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 snorkel 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 four feet of water.

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Galen and Nicole – May 12, 2012 – Bummer

Hi Marie, thanks for sharing your story, and we are 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 live 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 nearly 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 all of our snorkeling tips helpful to read.

Marie – May 12, 2012 – Thanks for the Helpful Info!

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.

Anonymous – Mar 20, 2015 – First Time Snorkel Experience

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 necessary training for safety.

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

John – Apr 27, 2015 – Similar Experience on a Tour

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 loaded up 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 underwater, 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 of 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 beauty 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.

Anonymous – Jul 23, 2017 – Panic

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.

Anonymous – Apr 6, 2018 – A Weird Tip

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.

Anonymous – Apr 29, 2018 – It’s Okay to Practice First

I didn’t want to have trouble snorkeling on vacation so I signed up for a snorkeling lesson at my local dive shop. They showed me some basics in their pool and helped me feel comfortable with my snorkeling gear. I practiced blowing out through the snorkel so I could safely go underwater. I did some practice sessions on my own at my local Y. Now snorkeling feels as natural as walking. It’s one of my favorite activities and it’s like everything in life, more practice translates into better skills. I just got back from a great trip to Belize and snorkeling was the highlight of the trip.

Anonymous – Apr 29, 2018 – Another First Time Disaster – Don’t Give Up!

Just chiming in to say we also had a bad first experience – and to encourage anyone reading to please try again and don’t let a bad first or even second experience stop you from enjoying this wonderful activity.

I did practice close to shore first, so it wasn’t an equipment thing. BUT that first organized trip was a disaster. It was on a Key Largo snorkeling excursion – no land in sight so already a little nervous. Entire boat was filled with experienced snorkelers and when captain and mates asked who was new and we raised our hands, they didn’t really say much about how to snorkel or safety advisories.

Everyone but us went in – I was hanging back because I was a little nervous and wanted to watch how others did it. One of the first mates yelled at us – very angry voice – saying we needed to go to other side of boat if we weren’t going in as we were in the way. (Nice way to treat nervous newbies – maybe you could have spent two seconds on the long ride out explaining where people should stand once everyone started going in? And you say you work for tips?)

So 30 seconds later, everyone is trying to get back on the boat. What gives? Jellyfish. That’s what gives. The ocean was full of them – something the boat captain and first mates didn’t bother to mention ahead of time. We’re not talking a few – everyone was getting stung – repeatedly. We never went in.

So glad I didn’t let that bad experience stop me. We tried again with a better, more service-oriented company at different time of year and actually got in the water and had a nice time.

Struggling with the equipment? I feel you. I went through FIVE masks – all top quality big names – all leaked or fogged no matter what I did – weird face shape, I guess! Finally found my perfect mask at Walmart of all places – for $10 and love it!

Hated the life jackets – because no one told me till the third snorkel trip that I shouldn’t completely fill it with air. My husband is thin and sinks like a rock – he uses a noodle now and loves it.

Sometimes it takes a while for things to “click” to get in the zone. I LOVE snorkeling now. Don’t give up!!!

Vincent – Apr 29, 2018 – Snorkeling Is a Learned Skill

It is always disappointing to read about bad snorkeling experiences. I have many friends who hear about my love of snorkeling, and then they say they will never do it again because they started at too advanced of a level (my interpretation).

The key is to start where it is 100% safe, a pool or by the shore. Then venture a bit further. Even a more commercial spot is a good start, though nature is best.

I always wear a good inflatable vest. If I don’t need it, it is on as a bright marker for boats. If I do need it, a few puffs of air and I float. Mine cost about $50 US.

Those of us who have been at it for years should make sure our guests start slow and have a flotation device.

nmchick52 – Apr 29, 2018 – Check Reviews and Write Reviews of Snorkel Outfits

I’ve snorkeled a couple dozen times, the first several all on tours. I think it’s important to read the one, two and three star reviews before booking with an outfitter. EVERY tour taking on anyone who buys a ticket should include basic instruction and ask if there is anyone on board who would like further instruction while the others are entering the water. Those guides who gave no instruction should have been reported; safety first!

