Snorkelling safety

Snorkellers, Lady Elliot Island

The easiest way to enjoy the splendour of the Great Barrier Reef is simply to snorkel in its warm, clear waters. Lying on the surface, watching the reef society go about its daily business below is both intriguing and relaxing. Everyone can enjoy snorkelling these beautiful coral gardens year-round.

Here are a few tips on how to enjoy snorkelling safely whatever your age or swimming ability.

New to Snorkelling?

At Barrier Reef Australia, we have a saying; “If you can breathe through your mouth, you can snorkel, it is just a matter of not breathing through your nose. If you are a snorer then you are a fully qualified snorkeller for sure!”

If you are new to snorkelling, however, it’s best to go on an organised tour. All tours give either an entertaining “How to Snorkel” briefing or present an instructional video, on the cruise out to the snorkelling sites. They show you how to use the mask, snorkel and fins and what floatation devices, such as foam noodles and life jackets can be used to help you float effortlessly above the reef. This is the best time for you to put your hand up and ask any questions that you may have.

All tour boats have staff of many different nationalities, so there is usually someone who can explain the briefing in your own language if there’s something you don’t understand. Their staff can also help you with any particular concerns you might have regarding any past or current medical or health issues, or your swimming ability and fitness level.

If you’re not planning to join a tour, simply ask for advice wherever you get your gear. They can advise on how to check your mask fits, how to use the snorkelling gear and where best to snorkel.

Snorkelling is easy

You’ll enjoy snorkelling more when you have mastered the basic principle: lying flat on the surface, legs straight and finning gently to keep moving slowly along the reef. Look down and slightly ahead and simply watch the underwater world unfold before you.

If you want to learn more about the marine life that inhabits the reef – and learn a little about the ‘reef society’ – go on an organised tour and join the guided ‘snorkel tour’ given by the tour staff.

Alternately you can buy a fish and coral identification slate and take it into the water with you. See how many species you can identify.

Additional Safety Tips

  • Always stay within agreed or designated snorkelling areas. Snorkelling can be mesmerising – so remember to look around on the surface periodically and reorientate yourself to your entry point. 
  • If you are not snorkelling on an organised tour, always snorkel with a buddy – you can keep an eye on each other and it’s more fun to share your underwater discoveries.
  • Whilst snorkelling is not considered a strenuous activity, it’s best to discuss any medical concerns you may have with the resort water sports staff or onboard crew so that they can advise you and ensure you enjoy your day in total safety and comfort.
  • They can also help you with any particular concerns you have regarding your past or current medical or health issues, your swimming ability or fitness level, or what you might encounter in the water.
  • Do not touch any of the marine life. Most marine species are coated in a protective layer of mucous and rubbing this off leaves them exposed to infection. More importantly, many creatures including the corals of the reef itself, have a touch-sensitive stinging defence mechanism.
  • If the water above a section of reef is too shallow don’t risk getting stranded – it’s impossible to fin backwards. Keep the corals at least at arm’s length – that’s the perfect distance to observe the marine life without frightening it away.
  • If you are not so competent about your swimming ability – take a floatation device with you. That way you can stay horizontal and on the surface. Remember to keep your fins close to the surface so you can avoid damaging any of the fragile corals – even accidentally.
  • Note that it is illegal to damage or remove anything from the Great Barrier Reef, and even the smallest breakages can take decades to regrow.

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