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Snorkeling for non swimmers?


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We are going to Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao in January. One member of our party can't swim but others want to snorkel. Are there any options for people who can't swim? Like snorkeling with a noodle/float or life jacket or something? She also says she will sit on the beach and watch us, but I feel like any decent snorkeling has to be offshore. (Side question- best snorkeling on these islands?)

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Personally, as one who has spent a lifetime swimming, snorkeling and doing SCUBA in the sea I do not think it is wise for a non-swimmer to go into the Ocean!  I should add that most have trouble overcoming their fears...even under the best of circumstances.  But if the non-swimmer wants to snorkel they would need to wear a decent flotation device which means something akin to a divers vest (that can be partially inflated by a mouth valve and has a CO2 cartridge so it can be fully inflated in an emergency.  For a non-swimmer to snorkel with a "noodle" is crazy and just too risky.

 

So, I have a suggestion for your non-swimmer friend.  There is a private boat called the Woodwind 

Woodwind Bonaire ) which has a very popular snorkel excursion (it might already be booked on your date).  That boat is operated by a lovely lady (Dee) and her husband and they are real pros as well as dive instructors.  I have seen Dee take a non-swimmer into the sea (she has the best equipment including flotation devices that we divers call buoyancy compensators).  If your friend is game, and the sea conditions are relatively calm then Dee would likely help that person.   My suggestion is to go on to her web site (link above) see if they still have availability and e-mail her with the situation.  

 

As to the Woodwind tour, they usually go to the so called "slot" located between Bonaire and Klein Bonaire to do a "drift snorkel."  They drop the snorkelers in the sea and then the boat moves ahead of the group.  There is a current in that slot and the snorkelers can actually relax and drift along the current to the pick-up point where the boat is waiting.  What is nice about drift snorkeling is that it requires little physical effort (especially when you are wearing decent fins which they give you on the tour).  If the non-swimmer does not want to try then they simply remain on the boat which is not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

 

As to Aruba and Curacao I know of nothing I would trust as much as the Woodwind.  Aruba does have a relatively calm snorkel area called Baby Beach where folks can snorkel from a small beach (within the small lagoon inside the big rocks it is usually very calm).  Curacao does have some OK snorkel spots (we sometimes like to drive over to Jerimi Beach) but this is best left to those with their own equipment and a rental car.  On both Aruba and Curacao if the non-swimmer wants to give it a try I might consider the cruise line's excursions.  But that is going to be hit or miss as to whether they have the staff to give the non-swimmer the personal attention that would be necessary.

 

Hank

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15 minutes ago, Hlitner said:

Personally, as one who has spent a lifetime swimming, snorkeling and doing SCUBA in the sea I do not think it is wise for a non-swimmer to go into the Ocean!  I should add that most have trouble overcoming their fears...even under the best of circumstances.  But if the non-swimmer wants to snorkel they would need to wear a decent flotation device which means something akin to a divers vest (that can be partially inflated by a mouth valve and has a CO2 cartridge so it can be fully inflated in an emergency.  For a non-swimmer to snorkel with a "noodle" is crazy and just too risky.

 

So, I have a suggestion for your non-swimmer friend.  There is a private boat called the Woodwind 

Woodwind Bonaire ) which has a very popular snorkel excursion (it might already be booked on your date).  That boat is operated by a lovely lady (Dee) and her husband and they are real pros as well as dive instructors.  I have seen Dee take a non-swimmer into the sea (she has the best equipment including flotation devices that we divers call buoyancy compensators).  If your friend is game, and the sea conditions are relatively calm then Dee would likely help that person.   My suggestion is to go on to her web site (link above) see if they still have availability and e-mail her with the situation.  

 

As to the Woodwind tour, they usually go to the so called "slot" located between Bonaire and Klein Bonaire to do a "drift snorkel."  They drop the snorkelers in the sea and then the boat moves ahead of the group.  There is a current in that slot and the snorkelers can actually relax and drift along the current to the pick-up point where the boat is waiting.  What is nice about drift snorkeling is that it requires little physical effort (especially when you are wearing decent fins which they give you on the tour).  If the non-swimmer does not want to try then they simply remain on the boat which is not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

 

As to Aruba and Curacao I know of nothing I would trust as much as the Woodwind.  Aruba does have a relatively calm snorkel area called Baby Beach where folks can snorkel from a small beach (within the small lagoon inside the big rocks it is usually very calm).  Curacao does have some OK snorkel spots (we sometimes like to drive over to Jerimi Beach) but this is best left to those with their own equipment and a rental car.  On both Aruba and Curacao if the non-swimmer wants to give it a try I might consider the cruise line's excursions.  But that is going to be hit or miss as to whether they have the staff to give the non-swimmer the personal attention that would be necessary.

