Types of Snorkels – Description of the 4 Main Versions of Snorkels

A snorkel is something that helps you breathe underwater while swimming. While snorkeling is simply swimming with a diving mask, a snorkel, and swim fins, the snorkel is either separate or integrated within the swimming mask.

Snorkeling gives you the option of enjoying the underwater experience without the scuba diving training or experience. There are four main types of snorkels that we are going to break down here.

Classical Snorkel


Snorkel, in its simplest form, is just a tube attached to a mouthpiece. The tube will extend out of the water and help you breathe air from above. The tube is either slightly bent or in a ‘J’/‘L’ shape. Snorkels also sometimes have a rubber band to adjust the tube on the head.

The mouthpieces are made of silicones. With these, the nose is also blocked, so you can only breathe through the mouth. If you do breathe through the nose, the goggles will be fogged. A good classical snorkel will have an adjustable mouthpiece that adjusts according to your jawline. The tubes of this type of snorkel are very rigid, and they require some practice to get used to.

Classical Snorkel

This is the classic type of snorkel that has been in use since the late 1920s. Jacques O’Marchal first used them. However, there is some historical evidence of it being used thousands of years ago, using different materials, of course. That evidence suggests swimmers using some type of breathing equipment shaped like the trunk of an elephant.

But since the use of modern snorkels became more common, many regulations and safety rules have been put in place because they can be dangerous to use for novices. Various European standards of testing have been set, depending on the user’s height and lung capacity, as expelling water requires a lot of energy.

Where to use?

They are only suitable for swimming near the surface where the end of the tube will be extended out of the water easily. You can also swim deeper because this type of snorkel does not cause a lot of drag. But once you are about to reach the surface, you will have to clear the tube of water by tilting your head back and exhaling.

It is unsuitable to be used by children because you can only breathe through the mouth. But since they are simple in construction and very affordable, they are recommended for beginners.


  • They are a budget-friendly option.
  • The construction is simple and easy to use.
  • It is a good option for beginners.


  • It is not the most comfortable to use.
  • A lot of practice is required before you are completely comfortable.
  • It is not the best at keeping out water from the mouth.

Semi-Dry Snorkel


Semi-dry snorkels lie between classical and dry snorkels. They have a similar bent tube like the classical snorkel with some features to prevent water from getting in. For this reason, there are splash guards and purge valves on the top of the tube and the bottom, respectively.

Splash guards are often just simple slits in the tube. Semi-dry snorkels will also often have flexible tubes.

A purge valve is something that is commonly used in car engines. Their function is to release fuel vapors. Purge valves in snorkels work similarly. Their function is to remove any water that gets in. They are located near the mouthpiece and only allow one-way flow of water, i.e., outward. When you exhale, the water is displaced outwards, and you don’t have to move your head to an unnatural position.

Splash guards do the opposite job. They are located near the top end of the tube and are responsible for keeping water out of the tube. If there is ever a wave, it will keep that water out, but if the tube is fully submerged in water, it will not work. Semi-dry snorkels keep about 95% of the water out.

There are two types of splash guards, i.e., mechanical and non-mechanical. Non-mechanical splash guards are composed of simple slits and are the most effective and reliable. On the other hand, mechanical splash guards contain some moving parts that often get blocked by sand, which renders them unfit for operation. These have fallen out of favor and are rarely used nowadays.

Where to use?

Since semi-dry snorkels allow the tube to be filled with water when completely submerged, they are a good option for diving. Because of the combined features of expelling water from the bottom and keeping water out from the top, this snorkel type can be used both near the surface and deep underwater.

Snorkels are also used for spearfishing, free swimming, and underwater sports like hockey and rugby.


  • Features purge valves to expel water out.
  • Fitted with splash guards to keep water from getting in.
  • It has a flexible tube.
  • It keeps away 95% of water.


  • Not all water is kept out of the tube.
  • Mechanical splash guards are easily jammed.
  • More expensive than classical snorkels.

