Snorkeling for Beginners: 10 Tips for First-Timers

If you have never gone snorkeling, and are a little scared about what to expect, let me tell you: I know how you feel!

During a trip to El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, we took a catamaran/snorkeling trip with East Island Excursions. I was so nervous and actually lost sleep the night before our 6-hour trip out on the water. Having never gone snorkeling before, I had a lot of questions and a lot of fears.

But I can tell you without any pause or reservations: IT WAS AMAZING! I’ve been thinking ever since about how I almost skipped out on the whole adventure, and I want to help others calm their fears and be able to experience what I did. So…here’s Snorkeling for Beginners: 10 Tips for First-Timers.

Snorkeling for Beginners 10 Tips for First-Timers


  1. You do NOT need to know how to swim to snorkel. You do, however, at least need to be comfortable in the water. Our catamaran had float belts, and I was the first in line to get one. I can swim – but really only to save my life. The float belt kept me comfortably on the surface of the water so I could focus on getting the hang of snorkeling. And guess what? A LOT of other people used the float belts, too, so there was no need at all to feel self-conscious about it.
  2. You can wear whatever is comfortable while snorkeling. I felt fairly secure about my bathing suit, but I know what it feels like to not want to be seen in a bathing suit. Much less in close quarters on a packed boat (I think our catamaran was loaded with close to 50 people that day!). What was awesome, though, was that several people – women and men – just went in with their shorts and a tshirt on. They were comfortable, and I’m sure it also helped with avoiding sunburn. So “no suit” is “no excuse” for not snorkeling!
  3. You’ll receive instructions before you go out and can ask any questions you have. Most crews are very familiar with every level of experience on a snorkeling trip, and will help you be as comfortable as possible before you get out in the water. Our crew from East Island Excursions was particularly great about this and used humor and clear instructions to put everyone at ease.
  4. The masks fit comfortably and are very unlikely to leak. Our crew member showed us how to hold the masks up to our face – without even having the straps around our head – and inhale quickly with our nose to suck in any air and form a tight seal around the mask. Ta da – no problem! And honestly, I never once had water leak in to my mask while I was snorkeling. But even if it had, a quick flip of the mask to dump out the little bit of water, then another quick inhalation to make the mask seal to my face, and that would have been it.
  5. Snorkeling is possible for those who wear glasses or contacts. Now, apparently there are prescription goggles you can buy or rent, or inserts you can use, or whatever, to help correct your vision while wearing goggles. But I’ll just tell you what we did. My husband wears contacts and decided to just leave them in and be VERY careful while snorkeling. It worked out just fine for him. I myself wear glasses and left them on the boat and used only the goggles while snorkeling. The water seemed to have such a magnification effect that I didn’t need my glasses to see, and – most importantly – didn’t get any kind of headache for not wearing them. I would suggest you do some research on this particular point, but I just want to encourage you to NOT back out of a snorkeling opportunity just because you wear glasses or contacts.
  6. You will be able to breath just fine with the snorkel tube. I’m not going to lie – this was probably the most disorienting part of the whole experience for me. The first several times I put my head in the water, I took deep, erratic breaths through the tube and got myself winded. But once I practiced breathing normally, it became very rhythmic and relaxing.
  7. Which is why – according to our crew’s instructor – the first rule of snorkeling is DON’T PANIC. I think there’s a natural, almost instinctive physical rejection to being under water and breathing at the same time. But honestly, give yourself time to practice in shallow water, and it will come to you. At one point, I even pretended like I was Darth Vadar with the clear, evenly-spaced breathing. {I know, I’m a nerd!}
  8. And finally, to ensure you *do* breath normally through the snorkel tube, follow the second rule of snorkeling: don’t look down. This made me laugh out loud when the instructor said it, because I had never even thought of this. When snorkeling, you look ahead of you, and then down at only a slight angle. This way, you can see the bottom of the sea floor, but also the activity around you, AND, it keeps from getting water in your tube! I know it seems like you won’t see much this way, but trust me, you do! We had fish swim right up to our face when we offered them some lunch meat (at the suggestion of the crew), watched as a huge school of fish swam around us, and even spotted a huge stingray gliding on the ocean floor.
  9. If your boat gets to its destination and you decide not to snorkel after all, don’t worry, there are other things to do! The folks on our catamaran did a variety of things – some people stayed on the boat the whole time, some just used the float belts to bob around in the water, some swam to shore and loafed on the beach. Bottom line is, it’s alright to change your mind, and since places ripe for snorkeling often tend to be the most beautiful places in the world, it’s likely that the boat ride itself is worth the trip.
  10. And if there’s nothing else I can say to convince you to just go for it and enjoy snorkeling for the first time, perhaps this picture of a typical snorkeling spot will do the trick:
Our first stop – the shallow water and white sand beach of Icacos Island.

*a bit more about our catamaran/snorkeling experience with East Wind Excursions in Fajardo, Puerto Rico – although I do think they perhaps crowded the catamaran for our trip, in the end, everyone had their own space and did their own thing and it didn’t feel like too many people once we got going. The crew was fantastic, friendly, and funny. They served a big lunch with lots of variety, and even had cookies for us later in the trip. They had an open bar – specializing in rum drinks and popular with many on the boat – but they also had plenty of water and juices for the rest of us. As a first-time snorkeler (and without a lot of experience on a boat!), I felt very secure in the knowledge and capabilities of this crew!

**Disclosure: this was part of an incentive trip my husband won through work. I have no relationship with East Island Excursions and they are completely unrelated to any of my blogging activities. All opinions expressed regarding their services are honest and my own, and given without any knowledge or expectations from the company itself or my husband’s work (who sent us on the trip).