 

Hank

 

Hank

excellent advice from both of you, thanks! Would equipment be available to rent at baby beach if the non swimmer decides she doesn't want to try it? My husband and I are planning to buy our own, but others in our party probably won't.

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Denise, I should have added that of the 3 islands you mentioned, Bonaire has the best snorkeling.  DW and I have spent a lot of time snorkeling in Aruba in the popular area off Arashi Beach (it is more then 1/3 of a mile swim from shore) where we routinely go in the water at the beach and make our way out to the snorkel site (this same site is used by many boat tours).  A few years ago it was a terrific snorkel area with plenty of interesting coral and lots of various fish.  But the area has been terribly degraded by some off short storms and on our last visit (about 3 years ago) we noticed that a lot of the coral was either gone or damaged.  

 

Curacao has been a challenge.   On some trips we rent a car and will try 4-6 different snorkel sites (all from shore) with varying degrees of luck.  Several of the beaches towards the northwest of the island do have some decent snorkeling if you happen to be there when the seas are relatively calm and the sandy bottom is not stirred-up.   But most of these beaches involve snorkeling along large rocks when the seas can be pushing one towards the rocks.  No way would I suggest that for a beginner and having decent fins is a must!

 

Hank

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11 minutes ago, Denise72 said:

excellent advice from both of you, thanks! Would equipment be available to rent at baby beach if the non swimmer decides she doesn't want to try it? My husband and I are planning to buy our own, but others in our party probably won't.

I have not been to Baby Beach in years so have no clue if anyone is renting equipment.  You might want to post this question on the CC Port of Call board for that island (under Caribbean) and also cross post on Tripadvisor (they have posting forums for every island).   I do think that folks that expect to do snorkeling more then once in a lifetime might want to consider just buying their own gear (easily done online or at some stores).  The cost of the equipment will pay for itself if used 2 or 3 times.  And I like knowing that nobody else has had their mouth around my snorkel in in my mask :).  One heads up about Baby Beach.  It is located all the way at the Southeastern part of the island not easily accessible unless you are on a tour or have a rental car.  

 

One reason I like the Woodwind is because they have really decent equipment and they are careful to clean/sanitize.   If you Google that boat and read comments/reviews I think you will find very few negative comments.  I like it a lot better then cruise line excursions because it is a much smaller crowd.  That tour starts from a resort that is within easy walking distance of the cruise ship pier which is also a nice convenience.

 

Hank

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I don’t know what excursions are available and in budget for you. But I would recommend a catamaran/snorkel tour. It’s plenty of fun for a non-swimmer/snorkeler to stay on the boat. I wouldn’t recommend ocean snorkeling for a non-swimmer. Even with the life vest it’s easy to panic when you put your head in the water or get water down your snorkel. But she may enjoy just jumping on the water with a life jacket and floating. The catamaran snorkels are usually heavy on the boat riding and scenery with a little novice  light snorkeling. There won’t be any pressure on her. Plenty of people will stay on the boat.

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I second Woodwind in Bonaire. My husband does not like to snorkel and he stayed on the boat and enjoyed the scenery and talking with another non snorkeler. 

 

Having said that even though I love to snorkel and I can swim, I am not a strong swimmer.  The snorkeling was fine but getting off and on the boat was a bit of a challenge because of the undertow from the boat.  When drift snorkeling, getting to the reef was fine but at the end of the hour I was getting tired and getting back to shore was hard.  One of the guides helped me by pulling me part way using a noodle.

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I would not rent snorkel equipment from a vendor, not in this age of COVID!  Who knows if the cleaning procedure between uses can destroy all the virus?  Pre Covid, I have seen some vendors swish the used rental breathing tubes and masks in plain ocean water, UGH!

 

I would also caution first time users from overinflating those flotation vests, too much air and the vest will not allow you to float horizontally.  Just a puff or two is all that is needed for personal safety.  Too much air is actually unsafe.

