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If you’re wondering when the best time to snorkel is, you’ve come to the right place! This fun ocean sport is great for viewing spectacular tropical fish, aquatic creatures and amazing underwater marine life. If you’ve ever been snorkeling without much success witnessing wildlife, you likely chose the wrong time of the day to dive in.
To help you navigate the best time to explore the lush world under the sea’s surface, we’ve gathered a quick guide to make your experiences snorkeling the best yet!
What to Consider Before Snorkeling
There are various factors that will impact your experience underwater. Timing and location are two very important things you’ll want to consider before choosing a spot to dive in.
For example, think about times you have driven by a park that has ball fields, tennis courts or other recreational areas. There are times you drive by that the fields and courts are full of people and lots of activity. Other times you may go by and observe little or no activity at all. Ask yourself- was it the location that resulted in no one being at the park, or was it just the wrong time of day?
The same thinking applies when it comes to the timing of your snorkeling outing. You may very well be in the right area to view some amazing marine life, but your timing may not be ideal for seeing an abundance of activity. Aquatic life activity can be impacted by the currents and waves, the temperature of the water, wildlife rest periods, and a multitude of other factors.
Here are some of the main things to consider when choosing a time to snorkel:
Key Timing Factors
Trying to answer the question of when is the best time to go snorkeling can be a bit of a challenge, or even a crapshoot. Ocean life can be very unpredictable and is subject to change in relatively short periods of time. Finding the perfect snorkeling conditions can seem near impossible, however finding the ideal time is attainable with a little effort on your part.
A general guideline for ideal snorkeling times is during a period of favorable tides and high sun. This combination provides for optimal visibility underwater, and thus the best conditions for seeing marine life. Low tide provides shallow pools but often reduces the marine life activity, as well as limited sun which will ultimately reduce visibility. Pairing your schedule with the tides in the later morning and/or early afternoon provides the best opportunity to create an adventure you’ll likely never forget.
The time of the day when marine life is most active is during the early morning hours. So, if you have a clear day, good tides and a little luck, early morning is a great time for snorkeling.
It’s also important to note that the water and weather conditions typically will have more of an effect on the marine life you are able to observe versus the time of day you venture out. Turbulent or rough water will stir up sand and debris, which restricts visibility and makes for a less than ideal time to be in the water snorkeling.
A few other factors you can consider that can have an impact your experience includes:
- Weather conditions
- Water clarity and visibility
- Time of year
- Water temperatures
- Air temperatures
- Ocean currents, tides and swell
- Amount of sun and/or cloud cover
- Reduced visibility and water clarity during plankton spawn or other water conditions
- Snorkeling gear, specifically a mask that is scratched or foggy
The natural world can be hard to predict, and thus is subject to change quickly. To simplify your planning and preparation, the experts recommend focusing on the three areas of weather conditions, water clarity and visibility, and the time of year.
On the top of your priority list should be determining the weather forecast conditions for when you are planning to go snorkeling. Your attention should be on the wind speeds and direction, water and air temperatures and any potential for rain and/or storm conditions.
The wind direction and speed impacts water currents. Fish and marine life seek shelter from strong currents and/or will swim with the current making it difficult for you to observe them. Not always, but more often than not, winds tend to become stronger later in the day, making early mornings more ideal for diving in.
A forecast for rain will also have a negative impact on your chances to observe marine life. Along with rain, comes clouds and overcast conditions, reducing the amount of sunlight, and thus your visibility.
The air and water temperatures should also be factored into your decision-making. The main reason for considering the temperatures is due to the impact it will have on your comfort and enjoyment while snorkeling. Cooler temperatures will either reduce or limit the amount of time you are able to comfortably snorkel or require that you use a wetsuit.
Water Clarity and Visibility
Water clarity and the amount of visibility will determine in large part how much you are able to see and in-turn how much you enjoy the experience. The following factors can impact how clear your visibility is while snorkeling:
Ocean Swell and Waves
The larger the ocean swell or waves the more sediment that will be stirred up, thus reducing your degree of visibility. There are several online apps and sources that can provide you with information on the wave heights and conditions.
A general guideline is waves 3 feet or less should provide suitable conditions for snorkeling. An off-shore reef is an ideal location for snorkeling, as it provides a natural obstruction to waves and often is home to a wide range of marine life.
The local forecast should provide hourly and daily wind speeds to help guide your planning. This is a critical consideration, as wind has a significant impact on the water’s clarity and visibility.
Typically, winds are lighter earlier in the morning. If you can couple the lower wind speeds of the early morning with enough sunlight (not too early in the morning) you will have ideal conditions for snorkeling.
Similar to the ocean’s currents the wind can push you a certain direction. You need to take extra caution if you are snorkeling in windier conditions, as the wind can push you further offshore or into a situation that could impact your safety.
The wind has more of an impact the shallower the water you are snorkeling in, so on windier days you may want to consider deeper water. Venturing out in a boat as part of an excursion will help to minimize the wind's impact.
Rainfall and Precipitation
Minimal precipitation will likely have a limited impact on the water’s clarity. However more significant and extended rainfall will affect the clarity and visibility of the water. Rain results in run-off and greater water flow which kicks up and carries sediment that enters the ocean.
Not only does the additional flow and stirring up of sediment reduce visibility, it also poses the potential for poor water quality. Although there is significant effort and more attention being given to ocean conservation, there are still pollutants that can be harmful to individuals in our waters. Rainfall and increased water flowage can increase your exposure to these harmful contaminants if you are in the water at this time.
Whether there is a great deal of sunlight or the sky is cloudy or overcast will impact the amount of clarity you have while snorkeling. The brighter the sun the more ambient light (natural light) you’ll have to see clearly and observe the marine life. It is not that you can’t see on a cloudy or overcast day, it just will limit how much and the quality of your viewing.
When you or other individuals you’re snorkeling with either kick, stand or walk/shuffle on the bottom of the ocean, you stir up sand, debris and sediment. It should be apparent that by doing so causes a disturbance and will impact the clarity of the water. Your fins create force, moving the water, and will stir up the bottom if done in close proximity. Disturbing the ocean floor should be avoided.
Time of Year
Although not as critical of an issue, the time of year you go snorkeling will have an impact on your snorkeling adventures. The following items are worth giving some consideration:
- Depending on your location and/or destination some months of the year are busier than others. More people means more activity, which can impact the water clarity and amount of aquatic life in a given area. Summers tend to attract more tourists.
- Hurricane season runs from June 1st to November 30th.
- More and varied marine life is present at different times of the year. Researching your intended destination should provide you with specific information to guide your decision.
- Summers typically provide warmer water, slower winds and more mild swells/waves.
Ideally, when snorkeling, you are looking for clear, calm and warm water. These conditions provide optimal conditions for your comfort and enjoyment, as well as the opportunity to observe a variety and larger numbers of marine life.
Our hope is that this information provides you with some tips and suggestions to consider in your planning and preparation for the greatest time to hit the water snorkeling. Focusing on times with an abundance of sunshine, minimal winds, ideal tides and a lack of waves should increase your chances for a great time snorkeling and create memories to last a lifetime.
Are you planning an epic ocean adventure where you’ll be snorkeling? Or do you have a fun snorkeling adventure you’d like to share with the Seaside Community? Tell us about it in the comment section below!
Megan Jones leads the editorial staff of Seaside Planet. They are a multidisciplinary team of outdoor adventurers, water sports lovers, and passionate beach goers. You can learn more about Meg and the rest of the editorial team here.