Snorkeling with Kids: Tips and Tricks
Under the sea, in an octopus’s garden in the shade–isn’t that where we’d like to be this summer? Snorkeling with kids is one of the easiest summer water activities you can do with children, but there’s a few tips and tricks to get it right. I took my girls snorkeling in Thailand this winter and I’ve never seen them so happy. Exploring the underwater world of a marine national park was a true discovery for them. Clown fish, moray eels, coral gardens, oh my!
Tip #1: Practice in the bathtub
No kidding. If your child has never worn a snorkeling mask for a long time (0r, ever), it’s a good idea to practice the full snorkel set in the most controlled environment there is – your bathtub or the local pool! My 8-year old had a ball putting the thing on, adjusting the rubber straps behind her head and staring at her feet in the bathtub. After 20 minutes, she confirmed the mask didn’t leak and was also able to breathe fine through the snorkel, although that took some getting used to.
Tip #2: Always have a spare set of goggles
If this looks like it’s the total opposite of Tip #1, it’s because it is! During our snorkeling trip, we used snorkeling gear provided by a diving outfitter. That included masks and snorkel. When we did a fitting on land, everything looked great. However in the water, it was a different story. None of the sets were small enough for my daughter’s head and she kept experiencing bad leakage through the mask. As we were on a 3-day trip, I was glad I had packed her swimming pool goggles. It was the only way that she was able to enjoy the coral reefs. Notice her happy fish smile on this photo! Unfortunately, this meant that we couldn’t have the breathing piece attached but she made the most of our snorkeling days and loved it.
Tip #3: Protect your skin from the sun
In this photo, you see my 10-year old wearing a long-sleeve UV rash guard and long pants under the water. It’s hardly typical snorkeling attire but as we found out, it’s the most effective way to keep off dangerous UV sun rays. It’s also the greenest way to guarantee a solid sun protection as most waterproof sunscreens are not coral-safe and kill off corals as they wash off your skin.
Our diving outfitter, Blue Guru, recommended the following protection for long sun exposure (1 hour+):
- Upper body: Long-sleeve rash guard (surfer type) with UV block
- Lower body: Sun protective swim pants or regular pants that allow full freedom of movement (no jeans!)
- Face, ears and hands: apply coral-safe waterproof sunscreen at least 30 minutes before getting in the water. It allows for the skin to absorb the sunscreen.
Tip #4: Make sure the fins are just the right size
In theory, this one’s easy to check off your list but in our case, it ended up being painful. As I said, we went on a 3-day snorkeling trip with two “dives” each day and gear provided by our diving outfitter. When we went for our fitting, they suggested we pick fins on the tight side so we wouldn’t lose them at sea. It would probably have been great for a day, but after three days, our toe knuckles had blisters and my 8-year old ended up giving up in the fins. That’s too bad because fins are extremely useful when snorkeling. They give you much-needed speed to dive and check out a cool reef with fish or get back to the boat when you’re all knackered from fighting currents. I’d recommend an extra pair a size up, just to be on the safe side.
Tip #5: Be safe and use a flotation device if needed
Snorkeling looks so effortless that it’s easy to forget the dangers of the open sea. Kids are quick and can get out of reach really fast. To be on the safe side, here are two options:
- Floatie: I have inflatable floaties for open water swimming, but you can use any floating ring or object that your child can grab and hang on to if needed. My floatie gave my 8-year old enough confidence to swim by herself to enjoy the ocean floor and to take a rest with her hands wrapped around the floatie when she felt tired. They don’t cost much, pack flat, and are a great help at sea. I simply had my daughter “wear” the floatie around her shoulder like a messenger bag and it trailed a foot or so behind her when she hovered over coral reefs.
- Life vest: life vests can be a lot of fun to keep a child afloat and can offer additional sun protection in the water. If you don’t have one, try to rent one for your trip.
The only downside of using flotation devices is that your child will stay at the surface and be prevented from diving and get a closer look at marine wildlife. For the first time, remove the flotation device and dive together with your child.
Tip #6: Photos!
An underwater camera is essential to bring back fun memories from a snorkeling trip. We got a Fujifilm Finepix XP60 for my girls. It’s the one they used for this clown fish picture and they loved using it underwater.
Have fun swimming in the sea!