 

Many tours will have a guide who can stay with 1st time or hesitant cruisers and oversee their safety.  The guide can recommend the safest method to stay afloat.  He/she may instruct you not to use your arms except to change direction, and just use your flippers to propel you along.  Flailing one's arms around is expecially annoying to other snorkelers and can even be dangerous.

 

One does not need to know how to swim to safely snorkel.

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Just wanted to second, or third, the Woodwind recommendation in Bonaire.  We will be there in March and in mid June I wrote and asked if they were taking reservations.  Ulf (Dee's husband) answered immediately and said they would have the March schedule by mid-July but within a week he wrote back and said yes, they would be operating and we (a group of 6) have reservations on the afternoon excursion. 

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Coming from a non-swimmer, I love to snorkel. My first time was in the British Virgin Islands on a boat where the operators were excellent at assisting non-swimmers. I was apprehensive at first but grew to totally enjoy it. What we found works perfectly for me (at the crews suggestion) is a water skiers belt and a small foam 'boogie' type board for my hands to rest on when needed. I strongly suggest purchasing a good face mask that fits well, the cheap ones will turn you off very quickly. Your non-swimmers need to go for it, the undersea world is amazing to say the least.

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, Denise72 said:

We are going to Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao in January. One member of our party can't swim but others want to snorkel. Are there any options for people who can't swim? Like snorkeling with a noodle/float or life jacket or something? She also says she will sit on the beach and watch us, but I feel like any decent snorkeling has to be offshore. (Side question- best snorkeling on these islands?)


If you don’t swim, don’t snorkel. Most off shore snorkeling trips can be a fun boat ride for a non-snorkler, usually with rum punch post snorkel. 
 

cant say about the ABC’s, but there is good snorkeling just from the beach in the lesser Antilles. (USVI to Grenada). Worth exploring if you don’t want to do the boat thing. Worth asking if there are such places down South. 

Edited by zekekelso
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Posted (edited)

I’ll give a different perspective .  I am a non swimmer (dog paddle only) and I’ve snorkeled for years.  But I always snorkel with a blow up life jacket / vest that’s strong enough to keep me afloat.

And if I’m snorkeling off of a boat, I have felt comfortable to stray away from the boat (although I try to snorkel amongst others)

I’ve never had an issue.

Edited by Luckiestmanonearth
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You definitely can safely snorkel without knowing how to swim. But as others have mentioned, you cannot be afraid of the water. First, you will be required to wear a flotation device, and second, it’s salt water—easy to float if you don’t panic. I would suggest getting gear and practicing at home in a pool learning how to easily breathe smoothly. Think—breathe in, breathe out, very slowly. And be sure to tell the guides you are a novice and they will usually be most helpful. I think it is much easier to go into deep water off a boat than to fight the waves going from shore.

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12 hours ago, CruiserBruce said:

It is quite likely everyone will be snorkeling with a floatation device on, to meet insurance requirements. Snorkeling will definitely be best off shore.

 

Surely not?? I prefer to snorkel  with a weight belt so its easier to duck dive down - depending on the site - I'm certainly not floating around wearing a life vest - and have never been required to. Happy to sign all my rights away LOL 

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5 hours ago, lissie said:

Surely not?? I prefer to snorkel  with a weight belt so its easier to duck dive down - depending on the site - I'm certainly not floating around wearing a life vest - and have never been required to. Happy to sign all my rights away LOL 

Where have you snorkeled? With a group excursions? We have snorkeled all over the Caribbean, as well as Great Barrier Reef, Mexican Rivera, Hawaii, etc. Rarely not been required to wear an inflatable vest, and that was early in our snorkeling career. Yes, when we snorkeled independently, we never wore the vest.

 

How much you blow up the vest is your choice, so doing what you describe is not out of the question.

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20 minutes ago, CruiserBruce said:

Where have you snorkeled? With a group excursions? We have snorkeled all over the Caribbean, as well as Great Barrier Reef, Mexican Rivera, Hawaii, etc. Rarely not been required to wear an inflatable vest, and that was early in our snorkeling career. Yes, when we snorkeled independently, we never wore the vest.

 

How much you blow up the vest is your choice, so doing what you describe is not out of the question.

I've never been to the Caribbean. But done plenty of snorkeling trips on the Great Barrier, New Zealand, Thailand, Malaysia - never, ever had to use a vest - though the locals like them in Asia. 

