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Can You Snorkel Without Knowing How to Swim?

Are you fascinated by the exciting world that lies beneath the surface of the water, desperate to explore it, but too afraid because you aren’t a strong swimmer, or maybe can’t swim at all?

Snorkeling lets you see what lies underwater, either from floating on the surface or diving down to take a closer look at the marine life that awaits you.

You don’t need to be the best swimmer but having some swimming skills is a huge advantage when it comes to snorkeling.

Snorkeling requires being able to swim. To be safe in the water while snorkeling, it is necessary to be able to swim. These skills are essential to be confident in the water, both floating and doing your stroke of choice, to be able to move through the water in your chosen direction.

You don’t need to win time trials or swim particularly far but having some degree of ability to swim is a prerequisite for being able to snorkel.

We’ll dive into how necessary this actually is and what level of swimming skills are required for you to enjoy all that awaits below the water.

Why should you learn to swim before snorkeling?

Learning how to swim, particularly for adults, can seem like a very daunting task. For most people in their day-to-day lives, it’s not something you think about or an issue that comes up.

But then you may find yourselves on holiday with others and want to join in activities in the water, or you may be fascinated by the world below the surface and wish you could explore it.

You need to learn how to swim in order to snorkel. Not only from a safety point of view but also to help you to enjoy the experience more.

Snorkeling should be a relaxing activity that leaves you feeling in awe of the wondrous seascape that is overlooked in other water activities.

Without the confidence that comes from knowing how to swim, water activities, not only snorkeling, can instead be fraught with anxiety and stress over staying afloat.

Snorkeling entails wearing a mask or goggles and a snorkel. In its most basic form, you float on your stomach on the surface of the water and observe the marine life below you.

For those more advanced, there is the option to dive down underwater to get a closer look at coral, fish or other objects of interest.

Without knowing how to swim, it will be difficult to keep yourself afloat, let alone propel yourself in different directions to fully explore the area you are snorkeling in.

Swimming helps you to easily move around, with confidence in the water to take yourself wherever you want to see.

For example, there might be a turtle in the distance that you would like to get nearer to in order to observe. Swimming will allow you to get there with ease, broadening the area you can explore and increasing your likelihood of seeing a variety of marine life.

Being able to swim also allows you to get back to the boat or the beach safely, should you become tired or want to stop snorkeling.

Having the freedom to do this independently and to move through the water on your own is great stress relief and will make your snorkeling experience more enjoyable.

If there are any type of currents or anything in the water that you should avoid, being able to swim also allows you to move away on your own.

Is snorkeling easier than swimming?

Snorkeling is probably easier than swimming, as you don’t need to know a specific stroke to be able to snorkel.

Unlike swimming, where there are multiple strokes that you can do and often requires coordination of the arms and legs, snorkeling is much simpler, with the majority of the activity possible while simply floating. 

Further, while swimming is usually unassisted, many snorkelers choose to partake in the activity with equipment, making a number of elements easier. Breathing, floating, and speed of movement all become easier in snorkeling with equipment.

If you just want to remain on the surface and not dive down, you can wear a lifejacket, which takes any effort out of staying afloat.

You can also wear flippers, which will help you to move further, and faster, and minimize the effort required from kicking or legwork. 

Lastly, snorkeling enables easier breathing than swimming, as it does not require you to hold your breath (unless diving down).

Snorkels allow you to breathe normally on the surface of the water, so long as the end of the snorkel is out of the water. This allows you extended periods of being able to look down below you, and with goggles, clearer vision too.

With the option of not needing to support your own body weight while snorkeling, the snorkels make breathing easier.

The option of flippers requires less energy and effort to move through the water, and very little skill or technique is required to be able to do it, snorkeling is arguably easier than swimming is!

Can you drown while snorkeling?

While not common, it is possible for a snorkeler to drown. The two main reasons for this include fatigue from being in the water for too long and fighting against currents in the water.

If the snorkeler is alone and there is no one around, or there’s no boat or land nearby to provide relief, then they may find themselves at risk of drowning.

Some other reasons that could cause a snorkeler to drown include:

  • Overall Wellness Issues – Health issues or heart problems (for example, a heart attack or an asthma attack)
  • Weather – Any sudden changes in the weather while out, issues with snorkeling equipment (for example, water is allowed in before you take a breath)
  • Animal-Related Encounters – Marine life (for example sharks or other animals or plants that could cause harm)
  • Objects and Natural Formations – Objects underwater, such as dangers around snorkeling in wrecks, or through rocks.

Each of these is overall very unlikely, but still a possible cause of death among snorkelers as they explore.

Snorkeling is not generally considered a dangerous or high-risk activity. There are weather conditions under which snorkeling should not take place, and it is always good to have a buddy with you and snorkel with at least one person.

Ideally, you should go with a guide or to an area that is known for safe snorkeling.

If the water in which you are is shallow enough for you to stand, many of these risks are not applicable, and the chances of drowning are minimal.

Still, having skills in swimming is essential, as standing in one place and putting your face under the water hardly counts as snorkeling!

How good do you need to be at swimming?

Without being able to swim at all, your options for snorkeling are very limited.

You could jump off a boat in a life jacket and then just float, but you are likely not to be very relaxed doing this and would require assistance to move to another area or to get back onto the boat.

Going out from a beach is not an option if you can’t swim, unless and again, you’re wearing a flotation device and don’t go out further than where you can stand.

Given the nature of marine life and its proliferation in areas that are relatively undisturbed, it is unlikely that you will find a good area to snorkel within the walking depth of a beach, though. So, what should you be able to do in the water to enjoy snorkeling?

  • Be able to stay afloat
  • Be able to kick your legs and move your arms in such a way that you can control the direction in which you move, and do so with confidence
  • It is not necessary to be able to swim fast or far or with good technique
  • Breaststroke is a great starting point, but you could even get away with a doggy paddle in safe snorkeling conditions


Without being able to swim, both your safety and your enjoyment of snorkeling will be compromised.

If you can’t swim but really want to snorkel, try to learn some basic strokes by practicing in a pool or safe, supervised swimming area to at least become comfortable moving around short distances and staying afloat before heading out to the wild!

Any energy that you put into learning to swim is well worth it – we can’t even comprehend the vastness of what there is to be explored below the surface of the water.

If you are looking for snorkeling gear we have a huge list of lists to help you find just the right snorkeling gear to get you up and moving, check it out here!

Beautiful, exotic, and wondrous sights await you, and your efforts will be richly rewarded!