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Tips for Snorkeling on Maui

underwater view of a swimming pool

Tips for Snorkeling on Maui   By David “Kawika Honuea” Dorn

One of the most popular activities on Maui is snorkeling, and for good reason, Maui has many great snorkeling sites, and many are easy to access right off the shore. You don’t have to be a strong swimmer to enjoy snorkeling but you do need to be able to swim. Respect the ocean and snorkel with a buddy, and you will enjoy the underwater treasures that Maui has to offer.

Site Selection:
There are many great locations for all levels and there are some not great places too. Take your time to select a site that suits your level and also the season. The conditions can vary from season to season and day to day. The most important thing to remember is that this is an outdoor sport and you are subject to the weather.

Choose your spot wisely, Always have a safe place to enter the water and exit the water. Chose at least one alternate exit spot too. Always enter over sand if you have the choice. Rocks are more difficult to cross. Make sure that you keep your eye on your position. And do not get disorientated. Look back at your starting point often and check for drift. It is easy to get distracted when snorkeling and then find yourself too far from the exit point.

Best Conditions:
Sunny and calm conditions are best for snorkeling. Cloudy, rainy, or windy conditions are bad. Do not snorkel in wavy conditions, it makes conditions difficult and the visibility bad. Avoid wind, the wind makes the water choppy and makes water go down the snorkel. Wavy conditions stir up the sediment on the seafloor and make the water cloudy too.

What is Visibility:
Visibility is the measure of how far you can see underwater. When snorkeling more visibility is better. You should always be able to clearly see the bottom. If you cannot see the bottom you are either too deep, or the water is too murky.

After rain:
Avoid snorkeling after rain. The water gets dirty, and the fish act weird. And always avoid snorkeling near streams or storm water drains.

Ideal Water Depth:
Unless you are a pro snorkeler you should stay in relatively shallow water. The best snorkeling is in 10-15 feet of water depth. Avoid going too shallow because you could scrape yourself on the rocks and coral. The reason shallow water is best is because the most colorful fish and coral is close to the surface. Where it gets the most sunlight. Also deeper water reduces the color spectrum and everything looks blue green.

Stay close to shore:
Never go farther than you can swim. This seems logical, but if you wait until you are exhausted before you turn around you might not have the energy to get back to your starting point. Some people get hungry, or cold whilst snorkeling, so its is best to start with small short duration sessions. Until you get a sense of your personal endurance.

Beware of currents.
Currents are common and can make fast speeds with the current, but it can be very slow going swimming against them. Snorkeling in a current is like running on a treadmill. It is a lot of work and you do not get anywhere.

Snorkel with a Buddy:
Always snorkel with a buddy. This increases safety dramatically. If you do not have a snorkel buddy go to a dive shop and find one or go to a site and start talking to people. Stay with someone experienced and about your level. Do not try to follow very experienced snorkelers who may attempt to go farther than you are capable of. A snorkel buddy will always keep you in sight, and will be able to help you when you are in trouble. And get help in an emergency.

Tell someone where you are going:
Tell a responsible person where you are going and when you will be back, tell them your intended site and what car you are driving. Check back in with them when you return. This person should call 911 if you are overdue and be able to tell the dispatcher what you were wearing your name description, and where you were snorkeling.

Do not bother the sea life:
Do not touch tamper with kill, prod or provoke sea life, large or small. Watch from a respectful distance. Critters have personal space and defensive reflexes. Stay cool and they will be too.

Do not feed Fish:
Fish feeding is not done anymore, because it is not universally recognized to be bad for fish, bad for the water, and it also attracts larger predator species. So just don’t do it.

 If you are cut or bleeding get out of the water. If you are on a menstrual cycle do not go snorkeling in the ocean it may attract unwanted attention from predator species. Open cuts should be treated with antiseptic after being in the water. If you get a coral cut, it must be thoroughly cleaned to prevent infection. Stay out of the water for a few days if you have small cuts, Deep cuts wait 10 days before getting in the ocean again.

Swim parallel to shore:
Stay close to the shoreline, usually inside the reef line is best. Close r to shore means you can get out faster, and you can be more easily seen if you get into trouble. It also means that if you need rescuing the rescuers can get to you faster.

In the Water:
Do not pee or poop in the ocean. Do your business before you go snorkeling.

Reef Care:
Do not use too much sunscreen before snorkeling, it can harm the reef and critters. Use reef safe sunscreen if possible. Sunscreen can get into your eyes and sting so avoid using it on your face when using a mask. The sunscreen can also harm the mask and weaken it.

Do not stand on the coral, ever: Coral is very fragile and sharp. If you stand on it you will break it. Learn how to tread water so you clear your mask if necessary.

Do not touch coral: because your hand will damage it with oil from your skin, and some corals can sting you.

Stingray Shuffle:
Take care when putting your feet down on the sandy bottom too. Stingrays like to live under the sand and they hate to be stepped on. Do the stingray shuffle, fan the seafloor with your fins to scare away any stingrays before putting your feet down.

Save the Shells:

Shells are the protective covering for living creatures. And empty shells are potential homes for other species. Don’t take them. Most shell collecting is forbidden. Some shell species have poisonous stings that can kill you. Like the Cone shells which are found in most tropical waters including Hawaii.

Gear care:
Always rinse snorkel gear out in fresh water after each use. Keep it out of the sun, and dry it in the shade. Do not leave it in a hot car or it can damage it. Do not let heavy weights rest on the gear as it can deform the rubber parts. Some shops will disinfect the snorkels after each user, you don’t want someone else’s spit in your snorkel do you?
Clean your mask’s lens before each use, inside and outside. Use “no-fog” solution on the inside before each outing.

Happy Snorkeling,

David Kawika Honuea

snorkeling pictures

Click here for our Snorkel gear to Rent page.

Click here for our Coral Reef Protection page.

Click here for Marine Mammal & Sea Turtle Viewing “Code of Conduct”

For even more Tips on Snorkelling in Hawaii visit the hawaiisnorkelingguide website

Aloha, MauiFun

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