Every time I see an underwater photo on a friend’s Instagram feed or video full of marine life on their YouTube channel, I definitely stop and take a second look.
There’s just something magical about the undersea world that can be explored through snorkeling and scuba diving, and so many of my most favorite travel memories — like swimming with whale sharks in Mexico, gliding alongside endangered green sea turtles in Maui, or nighttime diving with manta rays on the Big Island — have come in the ocean. If I can, I definitely want to capture those memories.
I’m not really up for spending thousands of dollars on the kind of underwater camera set-up that professionals use, and I for sure don’t want to risk bringing my phone in the water with me. What about an action camera like a GoPro?
Can you snorkel or scuba dive with a GoPro? Yes, you can snorkel and scuba dive with a GoPro up to a depth of 10 meters or 33 feet with the Hero5 through Hero11 Black cameras, up to 60 meters or 196 feet if you use the GoPro Protective Housing for the Hero Black, or up to 5 meters or 16 feet with the GoPro MAX camera.
Awesome! You can take a GoPro underwater with you because the cameras mentioned above are natively waterproof to those depths [source], which makes using a GoPro about the cheapest and best option for capturing those incredible memories underwater.
I’ve been using a GoPro underwater for years now, and it has become my absolute favorite part of snorkeling. Instead of what I see being limited only to what I can remember, I now have tons of photos and video of my wife and I being dwarfed by those massive whale sharks as they glide by or prints of curious sea turtles interacting with us for our walls, and I have plenty to show friends and family when they ask what our trips were really like. I can hold onto those memories forever.
I’ve learned a lot about snorkeling with a GoPro or taking it scuba diving over the years, and there are definitely some helpful things that you should know. Let’s look at what I think is your best option for a GoPro to take snorkeling along with some really key tips that you need to know when you do.
GoPro is definitely the name most synonymous with action cameras, and for good reason. They do action cameras really, really well.
That’s meant that GoPro’s Hero Black line of cameras has been the most popular (and best) option for scuba diving or snorkeling with a GoPro. They’re compact, way cheaper than professional set-ups, and easy to use. The vast majority of underwater shots that you’ve seen on Instagram or on YouTube from regular people were probably shot on a Hero Black.
For a long time, though, each Hero Black from the 5 through the 8 were always nice improvements on their predecessor and each consistently worked really well for snorkeling, but the improvements weren’t often earthshaking. If you had a Hero6 Black when the Hero8 Black came out, you probably didn’t absolutely need to upgrade.
However, starting with the Hero9, and even more so with the newest version — the GoPro Hero11 Black (on Amazon) — GoPro has made a huge leaping-and-bounding advance ahead for snorkelers and scuba divers specifically, and it should be your buy if it’s your first GoPro. It even makes a strong case for a quick upgrade even if you’re already well-equipped with GoPros (guilty!)
That’s because of a handful of new features that I’ve found to be actually revolutionary if you like to scuba dive or snorkel with a GoPro, notably Hindsight, Horizon Lock, hydrophobic lens cover, and its insane HyperSmooth 5.0 image stabilization with the 5.3K image sensor.
There’s a lot more to dive into about these new features (along with everything else in the new version), so make sure to read our thorough review and guide, Is the GoPro HERO11 Black Good for Snorkeling & Scuba? How The New Version Stacks Up.
1. Get a Floating Handgrip
Whenever someone asks me for tips on snorkeling with a GoPro, my number one “absolute must” every single time is that you need to get a floating handgrip for your GoPro.
Your GoPro is waterproof down to 33 feet, but it definitely does not float. That means, if you lose your grip on it in the water or it happens to get knocked out of your hand on a boat, it’s quickly sinking to the bottom of the ocean along with the memories that you had stored on it. It’s definitely happened to a lot of people.
That’s why I always have my GoPro attached to a floating handgrip if I’m anywhere near water, no exceptions. That way, if it leaves my hand, it just floats and I can grab it, no worries.
I’ve always used the CamKix Waterproof Telescopic Floating Handgrip (on Amazon), and it’s still my favorite floating handgrip years later. It easy to change its length, it floats easily with my GoPro attached, and I can even store cash or rings or anything else I don’t want to leave on the beach or boat in its waterproof handle.
2. Use the Right Memory Card
When you buy a GoPro, you also need to make sure to pick up a memory card. Your photos and videos need somewhere to live until you transfer them onto your computer or phone later.
