How to choose a snorkel
Despite the fact that you don’t use the snorkel while breathing from you tank under water, the snorkel is an imperative part of you scuba diving gear and you shouldn’t settle for a snorkel that doesn’t suit you and your particular needs. Don’t hesitate to ask the diving shop keeper or your scuba diving instructor for advice, but keep in mind that there are almost as many opinions about the perfect snorkel as there are snorkel users. A snorkel that works perfect for your friend might be highly unsuitable for you. In this article we will explain some of the snorkel basics and hopefully it will make it a little easier for you to decide which snorkel is the perfect one for you.
Why use a snorkel while scuba diving?
Why do scuba divers always bring a snorkel when scuba diving? Well, to begin with the snorkel allows you to conserve air while being at the surface. If you swim to your dive site you can save a considerable amount of air by doing it right under the surface, using the snorkel to breath. It is more comfortable and energy saving to lower your head and swim just beneath the surface, than to struggle to keep your head up and breath without a snorkel. You will also be able to return from the dive site in this fashion even if you are completely out of air after your dive. This brings us to one of the other reasons why you should always bring your snorkel. If you get in some kind of trouble and run out of air, your snorkel will allow you to stay comfortable at the waters surface even if there are rough seas splashing over your mouth and face. When you have learned the right snorkel technique, you will even be able to effortlessly empty the snorkel if some water enters into it.
Different parts of the snorkel
Most snorkels are composed by several different sections made from plastic or silicon. The part of the snorkel that goes into your mouth is consequently called the mouthpiece. In some snorkels you will find purge valves and reservoirs close to the mouthpiece. The tube makes up the biggest part of the snorkel and will sometimes end in a deflector. The keeper is what you use to keep your snorkel neatly attached to you mask strap. A basic keeper vaguely resembles the figure 8 and is often made of rubber or silicone. Purge valves, reservoirs and deflectors are optional extras and not necessary when snorkelling. They can however make snorkelling more easy and comfortable for you. Some snorkel models offer add-on extras, which mean that you can use the snorkel with or without the extras and also switch them from one snorkel to the other.
Using your snorkel will usually be more comfortable if you choose a snorkel where you are able to adjust the position of the mouthpiece. The majority of the adjustable snorkels work by allowing the silicone part of the mouthpiece to turn around the tube. Some snorkels have a pivoting or revolving section inside the tube instead. A lot of the high quality snorkels have a scuba-type removable mouthpiece, since this makes it possible to replace the mouthpiece if it wears out before the entire snorkel does.
The tubes come in many different lengths and diameters, and choosing the right dimensions for you is always a trade-off between different properties. If you buy a snorkel with a large diameter it will be very easy to breathe through, but on the other hand you will find it more difficult to clear it of water. A long tube means water is less likely to splash in, but it also means that the dead air space will be bigger.
There are several types of keepers, from the basic figure-eight keeper to the latest modern models offering a variety of functions. When you choose your keeper the most important thing is that it fits your snorkel. If you find a snorkel that is perfect for you but doesn’t like the keeper, buy the snorkel and simply exchange the keeper. Changing the keeper is easily done and quite inexpensive. The design of modern keepers can improve fit, add security and make it possible for you to adjust the snorkel in many ways to suit your particular needs. If you buy a keeper that can slide, lock and turn around it will be easier for you to attach and adjust the snorkel to the mask. However, as mentioned above the most important factor is that the keeper fits your snorkel and with some snorkels the old basic keeper will unquestionably the best choice. At the same time, some of the new snorkels and masks will not work well with the old kind of keepers since those keepers are not wide enough for the mask straps.
A purge valve drains the snorkel from water through a one-way drain. Purge valves have suffered from a rather bad reputation and many divers view them as unnecessary and prone to leaking. It will also make the snorkel bulkier and the price higher. During the latest years however, the design of the purge valves have improved immensely and one of the biggest factors behind this is the widened use of silicone. The shape, size and position of the valves have changed and the purge valves are today much more comfortable to use. Choosing a snorkel with a purge valve will make it easier for you to clear the snorkel when swimming on the surface. When the purge valve is positioned under the waterline of the snorkel, the valve can actually drain all the water above the waterline from the snorkel, which means you will have much less water to clear. If you like to free dive and clear the snorkel as you surface, you might however prefer a snorkel without a purge valve since it can interfere with your technique.
Reservoir is a different name for sump or trap. If you are unable to clear your snorkel completely or if some water is splashed in from above, the water will be trapped in the reservoirs instead of ending up in your mouth. A reservoir has to be combined with a purge at the lowest point, since the water has to be drained out of the snorkel somehow. If the reservoirs are small they won’t be very useful and if they are big your snorkel will become bulky. As usually, it’s a trade-off.
The deflector at the top end of the snorkel serves to keep water out of the tube when you are using the snorkel on the surface. A deflector will make it easier for you to breathe since it will prevent water from getting into your mouth, and it will also allow you to clear the snorkel less frequently. Depending on the design of the deflector and the snorkel, some reflectors can however increase the breathing resistance considerably and actually makes the snorkel harder to use. It can also make the snorkel more difficult to clear completely when it is flooded. A heavy deflector can force the snorkel down and add to drag through the water, making it wobble back and forth.
Design and colour
When you are looking for the right snorkel to buy, you should only consider those with smooth continuous lines without sudden turns. Any turn will make it harder for you to breath through the snorkel, since it will halt the air flow. When it comes to the turn of snorkel right before the mouthpiece, a flexible corrugated hose is by far the best choice. A flexible snorkel usually costs more than the non-flexible ones, but it will increase the fit and make the snorkel much more comfortable to use. Flexible tubing cause the snorkel to snag less on the rest of your scuba diving equipment since a flexible snorkel tend to drop out of the way when not used. The flexibility also makes switching between the regulator and the snorkel easier. As you might have noticed, snorkels can be obtained in a variety of colours. This is not only because scuba divers are vain and like the snorkel to match the rest of their scuba gear, but because a coloured snorkel will make you more visible when you are on the surface. If you have a dark coloured hood, a brightly coloured snorkel will increase your safety and make it easier for dive boats to spot you when you are waiting to be picked up.
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