Snorkel Planet on what to do if you’re anxious about snorkeling. Whether you’re a seasoned snorkeling pro or a first-time snorkeler join us for a memorable snorkeling experience in Kealakekua Bay.
Hey! Don’t worry! You’re not the only one that’s a little scared to enter the blue waters. In fact, every person on this planet is scared of something. That’s why scientists believe it’s not a good sign if a person has no fears. It would mean that there’s something wrong with their feelings. So yes, you are just like everybody else. However, you took the courage to do a little research. And that’s exactly why I value your time and why I created this article. Maybe you won’t become the most dominant snorkeler out there, but hey, every underwater experience counts! Let’s help you out!
How to Overcome the Fear of Snorkeling
A great thing about snorkeling, is that it’s one of the safest ways to see the marine life up close. It is necessary to take precautions, but as long as you learn how to snorkel, practice before you go, and follow some simple guidelines, you can definitely do this.
What Kind of Fear Do You Have?
People have different reasons for their snorkel anxiety. Some people are simply afraid of the water, which is nothing to be ashamed of. Others may not have a lot of swimming experience. Some people may be afraid of the critters that live in the ocean. In other words, there are many reasons why people are scared to snorkel, including the following:
- You’re a beginner
- Shark attack
- Fear of fish
- Currents and riptides
- Rough water
No matter what fear you have, you can overcome it. As with any fear, it’s up to you to take power into your own hands. It’s so unfair if the whole family jumps into the ocean, whilst you’re just standing there. You can’t help it, it’s not your fault, but your kids keep screaming “Jump!”.
I know, that’s easier said than done, and I can imagine how much you’d love to join them. That’s why I created this article. It would be easy to say that snorkeling is very safe, which it is, but I have to admit that there are risks involved. I take your feelings very serious, so please don’t think that I’m some kind of robot.
In fact, I have a fear of shark attacks myself. This fear is usually not a problem, since most places I visit simply don’t have any sharks. Once, when I was in Hawaii for my honeymoon, I read a story about shark attacks. Until this day, it somehow keeps chasing me. So yes, I understand and respect any kind of snorkel fear. I’m not a magician and I have no super powers to make you forget about your anxiety. But I definitely took a good amount of time to write this article. I hope you take the time to read it.
Getting Over The Fear Of Snorkeling For The First Time
Step 1: Buy Your Own Equipment
The may sound obvious, but I want to start from the beginning. Throughout this article I build up my personal tips. So, if you already have your own equipment, skip to the next paragraph.
Owning a snorkel mask and snorkel can really be of great help. You can order them online if there’s no time to visit a local shop. Try on your gear, wear it in the bathtub, even if you don’t go heads down. Getting used to the feeling is really important. Our unconscious mind can be trained, so just start with this simple step.
Make sure your mask and snorkel seal properly. Any leakage triggers anxiety. A few reasons that can lead to disappointment are:
Snorkeling with a beard
Snorkeling with glasses
Snorkeling with dentures
Once you feel comfortable to wear your gear, let’s try to breathe through the snorkel. Take long deep breaths and focus on your mission. You want to succeed! If this is scary, try to clock your time. Maybe every week you’re able to breathe through your snorkel a few seconds longer?
Never hurry! It’s perfectly fine to take your time. There are no guidelines when it comes to fear. You are the only one that decides when it’s time to dip your head into any water.
Step 2: Practice In The Bath Tub
Once you feel comfortable, you can try to dip your head into the water. Slowly but steadily. Make sure to keep breathing at a calm pace. Whenever your heartbeat is outrageous, just wait for the next day. Remember these words: No hurry!
The bath tub is a safe and easy location to get you started. Ask someone to join you. You can hold hands if you wish. Agree on spending one second below the water, or two if you dare, and go from there. Next step would be three seconds, maybe five, maybe ten. You get the point.
Remember why you are doing this. You want to snorkel! Always keep that in mind. Doing it for somebody else could be a great reason as well, but in the end, it all works much better if you do this for yourself.
Step 3: Try A Pool
Now that you are used to the snorkel and mask, and you practiced in the bath tub, try to find a pool to take it to the next level. Pools can be extremely crowded, which won’t make you feel comfortable. Try to find a quiet pool, or inquire about any low season moments. Bring your snorkel gear, have them sit beside you, and wait for the right moment. Make sure to bring a friend or a partner. Help is important!
