Safety while Snorkeling
SAFETY is the numero uno most important thing when snorkeling, and there are many things to be aware of.
The number one rule is never go alone. Yes it may be difficult to find someone to go with, but even if you can get someone to go with you who will not enter the water, it is still better than nothing. Having a second person with you on your outing increases your safety factor immensely and can’t be recommended highly enough. If you insist on going alone, then go to a place where there are other people closeby.
The second consideration is location, location, location. Yes it bears repeating, because the selection of location of your snorkel trip is the first important decision you can make regarding the safety of your trip. Questions to ask yourself when planning, or assessing a site are:
Are there other people closeby?
If there are, it is a good sign and a reasonably good indicator, but not 100% guarantee you have chosen a good site. There is a built-in safety factor to having other people nearby, as they will likely help you or get help if there is some emergency or problem.
How is the access to the area?
Access should be easy and the best-case scenario is one in which you can drive right up to the access point.
Is it hard to get to or hard to find?
Picking a site that is hard to find might be nice for privacy, but its not so nice in the event you require emergency services. And if its really hard to find you yourself may even get lost to or from the site.
Is it a rocky approach to the water or a nice sloping beach?
Its best to avoid rocky areas in favor of a normal beach. The reason is that rocks are almost always a significant hazard. Smooth rocks are always going to be slippery by the ocean and increase the likelihood of a slip or fall, sure to ruin your day out. Jagged, sharp, eroded, or any kind of “rocky” rocks are just as dangerous since they usually require you to carefully watch your step, and if you do fall you could very well get a nasty cut or bruise or even a serious puncture wound from a sharp rock. This danger is multiplied when your hands are not free as you walk out to the water. Rocky shorelines also pose a threat to those in the water since a sudden wave can crash your body or worse, your head against rocks.
Is it private property?
Might you be trespassing? Do you have a way of knowing? If the access is not roped off or fenced off, and looks well traveled then you can be reasonably sure that public access is OK. If there are signs, especially signs you can’t read in another language, fence, ropes, or any sign of private ownership it's best to find another site.
Is there a lifeguard?
A lifeguard is of course a huge sign that you’ve chosen a safe area, and is a great assurance of safety for water activities. Lack of a lifeguard is not a showstopper, but you should have a plan for what to do in the event of emergency.
What are the water conditions?
Are there high waves? Is it windy? Are there others in the water? Storms in the area? Wind and waves are not good conditions for snorkeling, and definitely not safe. For one thing, you won’t be able to see anything underwater, as wave action quickly stirs up sand underwater and will really hinder visibility. Rip tides, or rip currents are invisible currents of water near the surface that can sweep you out to sea, you can’t swim against them. In some cases they can even pull you under. In the event you ever find yourself caught in a rip current, you should swim perpendicular to the direction of the current, which usually means swimming parallel to the shoreline in either direction to escape.
Are there watercraft operating nearby?
Boats, jetskis, or even kayaks pose a collision threat to snorkelers, and it's not hard to see why. When snorkeling you are a floating body that is almost completely submerged, a moving motorized watercraft could strike your body with little to no warning. Be aware that often boats may operate a silent electric motor that affords no auditory clue they are approaching. While it's true that most snorkel tubes are brightly colored to mitigate this possibility but the best idea is to avoid watercraft areas altogether.
Depending on your situation, you won’t be able to know all of these things ahead of time, but a bit of time researching on Google, especially making use of Maps can go a long way towards figuring out the best spot.
And here’s the EASY WAY, especially for first-timers: choose a paid site, or a guided boat snorkel outing. Yes it will cost more than “free” but most of the time you can be sure that the location is good and you’ll have adequate safety support. By choosing a paid site which usually is quite safe, it may be roped off and netted off, has a lifeguard and has plans in case of emergency. Make sure snorkeling is allowed at the beach you choose as some beaches allow swimming but no snorkeling.