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For the average boater who wants to go below the surface, snorkeling is an easy, inexpensive and awe-inspiring activity that can be shared by the whole family. It’s more immersive and laid-back than swimming, and it doesn’t require the significant investment of time and money that scuba does. Here are some pointers for beginners:

1. If you plan to play masked mariner on a regular basis, it pays to get quality gear. Grabbing some slick-looking packaged stuff from the super store is not the way to go. Find a professional dive retailer and buy equipment that fits right. If a mask doesn’t keep out water, it’s useless; if your fins slip, they’ll give you blisters, and you won’t enjoy your time on the water. You might also want a neoprene top or full wetsuit. In addition to added warmth, it will provide a bit of buoyancy and protection.

2. If you’ve never snorkeled before, try to get some initial instruction. Again, this is well worth the investment. Consider signing up for a family snorkeling outing. Most trips will include free equipment and instruction, and you’ll get to indulge in some quality time with your spouse and kids rather than being the designated captain. Insight from a good instructor can change the way you look at the reef and will enhance your snorkeling experience for the rest of your life. A few free tips: Swim slowly, don’t kick up sand and avoid contact with coral.

3. Unlike scuba diving, which puts you in close touch with the reef, snorkeling gives you the big picture from above. Be watchful, or you may miss out on camouflaged species that lurk within crevices or swim right under your nose. As your skill and confidence improve, you can learn to “free dive” deep underwater by equalizing the pressure in your ears and building up your lung capacity. This is a great way to expose yourself to more of the reef.

4. Snorkeling isn’t rocket science. It’s easy to learn and can be a lifetime activity. Just remember to stay in your comfort zone. There’s no better way to sour someone on snorkeling than by pushing them too hard. Most of us have an accurate sense of when we are and aren’t comfortable. It’s also wise to always snorkel using the buddy system, in which two people are paired together in case of emergency, and to keep one of them from becoming lost.

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