Scary First Time Snorkeling Experience :(

by Marie
(New York)

I was with friends in the Florida Keys who asked me to try snorkeling off their boat with them, it was my first time. They made sure my mask was fitted correctly, and told me to hold onto it as I jumped off the boat.

The water was about 20 feet deep, I had no flotation device on (I should have known better) and it was a choppy ocean. When I jumped in, water got in my tube and I couldn't breathe through it. I had trouble trying to stay afloat as I was trying to get the mask off. And when I grabbed onto the side of the boat, the water was going in the direction of the boat and the rest of my body was being pulled under it.

So I tried to make my way around to the other side so I could climb into the boat. I lost my grip on the boat and started to drift away from it and someone threw me a line so I could stay near the boat and eventually climb back in. I found that hard to do also, the boat had no ladder.

I feel bad that I couldn't snorkel with them. They asked me to try again but I was really quite shaken up. Oh well, very disappointing.

On a happier note, I waded into the very shallow shoreline when we got back and was able to use the mask and snorkel in about 4 feet of water.

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May 12, 2012
by: Galen & Nicole

Hi Marie,

Thanks for sharing your story, and I am sorry to hear what a terrible first experience you had.

Your experience is exactly why we recommend that first time snorkelers learn from a calm beach, so you have the chance to get used to your equipment, and stand up if you need to (so long as you are not standing on corals). When you lack experience in snorkeling, let alone boating, jumping in the water from a boat just adds too many extra problems.

And yes, we know exactly what you are talking about when it comes to pulling yourself back onto a boat when there is not a ladder. Even if you are in good shape it is near impossible. It really should not be done, because if you come back from a long snorkel and are exhausted you may not be able to get back on the boat.

And although it may not help you now, keeping in mind what way the wind and waves are moving, and coming back to the boat down wind will help that problem with being sucked under the boat.

Hopefully you won't give up on snorkeling though. You have had one of the worst experiences, but if you learn the basics and choose calm beaches for the next few times you may come to love it. You may find our snorkeling tips helpful to read.

May 12, 2012
Thanks for the helpful info!
by: marie

Thank you so much for all this helpful information. I will certainly try snorkeling again but from the shoreline as you suggest - it'll be quite some time before I have the courage to get back on the boat I think.

Thanks again.

Mar 20, 2015
First time snorkel experience
by: Anonymous

My husband and I went to John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo yesterday to snorkel for the first time. I really didn't realize how scary it was until I jumped into the ocean and started to breathe through the snorkel tube. It does limit your breath and with the pressure of the life jacket pressed up against my chest it took some getting used to. You feel very vulnerable in that big ocean with the current pulling you were it wants.

I have to say the captain and mate were the best at making sure we were well informed and kept an eye on us at all times. They were extremely professional and I would recommend them for a first time trip as they do have ladders and all nessessary training for safety.

I wish I had done some practice on the beach first though just to get used to it a little beforehand.

Apr 27, 2015
Similar experience on a tour
by: John

We had a great group of about 10 friends go out on a tour for snorkeling. The group was great but as they described the water conditions and I finally got to the location my nerves got the better of me.

It was odd as I have no issue swimming, but loading with all the gear, fins, floating vest, mask, my body's reaction to jumping in the 20 foot water was fear. I tried as hard as I could to calm my breathing, but as soon as my head went under water, my body's reaction was to hyperventilate. I tried and had to go back on the boat to take a rest and calm down.

After about 10 or 15 minutes I decided to try again, this time I used the ladder and jumped in. Again my body's reaction was difficult to control and although I did better, breathing was too much a chore and I could not relax and enjoy the swim. The current was a bit intimidating and again I climbed back on the boat.

I took another break and kept telling myself, I'll be OK, no need to get nervous. So when the captain mentioned we had about 40 minutes left I was sad I couldn't enjoy the trip.

I got my gear on again and it was weird. My body was calm, and I was able to enjoy the swim. Finally I was able to swim around, enjoy the sights and get into the beautiful sights of the reef.

I was the last one back on the boat. Once I gained my confidence I was able to enjoy it all. I would agree with practicing to snorkel before going on a boat trip, as I would have enjoyed more time in the water.

It was worth it. And also on a side note, my girlfriend was horrified at the idea of being in open water and was scared. As soon as she got in the water she was fine, and was exploring the area along with the experienced swimmers.

I loved the trip but now I know what to expect and look forward to enjoying it again.

Jul 23, 2017
by: Anonymous

Last week I was in Cozumel Mexico. We took a snorkeling excursion that took us to three reefs (Palancar, Columbia, Cielo). The website said it was good for all levels so we went for it since I had heard the reefs were some of the best in the world.

This was our first time in an ocean and with basic swimming skills. The guide gave us our equipment and didn't even show us how to use it. When I mentioned we weren't experienced, he simply said to be careful and stay with the group.

When I jumped in the water I had never experienced that much fear. My flipper fell off. When I tried to breathe, I couldn't. I looked underwater and it was so intimidating. It looked huge. I think they said it was like 60-90 ft deep.

I went back to boat and had to vomit. My 17 year old son went further with the group and when I was sick, he started shouting at me to help him because the group of people were ahead of him.

I felt helpless, and we had guides that were so inconsiderate. It's sad because it was a dream and I have no idea when I'll ever have the money to take a trip like that again.

Apr 06, 2018
A Weird Tip
by: Anonymous

I recently did my first snorkeling near South Water Caye in Belize. We jumped into 15 - 20 feet of water. As soon as I put my face in, I knew I was in trouble and pulled my face back up immediately. I had a panicky feeling that I wasn't going to be able to breathe or that my mask was going to fill with water. It's instinctive - my mask was not leaking, and I had a dry top! It just feels so unnatural the first time.

I got a life preserver and put that around my waist. That was a HUGE help. A pool noodle would also work.

Then I did the stupidest thing but it made all the difference for me. I held my nose through my mask. Seriously, for about 45 minutes that day, I literally held my nose through my mask, while I snorkeled. After that and with a few more attempts, I was able to put my face down unaided and could keep my face down indefinitely. Since Belize is a really really go-with-the-flow country, the guide just smiled and said "go with what works."

I would agree with another commenter that I would never ever jump out of a boat that doesn't have a ladder at the end, you do need that ladder. I never did get very graceful about jumping out of the boat (people kept coming to look over the side, thinking I had fallen -- maybe it was that little scream I made each time), but I was able to happily snorkel inside and outside the reef, and it was one of the great adventures of my life.

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