If you’re new to snorkeling, the distinction between a wet, dry, and semi-dry snorkel can be confusing. All snorkels get wet after all, so when something is called a dry snorkel, it gives the impression that one can dive down with it and still breathe underwater.
However, you can only breathe with a dry snorkel at the surface. Snorkels are specifically designed to be short (about 1-1.5 feet long) for practical reasons. Thus, they are only long enough to allow you to breathe when your face is submerged underwater.
You cannot breathe underwater with a dry snorkel if the dry snorkel is completely submerged. Due to the dry snorkel’s design, it will trap some air in the tube, but that is simply not enough air for you to breathe with except perhaps for another breath.
The purpose of a dry snorkel is to maximize comfort and give you peace of mind knowing that water is being kept out of the tube. Many snorkeling beginners have had a terrible first-time snorkeling experience when water entered the tube and they ended up swallowing the water or choking on it.
Thus, as great as a dry snorkel is, it does not allow you to breathe underwater with it. What it does do is keep water out so if you accidentally submerge it underwater, the float valve mechanism inside will seal the opening, preventing water from entering (and yes, it traps some air). However, the small amount of air it traps is not enough for you to breathe with.
As for the rest of this article, we will be covering the dry snorkel in further detail so that you can understand what it’s actually designed to do, as well as provide some alternative options for those of you who want to experience breathing and diving underwater without getting a scuba certification.
What is a dry snorkel and how does it work?
We’ve already written an in-depth article all about the dry snorkel, but we’re going to summarize some of its main points here.
First off – what makes a snorkel “dry”? As we mentioned, it does not mean that you can breathe underwater with it. It means that the inside of the snorkel tube – the part that air passes through and goes straight into your mouth – is kept relatively dry so that you do not choke on or swallow water.
This is accomplished via three main components on the dry snorkel: 1) the splash guard, 2) the float valve, and 3) the purge valve. Let’s briefly discuss what each of these three things do.
The splash guard
The splash guard is a covering over the top opening of the snorkel which has small slits that allow air to pass through while keeping most of the water out.
Whereas a regular J-snorkel has a top that is completely exposed, the splash guard ensures that when water splashes onto it, almost no water will enter the tube.
If your snorkel has a splash guard but no float valve, then it is a semi-dry snorkel, not a dry snorkel.
The float valve
What makes a snorkel a dry snorkel is the float valve mechanism. Essentially, there is a buoyant ball or material of some sort that is located under a flap close to the opening. This buoyant material is constantly moving up or down based on the water level.
The more you submerge underwater, the more the ball will rise, pushing the flap closer to the top. If the snorkel is completely submerged, then the buoyant material will rise all the way to the top, pushing the flap along with it until it seals the opening shut.
This simple and ingenious design is what prevents water from flooding into the tube when a beginner accidentally submerges the snorkel. As soon as the snorkel rises above the water, the buoyant material will drop down, opening the flap and allowing air to flow through once again.
Keep in mind, whenever the float valve has sealed the opening, no water is entering, but neither is any air entering either! If you are unprepared for this situation, you may end up panicking, placing yourself in a dangerous situation, so you should know how to quickly remove your snorkel just in case.
When the opening seals shut, the dry snorkel may have trapped one final breath worth of air, but otherwise you are not getting any fresh oxygen. Thus, you cannot breathe underwater with a dry snorkel!
You’ll also find that, since full face snorkel masks all have a dry snorkel built-in, they will also experience the same pros and cons as a regular dry snorkel. Therefore, you also cannot breathe underwater with a full face mask.
The purge valve
As effective as the splash guard and float valve are, they are not 100% effective. Some water can still enter the tube, which means it can make its way into your mouth unless your snorkel has a purge valve (all dry and semi-dry snorkels should have them as part of their design).
The purge valve is a one-way valve that allows water to be forced out of the bottom of the tube when you exhale with your mouth. This valve is found at the bottom of a water reservoir which collects the water that is trickling in from the top.
As long as you are occasionally “clearing” the snorkel, in other words, forcefully exhaling through your mouth, then the purge valve will also take care of any water that has accumulated in the water reservoir.
How can I breathe underwater as a snorkeler?
So if a dry snorkel and full face mask doesn’t allow you to breathe underwater as a snorkeler, are there any ways in which you can? As a matter of fact, yes there are. If you want to breathe underwater without learning how to scuba dive, here are some easy ways to get started.
Mini air tanks
There are a few companies that manufacture mini air tanks that snorkelers can use to breathe underwater.
As the name suggests, mini air tanks, which are even smaller than mini scuba tanks, are a way to bring along an air supply that you can use underwater. These air tanks can only provide a few minutes of fresh oxygen before they run out, so don’t get too carried away.
You can snorkel as usual with a mini air tank, but when you finally spot something that you want to get an up close look at, you can remove the snorkel from your mouth and replace it with the regulator that the mini air tank comes with.
That said, we highly encourage you to read the article we just linked because it covers some of the risks associated with using these products.
You’ve probably heard of SCUBA diving, but what about SNUBA diving? SNUBA diving is like a beginner-friendly version of scuba diving. Essentially, instead of diving with the scuba tank strapped to your back, the scuba tank is located on a raft by the surface.
In order to get access to that air, you will be wearing an extremely long regulator that stretches from the scuba tank at the surface all the way to the depth that you’re diving at.
SNUBA tours are located in a safe, monitored environment where participants can expect beautiful underwater vistas and calm waters. They will also be closely watched by experienced scuba instructors.
Once again, to learn more about SNUBA diving, please read the article we linked at the beginning of this section.
As an aside, SNUBA diving actually solves all of the problems that snorkeling with an extremely long snorkel would bring. If you’ve ever wondered what it’d be like to snorkel with a long snorkel, SNUBA diving is the closest thing to it.
Snorkeling is a great way for someone to get started with water sports. It’s great exercise, fun, and lets you get a glimpse of the underwater world without taking and passing a difficult certification.
That said, sometimes snorkelers can get a little envious of scuba divers and how long they can spend underwater, up close to what snorkelers are looking at from a distance. They begin to wonder – is there a snorkel that can let me breathe underwater?
Unfortunately, the answer is no, and not even a dry snorkel does that. However, if you do want to breathe underwater in a way that is similar to snorkeling, you can try snorkeling with a mini air tank or SNUBA diving.