What in the world is night snorkeling? Why would you want to snorkel at night? How is it different and is it safe? These are the first questions that get asked when night snorkeling is mentioned. But for those of us that have done it, you will see a Cheshire cat grin start to form on our face.
Night snorkeling makes great memories and is a completely new experience from regular snorkeling. It will really step up your snorkeling experience and take it to another level of sea life interaction and peaceful observation. It is like night diving, except you don’t hear or have to carry the air tanks.
A Completely Different Experience
A big reason, and maybe the best is the kinds of sea life you will see at night. Those that hide out during the day like lobsters, eels, and playful puppy dog-like octopus. Yet another spectacular treat is the coral blooms that opens up at night. Normally closed during the day the coral become animated and display their flower-like colors as they dance in the water currents. They can be seen and appreciated for the living animals they are.
You will also find that the light you carry down with you will enhance the beauty of colors for a perfect photo opportunity. The light will reveal an enchanted world that is not seen in the daylight hours of snorkeling.
Certain times of the year, when the tides are just right you may get to see phosphorescent plankton. Wave your hand back and forth and you will feel like you are in a world of glowing fairy dust. If you get your courage up you may even want to turn off your light to submerge yourself in the ethereal effects.
The experience of night snorkeling should not be your first time snorkeling. But those that are experienced snorkelers say that night snorkeling is a totally different feeling. One person likened it to being an astronaut in dark space, all the dark unknown can be a bit unnerving but it is equally sensational and may quickly become habit-forming.
The First Time You Go
It is best to take a guided tour on your first time, especially if you are not used to the area. There are some items that are necessary for a successful night snorkel dive, so putting that in the hands of someone experienced will promise a good experience.
These tours may be hosted from offshore or off a boat. They will provide your lights and may be able to point out areas of interest like a favorite hiding place for the local octopus or a playful grouper. Also, taking you to calmer water like a cove protected from rough waves and big surges will help you enjoy your first dive.
Most snorkelers use traditional snorkeling masks, snorkels and fins. Many others are now using a technology that has been developed over the last few years. You can read more about it here, it’s known as a snorkeling mask. These masks make breathing easy with 180 degree views. No fogging up of the lens and the snorkel is attached to the mask.
Where To Go?
Night snorkeling is quickly becoming a beach resort favorite and you may find that most resorts now offer night snorkeling tours. St. Thomas offers guided tours during the bioluminescence season and Kona, Hawaii is offering a night snorkel swim with the manta rays. Packages from resorts may bundle an evening barbecue and night snorkel or may plan different locations over a week-long vacation package.
Thailand offers a packaged tour of 7 Islands that includes night snorkeling in a cave and phosphorescent plankton in the ocean. Cancun and Belize are also hoping on the night snorkel craze and offering guided night tours. Even some cruise ship excursions are starting to include night snorkeling on their list of fun things to experience off the ship. But night snorkeling can be found closer to the US, in Florida and Mexico. Just about anywhere the underwater sea creatures comes to life at night.
Timing Is Important
Doing a little research of the area is important too. If you will be night snorkeling on vacation, call the local dive shops and see what time of year or month they recommend. Possibly a moonlit night dive for your first experience might be good to plan your vacation around. Or if you are curious about the time of year that the bioluminescent phytoplankton are present may be another consideration.
It may also be advisable to snorkel where you can see land lights to give yourself something to orient your position. Street lights, resort lights, boat lights or even a large moon will be a guide to you each time you surface. Also, consider the time of year and water temperature. Find out if wearing a wet or a dry suit is advisable.
Capturing the nightlife underwater is something you will definitely want to incorporate into your night snorkeling experience. If it’s your first time taking pictures in the dark and underwater, brush up on some photo tips.
One tip is to not shine your bright light directly onto the creature or object of interest because it will result in a washout of all color. You will have great pictures of white spots! Instead, shine the light just off to the side of the subject to enhance the colors. Also, decide if you will use an underwater film camera or a digital and find out the suggested ISO setting too.
Even if your camera takes photos automatically, you may still need to use the manual override and set it at a higher exposure setting. Most underwater photographers suggest not using a flash, it will illuminate the sand and debris in the water and give you a messy picture, much like taking a flash picture through a fence, you’ll only see the fence in the photo.
Never Go Alone
As you can imagine communication is a must so make sure you have a whistle or another sensible way to communicate. The buddy system especially applies with a night snorkel dive too. Even though you may stay close to the surface the need for safety and diving protocol still applies.
So remember, buddy signals only work in the dark if you have a light on your hands! Also, don’t shine the light into other diver’s eyes even underwater. Just moving your light back and forth will attract enough attention to share your discoveries with your buddy as you enjoy your new-found hobby.
Images – Rostislav Ageev/rostislavv © 123RF