Big Island Snorkling Tours Blog

Snorkel Life Vests: Do You Need One? Gear And Tips!

Snorkel Planet on some tips for using snorkel life vests.  Join us on our snorkel and mantaray tours for the experience of a lifetime!

Some people choose to wear a life vest while snorkeling whilst others prefer not to. Besides personal preferences it also depends on your swimming skills, your condition or the climate. But there are way more reasons to put on a life vest. Let’s go into more detail and explain their advantages, together with some product reviews.

Before we start

There are many different kinds of vests or jackets designed to keep you afloat. We usually (simply) refer to all of them as “life vests” in most of our articles. However, some of them are more comfortable for snorkelers and are also known as “snorkel vests”. We’ll get back to this later in this article.

Why Would You Wear A Life Vest When Snorkeling?


Safety always comes first so let’s start with that. Life vests have a couple of safety advantages. First of all they are designed to keep your head above sea level. So let’s say you get tired or you have a panic attack, the vest will make sure your mouth is able to breathe.

Another safety advantage is their appealing color. Even though you could in fact buy a black one, there are some bright neon options for you as well. Like pink or yellow for example. In case of an emergency you’ll grab more attention. Not only for lifeguards but also for surrounding swimmers or snorkelers.

Some life vests come with a little whistle to grab the attention whenever needed. You can also get one separately and securely attach it. The more noise you’re able to make, the higher your chances of being rescued. Remember: Snorkeling is fun but also risky if you don’t pay attention!


We once wrote an article about how to snorkel if you can’t swim. There are many ways to get people started, however, a life vest will do the trick for most of us. Feel free to read through the article if you want to learn more.


Related to the above, floating is necessary in order to snorkel. Even though most people float naturally when they take a deep breath, for some this is not exactly easy. A life vest will help them out big time. Some people seem to float better than others, depending on their bodies.

The downside of some vests is that they are designed to keep you floating in an upright position. That’s pretty understandable if it’s their duty to save you. Some vests, also known as snorkel vests, have the ability to keep your head above water whilst allowing a more horizontal position.

Some people combine snorkeling with fins. These fins have some buoyancy as well which assists to maintain that horizontal flotation. Our guide about fins will help you out in case you’d like to learn more.

Tip: If the ocean contains a lot of salt, like snorkeling in Egypt (in the Red Sea), floating will be easier.


It’s important to not become tired when you explore the underwater world. If your condition isn’t the best, why not get some assistance? These vests save you energy which is exactly what you want.

Floating might be easy for some of us, but if it’s not then you’ll be spending a lot of energy to stay afloat. You’ll end up making all kinds of movements that quickly exhaust you. Therefore, yes, a vest can really be of big importance.


Obviously this depends on the age of a child, but not all kids are good swimmers. They often lack power and are still in the process of learning. Their mobility could not be great either. So yes, kids should wear one in our opinion.

Since this is a broad topic with loads of different things to understand, feel free to read our giant guide for snorkeling with kids. We explain more about how we started with our daughter and provide a good bunch of tips about vests and other gear. Definitely worth a read. In the end, a child should not go snorkeling if he or she is not ready to do so. You as a parent are responsible.


The climate plays a big role for this hobby. Even though you can still enjoy snorkeling in the rain, always avoid strong currents. In case there are a few slow or weak currents, a vest will help you out. Swimming against them makes you tired quickly. A vest combined with fins can be of big help.

The dangers must never be forgotten. A current can increase and take you to a place where you’re not heading out to. Even though we always advise to keep an exit point within reach, who knows what happens. Having a life vest will increase your chances of survival significantly.

This being said, always do your own research about the climate. Ask a local lifeguard about snorkeling. If you’re not sure, just skip it for the day and do something else. Remember to never snorkel alone, always take at least one buddy and stay within the shallow shore. Snorkel Bob provides a good list of snorkel safety tips which you can find here.


Even though a life vest usually doesn’t cover the entire body, it’s partially a sun blocker. People who experience sunburns easily (especially on their backs while swimming) could find a vest helpful. If interested, consider to also read our tips on how to avoid a sunburn.

So What Is A Life Vest?

Their main fabric is foam which makes them buoyant. Usually you’ll find a zipper on the front with a few adjustable straps on the side.

Some people find them uncomfortable whilst others have no problems. It all depends on the material. If you get one with shoulder pads for example, yes, it’ll feel much nicer. Having a small pocket allows you to store a few waterproof belongings in case you don’t have a waterproof bag or case.

And How About Snorkel Vests?

Like we mentioned earlier, we usually refer to all of these vests as life vests, even though there are different ones. In order to explain exactly what’s out there, let’s take a look at the so called “snorkel vests”.

In a way they do the same thing: Keeping you afloat. Since snorkelers don’t always find the typical life vest comfortable enough and even a bit bulky, they opt for an alternative.

This alternative is usually a product that’s easier to carry and that’s less noticeable. Something they can wear around their neck and that’s easy for transportation. An inflatable vest often does the trick.

You can inflate the vest to your own preferences, which makes it an enjoyable product for most of us. By doing so you have more control over the buoyancy. The typical life vest we mentioned before can be a bit too buoyant for some people. In the end it’s all a matter of personal choice.

A Snorkel Vest To Consider

Snorkel vests are often cheaper than life vests. New versions allow both quick inflation and deflation. The blow air valve is easily accessible to make adjustments as you go.

A strap around your waist is important in order to fixate it correctly. Once you put it on and off more often you’ll get used to it. New versions are made from durable nylon in a perfect ergonomic design.

Many people find this type of vest “cooler” than the bulkier ones. They are easy to take with you and require less space in your luggage after deflation. The one we show you below is made by a brand called “Faxpot”. They are somewhere between 15 an 20 bucks.


A life vest is not always necessary for snorkeling. However, they provide a lot of advantages that make snorkeling easier and safer.

In case you are an experienced snorkeler and you want to enter some slow currents, make sure to wear a life vest. This saves your energy and adds to your safety. Their bright colors make you more appealing in the water as well. Currents can be very dangerous. Strong ones must be avoided anyways.



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