What is a Dry Snorkel?

what is snorkeling

Who likes to choke on water from time to time while snorkeling? Rhetorical question aside, if you’re finally fed up with inhaling mouthfuls of saltwater then you should consider getting a dry snorkel. Dry snorkels are popular among newbies and veterans alike because they can prevent water from entering the tube even if the top gets submerged or a large wave rolls over you.

The classic snorkel has an open top which means water can easily enter it when you least expect it. With a dry snorkel, the top is protected with a splash guard and dry valve that will seal shut, meaning little to no water will reach your mouth. What little water that sneaks its way through gets purged out before it can cause you to choke. When you want to relax and observe the sea life with peace of mind, then a dry snorkel is a great option.

Dry Snorkel Basics

Dry snorkels have a cover and mechanism at the top of the tube that keeps water out, even if you submerge underwater. You do not have to do anything yourself, this process happens automatically and instantly. If some water does get through the seal, it will be very minor and will be channeled out before it can interrupt your breathing.

In the worst case scenario, you may have to manually clear the tube yourself if water accumulates in the tube, though a quality dry snorkel should never let this happen. The design features of a dry snorkel can make life a lot easier for beginners who may panic if they suddenly choked on a mouthful of water.

How Do Dry Snorkels Work?

There may be variances between each brand and model, however the basic concept is that all dry snorkels rely on buoyancy to close and open the tube. Some kind of buoyant component is connected to a hinge mechanism which pushes a flap over the tube opening, sealing it shut.

Whenever the snorkel is submerged, the float mechanism will float up and close the opening. Once you resurface, the mechanism will fall down, opening the tube and allowing air to flow through once again.

Dry Snorkel Components

Since dry snorkels are catered towards beginners, they come with many features that make life easier while snorkeling. These include purge valves, splash guards, and flexible tubes.

Flex Tube

The majority of dry snorkels have a flexible tube that gives snorkelers and divers the freedom to adjust the position of the mouthpiece to fit more comfortably. Additionally, when you take the mouthpiece out of your mouth it will hang away from your face. Some people like this since they can talk without obstruction, however others may find the dangling to be a nuisance.

As cool as this feature is, flex tubes are only a must-have for divers that need the mouthpiece out of their way when using their regulator.

Purge Valve

Most dry snorkels have a purge valve located at the reservoir below the mouthpiece that stores excess water that enters. Water can enter from waves splashing or if it’s raining.

There is also a soft silicone valve below the reservoir that opens whenever you exhale from your mouth. The purge valve makes it convenient to clear the tube since the water can leave from the bottom of the tube instead of the top.

Splash Guard

Remember that the float valve only works when the snorkel is submerged. What happens if a large wave splashes over the tube opening? That is why most dry snorkels have a splash guard to handle unexpected splashes of water at the surface. Splash guards don’t really have a fancy mechanism like the float valve.

They are merely a piece of plastic that sits over the tube opening. Generally, they feature angled baffles and slits that make it difficult for water to enter from the opening.

Benefits of Dry Snorkels

Anyone can use a dry snorkel, however beginners have the most to gain since dry snorkels make it easier to deal with many problems that can frustrate newbies. If it isn’t clear by now, not getting a mouthful of water is the biggest advantage. However, there are some other advantages you should know about.

For instance, clearing the snorkel is much easier with a dry snorkel that has a purge valve. Without it, a beginner would have to constantly worry about clearing their wet snorkel and it detracts from a fun experience.

Furthermore, not having to worry about clearing means more uninterrupted snorkeling. In other words, seeing more sea life and coral and maximizing the time spent in the water. Dry snorkels also help you conserve energy since you don’t have to forcefully exhale as hard to clear, or  surface and tread water to manually clear.

Disadvantages of Dry Snorkels

Air blockage. Some users have found that a faulty valve on the snorkel can sometimes close on its own, making it difficult to breathe until it opens up. Of course, you can quickly surface to get a breath of fresh air if you find yourself out of breath. However, the purpose of a dry snorkel is to prevent this from happening.

Size. Dry snorkels tend to be wider and longer than traditional wet snorkels. These high-end snorkels come with plenty of bells and whistles that can make them bulkier than normal. What this means in the water is that the snorkel can cause more drag and can sometimes get in your way.

Unexpected buoyancy. Dry snorkels are great for snorkeling, but they can be a nuisance for freedivers or scuba divers. Since the opening seals when submerged, there will be some air still trapped inside, making them buoyant underwater. Furthermore, this buoyancy adds drag and can yank upwards on your mask strap which can compromise your skirt seal resulting in potential leaks.

Should You Use a Dry Snorkel?

From our research about dry snorkels, it seems there seems to be two common opinions about dry snorkels. The first is that people who use dry snorkels purely for snorkeling tend to have mostly positive reactions. The second is that dry snorkels are too buoyant and get in the way when scuba diving. Therefore, the activity you intend to use it for should be a major consideration for whether you get a dry snorkel or not.

