Snorkeling at Night – Plan Ahead and See New Creatures

Mandarinfish we saw while snorkeling at night

Just the thought of snorkeling at night used to make us nervous. But after doing it several times we can honestly say that we really enjoy it. Some of the things you get to see are so amazing. Admittedly, we are always a bit unnerved, swimming around in the dark in the water, but that greatly adds to the thrill and excitement. This page will tell you why we recommend you try it, what you might see, and how to prepare for your adventure. And when you are ready to give it a shot see our night snorkeling light buying guide.

Why Go Snorkeling at Night? Unique Creatures and Excitement

Spotted Spiny Lobster we saw while snorkeling at night

The big reason to go snorkeling at night is because you get to see many things that you can’t during the day. Plus it is just exciting.

Many creatures are out at night that are not during the day, like the stunningly beautiful and rare Mandarinfish we found in Indonesia, picture above.

Eels and octopus, lobsters and shrimp are all much more active at night. While you may see a Spotted Spiny Lobster during the day, you rarely see a Slipper Lobster, or a Spanish Lobster, but you can at night. And some shrimps’ eyes are brightly reflective, and you can see hundreds of them peering out at you from the reef or rocks.

Corals can be magnificent at night. Most of the time they are closed up during the day, and hardly resemble something alive. But at night they can transform into living animals, blooming out in stunning colors, feeding with their little tentacle bodies, like the Orange Cup Coral below. At night you may also see corals spawning, with a cloud-like release of eggs and sperm.

Orange Cup Coral out feeding at night

Look Around the Edges

Young Spotted Eagle Ray we saw while snorkeling at night

When you are out snorkeling around in the dark it is easy to get focused on the little stuff right in front of you. But if you regularly pan your light around, looking out into deeper waters and farther away, you may catch sight of an eagle ray, or something else big, playing around the edges of your light. And don’t forget to sweep your light across a seemingly boring sandy area, where you might find an octopus ranging around on the hunt. They also love to hide in the ends of pipes, and other natural holes.

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Octopus we found hiding in a tube while night snorkeling

Turn off Your Light for a Magical Surprise

While it is very cool to see the creatures you can find with your light, you may be in for a wonderful surprise if you turn your light off. If you are in luck there will be bioluminescent plankton present, which will emit its own light. Move your arms and legs quickly through the water and watch hundreds of little balls of light suddenly appear. Sometimes if it is in abundance you can see streams of light from fish swimming by.

Blurry Fish, Rotten Colors, Garbage Pictures

That does not look like what I saw! See our snorkeling camera pages for tips on selecting a good snorkeling camera, and how to use it for great pictures.

The Best Places to Night Snorkel

Because snorkeling at night can be a bit unnerving, we prefer to do it in places where there is some light coming from shore, from street lights, or hotel lights. It gives a sense of direction and a little peace. Moonlight can be nice also. We also like places that have a bit of rock rubble or coral, because lobsters and shrimp like to hang out around those. And as mentioned above, feeding coral can be beautiful. In the picture below you can see feeding coral, with a crinoid walking across it.

Crinoid walking across feeding coral at night

We also like to pick places that we have snorkeled during the day, so that we are familiar with the area. And we like to pick places that are very calm, or naturally protected from waves and surge. Because rough water is not something you want to experience in the dark.

Finally, pick a place where you can easily find your exit. It should have a light on the beach, or something you can see. You don’t want to get lost.

Special Opportunities

There are a few unique night snorkeling opportunities around the world that go beyond the normal. One example is snorkeling at night with Manta Rays on the Big Island of Hawaii. Imagine 30 of these huge creatures with wing spans of 8-16 feet, doing donut turns right in front of your face. Incredible!

Get a Guided Tour Your First Time

One of the best ways to start snorkeling at night is to sign up for a guided trip. These can happen from beaches or boats, and there are almost always a few night snorkels included in the guided snorkeling trips our partner runs.

Boats and a dock lit up at night - organized group night snorkeling

The great thing about a guided tour is that they will generally provide your lights, and will know just what to look for, pointing out where the different creatures are hiding, that you might normally miss. It is the best way to get used to snorkeling at night before venturing off on your own.

Group of snorkelers at night with their light beams shining in the water

Always Go with a Buddy

We always recommend you snorkel with a friend. But we doubly recommend it for snorkeling at night. Two lights are better than one, particularly when your batteries die.

Renting Versus Buying Waterproof Flashlights

A waterproof flashlight that is made for snorkeling or diving is essential. Renting is a great way to start out. Generally for $8-15, you can rent a light from a dive shop for a night. It is a good way to try out different lights, and it saves you having to pack it in your luggage. But if you find you like snorkeling at night, then owning good lights will be more economical in the long run. And you will have the peace of mind of knowing they are properly maintained. Make sure and read our night snorkeling light buying guide.

Wear Warmer Clothing

Besides the lights, the only snorkeling gear change we make for snorkeling at night is to wear a either a thin 1mm neoprene top, or a 2mm full wetsuit, instead of our thin rash guards. Without the sun, even in tropical places, a night snorkel can be chilly.

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