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Snorkeling Guide for Non-Swimmers

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The great thing about snorkeling is that it is easily accessible to pretty much anyone. But what about non-swimmers? Personally, I would recommend taking some swimming lessons first, or choosing an alternative like a semi-submarine. However, if you are extremely careful, non-swimmers can enjoy snorkeling too.

In this guide I go over the difference between beach and boat snorkeling for non-swimmers, snorkeling gear for non-swimmers, some useful tips, and a couple of alternatives for non-swimmers to experience the underwater world without needing to swim at all.

Should Non-Swimmers Snorkel?

Although it is possible for non-swimmers to snorkel, I strongly recommend you learn how to swim before snorkeling. If you cannot swim even in a swimming pool with completely calm water, it isn’t a good idea to go into the ocean where the water can be very lively. If you do decide to go snorkeling as a non-swimmer, make sure you do plenty of research on water safety, particularly on the specific area where you will be going.

Having said that, it isn’t up to me to tell you what you can and can’t do. I have done some research and compiled lots of information and tips for non-swimmer snorkeling.

Beach vs. Boat Snorkeling for Non-Swimmers

There are two ways you can snorkel: either directly from the beach, or via a boat, usually as part of an organised trip. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these for non-swimmers.

Snorkeling from the Beach

Snorkeling from the beach might sound the most appealing to non-swimmers. It feels like there’s less pressure and you can enter the water at your own pace. You can also decide how far in you want to go. Often from a boat, you will have to immediately enter deep water.

The problem with snorkeling from the beach is that it can give you a false sense of security. You might feel quite safe because you can stand up, but all it takes is one big wave to knock you over and you can be in trouble. Another downside of snorkeling from the beach is that you probably won’t have an experienced instructor there to help. Most snorkeling boat trips will have an experienced instructer and you can let them know you are a non-swimmer.

If you do decide to snorkel from the beach, make sure you do so where the water is calm, where there are life-guards around, and always snorkel with a buddy. If you go to the right place, you can see a surpsrising amount of marine life just from dunking your head under where the water is just a few feet deep.

Snorkeling on a Boat Trip

Some non-swimmers might prefer to snorkel from a boat trip. Most boat trips will have experienced instructers, life jackets, and floatation devices to help you out. Make sure you let them know you are a non-swimmer so they can keep a close eye on you.

You should also be warned that most snorkeling trips will require you to enter the water where it is very deep. You won’t have the luxury of being able to slowly enter the water to where you feel comfortable like you can when snorkeling from the beach.

Snorkeling Gear for Non-Swimmers

Snorkeling masks for non-swimmers are basically the same as for anyone, but there are a few things to consider which are particularly important for non-swimmers.

Snorkel and Mask

The only essential gear you need for snorkeling (other than sun cream) is a snorkel and mask. Whether you buy or rent a mask, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get used to it before getting in the water. If you can, try out your mask in a swimming pool before you go snorkeling.

You should also make sure your mask fits properly and has a good seal. This is true for any snorkeler, but particularly for non-swimmers as a leaking mask adds another thing to worry about.

I would recommend a dry snorkel for non-swimmers. These snorkels have a valve at the top which prevents water from getting in if it is submerged. The last thing you want is a mouth full of sea water as a wave rolls over your head!

You might find a full-face snorkeling mask to be an appealing option. They are very popular with beginner snorkelers, but whilst they are generally more comfortable to wear, there are some important things you need to consider. First of all, some full-face masks can be quite difficult to remove. If you start to feel uncomfortable and want to take your mask off, panic can start to set in if you can’t remove it easily. Before going into the water, make sure to practice taking the mask on and off plenty of times so you know exactly what to do.

There have also been some concerns regarding the safety of full-face masks. Some of the poorly designed, cheaper models don’t have a good CO2 valve mechanism. This means you end up breathing in the same air you’re breathing out which can lead to carbon dioxide poisoning.

If you do decide to go with a full-face mask I would recommend getting a Tribord Easybreath which you can find on Amazon.

Life Jacket

You may have come across snorkeling vests which look a little bit like life vests but a little less substantial. Although snorkeling vests can be useful for confident swimmers to give them a little extra buoyancy and help them feel comfortable, I would strongly suggest a non-swimmer wear a full life vest. Unlike snorkeling vests, life jackets are designed to keep you upright with your head out of the water. This is very important if you get into trouble in the water.

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Snorkeling Tips for Non-Swimmers

A lot of these tips I have already been over in this guide, but I wanted to bring everything together into this handy little section.

  • NEVER snorkel alone – Even if you are a strong swimmer, you should never snorkel alone, but this is particularly important for non-swimmers. Always snorkel with competent swimmers.
  • Wear a life jacket – We recommend wearing a full life jacket when snorkeling rather than as snorkeling vest. Whilst a snorkel vest will provide you with some buoyancy, they are not designed with the same safety as a life jacket.
  • Get comfortable with your gear – Spend some time getting used to your gear. Make sure everything fits right and you know exactly how to remove your mask if you wear a full-face snorkel mask.
  • There’s plenty to see in the shallows – Many beaches have a reef right on the shore and there is plenty of marine life to see in the shallow waters. You can still have a good time in water that is just a few feet deep. If you do this, make sure you never stand on the coral, and always watch your step. Fish like the scorpionfish can give you a very nasty sting and stay very well hidden.
  • Research the area – Do some research on the area you will be going to find the most non-swimmer-friendly snorkeling spots.
  • Consider an alternative – There are some great alternatives to snorkeling like semi-submarines and glass-bottom boats. They don’t offer quite the same experience as snorkeling because you’re not in the water with the marine life, but it can be very enjoyable all the same. I talk more about these alternatives in the next section.

Alternatives to Snorkeling for Non-Swimmers

The amazing thing about snorkeling is that you get to actually swim with the marine life in their natural habitat. Aquariums can be fun too, but you don’t get the same experience as when you’re sharing the same environment as the marine life.

As I said at the beginning, it is possible for non-swimmers to snorkel (although I don’t recommend it), but a great alternative that comes close to the snorkeling experience – and doesn’t require swimming – is a semi-submarine or glass-bottom boat trip.


A semi-submarine is basically a boat where the passenger cabin is submerged under water. They can’t dive down like a normal submarine of course, but you can get a great view in shallower reefs of all the marine life from the large windows in the cabin. Many popular snorkeling destinations have semi-submarine trips on offer.

Glass-Bottom Boat

A glass-bottom boat is similar to a semi-submarine but instead of there being a cabin below the water surface, there is a large glass window. Glass-bottom boats can be great too, but if you can choose between them, I would go with the semi-submarine as there is usually more to see and it’s a more immersive experience.


In conclusion, yes non-swimmers can snorkel, but I would highly recommend taking some swimming lessons first. Snorkeling from the beach and from a boat each offer advantages and disadvantages for non-swimmers, and I would highly recommend you to purchase a life jacket and follow the tips offered in this guide. As an alternative, you can get a similar experience from a semi-submarine or glass-bottom boat trip.

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