Furthermore, the downsides of traditional wet snorkels tend to be exacerbated by inexperienced snorkelers. For instance, clearing the tube can be time-consuming and arduous if you haven’t yet mastered the tube clearing technique. New snorkelers will take too long and get frustrated that their snorkel session keeps getting halted, whereas a pro will get it done in seconds with little effort. If your budget allows, consider getting a dry snorkel or a semi-dry snorkel to spoil yourself.

How to Use a Dry Snorkel

Getting the Right Fit

The dry snorkel you select must have a good fit on your mask for the optimal snorkeling experience. If you’re not sure how to do this, then ask yourself the following questions.

  • Does the snorkel obstruct the mask in any way?
  • Does the snorkel cause the mask to lose its seal? If so, then either the seal is too weak or the snorkel is too heavy!
  • Can you use the mouthpiece without feeling like you’re stretching out your lips?
  • Does the mouthpiece cause discomfort because it is too hard?
  • Can you support the mouthpiece for a long time without feeling fatigue in your lips and jaw?

Depending on the answers to these questions, you will have a good idea if the snorkel fits right or if there are any outstanding issues that need addressing. If there is even a slight discomfort, you had better fix it. After all, you may be snorkeling for many hours, and what might start off as slight discomfort can be a major pain after an hour or two.

Tips to Keep in Mind While Snorkeling

There are a few differences to keep in mind when using a dry snorkel compared to a classic wet snorkel. Here are a few tips to keep in mind so you don’t make a mistake in the water.

  • Don’t look straight down; keep your head tilted slightly upward. A beginner may have the urge to look straight down, however, this causes the snorkel to be at an angle that can allow water to easily enter. By looking forward, the snorkel will stay pointed up and will not dip into the water as easily.
  • Expect water to enter. Even with a sophisticated sealing mechanism, dry snorkels aren’t perfect. Small amounts of water can enter, but they will head into the reservoir instead of your mouth. Be sure to occasionally purge the water by breathing out.
  • The float valve can jam. You’ll try to breathe and fail to get any oxygen. Keep calm! It’s possible the float valve has gotten stuck, or you may have accidentally submerged. Simply surface and tread water for a bit as you inspect the float valve. Sometimes sand or other ocean debris can get lodged inside that need to be removed. Sometimes just fiddling will get it unstuck.

Can You Breathe Underwater with a Dry Snorkel?

There seems to be a misconception about dry snorkels that somehow a “dry” snorkel can let you dive down and still breathe as if you were on dry land. Along the water’s surface with just your face submerged, all snorkels can help you breathe underwater.

However, once completely submerged, the limited amount of air trapped in the tube of a dry snorkel is not enough for you to breathe with! You might be able to get an extra breath, but don’t expect to compete with a scuba diver.

The Early Days of Dry Snorkeling

Dry snorkels have been part of the snorkeling world for a long time now. Years ago, the Nautilus Twin Snorkel mask featured a design that was similar to the dry snorkel design that we know and love today. It looked like two tubes sticking out from the corners of a full-face mask. In each tube was a holder that contained a ping pong ball at each end. As a snorkeler submerged themselves, the buoyant ping pong balls would rise upwards, sealing the tube.

This worked well initially, but there were some serious design flaws. The biggest mistake was that it failed to consider water pressure. Since a ping pong ball only had a thin shell with a small amount of air within, the increasing water pressure that occurred when submerging would increase the pressure inside as well.

After a certain point, the ping pong ball would get crushed, breaking the seal and allowing water to flood the snorkel. Even snorkel designs that were separate from the mask would fail under similar circumstances. As such, the early dry snorkel was a complete failure which made people lose confidence in dry snorkels for more than two decades.

Modern Dry Snorkels

In the 90s, the dry snorkel design that we use today was finally made. With a much lower likelihood of failure, dry snorkels were reintroduced to the market and over the years have become the most recommended type of snorkel for beginners and even veterans.

Although the mechanism may differ slightly between manufacturers, the general concept of the dry snorkel does not vary much. Modern dry snorkels utilize a pivot and float or ball and float design to seal the tube when the tube goes below the water’s surface, and re-opens once resurfaced, all done automatically of course.

To further reduce the chances of water entering, they have a water deflector or splash guard to protect the opening. With that said, dry snorkels are useful but not foolproof. No matter what, expect some water to make it into the breathing tube. Modern snorkels have purge valves that lets users expel the water by forcefully exhaling from their mouth.

Furthermore, manufacturers are always refining and iterating on the dry snorkel design to make it more comfortable and effective than ever.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a newbie or a veteran snorkeler, a dry snorkel is in many ways a direct upgrade to a classic wet snorkel. You can keep snorkeling as you normally would, and let the dry snorkel automatically keep water out of the tube without any extra effort from you. Have some peace of mind and stop worrying about swallowing a mouthful of water or having to clear out the tube. With a dry snorkel, you can snorkel uninterrupted and vastly improve the overall experience.