When people imagine snorkeling, they picture idyllic conditions such as clear skies, bright and warm sunshine, calm waters, and pristine water visibility. It’s what they see in film and photographs and it’s typically what they experience when they go on a snorkeling tour. If they ever need to plan their own snorkeling vacation, however, then they’ll quickly realize how big of a factor weather is to snorkeling.
Weather can dictate whether your snorkeling trip will be safe and fun or risky and less enjoyable. The biggest downside of poor weather conditions, such as strong winds or heavy rain is that the visibility can be greatly reduced. When the weather is too extreme, it can also put snorkelers in danger. Weather can change unpredictably and rapidly, so it should be closely monitored when snorkeling.
With that said, just because there’s a little bit of wind, clouds, or rain doesn’t mean that your snorkeling trip is ruined. There are certain situations where mild weather will barely affect you at all, and in some cases, may even improve your snorkeling session. In this article, we’ll discuss the various weather conditions you may encounter while snorkeling and how you can still make the most of your trip.
The optimal weather conditions for snorkeling
While one’s enjoyment of snorkeling is closely tied to the weather, it doesn’t mean that you can’t go snorkeling just because the conditions aren’t perfect. Some fun can still be had in all kinds of weather, barring any extreme situations. As we mention, the weather has a great impact on water visibility which can make it harder to enjoy snorkeling if there isn’t anything to see.
Water visibility refers to how much one can see beneath the surface, and enjoyment of snorkeling is directly correlated to how much you can see. Typically, when you’re snorkeling you should be able to see the seafloor. If you can’t you’re either too deep or the water visibility is poor.
When selecting a snorkeling location, there are other factors than just weather to consider. One is the ingress and egress of the location. You want an easy way in and out of the water for convenience and safety. If you don’t mind a wait time to reach a better destination, then you can snorkel from a boat. When you’re with a boat operator, they will decide whether it’s safe to go snorkeling or not based on the weather conditions.
The optimal weather conditions to go snorkeling are exactly what you think. It’s become a cliché at this point but clear skies, sun shining bright, and calm waters are the recipe for pristine waters and a safe, fun, relaxing snorkeling experience.
You already know that, but what many people don’t know is that you don’t necessarily need perfect weather to still have a fantastic time. Mild weather may not have enough of an impact to cause you to alter your plans in the slightest. The tropical rains, for instance, are warmer than the rains you’d expect, plus they leave as quickly as they come. So even if the weather forecast predicts a light shower, it shouldn’t ruin your day snorkeling at all.
If you want to come prepared for anything, then you should always bring a dry bag to keep your clothes dry in case it suddenly rains. You might also want to wear a rashie or a thin wetsuit for some extra skin protection from the wind. Covering up your skin also protects you from the sun’s UV rays which can cause sunburn and skin cancer. It also helps you save on how much sunscreen you need to use.
When there is a storm on the horizon, then that is a clear-cut sign that the weather is too extreme for snorkeling. Don’t even risk it. During a storm, the wind, rain, waves, and currents will be too much for anybody to handle. Even a snorkeling tour operator would cancel their plans, so follow in their footsteps and stay safe.
Overall, there is no “best” weather condition to snorkel in. Obviously, the ideal conditions are a sunny sky, mild temperatures, and calm waters. However, if you only wait for the best conditions to snorkel then you will waste many vacation days just waiting. Even if the sun is not out and it’s a bit overcast, you can still get a great snorkeling experience. Heck, it may even be preferable since it’s cooler so you’re less likely to overheat.
Suboptimal weather conditions for snorkeling
Snorkeling when it’s raining
The weather pattern that is most likely to negatively impact snorkeling is rain.
To start, when it rains, visibility is decreased whether you’re in the water or above it. If you are snorkeling from a boat, for instance, then even a boat vessel can have difficulty navigating through rain. Depending on how heavy the rain is and the boat operator’s judgment, it’s possible that the boat trip will be postponed or cancelled based on the rain.
Let’s say the boat trip isn’t cancelled and you’re heading out in the rain. You’d think that the people who are specifically going out to snorkel in the water won’t mind being wet. However, when you’re wet above the water’s surface and traveling at the speed of a boat, the wind can feel extremely chilly due to the water amplifying its chilling effects.
If you arrive at the snorkel area before it rains, but then it starts to rain while you’re snorkeling, then there are some positive and negative effects. Let’s start with the positive. When it starts to rain, the weather will be cooler because the sun is blocked by the clouds. Since most snorkeling destinations are in tropical climates, any chance to have cool weather is appreciated.
