TopKayaker.Net: Guide To Kayak Diving

TomSnorkeling From A Kayak by Tom Holtey
photos by Athena Holtey

Imagine a warm summer day with clear smooth waters beckoning. Load your mask, fins and snorkel into your kayak and paddle out onto the water. A kayak can take you to wonderful snorkeling locations.

When you get to a likely spot where the underwater world looks interesting, you don your mask, fins, and snorkel, and slip into the water.

Now instead of gliding across the surface of the water in the world of air, your are soaring IN the world of water, looking down on a submarine landscape. Point yourself down and kick so that you are fully immersed and part of that world.

Ok, now how do you put that all together?

Start with the equipment: a Sit-on-top kayak, basic paddling gear (paddle, PFD, paddle leash) and a mask, fins and snorkel. You will also need an anchor and line, or a simple tow line. A dive flag is very wise to have and likely required by your local boating authority.

A sit-on-top kayak is by far the best, and for most of us, the only type of kayak suitable for kayak snorkeling. Stick to your basic paddling gear, less is best, but do bring a water bottle. Snorkeling in salt water is thirsty business. Standard mask, fins and snorkel is the essential gear. This is best stowed in a net bag that is securely lashed to the deck, or better carried below deck in a cargo hatch.

Important tip! Your dive mask should be stowed in a padded case. I say this because if you have to paddle in choppy water the kayak will be slapping on the waves. This constant bumping will crack a dive mask, trust me, I have seen it with my own eyes.

Anchoring Your Kayak

A 3 pound anchor and some rope with a snap and float on the end, will do for snorkeling. The Anchor Line Float is helpful if you should drop the line. You can use a 1.5 Lb. Anchor just as effectively as  a 3 Lb. Anchor. Most folks who swim away from their kayak will feel more confident with a 3 pounder. About 50 to 100 feet of line is best for snorkeling. Typically you will be swimming in about 30 feet of water or less. Use three times the depth for your length of rope.

anchorImportant: It is not the weight of the anchor that holds the kayak, but the length of the rope. The longer the line the better the hold. Ideally the anchor, rope and float will fit into a sack, preferably a net bag. I call this an Anchor Kit.

Stow your anchor kit below deck, or in a very secure deck bag. When you get out to your snorkel spot take out your kit, clip the line to the bow and toss the anchor over board. This is why a sit-on-top kayak is so very applicable. You can simply sit side saddle, scoot and reach the bow to clip your line. If you are not agile, or your kayak is very long, you might consider an anchor trolley.

It helps greatly if you pack your anchor line carefully into the bag, starting with the top part of the line, and stuff the rope one handful at a time so the bottom of the line comes out 1st. Leave the clip (top of line) sticking out, easy to grab 1st. Pull up the line using this same packing method, if possible, or re-pack at home. If the anchor gets stuck on a rock on the bottom, paddle into the wind a bit to dislodge and pull up again quickly.

Alternatively you can tow your kayak behind you on a rope. The rope should be fairly long, a bow line is not sufficient. The rope should be long enough for you to dive, assuming that you plan to dive down to the bottom. If you only surface swim a rope about 20 feet should do. You can simply hold the rope in a hand, or you may want to fasten it to you. A tow rope can pose an entanglement hazard, so be mindful of situations that could lead to that. A hand held rope can be let go if necessary.

turtleIf the rope is tied to you it must be something that you can quickly release. On the other hand, you really do not want your kayak to get away from you. A kayak can drift on the wind faster than a person can swim. While I have not tried it personally, some snorkelers use a tow line with a small anchor attached, that can be dropped and will grip the sea bed.

Mounting the dive flag to the kayak can be a challenge. See the related article Dive Flags For Kayaks. Some kayak light poles can be used to rig a flag. Take a look at your kayak from time to time. You want to make sure that the flag is still upright and that the kayak is still secured to your anchor or tow line. Also take note of curious “by standers” who may not understand the meaning of the dive flag.

If you snorkel in a group (more than one kayak) use a heavy anchor and a very long line. Link the kayaks stern to bow, like box cars on a railroad train. Everyone can share one anchor and the group can be close. This will eliminate tangles from multiple anchor lines and tow ropes. In some cases a single dive flag may be sufficient. A flag on each kayak may seem better to some marine patrol officers.

Snorkeling can be a fresh water or saltwater activity. All you need is clear clean water and a sunny day. Wear a wet suit for cold water and your regular swim wear for warm water. A water proof camera can be a lot of fun to have and use on the dive. Most will only go down to 15 feet, even if in an Aquapac water proof camera case. Your camera phone can be protected too.

TomIt is best to swim with a buddy. Snorkeling alone is OK, but tell someone where you are going and when you will be back. Check in with them when done. Tell them what to do if you do not check in on time.

When swimming in  group, team up in pairs.  Choose a buddy who has a similar goals and ability. If there are real beginners or less capable swimmers, they should team up with a skilled snorkeler.

What a way to beat the heat! You may be astounded what a wonderland might be awaiting you under your local waters. Bring mask fins and snorkel along and you can explore two worlds in one day.

Related Articles:

~ Dive Flags For Kayaks by Tom Holtey

~ How To Make An Eye Splice

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