Snorkeling at Night: Tips for First-Timers

diving at night

Is it safe to be snorkeling at night? How is night snorkeling any different from day snorkeling? How exactly do you snorkel at night? These are some common questions you might be thinking when someone brings up night snorkeling. If you haven’t done it yet, well, we just wish we could experience it for the first time again and we are envious of you!

Night snorkeling is a completely different and new experience compared to regular snorkeling. You will make unforgettable memories as you step up your snorkeling game to see another level of the underwater world. Snorkeling at night is similar to night diving, but you don’t have to deal with noisy and cumbersome SCUBA tanks.

An Unforgettable Experience

A major reason why you might want to try your hand at night snorkeling is to sea the creatures that only come out at night. You get to see eels, lobsters, and playful, puppy-like octopuses. Additionally, you also get to see the coral blooms that open up when it’s dark.

Normally inactive during the day, the coral will spring to life at night and show off their beautiful, flower-like colors as they sway in the ocean currents. Most people think of coral as ocean decoration, but at night you can finally see and appreciate them for the living creatures that they are.

The torch that you carry with you can illuminate the beauty of the ocean floor and create perfect opportunities for photos. The light will let you see this enchanted world that you would not otherwise be able to experience when it is still bright out.

Depending on the time of the year, the tides may bring in a sea of phosphorescent plankton. Wade your hand through this wall of bioluminescence and you’ll feel like you are being consumed by a world of bright fairy dust. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even switch off your torch and completely immerse yourself in the ethereal effects.

Snorkeling at Night the First Time

It should be stated that the first time you go snorkeling at night should NOT also be the first time you go snorkeling. The ocean can be unforgiving, and inexperienced snorkelers may already encounter issues during the day, so don’t risk going out at night until you’ve got a few snorkeling excursions under your belt.

Experienced snorkelers say that night snorkeling is like a completely new snorkeling experience. It has been compared to an astronaut floating in the vast emptiness of space surrounded by distant lights. The darkness and feeling of emptiness can be nerve-wracking, but at the same time oddly peaceful and something that one can learn to enjoy the more they do it.

Night Snorkeling Equipment

Whereas snorkeling during the day you might only need to wear a mask, snorkel, and fins, night snorkeling requires some additional equipment. Since it will be colder at night, you should wear a full wetsuit to keep yourself insulated.

You won’t be able to see anything without a light, and obviously the light needs to be water resistant at the depths you plan on diving at. Everyone should have their own light, for safety reasons and for personal enjoyment. If you do not own an underwater light, you can purchase one online or rent one from a local dive shop.

You should also consider wearing water socks or dive boots for additional insulation. For additional safety, it is vital to have a whistle attached to your snorkeling vest or life vest. A personal flotation device is a basic safety tool you should have when going into deep waters, especially at night.

Taking A Guided Tour

We recommend taking a guided tour the first time you snorkel at night, particularly if you’re not familiar with the area. There are some extra pieces of equipment that you need to make the night snorkel dive much safer and enjoyable. A guided tour will be able to provide them to you, plus it ensures you are with others including an experienced guide that will help out where possible.

These guided tours may be done near the shore or off a boat. The tour company will lend out lights and will inform you about interesting pieces of trivia such as hiding places for the local octopus or other playful sea creatures and their activities. Furthermore, you’ll likely be taken to calm waters such as in a cove, which offers natural protection against strong currents. This way, you can enjoy your first night snorkeling experience in peace.

Night Snorkeling Locations

Since people are starting to learn about night snorkeling, you will find many beach resorts are now providing night snorkeling tours. For example, some popular locations are the guided tours in St. Thomas that happens during the bioluminescence season, as well as night snorkeling with manta rays in Kona, Hawaii.

The tour may even be part of a package that includes an evening barbecue, or may involve visiting more than one location as part of a week-long vacation.

For instance, Thailand is offering a packaged tour of many islands where you will be taken to exotic locations such as the inside of a cave and to see phosphorescent plankton in the ocean. Belize and Cancun are joining the night snorkeling bandwagon and are providing night tours.

If you’re on a cruise, they may even recommend some local night snorkeling tours that are close to the ship. Wherever you may be, you can expect to see plenty of sea creatures come out at night, so if you’re experienced enough you don’t even need a tour to see the underwater nightlife.

snorkel diving at night

Basic Preparation

Timing

For the best night snorkeling experience, you need to do some basic research. After all, you wouldn’t want to miss out on a cool experience during your vacation due to poor planning. Call the local dive shops or browse online message boards to see what month or season they recommend.

Mentioned above, bioluminescent phytoplankton will only appear at a certain time of the year, so don’t expect to see them if you go during the wrong months. Another great experience is to snorkel under the moonlight, so figuring out when the moon will be at its brightest might be a good starting point to plan your vacation around.