Dry Snorkel


Dry snorkels, unlike semi-dry snorkels, keep away 100% of the water. This means even if you are fully submerged in water, the tube will remain dry. This is accomplished by adding float valves in addition to splash guards and purge valves.

Float valves are located at the top of the tube. They seal the tube completely, not letting any water in when fully underwater. This is what makes them ‘dry.’

The other features are similar to those of semi-dry snorkels. They also have purge valves at the bottom to expel water and often have splash guards for when the user is not fully submerged in water. All of these features combined make dry snorkels one of the most comfortable and convenient snorkels to use.

Where to use?

These snorkels are the best for users who swim near the surface and for those that don’t dive deeper. The float valves block the tube completely when submerged in water because then the tube will be filled with air, and it will create pressure.

The same feature helps when you are swimming near the surface because it results in the user not having to clear water from the tube if a wave comes over or you go deep. This also helps new users that are not yet used to the water expelling technique and want to save their energy for swimming. The more features you add, the more difficult it becomes to do deep diving.

So if you are in the learning phase of snorkeling or just doing it for fun, a dry snorkel might be your best bet.


  • It is good at keeping 100% of the water out.
  • It is very convenient and comfortable to use.
  • There is no need to do regular water clearing.
  • Users save a lot of energy.


  • Adds a lot of buoyancy and drag in deep water.
  • The top valves can get blocked and stop working.

Full-Face Snorkel Mask


Full-face snorkel masks are the newest type of snorkels that cover your entire face, including the eyes, nose, and mouth. This means that the user can choose to either breathe through their nose or their mouth. The mask will be transparent from the front so you can see everything clearly.

Full-Face Snorkel Mask

This is easily the most comfortable snorkel type as you can let your face relax and breathe as you normally do. A tube will be extending from the top of the mask that functions the same way as other snorkel tubes do. It has separate intake and exhale areas that ensure you are always provided with fresh air to breathe.

Where to use?

This type helps those who have trouble breathing through their mouths or those that are uncomfortable with a mouthpiece. You will see some earlier versions of these masks that did not cover the mouth. This is perfect for beginners and more experienced users without requiring any learning.

The major downside of this mask is that it is not suitable for diving. The air trapped inside the mask creates pressure against your face that increases as you go further down. And deep underwater, there is no way to release that pressure because you cannot pinch the nose to equalize pressure.

This also means that the warm air you exhale will be circulating within the mask, which can become uncomfortable, especially in warmer waters. But If you are using the mask that does not cover your mouth, this might not be a problem.

But it is highly recommended to be cautious of carbon dioxide buildup in the mask as it can be dangerous.


  • The best type for beginners to use.
  • It allows you to relax and breathe normally.
  • The easiest and the most comfortable to use.


  • It is not suitable for diving.
  • It creates pressure against the face.
  • Warm air circulating inside becomes uncomfortable.
  • It is heavier than other types.

Other Features

The types of snorkels we described above are the main type of snorkels. There is one other type of snorkel, i.e., flexible snorkel.

Flexible Snorkel

These snorkels combine the features of a semi-dry snorkel with a flexible tube. They have a purge valve at the bottom to expel water like other versions. What makes them different is that they are adjustable and fit around the mask or face.

The upper half of the tube is rigid, while the bottom half is flexible. This means when it is not in use, and the mouthpiece is not in your mouth, it drops away from the face, which can be either comfortable or annoying, depending on the person using it.

They are mostly used in scuba diving activities because you are able to see more clearly with the mouthpiece out of sight.

Foldable, flexible snorkels can be easily rolled up and stored in the pocket of your wet or dry suits. They will have completely flexible tubes instead of half flexible and half rigid tubes.


To sum it up, snorkels are used by both novices and professional users for near-the-surface swimming, diving, and scuba diving. Depending on your level of experience and use, you can prefer different types of snorkels.

Semi-dry and classical types require more learning, experience, and extra energy to release/expel the water out. On the other hand, full-face masks are used by beginners as they are easier to use, and beginners are not expected to be doing much deep diving, though they also have different types and uses.

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