The other essential item for snorkeling, besides the mask, is the snorkel tube, or just “the snorkel.” The purpose is to permit the wearer to breathe with their face submerged while swimming on the surface.
Originally made of reeds, the hollow tube is usually made of soft rubber or silicone, or of hard plastic, or a combination of these materials. The tubes range in length but are usually right around 15 inches long. At the end of the tube is the mouthpiece, usually of rubber, that is worn inside the mouth. A soft bite will hold the mouthpiece in place and hold the lips in a waterproof seal. Many tubes now also have a flexible joint in the tube that allows the mouthpiece to rest in the most comfortable position. The tube will be mounted to one of the mask straps via a fixed mouth to ensure that the tube is high enough above the water’s surface, but still allowing for adjustment to facilitate good mouthpiece fit.
Among other components found on the snorkel assembly right around the mouthpiece are the sump and purge valve (if equipped.) The sump consists of a small area out of the airway where any water can collect. If you snorkel in salt-water, you’ll find out why: seawater getting into your snorkel tube and into your mouth is icky! Many tubes are also equipped with purge valves, which is a one-way valve that enables the wearer to use a quick, strong breath to “blow out” water that has collected in the tube. This is a major convenience over having to surface and manually dump out your snorkel.
Types of snorkel tubes
Conventional snorkel tubes are simply a hard tube that may have some sort of curvature at the top to mitigate the possibility of water accidentally entering through the top. When diving with the conventional tube, water can be kept out simply by exhaling while submerged.
Another option is the dry snorkel, which is designed for snorkelers who want to dive without worrying about water entering the snorkel. The top of the tube is equipped with a one way valve that will prevent water from coming in when submerged, but still permit the swimmer to exhale underwater. One hugely important feature is the brightly colored paint on the top of the tube. This is one of the most important safety features of a snorkeling set, a snorkeler in the water to easily spotted.
The semi-dry snorkel, otherwise known as a splash guard is simply an attachment on top that mitigates but doesn’t entirely prevent water from entering the snorkel. However there is no valve that will prevent water entry when submerged.
There are many choices for snorkel tube types, and each feature does add weight, complicates cleaning and maintenance, and adds complexity to the tube which increases the likelihood some component may fail. At a minimum, a purge valve is recommended when you consider which type of snorkel to buy, because there’s nothing more annoying than constant super-salty seawater coming into your tube with no convenient way to get rid of it!