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While you're preparing for your next warm waters charter, playing with the hand-held GPS and poring over the new cruising guide, spare a thought for the lowly art of snorkeling. Poor mans scuba-diving it is not. Good snorkeling skills can be a life-saver for the skipper and even if you've always thought you have the lung capacity of a hamster, with a few techniques at your disposal you can hugely improve your free diving skills.

Good snorkel skills can give manifold benefits: see whether your anchor's set properly or get it out of a tangle, inspect the underside of your boat while it's in the water, save precious time if you need to cut off a prop-wrap. You know you're in business when you come to anchorage and worry more about finding your free-dive depth than trying to calculate what one fifth of your anchor chain is. And besides all that reef snorkeling down to depth is a lot of fun.

So, you're floating in the water wondering what you're getting yourself into. Take at least three long deep breaths before you think about diving. I know, not rocket science. Just relax and breathe as far in and out as you can three times, make sure you push the air right out when you breathe out and all the way around when you breathe in; down to the tummy and up to the chest. Be decisive on the breath at which you'll dive and top yourself right up.

Next step? Bend over and start down for the sea bed. The sooner you can get your fins below the water level the better, since that'll start to give you real power to get to depth. This is where most people think it's time to head back to the ozone. Since you've taken a lot of breath you almost instantly feel fit to burst. The first and best thing you can do is to avoid the temptation to head straight back up and try something else instead.

The trick? Leek out a little air till that feeling of being fit to burst ceases. It won't take much, just dribble out a little bit till it goes away. And it will. Suddenly you'll find yourself floating around wondering why you didn't come down here earlier. Again, you'll get that fit to burst feeling. Don't head top speed for the surface but leek out more air. By this stage you're considering whether to make a second home down there. Just keep going like that till the air runs out; each time you'll feel back to normal until finally it's time to head back up.

Apart from that fit to burst feeling which tells you to leek a little air, while you're heading south you'll feel quite a lot of pain in your ears if you don't start doing something about it. So be ready to hold your nose and blow out through your ears. If you're heading to depth at any speed you'll have to do that quite regularly.

An important side note is that since you're not taking on-board any new air like scuba-divers do you don't need to worry about pressure when you come back up. Just head straight back to the surface. If you see a scuba diver and feel like a gasp of air then avoid the temptation to grab his spare octopus and take a breathe since you'll have to stay down there and return to the surface in controlled stages.

While we're not exactly re-inventing the wheel here and I'll understand if you won't join me in lobbying the ASA and RYA to include it in their syllabus, for chartering in warm waters spare a thought for your simple snorkel set. Nestled in beside the hand-held GPS you might just find it'll come in handy.

About the Author

This article was written by Ben Eliott of Eliott Sailing.