Why are Snorkels so Short Instead of being Extra Long?

Have you ever wondered why the average snorkel is very short? It may seem as though an extra-long snorkel would be a better investment because it means you can reach greater depths when you dive in water while breathing in air from above the surface.

Comparing short vs long vs extra long snorkels

The short design of the snorkel is intentional. There are namely two reasons why the snorkel has such a short length. The first of those reasons involves a concept known as dead air space.

Reason 1: Dead Air Space

You are likely very familiar with the respiration process. During each breath, a person inhales air into the lungs. Once there, the oxygen is taken from the air and then supplied to the rest of the body via the bloodstream.

Carbon dioxide is produced from the metabolized oxygen and is then exhaled. That cycle repeats with the next breath and continues on.

Snorkel for adults

The conversion of oxygen to carbon dioxide occurs entirely within the lungs. However, there are other parts of the body where the air is present.

Inhalation also brings air into the wind-pipes, the sinus cavities, the nasal passages, and the mouth. The air that fills these locations is not utilized by the body and is thus not converted to carbon dioxide. Hence, these airs are known as “dead air spaces.”

The human body is strong enough to pull the air needed past these dead air spaces, though they could be considered obstacles. Another point to consider is that some carbon dioxide remains in the dead air space during exhalation.

Once again, the body is adequately equipped to handle the small amounts of carbon dioxide that is pulled from the dead air space into the lungs during the next inhale to take a breath.

Diving snorkels - Can't you just dive with a snorkel that is really long?

When a person is using a snorkel then that snorkel becomes yet another dead air space. The problem here is two-fold.

First, it is, however, another obstacle for the body to pull air past. Second, it becomes another chamber that stores small amounts of carbon dioxide during respiration.

If you have a larger or longer snorkel, then it would increase the work needed to inhale to take a breath. Additionally, the amount of carbon dioxide stored in the dead air space, and the amount of carbon dioxide that would be inhaled would increase.

That is one of the main reasons why the snorkel tube must be designed carefully and often very short. This way the additional dead air space is kept to a minimum without overburdening your respiratory system.

One possible technique that can be used to overcome this problem is the dual-tube arrangement. This requires one tube for inhaling air and a second tube for exhaling carbon dioxide. A valve is then used to control where the air can flow.

However, this does not decrease the amount of dead air space that needs to be overcome during inhalation. It only prevents the reintroduction of carbon dioxide.

Reason 2: Water Pressure

Experts have determined that the maximum possible length for a snorkel without sacrificing safety is 16 inches. This was resolved not only considering dead air space, but also the second reason behind limiting the length of snorkels: air and surrounding water pressure. Let’s avoid the technical jargon and discuss the concept in its purest form.

how do snorkels work underwater - Taking a breath of air when snorkeling

As an object or person descends in water the amount of pressure on them is increased because of the weight of the body of water. This water pressure acts on all aspects of the person, including their airspace.

The extreme compression on the lungs prevents the muscles from being able to inflate them when you breathe due to the pressure surrounding them.

It’s estimated that the average human would lack the necessary strength to inflate their lungs and inhale at any depth greater than two feet. It just would not make any sense to design a longer snorkel even close to 2 feet because humans would not be able to use it.

At that point, the surrounding water pressure gets too high when you’re snorkeling and makes it impossible to breathe naturally. Scuba divers overcome this by using pressurized gas-mixes to breathe. This forces the gas into the lungs and overcomes the pressure surrounding the scuba diver.

Snorkelers rely on fresh oxygen to take a breath and don’t have the pressurized breathing gas in a tank strapped to their back. The lungs have to overcome the pressure that they are exposed to and therefore we can’t breathe at deeper depths.

What About The Diameter of the Snorkel Tube?

Snorkels for children
Portrait of happy cute boys wearing snorkeling mask ready to dive in sea

The previous points were focused on the length of the snorkel, but there is also reasoning behind the snorkel’s diameter. The average snorkel has a diameter of .75 inches, and it is intended to reduce resistance when inhaling while you’re snorkeling in the water.

When combined, the length and diameter of the snorkel should be enough to supply the snorkeler or diver with adequate airflow and minimal resistance without creating too much dead air space.

how does a snorkel work

It is technically possible to increase the diameter of the snorkel, which would allow for creating a longer snorkel with the same amount of resistance.

This would hurt the snorkeler’s ability to handle the snorkel under the water.

They would still encounter the problems described above when they breathe. Dead air space would be increased and the surrounding pressure of the water would prevent you from being able to breathe.

Snorkels for Children are Shorter and Thinner!

One final point worth considering is that snorkels designed for children are meant to be shorter and have a smaller diameter. They are designed like this because children have smaller lungs and weaker muscles. A child should never use a snorkel that is intended for an adult.

Aside from the snorkels being short to allow you to breathe, they do have to be long enough to stay clear of the surface of the water when you snorkel. The top of the snorkel has to be above the water surface to allow breathing in the fresh air.

Comparing Short vs long vs extra long snorkels
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