A family beach holiday where the kids spend their days swimming with manta rays, turtles and dolphins isn’t so exotic or difficult as it seems, says Joseph Lassus from Anantara Kihavah Villas in the Maldives. Joseph’s job as a marine biologist is to introduce his guests to the underwater world of reef, fish and animals and one of the best ways to this is through snorkeling. He tells suitcases&strollers why snorkeling for kids is an easy and fun activity for any family vacation.

Why should kids learn how to snorkel?

Kids should learn how to snorkel because it reinforces confidence and safety in the water, thereby opening a gate for them to many other in-water activities.

Why choose snorkeling over other outdoor activities? What does snorkeling offer that other activities don't?

Beside of being a very healthy and relaxing exercise that combines body and mind, snorkeling has the advantage that it takes place at the interface between the surface and the underwater realm, opening a gate to a whole new world of passion and endless discoveries.

Can you snorkel if you can't swim?

Snorkeling is a very open activity that can adapt to all levels of comfort from people who cannot swim to advanced free divers. The use of flotation devices along with proper guidance from professionals allow people who cannot swim to experience a wonderful in-water activity in a safe way.

What's the best age for kids to learn to snorkel? 

There is not one best age for kids to learn snorkeling as it depends on the interest, willingness and ability to learn which can be different for every kid at a given age. Nonetheless, it is a fact that kids are more able to learn how to swim than adults as they possess this most important feature of not having a fear of the water (which can appear later in adulthood). Many examples of kids already swimming underwater as young as 3 years old reveal this natural instinct of being in the water. So as long as a kid is comfortable in the water enough to enjoy and to understand how to snorkel, the kid can join a snorkeling activity if safety conditions are provided.

What's the best way to introduce kids to snorkeling? 

As a parent, in [the water snorkeling with kids for the first time], the best way to introduce kids to snorkeling is by making them feel comfortable in the water so that they can build up the confidence they need to enjoy it. This starts with spending time in the water with them, starting in the shallowest and calmest place possible where the kid can stand at any time and feel he's in control. This will avoid the kid experiencing any fear that could block the learning process.

If the parents are not comfortable themselves in the water nor able to swim, I recommend their kid attend swimming classes with a professional as otherwise they could transmit their fear to the kid and hold him or her back from building the confidence he or she needs to learn.

Again, it is a real advantage to teach a kid how to swim as young as possible, around 4 to 5 years old, so that the kid will integrate basic in-water reflexes that will provide a safety increment for all his life when being in contact with water.

[The second time parents take their kids snorkeling], the most attractive thing is to introduce them to the marine life that they will encounter underwater. Kids are hungry to discover new things, especially when combined with a challenging activity like snorkeling. The undersea realm is there to provide them with an endless discovery fever which will make them realise how beautiful their world is.

Are there any safety issues that parents should be aware of when taking kids to snorkel?

For the parents willing to take their kids snorkeling by themselves, it is indispensable to make sure that the kid is comfortable enough in the water and to always make an assessment [of how safe it is] according to the local environment parameters, such as waves or strong currents.

[For more family beach safety tips, see the suitcases&strollers interview with the team from Bondi Rescue.

When joining a snorkeling trip with a reputable tour operation, safety issues should be minimised by the professionals who are meant to provide safe environment conditions. Nonetheless, it is the parents’ responsibility to inform the guide about the level of comfort of their kid in the water so that the professional can assess if the safety requirements are met regarding the local conditions, available equipment and local procedures.

Are life vests necessary for kids snorkeling?

[On most snorkeling tours and snorkeling operations] procedures make life jackets mandatory for kids. When snorkeling under parents’ responsibility, the parents are the ones responsible for making the assessment if a life vest for their kids is necessary or not.

A life vest can be necessary if the kid is not comfortable enough to snorkel without. It provides a safety plus that allows the kid to take part in the trip. Kids who are already comfortable swimming and snorkeling can do without [a life vest] under parents’ and professional assessment, since it is more streamlined and thereby comfortable to snorkel without a life vest. (The human body is already positively buoyant.)

Can kids get sunburnt while snorkeling? 

When snorkeling without protection, the skin is exposed to direct sun rays plus water reverberation which amplifies it. It is always better to use at least a UV rashguard for the top body. It also has the benefit to protect from stinging plankton that can drift in the water.

[For more sun smart tips, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]

What about sharks?

Sharks are not a concern while snorkeling as very few incidents [of shark hostility] with snorkelers have been reported worldwide. [This is because any attacks that do occur are usually] related to spear fishing activities or shark-feeding and only in particular places where snorkeling trips are not likely to take place.

Here in the Maldives the reef shark species are inoffensive to snorkelers and can only contribute to make a snorkeling trip a formidable experience of being in contact with nature.

[For more travel tips on things to do in the Maldives with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.] 

What is the essential snorkeling gear for kids that families should invest in or is it better to just rent it all?

It is an advantage to possess your own basic snorkeling gear which consists of well-adjusted fins, a mask that fits perfectly to your face and a basic snorkel. Nonetheless, this is equipment that can be found in any snorkeling tour operation [and is usually] included in the excursion fee or is easy to rent. It doesn't need to be sophisticated so there is nothing wrong with using basic rental gear.

Where are the best places to snorkel with kids?

The best places to snorkel with kids are where they can see the most things to make them interested. [Look for] a site shallow enough to make them feel comfortable and so that they can see the animals close enough to identify them easily. A lot of different places in the world meet those requirements. No matter how warm, cold or colourful is the water, marine diversity is always there to make every snorkeling excursion a unique and amazing adventure.

If your kids love snorkeling and want to try something more adventurous, click here for the suitcases&strollers story of travel tips for SCUBA Diving with Kids