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Do You Need A Wetsuit To Snorkel?

   September 15th, 2022   Posted In: Articles  

Do You Need A Wetsuit To Snorkel?

The short answer is… it all depends. There are a number of things to consider about your next snorkeling trip that will help you answer the question: Do you need a wetsuit to snorkel?

SCUBA Versus Snorkeling

‘Do you need a wetsuit for snorkeling’ is a very common question from travelers and first-time snorkelers who might get snorkeling confused with SCUBA diving. Snorkeling is done on the surface of the water where the water stays the warmest. Which means a wetsuit isn’t always necessary. 

However, SCUBA diving takes you down to deeper waters which are colder. You also have to lug air tanks and other gear around. Which is much more comfortable to put on when you are wearing a wetsuit. Wetsuits are almost always required for SCUBA diving. 

Snorkeling, on the other hand, is also generally done in tropical waters where the water and air temperatures are much higher (think Hawaii or Florida) than beaches on the West Coast of North America or the upper northeastern portion of the USA.

Factors To Consider

Even though there are plenty of areas that are known for great snorkeling experiences where you will not need a wetsuit, there are still a few things to consider when asking ‘do you need a wetsuit for snorkeling?’

  • Water & air temperature  
  • How long you’ll be in the water
  • How good of a swimmer are you
  • What type of dangers and obstacles will you around you

Temperatures

When planning your next snorkeling adventure, you should try to find out the temperature of the water. It will likely be the biggest factor in your decision on whether a wetsuit is required or not. If the water is 72 degrees or warmer, you may not need a wetsuit. However, if temperatures are dipping below 72 degrees, you should consider wearing a wetsuit.

What Type of Wetsuit Do I Need? And What Thickness Should It Be?

If you have determined that you will need a wetsuit for your snorkeling trip, the next question is what type should you get and how thick should it be? The general rule of thick is the colder the water, the thicker the wetsuit you’ll need. Additionally, if you are snorkeling in relatively warm water, there are different types of wetsuit alternatives that could be used to keep you as comfortable as possible, like wetsuit jackets, vests, or rash guards. 

Here is a quick reference guide to help you determine what might work best for you:

Water Temp (F)ThicknessWetsuit Type
58℉ & Below5/4mmFullsuit
58℉ to 63℉4/3mm – 3/2mmFullsuit
62℉ to 68℉3/2mm – 2mmFullsuit
66℉ to 72℉2mm – 2/2mm – .05mmFullsuit/Shorty
70℉ to 75℉.05mmJacket/Vest
75℉ & AboveN/ARashguard

How Long Will You Be In The Water?

Another thing to consider is how long you will be in the water. The shorter the length of your session, the less likely it will be that you will need a wetsuit. If you plan to do a short 30-minute or hour-long snorkeling session in 72-degree water, then you can probably get away with not wearing one at all. However, if you plan to do a 3-hour snorkeling session in 72-degree water, you may want to consider a shorty wetsuit (note: shorty wetsuits have short sleeves and cut-off legs) so you don’t get too cold after being in the water for so long.

How Good of a Swimmer Are You?

The reason this question is valid when asking ‘do you need a wetsuit to snorkel’ is because wetsuits can help with buoyancy and help you expend less energy while swimming around. If you are not a good swimmer, using a wetsuit could help you achieve a longer and more enjoyable snorkeling adventure.

What Type Of Dangers And Obstacles Will You Around You?

Wetsuits provide a layer of protection over your skin which can save you from things that can hurt you. If you are snorkeling near rocks, coral, or other sharp obstacles, a wetsuit can keep you from getting nicks and cuts if you happen to run into them. Another thing to consider is what type of sea life you will be swimming around. If you are in an area known for jelly fish, sting rays, or any other type of sea creature that can be a danger, a wetsuit can provide the extra protection against something that could painfully end your snorkeling trip very quickly.

Personal Preferences

The last thing you want to consider when you trying answer the question, ‘do you need a wetsuit to snorkel?’ is how your body acts in certain temperatures. If you a prone to getting cold or just flat out don’t like being cold, then it would probably be smart to use a wetsuit. If you run hot, and don’t really have problems being cold, then going without a wetsuit could be the right move for you. Thinking about your preferences and how your body operates is a very smart thing to do.

Pro Tip: If you get hot in your wetsuit, it is not very hard to get a quick cool down. If you pull the neckline of the wetsuit away from your body and let some cooler water flow into your wetsuit, it will save you from getting too hot. I often do this on hot days while surfing and it works like a charm.

Hopefully, this helps helps you put the question, ‘do you need a wetsuit for snorkeling’ to bed. It really is an important decision and something that needs to be considered every time you are getting ready to see some cool underwater ocean views.

Wes Severson is a fitness enthusiast and bodyboarder from San Francisco, CA who is always at Ocean Beach hitting the waves. He is also an Emmy Award-winning broadcast news writer and producer and a recording artist who goes by the name Wes Magic.

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