan to take part in this activity frequently. However, if you're going on holiday to a location where snorkellingis a frequent activity, you can often rent all the equipment you'll need. Don't immediately reach for the least expensive option, either. It may save you some cash, but the trade-off will be a less pleasant experience. With that in mind, here's what you'll need to pick up before you can head into the water.

Swim fins are an absolute must, not only because it will allow you to travel farther with less effort, but also because it makes it far easier to stay in place while you look beneath the waves. A mask that covers your nose and forms a tight seal against your face is also necessary; leaks arethe most frustrating things that can happen while snorkelling, as it can distract you from viewing the wildlife below. Finally, of course, you'll need your snorkel. While plain snorkels are simply an open tube for drawing in the airfrom above the surface, look for something called a "dry snorkel." These have a special flap on the inside that closes to prevent water from entering and going straight into your mouth as you try to breathe. Thisflap allows you to get a better look underwater and keeps you more protected from waves at the same time.

Getting started: beginner tips

Okay, so you’re all geared up, and now you're ready to head into the water. Ensure you've got a tight seal on your mask and that the strap is in a comfortable position on your head. Check to make certain your swim fins aren't too tight on your feet, and then slip into the water! The idea is simple: keep your face below the water while breathing regularly through your snorkel, just as you would on dry land. Don't head straight out to a coral reef or a good viewing area until you've spent some time in shallow water, practisingbreathing through your snorkel. At the same time, familiarise yourself with propelling your body smoothly through the water using your fins. 

Before you head out for a real snorkellingexcursion, don't forget to take steps to de-fog your mask! A drop or two of baby shampoo smeared on the interior of the mask and then risked out in the ocean will keep your view clear throughout the swim. Start out slow by snorkellingnear the shore. Swim out from the beach until you cancomfortablymanoeuvreand look underwater. Even if there's nothing to see but sand and seaweed, this is valuablepractice. 

Be smart, be safe: snorkellingwith confidence

Learn to relax your body as you snorkel, or you'll encounter situations where you're exhausted not long after you've started the swim. The more tense and nervous you are about the experience, the more likely you are to use up your energy reserves before things get truly interesting. It helps to snorkel with a partner for this reason. Never go snorkellingby yourself, as it can put you in a perilous situation if there’s anemergency. Once you're comfortable with the basics and you've adjusted to swimming with your head beneath the waves, it's time to pick an awesome spot to get started.

Look for coral reefs or other lively areas where wildlife is more likely to congregate. As you swim, move slowlyso you can spend time observing the vibrant underwater world. If you have a dry snorkel, you can occasionally dive further down to get an up close and personal look at things. Once you return to the surface, purge the water from the snorkel and resume breathing. These techniques are often too advanced for younger snorkellers. In those cases, it's best to stick to simple excursions.

Guidelines for behaviourin the water

It's important to remember that you are a visitor in nature when you go snorkellinglike this. That means you have some responsibilities to keep in mind as you explore. Don't interact directly with the wildlife; if a fish takes an interest in you, that's okay, but don't disturb the ecosystem on your own. Likewise, never touch or disturb corals. These highly sensitive organisms already experience a great deal of environmental stress due to climate change. Interaction with humans can cause coral death and reef bleaching, which ultimately means the teeming wildlife you enjoy watching will vanish from the area. Be kind and courteous to other snorkellers in the area as well, giving others plenty of space to swim safely. When we all observe these rules, we can maintain our environment and enjoy snorkellingfor many years to come.

Don't forget to have fun!

At first, snorkellingcan take some adjustment before you're truly comfortable. Breathing solely through your mouth is a tough change for many people, but after a few practiceruns, it should begin to feel almost like second nature. If you can use a dry snorkel, even better! You'll spare yourself from unpleasant saltwater intrusions and be able to enjoy even more freedom in the water. By the time you're finishedwith your first real excursion, you might find you've discovered a new favourite hobby.

For those who plan to go snorkellingwith children, consider looking for a licensed snorkellingoperation with a focus on young snorkellers. Itcan be an easier and less stressful route to take when you want to get a feel for the experience with the whole family. This summer, discover what's waiting for you beneath the waves.

This article was written exclusively for Sports Fitness. Get set for your next snorkelling adventure and shop for swimwear and accessories in our online store.