For me, I ONLY want to go on a tour on a boat with the ladder that goes down into the water; I don’t like jumping in the water from the side of the boat, so I search for those companies and make sure I’m getting that boat when I book.

The scariest time for me was from a walk-in snorkel with my boyfriend at the time; we got caught in a riptide pulling us out to the end of the point and it was quite a struggle to swim sideways long enough to find a way back in to shore. So now I read blogs about specific snorkel sites and avoid the ones known for riptides. If they have riptides I want to stay closer to shore.

I absolutely love snorkeling though and am planning another trip soon, and since my lifemate of 16 years passed last September, it might even be a solo one. Still researching snorkeling trip options.

Mickey and Jim – Apr 30, 2018 – Mexico “Snorkeling”

We had a similar experience on a “guided” snorkel in Mexico with a purported top notch diving company. They provided the flotation devices worn on your chest and the mask and snorkel.

We were taken out to a spot, along with divers that supposedly was a great spot. I don’t know how deep it was as the water was very discolored. My wife isn’t the best swimmer but she had the flotation device, right? Anyway, I tried to see the bottom but never made it.

When I surfaced, (I had given my wife my flotation device), I could see she was having trouble. She was getting scared as she had tried to blow up her device and found bubbles coming from a seam! She started panicking and true to all the stories, she was pulling at me to stay above water and pushing me down.

I finally got her calmed down and told her we’d go back to the boat. I looked around and the boat was the better part of 400-500 yards away and drifting further. I started towing her to the boat. I’m no Johnny Weismuller and I stopped every few feet trying to get the attention of the boat, to no avail.

When we got to the boat, the current tried to take us under the boat. The Mexicans running the boat did nothing to help and when I got on board and tried to question them found they spoke no English whatsoever.

When the rest of the group was on board, they just took off. No accounting for who was on board at all. When we got back to the “dive shack”, I told them our experience and they told us that that could not have happened and they tried to dismiss us. When I told them the flotation device had a leak and how far off the boat had drifted from us, they told me no way as they check everything before anyone uses it and the crews were old hands (actually teenagers)!

And this was from a very well known and recommended diving company that has a very good reputation all over the world.

We were in our mid-60’s at the time. All I can say is check the equipment yourselves… and thank you, Lord, for giving me the strength to get my wife to the boat. We take our own equipment now and don’t take boat snorkeling trips anymore.

Anonymous – May 4, 2018 – One Step at a Time

After 15 years of snorkeling once a year or so, I am finally starting to get the hang of it. My suggestion to any newbie is get your own equipment, try Big Five or Walmart, you can get a nice set for under $50 including fins with bag. Then before you go, practice in your kitchen sink or bathtub but I prefer the sink. You do not have to dunk your entire head underwater just deep enough so that you can use the snorkel. Practice so you (I) get over the reflex to hyperventilate. Then when you finally hit your snorkel destination you do not have to spend 1/2 a day reconditioning yourself. Works for me.

Jennifer – May 5, 2018 – I Waited a Lifetime!

When I was eight years old my 12 year old brother was a keen snorkeler. I must have shown an interest as he told me to put on his mask, he pulled the straps tight told me to take a deep breath in through my nose! As an 8 year old the experience was so horrendous it haunted me throughout my life because growing up I loved the idea of snorkeling but that experience always denied me the courage to have a go.

I’m now a fit healthy 66 year old and it grieves me to watch my partner snorkeling and know how much it would mean to him if I could snorkel with him. Last year on holiday he popped out for an hour and when he came back I was sitting on the sofa wearing his mask and snorkel! I’d finally got the courage and determination to make a start.