GoPros use a microSD memory card — of which there are probably thousands of brands and types — but there’s definitely a right and a wrong microSD card to buy.
Memory cards like microSD save data at different speeds depending on the card, and you need a card that’s fast enough to keep up with the huge amounts of large video data that your GoPro is sending its way every second. If you get a cheap microSD card that’s too slow, you can risk losing video or having video corrupted by a transfer error.
I’m big on the SanDisk Extreme microSDXC UHS-I (on Amazon). Its 2000 IOPS write speed has always been enough to keep up with my video, and the 256gb of storage will almost certainly make sure that you have enough room for whatever you shoot on a full-day snorkel or scuba tour. If you might be on a multi-day tour without access to a computer to offload your photos and video nightly, you can get one of the bigger versions available.
3. Make Sure That Your Settings are Right for Snorkeling or Scuba Diving
The underwater world is a very different place than on land, and that’s especially true when it comes to photography.
Ultimately, you need to make sure to use settings that are meant specifically for snorkeling or scuba diving. The same settings that look good for land-based video might end up looking terrible for things shot underwater.
This deserves a whole article in and of itself, so check out How to Use a GoPro for Snorkeling: 5 Easy Steps with Photos.
4. Use the Protective Housing if You’re Scuba Diving or Diving Deep
It’s pretty uncommon to dive deeper than 10 meters or 33 feet if you’re snorkeling, but if you’re an advanced snorkeler who can do that, or you’re scuba diving where it’s common to head to those depths, you need to slap on the GoPro Protective Housing (Hero11/10/9 version on Amazon).
If you don’t use the Protective Housing, once you exceed the rated depths, the extra water pressure could break the waterproof seals on your camera and ruin it thoroughly.
The housing also adds extra durability to an already durable camera on land and opens up your GoPro to new accessories (like those in my next tip), so there are other benefits here as well.
5. Get a Set of Red Filters If You Want Way Better Photos and Video
Light does some funky stuff as it filters through water. As you start to get even a couple of feet below the surface, colors like red, yellow, orange and green start to disappear, and eventually you’re only left with blue [source]. That’s why a lot of photos and videos when people scuba dive or snorkel with a GoPro look like a muddy blue mess. That’s not the ideal way to record your memories.
Fortunately, there’s a fix, and it comes in the form of something called a “red filter”. Red filters hook onto the front of your GoPro and add back in the colors removed as light filters through water, making the photos and video shot underwater a lot more lifelike and professional (and not a muddy blue mess).
You will need the GoPro Protective Housing (Amazon) mentioned above (the filters need something to attach to), and my absolute-favorite red filters for my GoPro are the PolarPro DiveMaster Filters (Hero11/10/9 version on Amazon). They’re really well made, come in three different shades for different water conditions, and ultimately they just work to make what I shoot look a lot more professional.
(If you have an older GoPro Hero, the PolarPro filters for the Hero8 Protective Housing are on Amazon here, and a Soonsun version [also good] that works for the previous Heroes 5-7 here.)
In fact, I dig them so much I did a whole write-up on them at What’s the Best GoPro Red Filter for Snorkeling & Scuba?
The Deep Dive
Yes! You can and should snorkel with a GoPro, and you can also bring it on your next scuba diving trip. That’s excellent news.
There’s definitely more to it, though. If you just pick up a GoPro and jump in the water without another thought, it’s for sure possible to lose it, end up with lost or corrupted video, or with murky, muddy and blue photos and video.
Instead, read through the recommendations above and consider the top 5 tips included. They’ll all go a long way toward helping you capture those awesome memories safely and at a high level when you snorkel with your GoPro. Your future self will thank you.
Have a blast out there, and here’s to epic snorkeling memories that you can hold onto forever!
Check out more info on the GoPro items mentioned in this guide on Amazon:
- The best GoPro for snorkeling: The GoPro Hero11 Black
- Floating handgrip: CamKix Waterproof Telescopic
- Memory card: SanDisk Extreme microSDXC UHS-I
- GoPro Protective Housing: The GoPro Hero11/10/9 version is here, the Hero8 version here and the Hero7 version here
- Red filters: PolarPro DiveMaster Hero11/10/9 Filters, or the Hero8 version here and a Soonsun Hero5-7 version here
If you can’t already tell, I really love snorkeling with my GoPro, and I’ve written up more guides with what I’ve learned over the years about how to do it best below: