The 9 Best Snorkel Gear
The Science Behind Snorkels
When a user breathes through a snorkel, they inhale fresh air as well as air that was just exhaled, thus providing the user with less usable air per breath.
Some snorkels offer special features designed to prevent flooding or to enable clearing, but this can be done manually in those lacking these features.
A snorkel describes a J-or L-shaped tube approximately one foot long and between 1/2-1 inches in diameter that features a mouthpiece at the bottom end. Typically, snorkels are made out of rubber or plastic materials that are lightweight and not water-soluble. Some snorkels are designed to clip onto diving goggles.
The space comprised by the interior of the snorkel is called respiratory dead space, in which the same passage is used for both inhalation and exhalation. When a user breathes through a snorkel, they inhale fresh air as well as air that was just exhaled, thus providing the user with less usable air per breath. In order for the user to get the same amount of useable air, they must increase their respiratory effort, lest they cause an accumulation of carbon dioxide in their blood, which in turn elevates the risk of hypercapnia, a dangerous condition.
The larger the volume of the tube, the higher the dead space, thus worsening the problem. Narrower tubes have the opposite effect, reducing the volume of dead space, but narrower diameters simultaneously increase the air flow's resistance to inhalation. Thus, narrower tubes cause the user to do more respiratory work. The right snorkel strikes a balance between these problems, and users can manually help to prevent the accumulation of carbon dioxide by exhaling through the nose every so often.
Interestingly, snorkels can only be effective up to a maximum length of 16 inches. This is because a longer tube would reach a depth at which the pressure on the lungs would be too great for the user to breathe, which would render the snorkel ineffective. The tube's diameter is also intended to reduce the resistance of inhalation as much as possible. However, the dead space concern described above necessitates making the tube narrow enough to reduce the accumulation of carbon dioxide.
Some snorkels offer special features designed to prevent flooding or to enable clearing, but this can be done manually in those lacking these features. In the most basic snorkels, consisting only of a simple tube and mouthpiece, the user can clear water that accumulates in the snorkel one of two ways. In the first method, called blast clearing, the snorkeler uses a strong exhalation to blast the water out of the top of the snorkeling tube. The second method, known as displacement clearing, requires that the user tilt their head back while still underwater, and exhale into the snorkel until they resurface. During ascendance, the air fills the snorkel and displaces the water. The latter method requires finesse, but is easier once learned.
Snorkels with a sump can collect water that gets inside of the snorkel in the bottom of the tube, such that the user can breathe without inhaling the water. Some sumps go a step further, featuring a one-way valve that drains the water entirely during exhale. In these snorkels, water leaves the valve when the exhalation pressure is greater than that imposed by the external water pressure. These mechanical clearing mechanisms are prone to malfunction if they are not used frequently, however, and typically do require slightly more respiratory effort than would otherwise be needed.
Unconventional Snorkeling Activities
Believe it or not, there are several sports and activities that use snorkels beyond recreational snorkeling.
Perhaps the most British-sounding sport ever, bog snorkeling is exactly what it sounds like. Participants donning snorkels and flippers must traverse two lengths of a 60-yard, weed-filled peat bog, competing for the title of the fastest in both women's and men's categories. There's a catch, though: swimmers are not allowed to use any standard swimming strokes, and must solely use their flippers to advance. The sport began in 1976 as a charity event, but has become increasingly popular since then.
There are no regulations on how the apparatus is used, but it must stay with the swimmer, and the swimmer's face must again remain submerged.
Finswimming is an underwater sport that began in the 1930s following the advent of rubber fins. It is represented in the World Games and consists of four different techniques of swimming either at the surface or underwater. The surface swimming version involves the use of a mask, snorkel, and monofin, and stipulates that swimmers remain at the water's surface except when turning.
The next version, called apnoea finswimming, takes place underwater with a mask and monofin, requiring that participants hold their breath. The face must remain submerged throughout the duration of the race. The third, immersion swimming, uses a mask, monofin, and an underwater breathing apparatus. There are no regulations on how the apparatus is used, but it must stay with the swimmer, and the swimmer's face must again remain submerged. The last version, called bi-fins, takes place on the surface, employs a mask, snorkel, and pair of fins. It stipulates that swimmers stay at the surface except when turning.
When you think of spearfishing, you might imagine primitive spears being used to catch fish in coastal villages. In fact, modern spearfishing is highly innovated, using high-tech spear implements and swimming practices, including snorkeling and scuba diving. The use of watertight swimming goggles during spearfishing was popularized in the Mediterranean in the 1920s, and progressed to the development of today's diving mask, snorkel, and fins. Today, snorkeling equipment is still preferred for summertime freshwater spearfishing, as many of the fish inhabit shallow waters.
The Origins of Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
Humans have been fascinated with the ocean for thousands of years, and snorkeling originated as early as 3000 B.C. on the Greek island of Crete.
Archaeological evidence suggests that during this time, sponge farmers used hollowed reeds as a proto-snorkel, allowing them to breathe and thus extending their time underwater spent looking for sea sponges.
Bas-relief paintings dated to be from 900 B.C. display Assyrian divers using animal-skin pouches filled with air as primitive diving tanks, providing divers with extended periods of time submerged.
This changed in 1771, when the English engineer and physicist John Smeaton developed the first pressurized air pump.
The famous Greek conquerer and king, Alexander the Great promoted the invention of the diving bell in 333 B.C., which was designed to do two things: help divers reach deeper depths through weight, and also provide enough air for the diver to continue breathing during his dive without resurfacing. The diving bell was a relatively cumbersome tool until an innovation came from two Greek men in 1538. These men entered inside of a large kettle, bringing with them a burning candle, and the kettle was lowered to the depths of the Tagus River in Spain. When the kettle surfaced, the men's clothes were dry and the candle still burning, much to the astonishment of onlookers.
In the meantime, other snorkeling innovations were made. In 1300, Persian divers began using tortoise shell to create goggles by slicing the shell so thin that it became translucent, and then polishing it. In the 1400s, Leonardo da Vinci created many designs for diving inventions. Among these ideas was a snorkel tube which would connect to an air-filled float or sit above the surface of the water. Da Vinci also envisioned a self-contained diving suit much like those used by scuba divers today, as well as webbed gloves that would enhance swimming ability.
The Italian physicist Guglielmo de Lorena drew on these designs when he created the first functioning diving helmet in 1531 or 1535. This barrel-shaped bell would fit over the user's head and allow them to breathe while submerged. De Lorena was motivated by his search for two sunken Roman ships rumored to carry gold and other treasure.
In 1717, Benjamin Franklin developed an idea that has remained popular in both snorkeling and scuba diving: paddles that would allow swimmers to move faster. Franklin's paddles were wooden, and modern paddles are plastic, but the principle remains the same. The modern fins were invented by Louis de Corlieu in 1912, for use in the French Navy. He obtained a patent for his fins in 1933.
Still, all of these innovations shared a common problem: below depths of one or two feet, the pressure on the lungs was too great for any human to take a breath. This changed in 1771, when the English engineer and physicist John Smeaton developed the first pressurized air pump. This radical device was groundbreaking and formative to the development of modern scuba equipment. This rapidly led to many of the advanced diving technologies used today.
And, finally, the first modern, waterproof goggles came about in 1930 after being proven by American pilot Guy Gilpatric. In 1938, Gilpatric even published a book titled The Compleat Goggler, which was about the art of goggle fishing.