The next day he bought me my own mask, snorkel, and fins and we went down to a very shallow calm part of the sea and although totally out of my comfort zone after 10 minutes I was snorkeling! I snorkeled every day ’til the end of the holiday (11 times) and after lots more experience and confidence building we plan to take a holiday somewhere more exotic than Spain!

That first day was one of the happiest of my life. I think the secret is take it slow, relax and progress in your own time. If I can do it anyone can!

Kelly – May 5, 2018 – Don’t Take Shallow Water for Granted

I learned how to snorkel on the Big Island of Hawaii. I met some people at a restaurant who said they would teach me. The experience was so exciting to me that I couldn’t wait to go into deeper water. From the first second I could see underwater I saw pipefish and other fish swimming all around peoples feet! Also, seeing the surface of the water from below, I felt like I was in another world! Pretty soon I was snorkeling in 20 feet without problems.

Some of the rules I was taught were: 1) Don’t turn your back on the ocean, 2) Don’t take the ocean for granted, and 3) DON’T EVER SNORKEL OR DIVE ALONE.

One day I couldn’t find anyone to snorkel with me. It was a beautiful summer day and the ocean beckoned me. I thought what can go wrong? I went to a well-known area known as Turtle Bay in Kona. There was a lifeguard on duty. So I began swimming toward deeper water to an area I always wanted to go.

I was SO mesmerized that I lost track of time. I also had drifted farther out and then north into a surf zone. By the time I realized where I was, there was a bad riptide and I was a long way from the shore. There were also surfers around me! One almost hit me! I started to panic! I also had asthma so I began to have an asthma attack. I was a swimmer and bodybuilder and had very good breathing but the panic was getting the best of me. The waves were crashing over me and the rip wouldn’t let me swim to shore.

I remembered something I heard years ago, if you are caught in this situation, swim sideways along the shore until you are out of the riptide zone. I had to take my mask and snorkel off as they impeded me. The fins really helped. (P.S. get swim socks to wear with your fins. They are a necessity I think.) I swam out of the riptide and made my way to shore.

I learned those lessons the hard way. But the next day, I went snorkeling again and got into deep water again; this time with a friend! I didn’t want my experience to scar me so I would never want to dive again.

The sad thing is, the next day I was hanging out around Hapuna Beach and there was a news story about a kid who was snorkeling in the exact same spot I got caught in the day before, but he drowned. I was so sad. He was alone too.

Nick – Apr 10, 2019 – First Time Snorkeling Experience

I recently went snorkeling with my family in Khao Lak, Thailand. I’m a non-swimmer and took no prior advice and arrogantly thought “how hard could it be?” Big mistake!

I jumped from the ladder of boat into 40 feet of beautiful ocean, and immediately went underwater! Water flooded my snorkel tube so I couldn’t breathe. I panicked and swallowed some ocean. I felt like I was drowning. The guide “rescued” me and I spent the next 20 minutes being “towed” by her (she was a brilliant swimmer) so I did get to see some fish etc., but it felt humiliating that everyone else, including the kids, could do it, but not me!!

Not being able to swim was utterly stupid of me, as I just couldn’t get used to the virtual zero gravity environment of the ocean, and even with a buoyancy jacket I felt I would sink. Sadly I couldn’t participate in the next day’s snorkeling adventure.

I wish I had found your site before I went snorkeling, as everything you advise for beginners, in my case, is 100% accurate.

First thing I’m going to do back home is learn how to swim… and come back next year!


Natalie – May 13, 2020 – Wonderful

I had an amazing first time. I was so scared of going at first, but my parents talked me into it. I’m not a good swimmer at all, but I do travel a lot and go into the ocean a lot. I am almost 17 right now, but when I first went snorkeling I was only 12.

We went on an excursion in Isla Mujeres. I was thrown off the boat into the water, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Once I started snorkeling, it was absolutely phenomenal, all my worries went away and it was so pretty. It was not scary at all. I saw the most beautiful ocean life.

Now when we go on vacation, I go snorkeling all of the time, sometimes by myself, but a lot of the time with my family!

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