How to Operate a Snorkeling Vest

When purchasing snorkeling equipment, more often than not, one will find that there really aren't any instructions on how to operate the various pieces. Design changes happen frequently as one manufacturer introduces an item touted to be new and improved or better than what the competition offers. The lack of instructions can frustrate the most seasoned snorkeler. This article is an attempt to help rectify this situation and it's focus is on one of the most common pieces of equipment that rarely comes with instructions when purchased, which is the snorkeling vest.


Before using a snorkeling vest, make sure that the vest chosen fits your body frame and has the adequate lift capacity for your body weight. For more on this, refer to our article on How to Select a Snorkel Vest.

  • A snorkel vest is not to be used in place of a certified life vest or life jacket when such vest is required. It's not to be used for other water sports such as skiing, surfing or diving.

  • All snorkeling vests are inflated orally, which means that you are transferring air from your lungs into the bladder of the vest. Older models may have used a CO2 cartridge inflator mechanisms but these have been discontinued for safety reasons. Use of these types of vests is to be avoided.

  • Children using vests are to be under the direct supervision of a parent or qualified adult.

  • Inspect and maintain before and after each use. Watch How to Inspect Your Vest (to the right).


Inflating the vest is done by use of an oral inflator mechanism. The mechanism in most designs today consists of a rigid or semi-rigid tube which is affixed to the left side of the front panel of the unit. The tube is commonly referred to as the oral inflator stem. The tube is attached to the mechanical inflator which consists of a nipple and locking ring. The nipple portion is spring loaded allowing it to be pushed down with the fingers returning to it's original position when released. If the nipple can not be depressed, it would be due to the locking ring being engaged. The locking ring is located just below the nipple and is adjusted by either spinning it clock wise or counter clockwise. The purpose of the ring is to guard against accidental deflation.

  1. Locate the inflator stem and make sure that the locking ring (photo A, #2) is disengaged. To disengage, rotate the ring clockwise until it stops.

  2. Place the nipple end of the stem (photo A, #1) to the mouth sealing it with the lips.

  3. Depress the nipple with a thumb and forefinger or by pushing on it with the teeth.

  4. Blow into the tube while the nipple is depressed.

  5. Release the nipple to allow it to return to it's original position before taking it away from the lips, which will keep the air from exiting.

  6. Repeat steps 3 through 6 until the desired amount of lift is achieved.

  7. Rotate the locking ring counter clockwise until it stops turning to engage it.


When deflating the vest while in the water, it is important to remember to make the inflator stem the highest point out of the water. The air that is in the vest will go to the highest point in the vest and having the exit point at the highest will get as much air out of the vest as possible.

  1. Locate the inflator stem

  2. Disengage the locking ring by rotating it clockwise until it stops turning.

  3. Grasp the inflator stem with the palm of one hand so the thumb and forefinger are in a position to grip the nipple portion.

  4. Pull down on the nipple to begin expelling the air from the bladder.

  5. Using the free hand and squeezing the bladder to the chest will assist in getting the air out more rapidly.


The adjustment straps are weaved through a buckle system which allows them to be tightened or loosened based on the user's comfort. To tighten a strap, simply grasp the end to the strap and pull. This can be done with one hand. Loosening the strap usually requires the use of two hands as the loose end of the strap needs to be fed through the buckle system. It is important that those who opt to wear a weight belt while snorkeling are to make sure that the weight belt is put on after the vest has been donned and adjusted. Watch our How to Wear a Snorkel Vest for donning information.

Snorkeling vests are more than just a wise choice for the snorkeler and knowing how to operate them is an important factor. Using it correctly will only enhance your snorkeling experiences.