How Does A Snorkel Work?

How does a scuba diving snorkel work?

How does a Snorkel Work? Dry, Semi-Dry & Wet Best Reviews

If you plan on going underwater, whether snorkeling, scuba diving, or any kind of sport, chances are you will need a snorkel. It is your best friend underwater. But as invaluable as it is, have you ever thought about how a snorkel actually works?

We know it lets you breathe underwater, right? But how? Well, here is the deal. There are several types of snorkels. The most common types are dry, semi-dry, and wet snorkels.

Generally speaking, they all work in the same way, but there are a few minor differences. Knowing how snorkels work can really boost your confidence underwater. The more knowledge you have, the safer you are.

A snorkel is usually comprised of 5 parts: purge valve, flex tube, mask strap clip, mouthpiece, and a dry valve or splash guard. Of course, different types of snorkels have different parts. Let’s take a better look at our 3 main types.

Parts of a snorkel diagram

Dry Snorkel

First up is the dry snorkel, which has become quite popular these days. Let’s start with whyit is called “dry”. The answer is pretty simple. You know how traditional snorkels usually allow water to fill in when you submerge?

Well, dry snorkels don’t. They have a special little flotation device on the top that floats upwards, blocking the air pathway. Once you swim back to the surface, this device goes back down so you can breathe again. Simple, yet effective, right?

But there is a catch. As fancy as a dry snorkel is, it limits your underwater activity. It is only useful if you want to float near the water surface. Maybe go for a few quick, shallow dives.

But if you plan on going deep, for example, if you want to spearfish or free dive, don’t count on a dry snorkel. The trapped air inside a dry snorkel increases your buoyancy which is something you don’t want if you are trying to go down, not up.

Another problem with dry snorkels is that sometimes, they don’t work properly. If they are not perfectly positioned, water might leak into the tube, which means you could end up inhaling water, instead of air.

Luckily, there are a few snorkels on the market that are specially made to prevent these problems. One such model is the Kapitol Reef snorkel, but we will get into that in a bit.

Semi-dry Snorkel

Next up is the semi-dry snorkel. As you might have guessed, it is somewhere between a dry and a wet snorkel. Kind of like the best of both worlds.

Unlike dry snorkels, a semi-dry one doesn’t keep ALL the water out. That being said, it still prevents splashing water from entering your tube when you are near the surface.

Rather than a flotation device on the top, you will find that semi-dry snorkels come with several slits and angles that redirect water away from the tube. Once you have completely submerged, it will let the water in.

This brings us to a solid question: who can benefit most from a semi-dry snorkel? Well, if you are a scuba diver who wants to save air in the tank while on the surface, but doesn’t want a bulky, buoyant dry snorkel, then a semi-dry is perfect for you.

Wet snorkel

Last, but definitely not least, is the wet or traditional snorkel. This one is as simple as it gets. It is basically a tube. To be more specific, it is a “J”-shaped tube that is open at the top.

With this extreme simplicity, you can expect a wet snorkel to let water in whether you are diving or near the surface. So why do people use it? Why do free divers and spear fishermen favor dry snorkels?

Because dry snorkels are very low volume. They have no buoyancy, attachments, or any kind of drag. This allows divers to go as deep as they want on one breath of air.

One thing worth mentioning is that once you resurface, you will have to blast the seawater out of your snorkel to clear it. Vacationers and first-time snorkelers usually end up swallowing and choking on seawater which can be unpleasant.

Dry vs. Semi-dry vs. Wet

Now that you know everything about each type of snorkel, you are probably wondering which one is the best choice for you. Well, there are a few factors you have to consider like the ease of use, cost, efficiency, and safety.


Dry snorkel Semi-Dry snorkel Wet snorkel
Cost Most affordable Slightly more expensive than dry snorkels Most expensive
Ease of use ·       Rigid tubing can make it a bit uncomfortable·       You’ll need to blast the water out once you resurface

·       Ideal for beginners because of its simple design

·       Easy to pack

·       Somewhat easier to use than dry snorkels ·       The added buoyancy makes it hard for divers to go deep·       Can increase drag underwater

·       Don’t have to worry about clearing water

·       Some find it a bit complicated to use

Efficiency Most efficient when deep underwater (spearfishing and free diving) Only efficient at keeping water out while near the surface Most efficient when swimming near the surface and occasionally making quick, shallow dives
Safety ·       Generally safe, but requires training before use. 