Now that the moment is right, and it’s quiet in the pool, find a shallow place. Stairs often work very well. Put on your snorkel gear like you practiced, breathe through your snorkel, and wait until you are calm. Remember what you are going to see: The bottom of a swimming pool. Not that interesting compared to any ocean, but yes, it’s the first step to get there.
Once this works, try to expand your time underwater. Just like you practiced in the bath tub. Whenever you feel good, you can try to combine snorkeling with swimming. I assume you can swim, which I know is not a given fact. If not, find more information in my article “Does snorkeling require swimming?“. But for now, let’s assume you can swim. Maybe your friend can assist you, swim below you, anything that makes your snorkel experience interesting can be of help. This should be fun for you! Even though it’s in a pool.
Step 4: Try A Shallow Ocean
One great thing about oceans, is the fact that there’s an entry point. And hey, these entry points are often sandy. Dip your toes into the ocean, take a walk, and just be yourself. Relax. Sit down where the water meets the shore, put on your gear, and just smile at the horizon. You are about to actually do this. Even if it’s just a few seconds.
Have someone hold your hand and guide you. You can walk into the ocean, you can still cancel the whole experiment, so there’s no problem right now. As long as you can stand, you can walk. And, as long as you can stand, you may as well dip your head into the ocean. What can happen? Panic? Sure, you just pull your head out of the ocean and rip your gear off. Nothing wrong with that. At least you tried!
Keep practicing and gain confidence. Snorkel anxiety is not an easy task to overcome. And hey, if it doesn’t work for you, remember this: Quitting is not the same as giving up. And even if you decide to never try it again, remember this: I know from experience that snorkeling is not for me. Better know it for sure than making the assumption, right?
Step 5: Ocean Swimming
Now that you glanced at the bottom of the ocean several times, how about trying to combine this with swimming? Like I said, I assume you can swim. Make sure to keep the faith. You can snorkel, you can swim, so a combination should work just fine. Stay in shallow waters, make sure you can stand up at any given time, and go from there.
Are you the adventurous kind of person? Well, allow yourself to take it one step further. Go out a little bit more or even head on over to the reefs. Make sure you have a buddy with you, someone that you trust, and agree on underwater signals. If everything is fine, give a thumbs up. Repeat this gesture until it bores you!
Take a look at the ocean life. Are there any fish? Is there any coral? Fish are lovely animals, they can be funny, and spotting them is what snorkeling is all about. Do you recognize that you are an “official” snorkeler now? Yes, you actually did it! Even if you didn’t realize it yourself just yet.
Step 6: Be Happy
My tip is this. Never leave the ocean thinking: That was fun. No, instead, shout it from the rooftops: I did it! Yes, you must be proud! Don’t compare yourself with all those other snorkelers out there. Who knows, maybe they are scared of spiders and never faced that in real life. But hey, you faced your fear. These people have no idea. Don’t expect any round up applause, just imagine it inside your head. There is no success without accepting your effort.
Head on over to the ocean bar, order your favorite drink or food, and just laugh out loud! Come on, don’t be ashamed, this was one big step for you! I know, this may sound a little crazy, but if you don’t reward yourself your mind will never really process your fear. Positive feedback is what we humans need, I know that first hand. Have someone take pictures or ask them to take some underwater footage with a GoPro. Good memories!
Getting Over The Fear Of Drowning
If your fear is drowning, a good amount of tips are pretty similar to the beginner steps I just mentioned. But don’t worry, you don’t need to read through all of them, I’ll stick with the topic right here.
If drowning is your concern, I assume you already snorkel, or that you at least tried it before. Hey, that’s a pretty good sign actually! If you try, and if you succeed, that’s positive feedback. Nevertheless, I understand that it’s no guarantee for the future.
So what can you do? How do you gain the confidence that snorkeling is safe, and that you’ll return to your beach towel pretty soon? I list my tips right here for you:
Step 1: Have Confidence In Your Snorkel Gear
Just like beginner snorkelers, having your own mask and snorkel will always boost your confidence. You used it before, it always worked, so it will still work if nothing crazy happened in the meantime. Check your gear for any cracks, try them on before you go snorkeling, and keep the faith at all times.
