16 March 2006

SCUBA Theory: Snorkels aren't evil

I really enjoyed this post by Will O'Brien on Divester. Divester is beginning a new series on SCUBA diving theory starting with this fantastic article. There are some good reader comments posted on this page as well.

Quoted from Divester: We're beginning a series on SCUBA diving theory. Not only will we explore techniques and best practices in safety, we'll talk about the reasons behind them. Bad puns will abound as we dive into everything from using and maintaining your gear to compartmental decompression theory. Today, snorkels: they aren't evil.

Do you carry a snorkel on your dives?
I've met several divers lately who leave the snorkel at home when they go SCUBA diving. The snorkel has become percieved as dead weight that tugs at the mask strap. Today I'll talk about the importance of strapping that tube to your head.

Snorkels are annoying
They add extra drag to your head. They poke you in the chin. You forgot the one that isn't pink...
Yup, they're just obnoxious, until you need them.

I'm diving, not snorkeling
According to reports by DAN(The Divers Alert Network), the majority of diving deaths at the surface in 2005 were due to exhaustion. In one case a diver drowned at the surface after he dropped his regulator because his tank was empty at the beginning of his dive.

That boy's head is like Sputnik
In full diving kit, keeping your head above water is very exhausting. The human head averages about 12 pounds. That's a big weight to keep out of the water. Oh, and don't forget that the top of the tank and your regulator are poking out of the water. Lets make that 20 to 25 pounds of dead weight. Inflating your BC will offset the weight of your noggin, but todays BCs are not designed to keep the divers head out of water.

Please sir, make them smaller
It's not entirely the diver's fault that snorkels are being left behind. It has become difficult to find a simple, streamlined snorkel in a dive shop. Purge valves certainly make clearing a snorkel very easy. Unfortunately adding a purge valve makes the snorkel bigger and heavier, resulting in more drag on the divers head. My favorite, trusty, valve free SCUBAPRO snorkel isn't even made anymore. Purge valves are simple devices, but they can fail. A piece of sand in the right place can turn that spiffy valve into a water inlet. Aside from children's gear, my local dive shop doesn't even carry a snorkel without a purge valve.

You're still not convinced?
For the local Advanced Open Water course, we have a skill designed to prove the importance of the snorkel. In full gear, the divers swim laps around the pool with everything but a snorkel. In a class filled with 20 year olds in good physical condition, most hit exhaustion between 5 and 8 laps or 250 to 400 yards! After a break, we give them back their snorkel. Once their heads is comfortably in the water, previously exhausted students easily swim the same distance and more with very little energy use. This skill is designed to produce exhaustion, DO NOT try it without an instructor to keep you safe.

Failure is not an option
Have you really considered what happens if you experience an equipment failure at the surface? An aborted dive can easily result in surfacing away from the dive boat. BC failure, broken fin straps, an un-recoverable free flowing regulator all become more serious problems if you left your snorkel in your bag. Even in an out of air situation, most people take their regulators back once they get you to the surface.

Gearing up?
Every year, several diving deaths occur at the water surface. The majority of these deaths are due to exhaustion. Snorkels may be a drag, but carrying your head out of the water is even worse. Swimming at the surface in full gear without a snorkel will quickly exhaust even the most physically fit diver. The snorkel is sort of a secret seat belt for divers at the surface.

Me? I carry my snorkel on every dive.
I'll even take the pink one.

Source: www.divester.com


At 5:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand the concept of NOT having a snorkel. Is this an American thing? I learnt to dive in Australia, and there was no question of not having a snorkel.

An if it's attached to the mask (aren't they supposed to be?), you'll never leave home without it!

At 4:59 AM, Blogger ccastel said...

Here is a solution that can solve both the dragging snorkel problem and keep you safe...
Although they're hard to find in dive stores, many websites offer collapsable snorkels that fit in your BC pocket or even clip to your wet suit. I keep one on me whenever I dive and if i need it, it simply extends in a second and hooks onto my mask easily!
- good luck and happy diving-

At 10:43 PM, Blogger Steve said...

This article, and the comments above, make a lot of great points. I feel naked without my snorkel.


At 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate using my snorkel,but wouldnot dream of diving without it. As can be seen from the above article, we carry it for a reason.

At 3:07 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

When they jump out of perfectly good helicopters into 80 ft seas they allways wear the same thing
wetsuit, fins mask and a snorkel. here in Cambodia you can have 15 mph winds come up in 10 min or less which makes for a realy fun surface swim if you don't have one and get caught.

At 7:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that divers get lazy and do not take the trouble to properly equalize their weight with their weightbelts BEFORE turning to their BC's.

They lazily ust put on the BC, and trust it will take care of overweight. The result is obvious.

In addition, a grossly overweight diver will lie very deep in the water whether he has a snorkel or not. Then when he needs to breathe thru the snorkel, the pressure on the chest of that extra depth becomes a noticeable thing (Especially when working to keep head above water), and thus another factor wnich contributes to exhaustion.

Accidents in diving can often be attributed to the domino effect of many little things conspiring together. Add in a perished mask strap that snaps when you grab for the snorkel, ill-fitting hire fins, the weight of the pretty rock/shell you found, BC straps that are too loose allowing you to lie low in the harness etc etc etc.

At 2:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only argument I don't completely agree with is that because of the heavy gear - weight belts, etc, it is easy to get tired on the surface.

I rarely hear consideration of dumping a weight belt if the diver is in trouble, yet doing so would gain you immediate bouyancy, often exceeding that of a fully inflated BCD (many diver's have more weight on than their BCD can lift). Yet a weight belt is a lot cheaper than your life.

Most of us don't use horsecollar BCDs anymore. I find that my "Buddy" horsecollar (think they still make them) is great as if floats you face up. It's also all bright orange and very visible.

I have a Canadian dive blog up - www.octopusdiver.blogspot.com


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