Another benefit is that if the rain is light enough, it will not have any effect on the visibility while you’re snorkeling. Assuming that it’s not a huge downpour, then the rain water is not able to break through the surface of the water and disturb marine life or stir up sediment.
Now, let’s discuss the downsides. Let’s say that the rain is quite heavy. If you’re snorkeling in a shallower area, the rain can definitely stir up the sediment and affect the underwater visuals. Unlike scuba divers, snorkelers must remain by the surface which is where the greatest disturbance is taking place, so it can be more difficult to see into the depths.
The rain can further decrease visibility when the snorkeling spot is near places of runoff. There can be runoff from mountains, rivers, or other sources that can carry mud, particles, and other such things that can reduce the visibility of the water. Runoff can also take several days to settle, so the day or two after heavy rain may still have decreased visibility underwater.
Lastly, heavy rain can also disturb marine life in and around the water. The fish will be driven from the surface and this means that you won’t be seeing as many of them while snorkeling during the rain.
Snorkeling when it’s windy
Just to be clear, there will always be some wind when snorkeling. However, the wind is only a problem if it’s strong enough to create large waves over 3 ft in height which is over the recommended threshold. This will decrease visibility and will also be dangerous to snorkel in.
If the wind is calm, like light rain, it has a positive effect by bringing the temperature down which makes snorkeling in a tropical climate more enjoyable.
However, strong winds can be a burden on snorkelers. If the wind causes large waves, then it can make a boat tour dangerous and uncomfortable. Boats operating in choppy water have reduced maneuverability and will rock unceasingly which can make snorkelers feel nauseous.
There is also the risk of being in the water when the wind picks up. The water will become choppier and this has various negative effects.
First, the rough water can stir up sediment, decreasing visibility. You might also find yourself being tossed around and if you happen to be near rocks or corals, you might be thrown onto them.
Second, rain can also reduce visibility on the surface because tall waves can block your view of your snorkeling buddy and the boat. This also means that all boats’ visibility of you is decreased. This increases the chance of your own boat not being able to find you, and of other boats running into you which is fatal.
Third, choppier water is simply harder to swim in. With the visibility decreased from all of the particles being stirred up, you simply won’t be able to enjoy your snorkeling session.
If you want to be shielded from the negative effect of strong winds, then you can try snorkeling in a sheltered area like a bay. A protected bay will not have many waves, if any at all, even with the presence of strong winds. Thus, you can safely snorkel in pristine water where the visibility is still great.
Snorkeling when it’s cloudy
Let’s say a bunch of ominous looking clouds appear and block the sunlight. You brace for the rain but it never comes; how does cloudy weather affect snorkeling, specifically visibility?
Cloudy days are not ideal but it isn’t the worst weather condition either. It has a similar consequence as snorkeling when it’s lightly raining in that it’s going to be darker and cooler due to the sun being blocked.
Again, if you’re in tropical climates, this can be seen as a positive. For some people, it may even get cool enough that they have to wear an extra layer, such as a swim shirt, rash guard, or thin wetsuit. If you tend to get cold easily, that’s something to keep in mind. For those who overheat easily, this might be the perfect weather to stay cool.
Next, cloudy weather will affect your visibility while snorkeling by affecting: the vibrancy of the scenery, the shadows and darkness which can make taking pictures harder, and making everything look a little grey and depressing.
The actual snorkeling experience does not change much. The corals and fish will feel lifeless because they typically reflect light in a beautiful way, and in its absence everything can feel a bit drab. Underwater photographers may need to resort to bringing a diving flashlight or a flash attachment for these overcast days.
Your visibility will not be affected to the point that you cannot see some things. Snorkelers should still be able to see everything when it’s overcast; it’ll just seem like there’s a grey filter over what should have been a vibrant, lustrous environment. There will be more shadows and the ocean will look dimmer, which can make the experience less exciting.
To sum it up, the best weather conditions for snorkeling are under sunny skies and in calm waters. There may be a slight benefit to having a light wind and overcast skies which can result in cooler temperatures which is a boon if you’re snorkeling in the tropics. However, these two weather phenomena may come with a chance for rain or a storm which can ruin a snorkeling trip.
Pay attention to the weather in the days leading up to and even during your snorkeling trip. Just because it says it’s going to rain or be overcast does not necessarily mean you should cancel it. Oftentimes the rain will be light and will stop after 10-20 minutes. However, if there is any indication that there is a storm on the horizon, then that is indeed something to take seriously. Constantly monitor the local weather reports to see if the conditions get better for snorkeling.