There are a number of pieces of equipment that will make your snorkel experience more enjoyable and safe. The first rule of any water sport, whether it’s diving, swimming or snorkeling, is always go with a buddy. It’s important that you observe this rule. Scuba divers always follow it and it should be the same for snorkelers. A mask is one of the most important pieces of equipment you will buy (or rent). If you need glasses, chances are you will be happier with a prescription mask. Your local dive shop can advise you where to purchase one. Prescription masks generally cost around $100-$150, including the optical glass. One hint, if you are buying a mask that will be fitted with your prescription, try it out first in a swimming pool or fill the bathtub as a last resort. What you are looking for is comfort and if it leaks. A reputable dive center can fit you to a mask.
The snorkel is also important. It should be no longer than about 18″ (45 cm) and have a large bore. It should be flexible and fit your bite. Try to get one that has a replaceable mouthpiece because as time passes, people have a tendency to chew through them – not out of fear, but from excitement! Also, there are snorkels that have one way purge valves. Water can drain out of the bottom, eliminating blast clearing. (Some masks also have this feature.)
Fins are the next piece of equipment to consider. There are two types. The full foot, Caribbean fin, which is fine if you plan to snorkel from a boat or sandy beaches. Then there is the open heel kind that requires a bootie or reef shoe to be used. These are handy if you plan to walk along rocky shores to make your entrance. There are different blade styles and sizes, as well as stiffness. A large person generally requires a more substantial fin to propel them through the water. Again, a good dive shop can help you select the proper fin.
It is also recommended that some type of flotation device be used, especially for the snorkelers who may not be completely comfortable floating in the water. A snorkel vest that can be orally inflated is a great way to introduce a reticent snorkler to the water.
And, finally, you may want to consider wearing a wet suit or skin suit to protect your body from the elements. Even on a warm day, in warm Caribbean waters (average water temperature for Bonaire is approximately 82°F (28°C)), a person tends to get chilled after some time. A two or three millimeter thick wet suit or shorty (short wet suit) will keep you warm, and it will also add some buoyancy. Another thing is be aware of the sun – it’s easy for the sun to penetrate the first few inches of water and burn and blister tender skin. At the very least, a T-shirt will protect your shoulders. A full skin suit is strongly recommended, especially if snorkeling at night or in areas where there is an abundance of fire coral. Of course, one of the things that you will learn when you start to snorkel is that you should never intentionally touch or come in contact with corals.