Are You Able to Use a Mini Air Tank While Snorkeling? – Full Breakdown

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Expert: Cameron – I have been snorkeling for over two decades and have a certification with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors. I have traveled throughout many exotic marine locations, especially throughout the Pacific. During these times I been scuba diving as much as possible, but when time does not allow I head out to snorkel. These times usually come up before a flight, and when I want to stay under longer than usual I bring my mini air tank with me.


So… you’re an avid snorkeler, and the thought of taking your underwater adventures to new depths has crossed your mind.

Most view snorkeling as a surface level event where you glide on the top and occasionally dive down to pick up a shell or take an aquatic photo.

This keeps snorkeling and diving in their own respective fields with the only overlap being freediving.

Leading to the question, can you snorkel with an air tank?

Yes, you are able to snorkel with an air tank. Previously only used as emergency tanks for divers, mini air tanks hold compressed air at .5 to 2 liters giving a snorkeler 2 to 15 minutes of underwater time to depths of up to 10 meters. These ranges vary under condition, product, and other factors that you can calculate depending on your needs.

The idea is intriguing, but before you dive in (pun intended), let’s explore the ins and outs of this underwater pursuit.

Snorkeling with an Air Tank

Two Women Snorkeling
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The best and safest use of these mini snorkel tanks are to dive down at the same depths you usually dive to when you usually snorkel.

The point of these tanks is to enjoy your experience for longer periods underwater, not to replace what scuba diving is.

Capability of Air Tank Snorkeling

Snorkeling with an air tank involves combining the simplicity of snorkeling with the extended breathing capabilities of scuba diving.

It opens up a whole new world beneath the surface, allowing enthusiasts to explore deeper realms of marine life.

Snorkel Tank Origins

In recent years, there has been a surge in interest surrounding this hybrid activity.

More and more snorkelers are curious about the possibilities and potential challenges that come with using an air tank.

Types of Air Tanks and Equipment Associated

Snorkel Air Tanks
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Understanding the different types of air tanks is crucial.

From aluminum to steel, to carob fiber but each has its own set of characteristics.

Most of what is on the market for these snorkel tanks are made with aluminum versus steel for its lighter quality and it being easier to manufacture.

Something to be aware of is that most of these tanks in the market are not marked with a compression tank inspection imprint.

This means that you will be hard pressed to find a scuba or dive shop that would be willing to fill these tanks for you.

Be sure to bring your own method of filling.

Regulators and Gauges

Regulators and gauges ensure a controlled flow of air and provide essential information about your tank’s status.

The regulators on some of the markets snorkel advertised tanks do not have gauges readily attached when purchased since it would be more expensive to the manufacturer.

Pump or Filling Device

Most of these tanks come with hand pumps, however it is highly recommended that you purchase an electric pump or an air compressor to fill these.

Using an air compressor will ensure that you get the maximum fill in your tank, and save you literal hours of pumping by hand.

Safety Factors When Snorkeling with an Air Tank

Burst lung is a real possibility that can be fatal.

Safety should always be a top priority when engaging in any underwater adventure.

Snorkeling, even with an air tank, is no exception.

Understanding the risks associated with both snorkeling and scuba diving is crucial.

Risks Associated with Snorkeling

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The seemingly serene activity of snorkeling is not without its hazards.

Unexpected interactions with potential dangerous wildlife is very possible, especially when you are able to stay underwater longer with a mini air tank.

These wildlife interactions can range from cuts or abrasions from coral to a shark attack.

Added Risks of Using Air Tanks

Introducing an air tank to the equation comes with its own set of risks.

Proper training and adherence to safety guidelines can mitigate these risks significantly.

Burst Lung or Pulmonary Barotrauma

According to WebMD “Pulmonary barotrauma (pulmonary over-pressurization syndrome, POPS, or burst lung) can occur if you fail to expel air from your lungs during ascent.”

As you rise, the volume of the gas in your lung expands and can cause damage if the excess is not exhaled.

Running Out of Air While Underwater

With these tanks, it will be highly unlikely you to find yourself in a position to run out of air with no options to surface quickly.

While ascending be sure to exhale slowly to avoid any possibility of Burst Lung.

Best Way to Avoid These Risks

To avoid burst lung or running out of air while underwater, I would highly recommend to not dive down any deeper than you can already dive without the mini snorkel tank.

This will keep you safe and allow greater use of the snorkel tank since the deeper you go the faster the tank runs out of air.

