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Vintage Scuba: Snorkels Old and New

Older snorkel model

Snorkels, guys. I want to talk briefly about old and new snorkels. Alec Peirce with Vintage Scuba. First of all, I have two. I have a snorkel from the late ‘60s or early ‘70s and one from last Wednesday: a modern snorkel. What’s the difference? First of all, I need to share a little bit of physics with you – if you didn’t enjoy physics in grade 11, then tune out for a couple minutes.

A lot of people, most people, don’t understand that you can’t have a long snorkel: if it’s longer than 14 to 18 inches, it simply won’t work. Don’t get me wrong: the snorkel will work but you can’t breathe through it. The muscles around the lungs are not strong enough to overcome an increase in pressure on the body if they’re drawing from atmospheric pressure. If this is in your mouth, and you’re two-and-a-half feet down, the increase in pressure on your lungs is substantial. If the snorkel is at 18 inches or more, you’re going to have great difficulty breathing through it. Try it with a garden hose just for fun.

This one is not much bigger – it’s a bit bigger than a half-inch in diameter on the top. As you breathe air in and out, sometimes with a narrow, long snorkel like this, when you breathe out, you don’t completely evacuate the snorkel so it stops here at the top portion, which is still exhaled air that you breathe back in; there’s always exhaled air in a small diameter snorkel and that exhaled air has more carbon dioxide than normal. That “rebreathed” air is rebreathed many times and becomes saturated, which affects your breathing as well.

This is a typical snorkel with a tube and a mouthpiece – most come off but maybe this one is glued on – and a rubber band you’d attach to your mask (These things were awful since they’d pull your hair out but I’ve solved that problem!). But that’s a snorkel: a long, thin tube, a mouthpiece, and a mask strap (or snorkel keeper). This is a nice soft rubber mouthpiece, but some are stiff plastic.

How have they changed? Here’s a modern snorkel so let’s compare. First, it looks like it’s longer but actually isn’t. It’s a little shorter but substantially bigger in diameter: the volume of air going in and out is much easier: less friction and less likelihood of a carbon dioxide problem.

Newer snorkel

What else is different? The snorkel keeper is much better. This particular snorkel keeper doesn’t get caught in your hair and it works really well: it just snaps in; if you don’t want the snorkel, press on that with your finger and it pops off. It’s very simple.

So far, it’s about the same with a larger tube and an improved snorkel keeper. What else is different? This particular snorkel is made for scuba divers. How do I know that? Because it has a flexible tube so when you’re scuba diving, it hangs down here, and when you want to use it, you bring it up like so. This is primarily a scuba diving-type snorkel.

What’s this thing on top? It’s not for looks. It’s a dry valve. With the older snorkels, you had to clear them and we had different ways of clearing them. With this, you don’t worry about it because when you go under the water, this valve closes the snorkel. Sometimes water still gets in so you need to be able to clear it, and even that’s easier. If you do get some water in it, there’s a purge valve, a simple silicone flap, where the water goes into a little reservoir that can hold about an ounce of water.

The mouthpiece is much nicer, too. It’s soft and has big bite tabs on it, and is replaceable. All in all there are many nice features: a big tube, a much more convenient strap, a dry valve and flexible hose, a much better mouthpiece, and a purge valve. There’s a modern snorkel. It’s a big improvement.

I thought I’d share some thoughts on the physics of snorkels and what we used in the old days and today – much, much better. That’s it. Talk to you soon!