Snorkeling is usually thought of as an off-shore adventure, something where you hop on a boat and jet off to a far-away island to hop in the water and explore a remote coral reef. And, yeah, that’s a pretty amazing way to do it.
But, what’s also amazing is that you can absolutely snorkel from the shore at the beach, and you can also often find great beach snorkeling from the shore if you know what to look for.
And, while shore snorkeling at the beach is typically easier than gearing up, finding a boat, and heading out on a snorkeling excursion, there are certainly some different things to keep in mind to find a spot that’s worthwhile, and some tips to follow to do it safely and well.
So, let’s look at 4 easy tips to make it as epic as possible to snorkel from the shore.
The first thing to think about before you actually step in the water at the beach is where you want to step in the water.
If you’re just looking to practice snorkeling a bit, pretty much any safe spot is going to be just fine. But, if you’re looking to add some scenery and marine life to your shore snorkeling, not every spot is going to be created equal.
Some places, like Bonaire, are unique in that pretty much anywhere that you step into the water is going to be a gateway to some fantastic snorkeling right from shore. Bonaire’s entire coastline is a protected marine park that contains a barrier reef which encircles the whole island. That makes it incredibly easy to find great beach snorkeling a short swim from the sand. But, something like that is also pretty uncommon.
If you’re somewhere else more typical, say, a resort elsewhere in the Caribbean or an island in the Andaman Sea, you need to know how to be a little more selective with your shore snorkeling.
Probably the biggest thing to keep in mind is that fish love structures. They prefer to hang out around something that they could swim in/around/behind and use for protection should something that wants to eat them show up. This can include things like docks, submerged rocks, or even buoys.
So, does your resort have a dock that it uses to take visitors out on boat trips? Are there buoys that mark out a designated swimming area? These would be great places to try snorkeling and see if you can mingle with some tropical fish.
Another consideration you might make is whether or not there’s a spot that might be indirectly giving some marine life an easy meal. For example, we found a spot in Curaçao with a dock that a lot of the local fishermen used to come back in the afternoon and unload their morning catch. This attracted birds, which picked up the scraps. A lot of those scraps ended up in the water which attracted things like fish and crabs, which in turn attracted a ton of sea turtles. It was a really fantastic spot to snorkel from the shore.
It’s also a fantastic idea to just ask a local for ideas on the best shore snorkeling nearby. If you’re at a hotel or resort of some type, chances are the concierge or front-desk staff will have some great recommendations. Otherwise, just asking someone down at the beach can be a great call as well — most locals are more than happy to share what they know about their area and its beach snorkeling.
So, now that we have an idea about where we want to snorkel from the shore, let’s talk about how to do it, and how to do it safely.
Water Conditions Before Shore Snorkeling
Snorkeling from the shore has a few special considerations in order to do it safely. Often times the currents can be more varied and the surf more pronounced than farther off shore. And, one of the easiest ways to check water conditions before you get in is to learn the beach warning flag system.
A lot of places where you would likely be snorkeling from the shore often have a small flagpole set up that flies different colors of flags depending on the ocean conditions.
Typically, green means low-hazard conditions with calm currents and surf, yellow is medium hazard with moderate surf and/or currents, red means things are getting pretty gnarly out there and you shouldn’t go in, two red flags means the water is straight-up closed, and purple means that there may be dangerous marine life (like jellyfish) in the water.
Green is definitely going to indicate the most pleasant conditions for your shore snorkeling, so that’s always something to shoot for.
And, this system can vary a little bit depending on where you are in the world, but it’s pretty reliable overall. It’s never a bad idea to ask someone (a beach attendant at a resort, a lifeguard, etc.) to double check before beach snorkeling, though.
If there aren’t any flags out, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee placid waters. If that’s the case, it’s helpful to ask someone nearby like a dive shop owner, or even look up the conditions online as many places around the world have updated water conditions available.
Checking for safe shore snorkeling conditions isn’t only limited to the water itself. It’s also really important to avoid other things that might cause you problems anywhere between beginning and end.
For example, what’s the beach condition like? If it’s a beautiful, powdery-sand beach, then chances are you can walk right into the water barefoot and have a great time.
