Why are Snorkels so Short instead of 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. In reality, 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.

Snorkel for adults

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

When a person is using a snorkel 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. The larger or longer the snorkel is, then it would increase the work needed to inhale, the amount of carbon dioxide stored in the dead air space, and the amount of carbon dioxide that would be inhaled. That is one of the main reasons why the snorkel must be designed carefully and often very short.

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: 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 pressure. Let’s avoid the technical jargon and discuss the concept in its purest form.

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 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.

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.

What About The Diameter?

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

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 user’s ability to handle the snorkel under the water. They would also still encounter the problems described above.

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.

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