Orientation

We also recommend snorkeling night where you can see land lights to give you a point of reference as to your current direction. Whether it is lights from the resort, streets, boat, or even the moon can help you orient yourself. Memorize where the surrounding piers, docks, and buildings are so you know where to return to.

Check where your water entry and exit points are and know how to pinpoint them in the water using the lights or a landmark as reference. When snorkeling at night, make sure both you and your partner understand to stay close to one another. You must have a means of communicating and both your underwater lights should be on so you can keep an eye on each other.

Communication

Not only does the underwater light help you see, but it is the primary method you will use to communicate with other snorkel divers. It will be challenging to communicate with the boat or anyone by the shore due to the distance. Additionally, hand signals are useless at night without a light to shine on your hands.

If the distance is too far for your buddy to see your hand signals, move your light in a circular motion, using the light beam to draw the letter “O” to signal you are “Okay”. Make sure to exaggerate your “O” so that it is clear what you are signalling. If you are trying to communicate to someone above the water’s surface, then signal the “O” out of the water as well.

Lastly, don’t shine your light in a fellow snorkeler’s face to get their attention. It is blinding and disorienting. To signal to them that you found something, simply move the light back and forth in the direction of their light beam and they will soon look your way.

Insulation

Of course, it will be a bit chillier snorkeling at night, and depending on the time of the year the water temperature will be quite low. As such, you should do research on the water temperature and wear a wetsuit that is of an appropriate thickness to keep you warm.

Check the weather forecast and find a night where there will be clear skies in order to get more ambient light from the moon and stars (plus they look pretty). Make sure the temperature is in an acceptable range, because the water temperature will be even colder. If the forecast predicts storms or hurricanes, you should reschedule your snorkeling plans.

Safety Procedures

What do you do to stay safe, and how should you respond in the event of an emergency? Snorkeling at night brings its share of dangers and you must know the safety rules intimately since the risks are higher in low visibility conditions.

First, never go snorkeling alone, particularly at night. Even before you head out, let someone know that you and your friend are planning on snorkeling, the exact time of the night you plan on doing it, and the location.

Second, check that all of your snorkeling gear is working correctly before you head further out. In particular, check that your whistle and light work correctly, and that the batteries are full. You need these two pieces of equipment to communicate to the shore personnel, boat, or anybody nearby if there is an emergency.

To signal that you need help, rapidly flash your light above water or blow the whistle loudly. Hopefully you are separated from the group and someone will come to your aid. Additionally, wearing a flotation device such as a snorkel vest will significantly improve the chances of surviving the emergency.

Taking Pictures At Night

The underwater world at night is truly a sight to behold, and it is definitely something you want to capture on camera for your family and friends to see. If you are not used to carrying a camera with you, let alone taking pictures underwater, then it is time to brush up on your skills.

Here’s a common beginner mistake you should be aware of. When you find a subject you want to film, do not shine your torch directly at it. First of all, it may scare it off. Second, the bright light will wash out all of the color and your pictures or footage will just consist of bright spots.

To avoid this, shine your light close to the subject and you will enhance its colors. Also, decide whether you want to use an underwater camera or a DSLR with a housing case. You also need to figure out the best ISO setting to take photos at night as well.

Cameras love light, and the darker it is the harder it will be to take clear photos. As such, you may have to manually adjust your camera’s exposure setting to take optimal photos while snorkeling at night.

Many underwater photographers don’t use their camera’s flash, since the flash will emphasize the debris and sand in the water. This is akin to taking a picture of a subject behind a fence. With the flash on, the fence will be painfully obvious in the foreground.

Night Snorkeling with a Buddy

Even for regular snorkeling it is recommended that you snorkel with a buddy, and this is especially true for snorkeling at night. Visibility is low and you never know when an emergency might occur. Make sure you have a means of communicating with your partner such as using a whistle or hand gestures.

The buddy system applies even if you plan on snorkeling along the surface with no intention of diving. Always stay vigilant, and perhaps you will be the one doing the rescuing. Also, just a reminder that any hand signals at night only work if you are holding a light.

Snorkeling at Night Recap

Snorkeling at night provides a significantly different experience, however it comes with new dangers to worry about. If you are new or inexperienced at snorkeling, we recommend your first night snorkeling experience be with a tour guide.

Night snorkeling is a specialized activity that requires advanced knowledge and you should never do it alone. Make sure to do your research on the location and familiarize yourself with the area once you’re there. Bring the necessary equipment, such as a whistle, light, snorkel vest and full wetsuit.

Snorkel diving at night is risky because there will be no lifeguard on duty in the event of an accident. That is why we wrote this lengthy article discussing the various safety tips you should be aware of, and to be honest we’ve only scratched the surface. Hopefully you now have a general idea of what to expect when you go snorkeling at night.

Photo Credit: dronepicr (CC BY 2.0)