How to Enter & Exit the Water

Where and how you enter and exit the water are very important things for you to understand in order to have an enjoyable snorkeling experience. The locations will be either shore or boat based but could even be a combination of the two. A few of the entry and exit techniques covered here can be used on a boat but this article will primarily focus on the shore or land based applications.

While you might think that entering and exiting from shore means white sandy beaches, it can also include piers, floating docks, river embankments or rocky shorelines. Choose the place to enter with safety in mind and be aware that where you choose to get in the water may not be the best place to get back out. It is very important that when you are evaluating the water conditions that you take into account both your entry location as well as your exit location to make sure that they are both safe. Entry and exit techniques should also be decided upon in relationship to these areas. Saying that one way to enter or exit fits all of these environments would not be true, so continue to read. 


If your fins are the barefoot design, it is best to put them on your feet near the water's edge. Once they are on, you want to walk in the water backwards. You should shuffle your feet to allow any critters to get out of your way. It is a good idea to have your mask and snorkel on your face or have them down around your neck. Holding them in your hand is not advisable because if you were to slip, you would probably let go of the gear causing you to lose or break it. When you are about chest deep, making sure that gear is in place, simply turn around and you are on your way. If your fins require the use of water shoes or neoprene boots, you may choose to enter the water walking forward while holding on to your fins. A good way to hold them is to loosen the adjustable straps and put your hands through the straps like they were bracelets which allows your hands to be free. Put them on when you are chest deep in the water.

Beach exits are the most common. For these you want to snorkel in as close to shore as possible finding a sandy area shallow enough to kneel in comfortably. When you are kneeling, remove your fins one at at time keeping your mask and snorkel in place. If there is wave action present, wait for a wave to pass before attempting to remove your fins then simply stand up and walk out of the water.


There will be times that you will not have the opportunity to "just walk in" the water. Land based entry techniques from a low pier, dock or platform will vary and are dependent on the depth of the water where you are entering and the distance from the platform to the surface of the water.. If the water is shallow enough to stand (or if you do not know how deep it is) you want to enter using what is commonly called the Controlled Seated Entry which is the safest entry technique. (See our video above for instructions) This entry requires the platform to be close to the surface of the water. Just 'jumping' off the dock or sitting and sliding off is not the safest way to enter.

Another entry that is suitable from a low platform is the back roll in entry (see video above left). The back roll in entry should be reserved for low, stable docks or piers. The reason being that balance becomes an issue. In addition, the distance from the platform and the water should be no greater than 3 feet. The important point to remember when doing this style of entry is to remain in the crouched position the entire time. Failure to do so will have you performing what springboard divers refer to as a "back flop" which, like it sounds, is not a pleasant feeling.

If the platform is too high from the water's surface, a Giant Stride Entry might be chosen (video is coming when the water warms up in Chicago). This entry should be reserved for locations were the water is deeper than 10 feet. It should also be noted that the greater the distance is between the platform and the surface of the water, the deeper the water needs to be in order to use this technique. It is not advised from heights greater than 8 feet.

Please note that any entry made into the water is by walking, striding or rolling. In no circumstance are you to jump. Roll in entries are performed with the back to the water. Diving headfirst into the water with gear or rolling forward are dangerous and unacceptable as snorkel entry techniques.

A technique for exiting the water onto a low platform from water too deep to stand it is to begin kicking more forcibly as you approach the platform keeping your arms extended in front of you. When your hands are able to make contact with the top of the platform continue kicking until you can get most of your torso onto the platform. You are on your own from there. This exit is not the most graceful and does require decent bit of upper body strength.

Some piers and docks have ladders that may be used to get in and out of the water. Make sure that it is maintained with no missing screws, nails that are sticking out or there is extreme rust. The bottom rungs of the ladder may be in the water so take care as they will be slippery. Foot gear recommended in this instance for better gripping and protection from anything sharp that might be attached to the ladder. Do not descend or ascend a ladder wearing fins. You will just embarrass yourself if you do. Have your mask and snorkel in place when making either of the aforementioned entries should the water be deeper than first estimated. Upon exiting, maintain firm contact with the ladder when removing your fins. If you are using strap fins, you may put your hands through the straps so that they hang freely from each wrist as you carefully climb the ladder. Those wearing full foot fins should either hand the fins up to someone on the platform or place them on the platform when they have climbed far enough up the ladder to safely do so.


Locations of this type are the least desirable for selection as entry and exit areas. They are usually associated with the topography of freshwater rivers, lakes and quarries but they are also found around saltwater beach areas as well. Entering the water from a rocky shoreline can be tricky. It can be done, but you need to be extremely careful. Rocks at the water's edge are usually an indication that there are rocks of various sizes, shapes and textures in and under the water. These will be slippery and could be unstable. You should avoid walking on the rocks while entering or exiting as much as possible to avoid nasty falls, cut and twisted ankles. Be aware that sea urchins are usually found in these areas in saltwater environments. Wearing a pair of hard-soled water shoes is considered a must rather than an option when this type of area is chosen.