·       If you forget to exhale forcefully, swallowing or choking on seawater can be unpleasant

·       Some have moving splash guards parts that can jam if sand gets inside·       Doesn’t keep all the water out ·       You won’t have to worry about seawater getting into your tube·       The added weight and buoyancy can pull on the mask


Buying Guide: Selecting the Right Snorkel

So far, you are pretty much an expert on snorkels. You know how they work, their different types, and the best properties each type has to offer.

But here is the thing, if all snorkels on the market were your typical dry, semi-dry, or wet types, there wouldn’t be these many products on the market! Each company tries to bring new features in order to stay ahead of the competition.

This makes choosing the right snorkel a bit difficult unless you know what to look for. Here are some features that you should definitely take into consideration.

Purge Valve

One of the first things you need to decide is whether or not you want your snorkel to have a purge valve. What is that? Well, think of it this way: a purge valve is basically a one-way valve that lets you expel water easily.

If any water should find its way into your snorkel tube, all you have to do is exhale and it will go right back out through the valve. Purge valves make it infinitely easier for divers to clear water.

On the other hand, if you favor a snorkel that doesn’t have a purge valve, you will have to exhale forcefully to clear the water. This takes a bit of practice and can be somewhat difficult for first-timers.

In fact, a lot of first-time divers end up hating the whole snorkeling experience after swallowing or choking on seawater. If you are worried about having to blast the water out of your snorkel, you might want to favor one that has a purge valve.

Fixed vs. Flex Hose

Take a look at any snorkel for a second. You see that lower portion right before the part with the mouthpiece? Well, that part is usually either fixed or flex. You can probably tell just by looking at it.

So what is the difference? Well, first of all, flexible snorkels allow the tube to fall away from your mouth when you’re not using it. This kind of snorkel usually involves a straight tube that allows you to talk freely without having a tube in your mouth.

These are ideal for divers who keep switching between their snorkel and their regulator.

On the other hand, fixed hose snorkels tend to have a curved tube and the mouthpiece literally remains “fixed” to your mouth even while talking.

Flex hose usually has a portion that is made from silicon while fixed ones are made from the same material as the rest of the snorkel.

Curved vs. Straight Tube

A few years ago, you would have had to choose between a straight-tube snorkel and a curved one. Nowadays, you will find that most snorkels are curved because this makes them much more stable and less wobbly when being used.

The only problem worth mentioning with curved tube snorkels is that they tend to create more dead space. This can sometimes make it difficult to breathe through them.

That being said, some people still favor the old straight-tube design. That is perfectly okay. There is nothing wrong with it. It is just less ergonomic than the curved tube.


In terms of design, snorkels can be divided into two types: those with a basic “J-tube” design and those without.

The J-tube is simply the traditional or wet snorkel. It doesn’t have that many features and it can take in quite a bit of water once you go under.

Dry and semi-dry snorkels, on the other hand, usually stay away from the J-tube design.

Replaceable vs. Fixed Mouthpiece

When it comes to the mouthpiece, there are two options to choose from: replaceable and fixed. Which one should you choose? Well, it depends. Do you usually bite down hard and gnaw through your mouthpiece?

If yes, then you should definitely get a snorkel with a replaceable mouthpiece. Otherwise, you will have to buy a whole new snorkel every time you wear through your non-replaceable mouthpiece.

When buying mouthpieces, you will find that the best ones are made from silicone. There are all kinds of shapes and sizes to choose from. Make sure you pick one that is comfortable.

Try to avoid plastic mouthpieces because they are not the best in terms of comfort, flexibility, and longevity. Silicone is definitely a better choice.

Best Snorkels on the Market

Now that you know everything there is to know about snorkels, you are ready to buy one. To help you make an even better decision, here are some of the best snorkels you can find on the market.

1- Kapitol Reef Snorkel

The Kapitol Reef snorkel is one of the best snorkels on the market. It comes with its unique, patented Kadence Technology and an impressive dual tube design.

This basically allows water to get into the exhalation tube, which eliminates buoyancy, and at the same time, prevents water from getting into the inhalation tube! Pretty smart, right?

