Last updated: 02:00 PM ET, Wed April 20 2016

5 Tips for Snorkeling with a Fear of Water

Features & Advice | Jennifer and Mark Campbell | April 20, 2016

5 Tips for Snorkeling with a Fear of Water

Photo by Just Chasing Rabbits

I don't know when my slight cautiousness turned into extreme fears. I can remember being afraid on tall slides on the playground at school. What if some idiot pushed me off the top?

I can remember avoiding the tall monkey-bars. The shallow end of swimming pools was always my friend. But, I don't remember ever being just absolutely terrified of any of these things.

Maybe it’s because I'm getting older and wiser. I can see dangers for what they are and the preciousness of life is much more apparent the older you get.

So, what am I afraid of? Well, the short list would be water (or, more precisely, drowning), heights and falling. Water-slides are my worst nightmare. Add a snake at the bottom, and I'd have a heart attack.

I am constantly facing my fears as we travel. Sure, I’ll get in a plane. Okay, let's go to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Glass floor in Tokyo Tower? Let’s sit on it. And, yes, I even took on some of the most extreme water-slides at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas.

READ MORE: The US Virgin Islands' 10 Best Beaches

Was I terrified? Yep. About to puke? Yep. But, I try my hardest to not let my fears prevent me (or Mark) from having amazing travel experiences. See, Mark swims like a fish and is pretty fearless.

Now, I'm not crazy. With my fears and anxiety, I will never skydive or bungee jump. Out of the question.

One activity that I still struggle with is snorkeling. I love the idea of swimming out to beautiful beds of coral and seeing colorful fish on their home turf. Especially in crystal clear water. I’ve seen some beautiful animals while snorkeling, but I’ve also done my share of hyperventilating.

Now, I am obviously no expert snorkeler ... and I will probably never learn to scuba dive. Just the thought makes me nauseous. I am not a lifeguard. I’m not even that strong of a swimmer. I can just share some tips that have helped me survive snorkeling adventures.

If you’re not afraid of water, don’t laugh at the ones of us who are. It’s a thing. We cope as best we can.

One word of warning: Please do not attempt to snorkel at all if your fear of water is severe!

Here are 5 tips that help me get through my fear and enjoy the fish: 

1. I use my own snorkeling equipment, when possible.

No, I’m not a germaphobe. Although all snorkels can seem to be the same, I’m much more comfortable with my own. I know how it behaves, I know how to adjust it, and I know exactly what it's supposed to feel like on my head.

In Hawaii, I wore a rented snorkel that would close when I moved my head right or left. I have no idea why. I’m no snorkel expert, and I sure wasn't expecting it to happen. I just thought the snorkel stopped working, and I would never breathe again. Panic? Oh yeah.

2. Snorkel with a buddy.

Okay, so you should ALWAYS swim with a buddy or under supervision, but if you're afraid of water, you need someone trustworthy who will keep an eye on you in case you panic (for no good reason. I’m really good at it).

Plus, while I’m focusing on breathing and NOT dying in the water, there's no way I can take pictures. That's what my husband, Mark, is for. He watches out for me and gets photos of all the underwater critters!

3. Stay close to the shore.

Do not get brave and swim out too far. If you DO panic, you don't want to be too far out. What if you need someone's help getting back to shore?

4. Wear a life jacket.

I really don't care if I look inexperienced with my bright yellow life jacket on. When my arms and legs show any signs of getting tired while swimming, it only adds to the panic. A life jacket helps me stay afloat, and I don’t have to work as hard to swim.

A few years ago, we swam with manatees in Crystal River, Florida. Now, this was in freshwater. There was no salt in the water to make me more buoyant. I sank like a rock. Luckily, the boat had tons of those brightly colored pool noodles. I hated to ask for one, but, once I did, so did every single other person in our group.

The noodles ended up being an awesome choice. When swimming close to manatees, you can't kick or make large movements, so the noodles allowed us to float in place and observe the manatees safely.


This probably seems like a no-brainer, but it’s the one I struggle with the most. My brain doesn't think I should breathe when my head is underwater. I mean, that’s TOTALLY logical, so I can’t get too upset about it.

I'm really bad about holding my breath while swimming and looking at the fish. Then I come up for air and struggle, especially in waves. Then, that all leads to me hyperventilating, and snorkels don't work well in that situation.

I’ve learned to put my head under, and just focus on breathing in and out slowly. I tell myself to breathe and look at the beautiful world under the water. Unless it’s a jellyfish or something creepy. Then, I pop my head back up because my brain also thinks that if I can’t see it, it’s not there.

I've also noticed that the breathing issue is worse when we’re with a tour group. If I have to keep up with a group or have limited time, it makes my anxiety even worse, so you may want to take this into consideration when booking excursions.

BONUS TIP: You may want to take motion-sickness medicines before snorkeling. Sometimes, small boats will take you to your location, and, since I'm VERY prone to motion sickness, small boats make me super-sick.

If the waves in the ocean are bad, just the up and down movement in the water can also do me in. I never want to have to swim against a current back to a boat while trying not to puke ever again. All I could think was, “Okay, if I puke, these people have to swim in it.” Unless the fish would eat it. Gross. Would it attract sharks?

READ MORE: 8 Best Ports for Scuba and Snorkeling on Caribbean and Central American Cruises

The point is, motion sickness can make the anxiety about snorkeling even worse, so be prepared even if it’s just for the waves in the ocean!

I hope these tips can help someone out there with fears like mine! My fears, so far, haven't really prevented me from doing much. If I really put my mind to it, I can push through, and I usually end up having a good time. I would hate to know that Mark saw this beautiful underwater world without me!

What are your fears? Do they affect you while traveling? Have you overcome any of your fears? Let us know in the comments below!

This story originally appeared on the Just Chasing Rabbits blog.


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