I always compare this with the fear of going on an airplane. Airplanes have transported millions of people from one destination to the other, and it’s proven that they are safer than driving a car. Still, airplanes could have cracks. That’s why people inspect them. So, remind yourself that you checked your snorkel gear, and that it all looks great. Try it on before any expedition and make sure no water is leaking in. Off course, airplanes cannot be compared with snorkel gear, but hey, snorkel gear is much easier to check. And yes, you are able to do that.
Tip: Snorkel purge valves make snorkeling a breeze. If you’re scared of tasting any water in your mouth, they could be of big help.
Step 2: Use Fins
Believe it or not, but fins always give me confidence. Sometimes I love to check out a dark abandoned place at the bottom of the ocean, not knowing if anyone is actually living there. I enter their domain, which is not always a pleasant thing for whoever is in there. Even though I keep my distance, and usually without using any flashlight, I just give it a distant go. Always knowing that my fins will get me right back up as soon as possible.
So yes, I would advise fins if you’re anxious to drown. Always make sure to estimate if any dive is acceptable for you. Never go for something out of your league. Maintain a continuous look at the water surface, predict for yourself how long it will take you to get there, and learn from experience.
Best may be to never dive down extremely deep. Or maybe, just never take a dive at all. As long as your snorkel provides air, and as long as you float, you know you’re at the surface of the ocean. Fins are definitely not necessary for snorkeling, but they make you extremely flexible. And that definitely helps to boost your confidence.
Step 3: Choose Your Location
A lot of snorkel locations can be researched online. Often, there is information about the difficulty level. If you are scared to drown, make sure to always go for a beginner spot. Not only will this boost your confidence, it will also prepare you for winds and currents.
Go for low currents, easy or slow winds, and you’ll start off just the way you were hoping for. A good start is half the work they say, and I agree on that. If you know what to expect, you can do it. Off course, currents can change, so make sure you keep an exit point in sight. Which brings me to the next tip.
Step 4: Check For Exit Points
Many beaches have a sandy entrance, which is great for preparation and setting up snorkel gear. But how about exit locations? Do you see any? If there is a reef, try to figure out if you can hold on to that, or even climb it if necessary. If there’s nothing to hold on to, how about a friend floating around on a mattress? Or how about staying close to the beach?
As long as you know there is a “Plan B”, you’ll feel much better in the ocean. In Hawaii for example, many famous beaches are protected by reefs. Not only do they provide shelter, they are also a great way to escape. At least, if the rocks are not too big. In one of my articles about snorkeling in Maui, I mention a bay called Kamaole. Even though waters are quite shallow there, there’s a good amount of rocky walls to stay close to. These are the kinds of locations you want to visit whenever you fear drowning.
Step 5: Never Snorkel Alone
The number one rule about snorkeling is to never do it alone. We’re all probably aware of this, however, it’s never a bad idea to remind yourself about that. Having someone with you will not only boost your confidence, it will also allow for a “big brother is watching you” kinda situation. And that’s exactly what snorkeling is about. While you’re snorkeling anxiously, make sure to also keep an eye on your partner. Even is you are scared. He or she will send you an underwater message that they got your back.
Even if nothing goes wrong, you know someone is watching you. So don’t be ashamed to tell them upfront you’re anxious to drown. They can keep an eye on your gear, your location and your wellbeing. Sending signals over and over again can facilitate this procedure. Maybe at one time you take a quick dive, and after that your partner does the same thing. As long as you don’t do it simultaneously, there’s always a breathing buddy around you. How cool is that?
Step 6: Get A Life Vest
No, this is not just for kids. I once wrote a long article about snorkeling with kids, where I explain how important life jackets may be for young kids. My daughter had to wear one for quite a while, and most of the times she still does. I was really surprised by how many adults had one on as well when I went snorkeling in Hanauma Bay. Sure, Hawaii is not always an easy place to snorkel, but I’m simply giving an example here. Nothing to be ashamed of.
There are many life vests for snorkeling. Make sure to inflate yours prior to snorkeling. These days, they look pretty cool with bright neon colors. I personally never mind people wearing them. In fact, I wear mine from time to time as well, partially to give my daughter the impression that it’s a normal thing to do. Which it actually is! Why don’t we all wear one? If you’re interested, mine cost me around 15 dollars, it’s available at Amazon here.
Getting Over The Fear of A Shark Attack
My Personal Story
Ok, so this is my personal fear as well. And even though I dare to enter quite some snorkel destinations, the fear has never really disappeared.
My big fear was the result of one of my tips, which is to always do good research. Before I headed to Hawaii, I read a few articles about shark attacks and how someone even died. Being a parent, which you may be as well, requires so much responsibility. You just want to make sure your kid is ok. If you’re interested, here’s an article by USA Today.
What I discovered, is that sharks usually don’t swim in shallow waters close to the beach. But I was thinking, maybe one of them gets lost. I spoke to a lifeguard a while back, and he told me that he never ever had a shark issue. But well, I went back online, and I found out that other lifeguards had a different story. So, in other words, nothing to boost my confidence.
Even though beaches are closed for swimming or snorkeling whenever a shark is spotted, who knows what’ll happen whenever you are out there. A good amount of locations are far away from sharks, which is one thing to keep in mind. It eases my mind, and I even forget about the whole thing. But what about risky destinations? We can’t just ignore our feelings. So, here are more steps on how to deal with your fear of shark attacks.
Step 1: Find A Protected Location
Pretty obvious, but always try to find a protected snorkel spot. A bay is usually fine, especially when they are surrounded by reefs. No guarantee here, but sharks rarely visit the shallow waters.
Step 2: Understanding The Odds
The next thing to know is that sharks do not pose nearly as great of a threat to humans as people may think. In fact, the odds of being attacked by a shark are less than 1 in 11.5 million. If you compare this to the odds of being in an airplane crash, which is one in 5.4 million, you’re already twice as safe. Not that this guarantees anything, but doing the math can definitely be of help.
Step 3: Are Sharks Interested In You?
Usually, sharks are quite selfish and therefore bother their own business. They want to feel safe, mate, raise their young, all that kind of stuff. Not that I’m the number one shark guru, but from what I’ve learned is that sharks don’t care that much about humans. A shark doesn’t really think “Hey, there’s a human, let’s go attack”. The attack is often triggered by a feeling of fear, especially when they just gave birth.
Now let’s say you see a shark from a distance, make sure to never ever swim towards it. Like I mentioned earlier, make sure there is an exit plan, and try to swim there without grabbing any attention. Even though the shark would probably not attack you, it’s best to take no chances.
Step 4: What Do Articles Say?
Most of the articles that I read, that involved shark attacks, are humans that got hurt. Only a few articles mentioned death. Amongst snorkelers, these deaths usually occurred out in the wild ocean. Remember, you are entering their home, which could threaten a shark. Staying close to the shore is important. Not that you have any guarantees, but at least you are being cautious. Most articles also mention to never snorkel when you bleed. Sharks smell and taste blood and associate it with their prey.
Step 5: Visit A Shark Aquarium
Confronting your fears can definitely be of help. It’s sometimes even recommended by professionals. If you visit a shark aquarium, and if you take the time to learn about them, who knows what impact this will have on you. Tour guides will often answer your questions, so make sure to ask whatever is on your mind. Sure, hungry harks are never fun, but are they hungry all the time? Ask about your snorkel destination, ask about the sharks there, ask about any dangers, that kind of stuff. The more information you get, the better!
Step 6: Snorkel In Clear Water
The more you see, the better. Not only for your own entertainment, but also for your safety. Therefore, simply avoid blurry waters or dark rainy days (even though snorkeling in the rain can be awesome). Keeping an eye on your surroundings is of big importance, even for professional snorkelers. So, whenever you see something scary, make sure to put that exit plan into place. Maybe it was just a shadow, or maybe a friendly turtle appeared from below a rock, just never take any chances. Clear water always helps to feel as safe as possible.
Getting Over the Fear of Fish
If you are afraid of fish, the best thing you can do is practice snorkeling with them. If you start off by going to a location with fewer fish, you can address your fear in a much more contained environment. You can also go to a local aquarium to watch tropical fish swimming around and learn more about them. SEA LIFE aquariums can be found all over the world, just to give you an example. But maybe there’s another one nearby.
Remember that when you’re snorkeling, fish aren’t interested in touching you. Read our frequently asked questions about fish for more information. They are in their own environment doing their own thing, and snorkeling gives you the opportunity to observe that. Once you spend a little bit of time with them, your fears should start to ease.
Never use any snorkel fish food. Some fish species could become aggressive which is the last thing you want right now.
