One of the most satisfying parts of modern-day snorkeling is how easy it is to capture those underwater memories with incredible photos and video. Whether those snapshots are of massive whale sharks in Mexico, graceful sea turtles in Maui, or vibrant coral reefs in Bonaire, anyone can do it and the life-long memories that you get to take with you are absolutely priceless.
If you’re newer to the idea of looking to capture your underwater escapades, you’re likely wondering where to start. And, when wondering where to start, it’s natural to think of one thing which we all have that takes photos really easily: our cellphones.
Can you snorkel with a phone? While it is possible in theory to snorkel on the surface with a bare cellphone which has an IP68 water-resistance rating for 30 minutes or less, it is not recommended or supported by phone manufacturers and the risk of damage is high enough that either additional damage and loss protection should first be added to your device or a separate dedicated camera with a higher waterproof rating should be used instead.
In short: it should be possible to just grab your phone (if it has an IP68 rating) and take it with you on a quick, basic snorkel, but it’s not a good idea and I don’t recommend it.
There’s just too much risk of something going wrong. So instead, you should either add the needed water and loss protection to your device if you would really like to snorkel with a phone, or just pick up a photo/video camera which is better intended for underwater use. Let’s look at why and also what our options are.
Why it’s not a good idea to snorkel with a bare phone, even if it has an IP68 rating, comes down to two issues: damage and loss.
Damage to Your Phone While Snorkeling
When it comes to damage, we’re largely looking at damage from water, which your phone’s IP rating (e.g., IP68) has a lot to say about.
The IP in your IP rating stands for Ingress Protection, and the two numbers which follow actually represent two different things with the first number rating the phone’s physical ingress protection (e.g., from things like dust) and the second number accounting for its liquid ingress protection (i.e., when it comes to water). The highest physical ingress rating a phone can have is 6 (dust-tight) and the highest liquid rating is an 8 (protection from continuous immersion in at least 1 meter of water for at least 30 minutes, though the exact numbers beyond that vary by manufacturer).
Pretty much any phone that achieves an 8 rating for liquid ingress will also have a rating of 6 for physical ingress, creating the IP68 rating which most high-end phones like the iPhone 13 Pro Max (noted here on Amazon) or the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra (noted here on Amazon) will include. That’s great, but the rating doesn’t make the phones foolproof in water.
The liquid ingress tests were run in controlled lab situations, which the ocean definitely does not represent. First, ocean currents could potentially create pressures beyond what the IP68 designation would be rated for (pressure being a separate sub-rating known as an ATM rating), potentially breaking through the seals on your phone and damaging the internal components. And second, salt water isn’t always kind to phone materials like glass, plastic and metal.
So, it’s best to learn how to better protect your device if you are looking to snorkel with a phone or just figure out a different underwater camera that works for you to just fully avoid the potential damage to your phone. If you have a higher-end phone which has an IP68 rating, there’s a good chance you already spent $1,000 or more on it, and having it break unexpectedly due to ill-advised contact with water would be a tough pill to swallow.
Loss of Your Phone While Snorkeling
The second thing that we really want to avoid when considering how to snorkel with a phone is loss.
This one is really straightforward. If you grab your phone and wade into the water, even if it has an IP68 rating or more added protection, it’s very easy to lose your grip on it and have it quickly sink to the bottom of the sea. And, depending on the depth of water you’re in, that could quickly exceed your phone’s water-protection rating or make it impossible to retrieve. Both would be a major drag.
So, no matter what we choose to do, we’ll want to make sure that we don’t lose our investment.
Now that we’ve determined why you’re too smart to jump in the water with your bare phone, let’s look at how to avoid the risks of damage and loss when snorkeling with a phone that we just talked about.
I would argue that equipping your phone to more safely operate while snorkeling is still less ideal than just getting a camera more suited to underwater use (which we’ll talk about below). For example, underwater cameras will typically give you better quality, be a lot more durable, give you the flexibility to add a lot of really useful accessories, and they still don’t have to break the bank. But, protecting your phone to snorkel is definitely the cheaper option, so if an underwater camera isn’t in your budget, learning to snorkel with a phone the right way is definitely a far better option than nothing.
