Snorkeling is an ideal way to enjoy Cayman’s fascinating undersea vistas. With minimal investment, and almost no training, anyone with basic swimming skills can marvel at sea creatures and reefs.
Additionally, many of Cayman’s beaches allow easy walk-in access – perfect for snorkelers who want to sample our underwater sights without bothering with scuba tanks and other undersea paraphernalia.
In fact, many of the factors that make Cayman a world-class destination for scuba divers also attract snorkelers to our waters – calm seas, beautiful weather, easily accessible reefs and fascinating sea life all tempt visitors to don masks and fins and explore the “not so deep blue.”
Unfortunately, too many learn too late that just because an activity is easy and enjoyable, does not mean it’s entirely free of risk. The issue was the topic of discussion at a recent inquest into the death of an elderly snorkeler, which prompted local coroner Eileen Nervik to wonder aloud whether the court should continue to bear the (not inconsiderable) cost of investigating these accidental – and largely preventable – deaths.
The subject of the inquest was a 77-year-old cruise ship passenger who had booked a trip to Stingray City and Coral Gardens on April 12, 2017. Despite the recommendation of his charter operator, he decided to enter choppy seas and declined to wear a life vest. It was a tragic decision that would result in his death.
It is estimated that there have been well over a dozen inquests for swimmers and snorkelers over the past two years. Nearly all of them were tourists aged 50 or older.
In a spirit of benevolent protectionism, some have suggested trying to minimize the natural risks to snorkelers, including stationing lifeguards at tourist hot spots, erecting warning signs or enacting regulations that would require snorkelers above a certain age or under certain conditions to wear flotation devices.
Many first-time visitors to our islands do not realize that waves and currents can be unpredictable in the open sea.
Ms. Nervik noted that she had conducted inquests into many water-related deaths in her more than six years as Cayman’s coroner, but that deaths among scuba divers seem to have dropped in recent years. Perhaps tour operators could learn from dive operators how to better help their customers understand the risks of snorkeling.
But ultimately, it is an individual’s responsibility to recognize the risks and understand their own physical abilities – whether the activity du jour is snorkeling, diving, boating, running, cycling or simply crossing the street.
When it comes to snorkeling, visitors (and residents) can greatly reduce their chances of encountering difficulty by following a few common-sense precautions:
- Never snorkel alone: Always go with a buddy and keep track of each other’s whereabouts.
- Know your limitations: Don’t participate if you have health conditions that make exertion dangerous.
- Don’t overdo it: Snorkeling can be strenuous, and exhaustion can sneak up on you. Wear a flotation device to save energy, and stay close to a boat or dry land.
- Know your equipment: Make sure you know how to clear water from your snorkel and mask.
- Check the weather: Rough seas can endanger even the most skilled of snorkelers and swimmers.
Snorkeling is an accessible, enjoyable sport, but do not let that lull you or your guests into a sense of complacency. By being safe, and looking out for visitors we encounter, we can help prevent future tragedies on our seas.