Water is 800 times denser than air and moving through it, whether swimming or snorkeling, it can cause a person to become overexerted in a relatively short period of time. When one thinks of equipment needed for snorkeling, mask, fins and snorkel come to mind. There is, however one piece of equipment that is often overlooked which is the snorkeling vest.
Vests should be considered an integral part of any snorkeler or skin diver's equipment. The most common design style is the Horsecollar. It's main purpose is to allow a snorkeler to rest up a bit should they find they are becoming overexerted. (This piece of snorkeling equipment is not meant to be considered a life vest and should not be used as such.)
The vests usually come in two different sizes. Small is usually for those who are 12 years of age or younger, whose weight is 110 pounds (50kg) or less. The large is usually meant for those over the age of 12 whose weight exceeds 110 pounds (50kg). To help you determine the correct size, the manufacturer will usually have the size and weight restrictions and requirements silk-screened on the vest itself.
As with everything, comfort and fit are key ingredients when selecting a snorkeling vest. The nylon material used in the construction of the bladder can sometimes be a bit uncomfortable against sunburned skin. Exposure protection such as a rash guard or lycra dive skin is recommended. There is one company who takes comfort to a higher level. Oceanic's Kids Reefsport is extremely comfortable to wear. The bladder is made of a unique Bioflex material which actually allows the air bladder to be made a little bit smaller. The exterior material laminate is supple and very pleasing against bare skin.
A snorkel vest commonly consists of a single bladder which holds the air, an adjustable waist strap and a means to orally inflate the unit. The vest may or may not come with a crotch strap which helps to keep the vest from riding up on the wearer, but at SnorkelingOnline.com we offer all vests with crotch straps.
The snorkeler should familiarize themselves with each part of the snorkel vest as well as any warnings and instructions which may be printed on. The snorkeler needs to inspect it prior to each use to ensure that everything functions properly. Use the following sequence as a guide.
To do this, orally inflate the vest by pulling down on the nipple end of the oral inflator tube and blowing into it. (see photo A, #1 for the nipple.) It will take more than one breath to fully inflate so make sure to release the nipple end between breaths. Failing to do so will allow the air that you just blew into it, to come back out. Once inflated it is best to immerse the vest in water such as a bath tub or a sink. Push each portion of the vest under the surface of the water and look for any bubbles. Bubbles indicate a breach in the bladder which means that the vest is unusable for use and should either be replaced or taken to a scuba/snorkeling facility for repair. Under no circumstances should a vest be used if it leaks.
Most modern day snorkeling vests use squeeze clip buckles made of a heavy duty plastic material. Inspect the male and female ends of the clips/buckles for any cracks. Check the female end of the clip to make sure that there is nothing lodged inside which may impede the function of the buckles.
The strapping material is made of nylon and may over the years, start to fray. If the fraying is minor you can use a lighter or some form of flame to reduce further fraying by trimming the frays with scissors then running the flame along the trimmed areas to melt the edges a bit. This will help to reinforce the area and reduce subsequent fraying. Care should be taking when doing this.
Once inspected and deemed usable, the wearer may want to put the unit on and adjust it to their comfort level with regard to the straps. (Below we have a video on how to don a snorkeling vest). To put the unit on, unclip the waist and crotch strap, place your head through the hole with the crotch strap at the back. Grab the crotch strap and bring it between the legs and click it to the female end of the buckle. Size adjustments may have to be made at this point. Bring the waist strap around the back and mate it to its buckle making size adjustments as needed. Both the crotch strap and the waist strap should be snug but should not impede breathing or walking around normally.
Skin divers who may use a weight belt should make sure that the weight belt is put on after the vest has been secured. This is to avoid the weight belt becoming trapped in the crotch strap if it had to be ditched. Snorkelers should enter the water with little or no air in the vest. This helps to keep streamlined in the water. Add air only when needed. To deflate the vest it is best to lay on the back making the oral inflator tube the highest point. Pull down on the nipple end of the inflator and let the air vent out.
The oral inflator tube may also be equipped with a locking mechanism to prevent air from being vented. (see photo A above, #2 for locking mechanism.) In the case of children this is a form of parental control. To utilize this feature, inflate the vest to a comfortable capacity spin the locking ring located just below the nipple counterclockwise until it stops.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Children using a snorkel vest need adult supervision at all times and parents should set an example to their children by also wearing a snorkeling vest. Snorkeling should never be done alone.
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