But, to use Bonaire as an example again, many of its beaches were covered in millennia-worth of fossilized coral pieces, so walking on them was painful. In this case, I always made sure that I had water shoes with me. Essentially water shoes are really light, form-fitting shoes that protect the bottoms of your feet and can also fit right into snorkel fins.
I like to use the Aleader Men’s Mesh Slip On Water Shoes (Amazon) and my wife uses the Aleader women’s version (Amazon). They’ve proven to be the best balance between price and quality that we’ve found.
Additionally, you want to double-check on what’s around where you want to snorkel from the shore. Are there big rocks being hammered by waves? Steer well clear of those. Or, is there some sort of big algae bloom floating around? Maybe consider a different spot with clear water for your shore snorkeling.
Lastly, make sure that you pick a spot that’s easy to both get in and out of. If you’re walking into the water straight from the shore, that’s usually a good sign. But, if you have to jump in off of some rocks to get in the water, you might have a problem getting out later. Being stuck in the water isn’t going to be worth checking out a promising snorkeling spot, so make sure that you plan ahead.
Now that you’ve picked an awesome, safe spot to snorkel from the shore, it’s time to go! But, getting into the water from shore is a little different than just hopping in from the side of a boat.
If you’re just going barefoot (or with water shoes), then you should just be able to enter the water straight-away from your safe in/out entry and exit point.
But, if you’re wearing fins, which are a great way to enhance your snorkeling, things can get a little… less than graceful.
You will often want to put your fins on before you get to the water. But, you won’t be able to walk normally. If you try, that’s a good recipe for a face-plant.
Instead, put your fins on as near to the water as possible, then shuffle sideways or backwards (a kind of snorkel moonwalk) until you’re far enough into the water that you can just fall in and swim out to where you want to go. If conditions are calm, though, you can also carry your fins in your hand as you wade out, then put them on when you get deep enough to float.
When you’ve enjoyed your snorkel from the shore as long as you like, it’s time to head back in. And, again, fins can make it a little awkward trying to exit the water after shore snorkeling.
It’s pretty much impossible to just walk out of the water in fins. Instead, the trick here is to swim in far enough toward shore that you can stand up on the sea floor while still being able to float a bit if you choose.
From here, lean back to float a little and bring one knee up in front of you at a time, then pull each fin off. Hold the fins in your hand and just walk back onto shore. If all goes well, you should look like a pro.
One extra consideration when you snorkel from the shore at the beach is what to do with your stuff while you’re out on the water.
The easiest way is to bring as little as possible with you to the beach and try to leave anything valuable that’s not entirely necessary in the safe at your hotel room, locked in your car, etc.
But, if you aren’t able to leave everything valuable in your room or locked car, and it isn’t something that you’re comfortable risking leaving on the beach while you’re away, pick up a floating dry bag like the Earth Pak Waterproof Dry Bag Roll-Top Dry Compression Sack (Amazon). With a roll-top dry bag like this you can stuff in whatever you don’t want to leave on the beach with you (the 10L-sized bag will almost certainly be enough), roll the top down to trap air inside the bag with everything else, buckle it, and then you have a floating, waterproof bag that you can tow behind you while shore snorkeling with the shoulder strap.
These bags have been reliably waterproof for me, but common sense would dictate to not to take anything with you that would be absolutely ruined if it got some water on it (like an older phone that isn’t IP68 water resistant).
Also, if I have my GoPro with me (which I always do), the floating handgrip that use, the CamKix Waterproof Telescoping Handgrip (Amazon), has a hollow handle which I can stick things like rings or cash in. That secret compartment has been helpful for me a bunch of times when I didn’t want to leave things like that floating around on a boat or beach.
(If you’re curious about learning more about snorkeling with a GoPro [it’s fun], check out Can You Snorkel With a GoPro? And, Can You Use a GoPro for Scuba Diving?)
The Deep Dive
No boat? No problem! By following the above tips, you can find wonderful and safe beach snorkeling spots right from the shore.
Snorkeling from the shore or beach is a great way to practice your snorkeling, check out some hidden gems near where you’re staying, and just get out and see marine life that you otherwise wouldn’t if you were sitting on the sidelines. Use our snorkeling tips for beginners to find the best shore snorkeling spots, check off the safety items, then head out and enjoy it!
If you’re interested in trying more, some of our other guides can also help you get started with snorkeling below: