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Snorkeling is one of our absolute favorite activities when we are cruising. When the water is clear, I like to get in at least every other day for a snorkel. It’s great exercise and exposes us to the marine wildlife around us. Since we’ve been cruising for almost 5 years, we’ve racked up hundreds of hours snorkeling in exotic locations.
Our basic snorkel kits are Phantom. The fins aren’t the long free dive fins, but they’re longer than a lot of other sets and we find them comfortable. David swapped out for a Cressi mask & snorkel set that fit him better. I have a strap cover on my mask to prevent it from tangling up my long hair. We further protect our feet by using a pair of National Geographic fin socks that we absolutely love.
How many kits do you need? We’ve got five full kits onboard, extra masks, and a bag of miscellanious spare parts. We count ourselves lucky in that we have guests WAY more often than most cruising boats, but even then, we’ve only used the fifth set of snorkel gear a handful of times. For guests that aren’t strong swimmers, we provide pool noodles! Anytime something breaks – a strap here or a connector there – we salvage the rest of the item for spares. You never know when you need a spare!
David and I both have full wetsuits. David’s is an Aqualung 3mm wetsuit, while mine I bought used off another cruiser! The O’Neill Women’s 3/2mm is probably what I would go with if I was shopping now. We do wear our wetsuits quite often. In Southeast Asia, we typically only wore them while diving, but in the South Pacific, I’d wear it while snorkeling too, to protect myself from the sun.
If you are going to wear a full wetsuit while snorkeling, you have to add some weights for freediving. I sometimes even wear one weight when I’m in my rashguards. One weight without a wetsuit is still light enough that I float, but I am closer to neutral buoyancy. We have a solid nylon weight belt and vinyl-coated weights to protect our deck.
Now that it’s so warm, I usually just go with an O’Neill rash guard, which I love, and bikini bottoms. The rash guard needs to be tight; I don’t wear a bikini top underneath it, and you don’t want it to ride up your stomach either. Ideally, perhaps we would also have a women’s .5mm wetsuit and men’s .5mm wetsuit for the tropics.
Rash guards serve two purposes: they protect us from the sun and from stingers. Sometimes, if I wear a regular bikini and sunscreen, I will outlast my SPF 50 sunscreen and end up with a burned bum.
The Most Important Item
We keep several bottles of baby shampoo onboard. Just before getting in the water, we wet our masks, then clean the inside of the mask with the baby shampoo. Rinse the suds out, and you never have to worry about your mask fogging up at all!
Even though our GoPro is so much easier to take snorkeling, the quality of our Panasonic is SO MUCH BETTER. Read more about the photo and video gear we use while cruising.
Getting in and Out of the Water
We do occasionally snorkel off Starry Horizons. She’s got a great swim ladder that’s easy to use and can be pulled down from the water in case we forget.
However, most of the time we snorkel off Little Dipper, our dinghy. Get back into Little Dipper takes some finesse. You MUST keep your fins on to give your self extra propulsion. We always load in the stern, where the dinghy sits lower in the water. I put my hands on the straps and kick HARD. The goal is to first get your chest over your hands. Then you can push your chest up (just like a push up) and swing a leg over.
If you can’t get it, I’ve heard good things about the Up-N-Out ladder.
Anchoring the Dinghy
Usually, when we snorkel, we are taking Little Dipper out for a short drive and then dropping our anchor down. We have the Mantus dinghy anchor, which, just like our 85 lb Mac Daddy anchor, digs in perfectly every time! We have added about 10 feet of anchor chain to the rode, extending our rode and weighing down a little bit more.
Sometimes the best places to snorkel are out where we can’t anchor. For example, in Fiji we often went out into the passes of the islands to snorkel. The walls on either side are full of coral, the middle is too deep to drop anchor, and the current is strong. So instead, one of us holds on to the painter of our dinghy and we all drift with the current. Whoever has the dinghy climbs in, fires up the outboard, and picks up the remaining snorkelers.
It’s best to snorkel on an incoming tide, so you or your dinghy will get carried IN if something goes wrong. Also, be sure to have a ditch bag in your dinghy, in case you have outboard troubles!
The Best Places We’ve Snorkeled
For sheer volume of coral, there’s a small atoll in French Polynesia called Fakarava. Fakarava is the yardstick to which South Pacific cruisers measure snorkeling; well, it was good but not quite Fakarava good.
Komodo Park in Indonesia was a highlight too – mostly for the amazing manta rays we got to snorkel with! The water visibility was very clear and the coral was healthy and vibrant.
Bora Bora, again in French Polynesia, was a blast to snorkel. Some places, the water was super clear, with sharks, stingrays, and reef fish. In other places, the visibility was low, but manta rays fed and swam with us. See a trend?