When ascending be sure to exhale your lungs slowly and steadily.

Other Considerations While Snorkeling With a Tank

The main considerations worth knowing are the legal regulations and the possible environmental impact.

Local Regulations

Before embarking on your underwater journey, be aware of local regulations governing snorkeling with air tanks.

Permits for Snorkeling with Air Tanks

Some locations may require permits for this specialized activity.

This mainly is concerned when trying to fill the tanks at a dive shop.

Restricted Areas

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Certain marine environments may have restrictions to protect fragile ecosystems.

Check with local snorkel or dive shops to make sure you do not snorkel in an area that is restricted because of endangered or protected wildlife.

Training and Certification Associated with Snorkel Air Tanks

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Before strapping on an air tank, it’s imperative to undergo proper training and certification.

Specialized Snorkeling with Air Tank Certification

A specialized certification ensures that individuals are well-equipped to handle the unique challenges of snorkeling with an air tank.

Not only will you be able to fill these tanks when your out on your trip, you will be able to understand everything that comes with the equipment.

A major issue individuals run into when filling these tanks in dive shops is that they will refuse to fill them.

From what I have gathered, this is either from the dive shop not recognizing that the tank itself has been inspected and refuse to fill it.

Or it is from the individual not holding a scuba certifications and the dive shop not willing to take the liability for filling the tank.

This can be circumvented by purchasing a fill pump when purchasing your tank.

Scuba Diving Certification

While not mandatory for traditional snorkeling, scuba diving certification provides a solid foundation for understanding underwater safety practices.

This is especially true if you are wanting to use some of these tanks.

While they are commercialized as mini snorkel tanks, they are in all intensive purposes emergency backup scuba tanks.

Therefore, taking a diving certification class could provide you an opportunity to understand using these tanks more recreationally during your snorkel adventure.

Understand this is not technical diving which NOAA explains they rely on specialized training, equipment, and mixed gases to safely descend beyond the recreational limit to depths that can exceed 90 meters (300 feet)

You are just extended your typical snorkeling depths by a couple of minutes, so gaining this certification definitely benefit your ocean time.

Snorkeling or Scuba Diving with a Mini Air Tank?

We will look at the differences here when it comes to using these mini snorkel tanks.

Read: Main Differences Between Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

Breathing Techniques

The way you breathe underwater differs between snorkeling and scuba diving when using a mini snorkel tank.

Expert divers breathing technique is a skill and is trained and mastered over a great amount of time.

You cannot expect to have never gone on a dive and get the advertised breathing time, these times are given with optimal conditions with average diving breathing rates.

Surface Breathing in Snorkeling

Snorkeling relies on breathing at the water’s surface, allowing you to observe marine life effortlessly.

With a mini snorkel tank you should attempt to utilize calm, slow, and deep measured breaths to ensure a longer lasting tank.

Deep Breathing in Scuba Diving

Scuba diving involves deep, measured breaths to optimize air consumption at varying depths.

As mentioned before this can take divers months of constant dives to improve and master.

Snorkel Depth and Duration Limits

Geological Formations Iceland
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Understanding the limitations of each activity is crucial for a safe underwater experience.

Shallow Depths in Snorkeling

Snorkeling is limited to shallow depths, usually no more than 10 to 15 feet.

These are the recommended depths when using these mini snorkel tanks.

The ideal use of this is simply to stay under and enjoy the scenery without having to resurface as often, not substitute actual scuba diving.

Deeper Depths in Scuba Diving

Scuba divers can explore much deeper depths, offering access to underwater landscapes beyond the reach of snorkelers.

Summary

Understand that these mini snorkel tanks are not a replacement for scuba diving, but it is a tool that can keep you at your normal dive depth for longer periods.

Ensure when ascending from your depth that you exhale your lungs to avoid burst lung.

Most of these mini tanks are made with aluminum and are not regulated like dive tanks are.

Since they are not regulated ensure you have a way to fill the tank because local dive shops will likely not fill them for you.

Invest in an electric pump or air compressor to replace the hand pump your mini snorkel tank will come with.

Keep legal and environmental factors in mind when heading out to enjoy your day of snorkeling.


[Sources and References]

“Barotrauma & Decompression Sickness (the Bends).” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/first-aid/barotrauma-decompression-sickness. Accessed 9 Jan. 2024.
“Technical Diving.” Exploration Tools: Technical Diving: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/technology/technical/technical.html. Accessed 9 Jan. 2024.

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