Again, we’re working against two main factors: damage and loss. To combat damage, we’ll be adding a waterproof case that’s better rated for the conditions of snorkeling. Then, to combat loss, we’ll want to pick up either a phone float or a wrist strap that we can use to make sure our phone won’t sink.
Whether or not your phone has some measure of waterproofing built in, it’s not really going to be meant for something like snorkeling. So, we need to find a waterproof phone case that can keep our phone safe in the ocean.
There are a couple of options here. One is kind of a one-size-fits-all waterproof pouch that you slide your phone into and seal the end. These are nice in the sense that they can fit a lot of different types and sizes of phones, but they’re often tough to get good photos and video out of because the pouch material usually won’t sit snug against your phone’s camera lenses which easily makes for blurry or hazy shots. So, they don’t really suit our purpose. Instead, we’ll be looking for cases which are manufactured specifically and exactly for our phone model and which will create a tight seal against its camera lenses.
These cases typically work very well if you use them correctly, which usually means a couple of things. First, make sure to mind what the case manufacturer outlines in terms of maximum depth and time in the water (usually somewhere around a couple of meters depth and an hour worth of submerged time), then also make sure to seal the case correctly and close all of the port covers (charging, etc.) as provided by the case.
There are roughly a zillion options for cases for each and every model of phone out there and we can’t review them all here (though we do for iPhones below), so ultimately you’re going to need to make your own final decision. A good place to start looking is by searching for “[your phone model] waterproof case” in this phone case section on Amazon (e.g., “Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra waterproof case”).
While you’re checking out your options, though, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. First, make sure that any case is actually guaranteed to be waterproof (to a certain depth and time) and not just generally “water resistant.” Second, take a couple of minutes to look at the reviews and make sure that there aren’t any recurring water-tightness problems. And third, make certain that the case is for your specific phone model and not just for a similar one (e.g., for the iPhone 13 Pro Max, if that’s your phone, and not just for the standard iPhone 13, or vice-versa).
No matter your choice, you’ll also need to make sure to pick a case with a spot to attach a wrist strap or phone float (which we’ll cover in just a moment). Sometimes this is mentioned explicitly in the description of the case, and sometimes you’ll actually just need to look for it on the case in the product photos (which is strange, but I’ve noticed that some manufacturers seem to forget to mention if their case has a spot to connect a strap). It’s almost always on one of the corners of the case and looks like a couple of holes with a solid piece in the middle which you can loop something through.
If you’re an iPhone user, I really dig Catalyst’s cases for snorkeling. The main reason is that they really go all out on waterproofing and the cases are actually rated down to 10 meters or 33 feet, which is really incredible for a phone case (the standard is usually 2 meters / 6.6 feet). So, I’ve been able to feel really confident about keeping my phone dry if I have a reason to snorkel or swim with my phone, like during a recent trip through a handful of awesome cenotes in Mexico.
Typically, the only real beefs that people have with Catalyst cases are with things like calls sometimes being a little muffled, wireless charging taking longer, etc. (so the cases are almost too solid, in a funny way) — and even those are relatively uncommon — and they’ve been run through the gauntlet by a ton of users and have a reliable track record, which is helpful. I personally have a lighter-duty case that I use for everyday life and then just switch on a Catalyst case for water, which works well for me.
Catalyst’s cases are going to be a few extra bucks over a more standard case, but for me that’s been money well spent for the general peace of mind and added depth capability, which are both huge if you want to take your phone snorkeling with you. They have cases made for the new iPhone 13 models, the previous round of iPhone 12s, each iPhone SE, all of the iPhone 11 versions (all on Amazon) and on down through the iPhone 5 at their Amazon store here — just make sure that you pick the waterproof cases (clearly noted in the product title) and not the standard cases.
Assuming that your waterproof case doesn’t come with a wrist strap (some do, most don’t), you’re definitely going to want to also pick up a wrist strap or phone float. Our waterproof case won’t do us much good if we happen to fumble it to the bottom of the ocean and don’t have anything to stop it.
Whether you want a wrist strap or a phone float is ultimately going to be a matter of preference since they both do a good job of keeping your device with you when you want to snorkel with a phone.
Some prefer a wrist strap because it feels a bit more secure when your phone is physically tethered to you, and it’s easier to dive underwater with. I personally prefer a phone float, though, because I like the flexibility of being able to move my phone around and feel a lot less momentary terror if I want to hand my device off to someone else to do some shooting. Plus, if I’m going to be doing some snorkeling where I’m diving much below the surface, I probably want to take my GoPro with me instead, anyway (more on that below).
If a wrist strap sounds most appealing to you, check out the Vexmott Adjustable Wrist Straps (here on Amazon). They do a great job of being what you need a phone wrist strap to be: straightforward, strong, and easy to adjust, all as your cheapest and smallest option. It really doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.
If you prefer the pure flexibility of a phone float, my pick has been the Luxebell Waterproof Float (over on Amazon). It also does its job well by being strong and well made, easy to loop onto my phone, simple to operate, and, most notably, if I completely let go of my phone in the water, it floats to the surface and bobs there with its brightly-colored foam until I can grab it again. This is also immensely helpful should my phone happen to get knocked off of a boat or a dock when I didn’t have my hands on it.
Or, if you’re looking for the best of both worlds and would rather have a blend of a wrist strap and a phone float, Catalyst makes a reflective floating lanyard (here on Amazon) that both floats on its own and also can wrap and strap around your wrist.
This way, you can strap the floating piece to your wrist and put to bed the self-made paranoia of whether or not the regular strap on your wrist is imminently going to implode, resulting in your phone sinking into the depths (it’s almost certainly not, of course, but it’s nice to know that there’s a backup), or even just make more common things like passing it to a friend or spouse less stressful. The Catalyst floating lanyards work great with their own cases, but will also work well with any waterproof case with a spot to loop it onto.
There’s a lot we can do to help to safeguard our phones to be able to bring them snorkeling, which is wonderful news if that’s our only option. To be completely honest, though, If I’m going to be looking to capture my snorkeling memories in the best way possible, I’m probably not going to be bringing my phone.
You can pull of some good results with a phone, especially if you get the right case for your model and definitely with some of the most modern phones with optical zoom lenses and smarter image sensors. But, they aren’t really meant for snorkeling, and you can definitely get better results from something that is. Plus, I’ve never been super comfortable with the inherent risk of bringing my phone into the water, so I usually keep that to a minimum. Ultimately, my life would be a whole heck of a lot more impacted if something wild happened and I lost my phone rather than almost anything else.
A lot of times when people think of underwater camera set-ups, they think of the big professional rigs which might nearly require a second mortgage to finance. But, while those definitely exist, they aren’t our only options, and over the last decade or so action cameras (like those from GoPro) have made crazy good advances in being able to generate pretty incredible results from things like snorkeling given that they’re typically at least 10 times cheaper than what it would take to get started with an underwater DSLR setup.
If you’re at all interested in photography or videography and snorkel more than once in a blue moon (or do other active things that you would dig being able to relive later), spending a few hundred bucks to pick up an action camera and a couple of snorkeling accessories would absolutely be my recommendation for you. For years, they’ve all been worth every penny for me.
My favorite action camera, and my continual pick for the best action camera for snorkeling, is the GoPro HERO 10 Black (here on Amazon) and you can learn all of the nitty-gritty about it over at The Newest GoPro for Snorkeling: 3 Keys for Buying or Upgrading to the HERO 10 Black to find out of it’s the best GoPro for snorkeling (spoiler: yes, it is). Then, to help figure out exactly what you might need to buy to get started with an action camera for snorkeling, check out How Much Does a GoPro Cost? The Easy Prices & The Unexpected Costs.
It’s worth your time to pursue if it sounds at all appealing to you. Taking my GoPro with me has become one of my favorite parts of snorkeling and has gifted me with some incredible underwater memories which I can hang onto forever.
Beyond learning to snorkel with a phone, check out some of our other guides on getting started with action cameras for snorkeling and getting the most out of them: