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Hawaii Snorkel Tips


Snorkeling should be at the top of every Hawaii bucket list. It’s a year-round activity that exposes participants to the vast array of marine life our islands have to offer. Before diving into Hawaii’s underwater paradise, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the necessary gear, safety guidelines and snorkel tips that will ensure an unforgettable aquatic adventure.

a couple of people that are standing in the water

Gear Up for Success

  • Mask – A mask serves as your window to the reef by providing a clear view of the underwater world.  To ensure a proper fit, put the mask on your face without the strap and breathe in gently through your nose. If it comfortably stays in place, it’s a good fit! If you have a mustache or beard, consider applying a thin coat of Vaseline or petroleum jelly to eliminate potential leaks.
  • Snorkel – A snorkel is basically a large, water-tight straw that extends above the surface and allows you to breathe fresh air while face-down in the water. If you decide to dive down, always remove the snorkel from your mouth and make sure any water is cleared before breathing in.
  • Fins – Fins or flippers help you glide through the water more efficiently, allowing you to cover more ground and conserve energy. Choose fins that fit comfortably and snugly. If your heels slip out on land, they will slip out in the water.
  • Life vest or flotation device – A life vest will help you stay afloat. Life vests are always recommended for young children and beginners, however they are used by swimmers of all skill and experience levels.
  • Rash guard or wetsuit – The sun’s rays are strong in Hawaii and your skin can still get burned even while under the water. These lightweight hoodies have a 50+ UPF rating, offering excellent UV protection. Choose a bright color for extra visibility!
  • Camera – You may also want to invest in a waterproof camera (such as a Go-Pro) or an underwater phone case to capture the dazzling aquatic wildlife you will encounter.

Tip: Many snorkel tours and excursions provide equipment and instructions on proper fitting. Ko Olina Ocean Adventures even offers masks with prescription lenses for guests who wear glasses!

women wearing snorkel gear sitting on sailboat on the ocean

Safety First

  • Always snorkel with a buddy! Never enter the water alone, and stay close to your partner throughout the snorkel.  Set a route, check in with each other, and make sure to exit together.
  • Check weather and ocean conditions before heading out. Look for calm waters with good visibility and avoid areas with strong currents, heavy wind, big waves and boat traffic. Keep in mind that conditions may vary greatly from one side of the island to another based on the season and swell, so it’s best to check the National Weather Service website for current conditions and weather forecasts.
  • Beginners should stick to sheltered havens like Hanauma Bay and the Ko Olina Lagoons, which typically offer ideal, year-round snorkeling conditions. Those new to snorkeling should consider booking a tour to get more experience in the water with guidance from trained professionals.
  • Stick to snorkel sites that are serviced by lifeguards. Ask the guard on duty for any tips or hazards before entering the water.
  • Know your limits. Don’t push yourself too hard. If you feel tired or uncomfortable, it’s time to head back to the boat or the shore.

snorkelers in the water in hawaii

Embrace the Glide

Snorkeling is more about floating than strenuous swimming. Relax, kick gently, and let the buoyancy of your fins and vest keep you afloat. This will conserve energy and allow you to focus on the underwater spectacle.

a person snorkeling in the ocean

Respect the Ocean

Maintain a safe distance from wildlife. Avoid touching or chasing fish, and stay at least 50 feet from dolphins, sea turtles and monk seals.

Protect the reef! Coral is a delicate living organism and its protection is essential for a healthy aquatic ecosystem. Never stand on or touch the reef and make sure to use sunscreen that is reef-safe. We love this 50+ SPF Natural Zinc Sunscreen by Kokua Sun Care!

Did you know? In 2021, Hawaii was the first state in the U.S. to pass a law banning the sale of sunscreen containing the coral-harming chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate.

Tropical fish in Hawaiian waters

By following these tips, you’re on your way to a fantastic snorkeling adventure in Hawaii. Remember, respect the ocean, embrace the underwater beauty, and most importantly, have fun!