Tips for First Time Hawaii Snorkelers

Trumpet Fish
Trumpet Fish in Kailua Bay on Hawaii’s Big Island

I’ve recently been asked for snorkeling advice for first Hawaii visitors. So, I thought we’d take another look back at this blast from the past post that I originally published in April 2008 – Courage for First Time Hawaii Snorkeling and Confessions from the Chicken of the Sea.

If you have never snorkeled before, I’d like to encourage you to try it. There really is a whole new world underwater. With Hawaii’s waters being so clean, clear and full of colorful tropical fish, it’s a great place to try snorkeling. Now, I’ve not always been ready to fearlessly dive in the ocean with my snorkel gear. In fact, I consider myself to be the biggest chicken of the sea. No, not a tuna, but someone who tends to be on the more cautious side when it comes to being in the water. You see, I didn’t learn how to swim until I was 22 years old and only then because it was a requirement for me to graduate with my BS Engineering degree. (Yeah, I agree, it is weird!) So, for all you other chickens, I wanted to put together snorkel advice to help you be more knowledgeable and confident to give snorkeling a try.

Good snorkel gear is your best snorkeling friend.
With good gear, you don’t have to be an expert swimmer in order to snorkel. My swimming skills are still embarrassingly horrible, and I find it easy to navigate in the water with snorkel gear.

  • Flippers really help you move around in the water. They displace more water than your feet and make it much easier to propel your self around in the water.
  • A mask that fits firmly around your head will keep water out of your eyes. If it doesn’t fit firmly, use the straps to adjust it tighter. If you have long hair, you may want to consider pulling your hair into a low pony tail to help your mask fit better and to keep your hair out of view in the water.
  • It doesn’t take long to become accustomed to breathing through the snorkel. Practice breathing with it before you get into the water. The key to breathing through a snorkel is to make sure you don’t bend your neck too far down or too far back when you are in the water so that you don’t allow water in the snorkel.
  • Use a floatation device to give you confidence in the water. Also, bear in mind that salt water is more buoyant than fresh water and that the flippers also help you stay afloat. Believe it or not, I’ve actually been brave enough to snorkel with ease without a floatation device. (That was in Moorea in French Polynesia.)

Try your first snorkeling experiences with a reputable snorkel tour company.
The tour company will provide the snorkeling gear including floatation devices. The tour guides will teach you how to use the equipment and advise you where to go and where to avoid. A good snorkel tour company will also keep an eye on the snorkelers, particularly if you tell them that you are a bit scared. I think it’s really important that you be somewhat supervised for your first few snorkeling experiences.

Prepare yourself for a shock.
The ocean water will feel very, very cold at first and it may even take your breath away. Just be prepared for the shock and know that you’ll soon adjust to the change in temperature. I usually just tread in the water for about a minute until I adjust.

Be a responsible in the water.
Don’t feed the fish. Don’t touch the coral! This excellent video explains why you shouldn’t do those things and how they are harmful to the fish and overall health of the ocean.

But, what about the sharks?
Regarding sharks, you’re in the ocean so the sharks are definitely out there. It’s very unlikely you’d see one, though.

In all my snorkeling in Hawaii, I’ve only seen one shark and that was in Hulopoe Bay in Lanai. That reef shark was only minding his/her business and didn’t approach us.

In a Q&A I conducted with a Hawaii snorkeling expert, Mike Jones, the head dive master of Trilogy says, “People are more likely to be killed by a bee or struck by lighting than to be bitten by a shark.”

If you are super nervous about sharks, one strategy is to swim close to your spouse or friend. Consider holding hands. Two people together look much bigger and more intimidating. A shark won’t normally approach something that looks much larger than them. See our article on sharks in Hawaii for more shark avoiding tips.

Tangs in Kailua Kona
Tangs in Kailua Bay


I hope these tips will be an encouragement for other chickens and first time snorkelers to give snorkeling a try. From my experience, I can say that my snorkeling is worth the effort! What additional tips would you add?

  1. I am looking at beginning a tropical fish tank at my home back in Utah. To start that I wanted to see many them in their natural habitat, and what better way to do that then a trip to Hawaii? Since I plan on snorkeling I want to make sure that I do it safely and correctly, thanks for the advice on it! I am sure it will come in handy when I get over there.

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