EDITORIAL – Snorkeling in Cayman: Don’t go beyond your depth

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.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Editor, I think that the first paragraph of the editorial is a little misleading to the whole editorial .. You don’t have to have basic swimming skills to learn how to snorkel , and almost no training . I have thought many people who had no swimming skills , and was scared to go into the ocean . You need qualified instructions to learn how to do it safely, and how to handle yourself while in the water snorkeling .
    The advice of the first paragraph, is some of the reasons for some of these drownings. People sometimes thinks that it’s not very much to snorkeling and all they that is needed is the equipment and they just put it on and go into the water , and they don’t breath and clear the snorkel the proper way, and there’s a problem there , they swallow water and choke and start to panic and then the person go into drowning .

  2. Drowning while snorkeling.

    There has been a spate of these recently. Has anyone checked whether they were using a regular mask and snorkel or one of those new ‘full face” masks that incorporates the snorkel?

    There have been a lot of snorkel drowning recently in Hawaii and there seems to a number of the victims were using these.
    The problems are the larger air space in the mask can cause a CO2 buildup which can lead to disorientation and also they are much harder to take off in the water in the event of a problem, such as a mask leak.
    For more on this:

    http://www.civilbeat.org/2018/01/six-recent-drownings-on-maui-heighten-ocean-safety-concerns/

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