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We bought our own snorkel vests (slip over your head and blow into the tube to inflate) and used them for many cruises since the are very light and fold flat so it’s not a strain on luggage.  While we’re both good swimmers we usually book sail and snorkel excursions, and prefer using our own floatation gear when it’s use is mandatory.  We vacation with friends and often one will just remain on the excursion boat talking to the crew, enjoying the fresh air/views and watching us in the water.   We all get to share the overall excursion experience which means no one feels excluded from the day, and we’re treated to a nice sail as we go back to the dock. 

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We have enjoyed snorkeling our entire lives...we are now in our golden years, regrettably my wonderful wife still can't swim.

 

She always pack her inflatable life vest, and wears it to snorkel.  I bring a 5 foot bungee cord (with locking carabiners on both ends)...I attach the bungee to me and my wife. It has worked extremely well for us.  Hope that helps.

Happy sailing and snorkeling.🙂

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Woodwind Bonaire. Stomping on Coral is a no-no, so you WILL be drifting over deeper water. I took a disabled relative along. With two ‘Belly Floatation’ belts  he had a GREAT time. We $tipped$ his helper generously, $20/bucks. 

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Posted (edited)

The more I think about this question the more I disagree with putting a non-swimmer in the ocean. Can you with a flotation device? Probably? Should you? No! Oceans are not static bodies of water like pools where you can put your feet down or swim to the side if you get into trouble. There are waves, rough water, and currents. It can be challenging for a strong swimmer to fight out of a current to get back to the boat. Even with a flotation device I wouldn't suggest to a family member that they snorkel in the ocean if they can't swim. 

 

I am a relatively strong swimmer. I've done triathlons with decent length swims. And I've gotten myself into a bit of situations on snorkel trips where I needed a bit of help. Even if you don't think you are "afraid" of the water; when you have waves splashing over your head, and you get water up your nose and mouth, and you are swimming but not moving in the direction you want - it takes a lot of discipline to stay calm.

Edited by sanger727
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Posted (edited)
On 7/20/2021 at 1:29 AM, lissie said:

Surely not?? I prefer to snorkel  with a weight belt so its easier to duck dive down - depending on the site - I'm certainly not floating around wearing a life vest - and have never been required to. Happy to sign all my rights away LOL 

 

Since the OP is about the possibility of a non-swimmer snorkeling safely, perhaps your comment should note that your technique is safe for strong swimmers only.

Edited by mayleeman
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Posted (edited)

I am a swimmer, diver and snorkeler. There are so many unknowns in the ocean, including rogue waves, unexpected currents and sealife to name a few.  I believe a non-swimmer should not be in the water as a snorkeler.  Just because some non-swimmers have done okay, doesn't mean that the person in your group will live, possibly be injured or just severely frightened. The risk to a non-swimmer is much greater than for a swimmer. If you are on a group excursion, you also subjecting a bunch of paid strangers to problems..

 

I would suggest swimming lessons. They are inexpensive and available in any municipal pool or privately before leaving.

Edited by Pudgesmom
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1 hour ago, sanger727 said:

The more I think about this question the more I disagree with putting a non-swimmer in the ocean. Can you with a flotation device? Probably? Should you? No! Oceans are not static bodies of water like pools where you can put your feet down or swim to the side if you get into trouble. There are waves, rough water, and currents. It can be challenging for a strong swimmer to fight out of a current to get back to the boat. Even with a flotation device I wouldn't suggest to a family member that they snorkel in the ocean if they can't swim. 

 

I am a relatively strong swimmer. I've done triathlons with decent length swims. And I've gotten myself into a bit of situations on snorkel trips where I needed a bit of help. Even if you don't think you are "afraid" of the water; when you have waves splashing over your head, and you get water up your nose and mouth, and you are swimming but not moving in the direction you want - it takes a lot of discipline to stay calm.

Just wanted to say "hello" to a fellow triathlete.

Agree...one must respect the water.

 

* We did the Malibu Triathlon, 2018, waves looked normal before the start...the starting horn goes off...my age group takes off running into the ocean...I swam, swam, and swam some more.

I heard one of the lifeguards yelling...next thing I knew, he pulls me hard out of the water and back to shore.  I didn't even reach the first buoy.  The waves, in an instance,...got much bigger and stronger.  I was embarrassed, until I found out NO ONE made it to the first buoy...all swimmers were pulled out of the water.

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