Last time I looked at noise-makers underwater, such as rattles and horns, and how they irritate me and serve no purpose.
Now it’s the the turn of the trusty snorkel, and how it has no positive role to play in Scuba Diving.
I know it’s not a hugely popular one to pick on, given the number of organisations who swear by them, but to me they seem to be the perfect example of (yet another) crutch people take with them because:
- It’s what they were told
- They don’t know any better
- They think it makes a difference
The point is that none of the reasons are particularly valid.
Of course, everybody will come up with other reasons as to why they take their snorkel with them (‘in case I’m stuck with a long surface swim’; ‘so I don’t use my air on the surface’; ‘in case the weather’s rough and I need to swim back to the boat’ etc. etc.), but the point is that all are solutions to problems that shouldn’t exist in the first place, if everything is truly covered to an adequate level of safety.
The simple fact of the matter is this: Snorkels are for Snorkelling.
Snorkels only have any real application when you are within centimetres of the surface, which for 95% of my time in the water (if not more) is simply not the case. For all the added complexities a snorkel adds to gear configuration (dangling and dragging from the mask, causing confusion and irritation in a gas sharing situation, generally being an object that screams ‘entangle me!’ to any loose line or catchy bits) it doesn’t give enough in return to be worth taking. Even if you strap the thing to your leg, as some people do, it only serves to add an extra ‘hook point’ (however small) to your gear, and it does so in the one place you’d struggle to get to if entanglement occurred or if you needed to use it – if you don’t need it, don’t take it.
For all the arguments thrown above, there is a much simpler way to solve the initial problem.
1. Using Air on the Surface
Simply put using your air on the surface shouldn’t be a huge deal, provided you account for it in your gas planning, and your gas planning is correct. If you know that you use, on the surface, say 1 bar / minute from whatever tank configuration you are diving (which, by the way, is an easy calculation to learn and use regularly) and you know you have to swim 5 minutes to and from the site you want to do, then you can calculate that you should use 5 bar each way, and so you will need 10 bar for the two legs of the journey. Perhaps you want to factor in some reserve in case you have to work hard, in which case you can apply it appropriately (say another 10 bar in this example). That means you need to plan for using 20 bar to go to and come back from the dive. So you can simply take this figure off from the amount of Usable Gas you have (Starting Pressure – Minimum Gas) and see how it affects what you want to do (in most scenarios this will probably make the difference of 1 or 2 minutes over the course of your dive) – suddenly you realize that it’s not that huge a difference. Of course, if 1 or 2 minutes is too big a difference for you to handle (maybe because the dive site is going to disappear… ?:-/) then you’ve just told yourself that you should be diving a higher capacity backgas (be that doubles or a larger single tank). Taking a snorkel in this case simply does nothing but add confusion for, potentially, the sake of 1 or 2 minutes, although by using the snorkel and dealing with the water entering / having to be cleared during the swim, you may end up so tired at the start of the dive that you use this amount of gas anyway on descent. But what you have done is add an extra piece of gear that you don’t need.
2. So I don’t use my Air on the Surface
See above. Plan your gas properly…
3. Rough Weather
As alluded to in Point 1, this is also a completely counter-intuitive, but oft-mentioned reason for taking a snorkel, especially when diving from boats – “There are some big waves between the boat and the descent point so I can’t have nothing protecting my air way”.
While the reasoning is good – you certainly don’t want to be stuck on the surface in bad weather without a surefire way to be receiving air all the time – the choice of snorkel over regulator is insane. The regulator is simply the better choice, in all situations. The regulator is attached to your tank, and forms a sealed system to deliver air without water. The snorkel is an open tube to the environment. This means that whilst it is realistic to expect at least some water to get into the snorkel (especially true in bad weather, regardless of your snorkel technique), it is virtually impossible (barring opening your mouth, which would be dumb in any situation) to get water into the regulator feeding you your air. This in turn means that the regulator provides less hassle than the snorkel, which makes it both easier and more efficient… so why take the snorkel?
Again it would seem the reason comes down to being Point 1 again, and the issue of ‘wasting’ gas supply. See Point 1 for why this is (or should be) nonsense.
Again, it ultimately comes down to a matter of education, which is a reflection of the fact that diving is an ‘alien’ activity – it’s not something we were meant to do or designed to do. This means that anyone receiving instruction will be receiving (in most cases) completely fresh information. As I believe the phrase goes, Shit Sticks, and people are very hesitant to question what they hear first, and keep going through it until they are finally convinced that it’s wrong. As with most things in the dive industry, so many people have done it / been taught it so repetitively that they rarely have to question it, so it sticks. Equally, it’s not a huge safety issue in itself, and I doubt many (if any) people have died from it, so people ignore it. But the fact is that whether it is life-threatening or not, it is not as efficient as it could be, and is a very easy change to make. If you stop striving to make things more efficient and effective then you are making a backwards step – in any area / sport / technology. Some things just make more sense, even if they are telling you that you’re wrong. It can be a bitter medicine to swallow.
Just to reiterate though, this is not a dig at snorkels are general. Snorkels are great and suit their purpose fantastically, but:
Snorkels are for Snorkelling, not for Diving