With the Kapitol Reef snorkel, you are guaranteed a completely dry experience. Forget about the “snorkel panic” and forget about unpleasant seawater going into your mouth. This snorkel has your back.

The Kapitol Reef snorkel is perfect for beginners, children, adults, and experienced snorkelers.


  • Incorporates advanced technology
  • Supports inhalation muscles
  • Preserves lung volumes
  • Keeps water out of your inhalation tube
  • Unique dual tube design


  • The diameter of both tubes is smaller than in most snorkels which can result in increased work during breathing
  • No purge valve

2- Oceanic Ultra Dry Snorkel

Its name pretty much gives away its secret powers. No matter how deep you go, this snorkel literally remains “ultra dry”.

Thanks to its patented dry snorkel technology, water that enters the barrel is pushed back out while air comes and goes easily. Its ergonomic design eliminates resistance and drag while snorkeling.

The Oceanic Ultra Dry is mainly for adults but there’s also an available “mini” snorkel for petite divers.


  • Ergonomic design
  • Remains dry even at depth
  • Has a replaceable 100% liquid silicone rubber mouthpiece with high-density bite tabs
  • Very comfortable
  • Minimal resistance and drag when snorkeling
  • Comes with a “quick-lock” clip to easily attach/detach from your mask
  • Oversized purge valve for easy clearing
  • Available in multiple colors


  • Some people have complained that the float at the top of the snorkel gets jammed quite often

3- Speedo Snorkel

Here is yet another impressive snorkel to add to this list. The Speedo comes with a strap that helps maintain the right head position and improve your body alignment in water. You won’t have to worry about your breathing, either.

This lightweight snorkel comes with a flexible mouthpiece and a purge valve for getting rid of unwanted seawater. Feel free to use the Speedo with a mask or goggles. It is fully compatible with either.

The Speedo is mainly for adults but you can also find ones specially made for kids as part of a set (snorkel, fins, and mask).


  • Unique design
  • The strap helps with body alignment
  • You won’t have to worry about breathing
  • Lets you focus on technique, stability, and positioning
  • Purge valve gets rid of unwanted water
  • Flexible mouthpiece
  • Works with masks and goggles


  • Several customers have complained about a bad odor when unpacking the snorkel
  • Quality and material of the snorkel could be better

4- Cressi Alpha Ultra Dry Snorkel

Cressi is one of the oldest, most popular brands in the world of snorkeling. Whether you plan on diving, snorkeling, or just swimming, you can rely on this Italian company’s elite-quality equipment.

This model is mainly for adults but the company also offers Cressi Kids Junior snorkels.


  • Highly flexible tube
  • Reduces jaw fatigue
  • Easily stored in a BC pocket or travel pack (compact)
  • Purge valve for clearing water
  • Wide elliptical bore shape allows more air in
  • High-quality silicone which is better than PVC
  • Long-lasting
  • Streamlined design (reduces drag)
  • Adjustable clip for attaching it to a mask
  • Drop-away mouthpiece


  • Sometimes makes a whistling sound when you breathe due to the reduced width of the hole along with the flexibility of the silicone tube
  • The bite grip has open areas which make the silicone a bit weak and prone to failure

5- MP Michael Phelps Focus Swim Snorkel

What do you get when you combine an elite swimming equipment company like Aqua Sphere and the most decorated swimmer of all time, Michael Phelps? You get a snorkel that is on a whole new level.

The Focus snorkel is perfect for those who literally want to “focus” on their training, diving, swimming technique, or any underwater activity.

Its unique triangular tube gives it impressive hydrodynamic properties and fits snuggly without any side-to-side movement. With very little drag and utmost comfort, this snorkel is truly one-of-a-kind.

The Focus snorkel comes in two sizes: regular fit and small fit, which might be suitable for kids.


  • Unique design
  • Reduces drag
  • Hydrodynamic properties
  • Increases cardiovascular strength and lung capacity
  • Adjustable lightweight head bracket with cushions
  • Silicone Comfo-Bite mouthpiece (reduces jaw fatigue)
  • One-way purge valve
  • Triangular tube shape prevents side-to-side movement


  • Mouthpiece can be uncomfortable
  • After a few weeks, the snorkel can start to leak and take on water






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