Tip: If you’re not afraid of being surrounded by fish, but you’re scared of being touched by them, a wetsuit could be a great solution. Usually wetsuits aren’t fun in warm water, as it’s already hot outside, but in cold water they can be very helpful. A decent 3mm neoprene wetsuits costs around 60 dollars, like this one at Amazon.
If a wetsuit is not your first choice, consider a snorkel rash guard. They are thinner and more flexible and meant to protect your skin.
Fear of Currents and Riptides
This fear is not uncommon, and everyone should have a little bit of fear for these phenomena. If you are snorkeling with a guide or a tour, they will know the water conditions and you will have a very experienced snorkeler with you. If you are snorkeling off the beach at a resort, they will almost always have flags or some other way of warning you. If there are strong currents or riptides, many beaches will be closed.
Another way to handle your fear is to learn how to handle strong currents and riptides. The problem is, that these currents can pull you out to sea. Because they are so strong, people make the mistake of trying to swim against them to get back to the shore. This can make you exhausted.
You can prepare by knowing what to do. It is ideal to swim sideways as the current pulls you, and when you get away from it, you will be able to get back to shore. In addition, snorkeling with a buddy is a great idea because you can both keep an eye out.
The key is not to panic. Until you overcome this fear, it is best to stay close to shores where there is no chance of riptides or strong currents. Build up your level of comfortable snorkeling before you try a challenging location. Some people find help in underwater scooters, even though they can’t guarantee a safe return at all times.
Getting Over the Fear of Rough Water
Rough water can frighten anyone, but you can avoid it. Many people think that all ocean water is (or can be) rough, but this isn’t the case. The reality is that nobody wants to snorkel in rough water, and you won’t see that much marine life anyways.
You should start off by snorkeling with a buddy in shallow calm waters near the shore. Find a protected spot, and you will enjoy it. If you start off in a place where the water is never rough, you will be fine.
Then, move to shallow waters near the shore with a guide who takes you out a little further. You will have confidence because the guide is not going to put you at risk. Rough waters aren’t as unpredictable as they may seem. They are based on conditions such as weather, wind, and currents. With a little research, you can find spots that are safe and predictable to snorkel.
Snorkeling is a lot of fun, and it is one of the safest ways to view the marine life in their own habitat. Many people are initially scared to snorkel, but this can be overcome by taking precautions. Make sure that you plan ahead and buy your own equipment. Then, make sure to practice first, one step at a time. This will give you confidence.
Next, make sure that you snorkel with a friend. Nobody should ever snorkel alone. You may consider taking a guide with you the first time, just to increase your confidence. Find a safe location in a protected cove or near the shore. You can control any potential risk by doing this. Make sure to find a spot with good visibility in order to watch your surroundings. If you know where the fish are, there’s a smaller chance of being surprised.
Visit a local aquarium to see marine life in action, and try practicing in one of their controlled environments. You will begin to see that fish and other marine life aren’t really interested in humans, and they won’t try to attack you. Take a deep breath, take it slowly, and you will overcome your fear.
How About Full Face Snorkel Masks?
These masks have been around for quite a while, and their popularity is growing in a rapid pace. But can they help you to overcome your snorkel fear?
Tip: If you want to learn more about these masks, go visit my guide about full face snorkel masks. It’s where I discuss their pro’s and con’s in more detail.
Some people say it has helped them out big time. First of all, it covers your entire face. One of the things some people can freak out about, is getting in contact with fish. Now, having them touch your legs seems to be a smaller problem than having them touch your face. A full face mask can sometimes provide a feeling of “being in your on world”. This can help psychologically.
There’s no separate snorkel entering your mouth. You can breathe like you’re used to, either through your nose or through your mouth. You can talk to yourself, even though it’s better to not move your facial muscles too much. But mumbling simple words, like “I can do this”, can have an impact on your confidence.
Whenever you decide to go for this option, make sure to do your own research first. Some people say that these masks come with a potential risk of CO2 build-up. Still, whenever I go snorkeling, I see them all the time. And I sometimes wear one as well, especially if visibility is poor. I never had any issues, but a few people did. And that’s why you should be cautious when buying one. The one I wear myself comes with an advanced breathing system. If you’re interested, it’s available at Amazon for around 80 bucks. Here’s the link.
Full face snorkel masks usually provide a wider visibility than “normal” snorkel masks. They’re more of the “helmet” type, providing up to 180 degrees of visibility. This will boost your confidence if you’re scared underwater. It allows you to notice the marine life from a wider angle.