Humankind has always been interested in exploring uncharted territory. Before the invention of snorkels, submarines, and other marine equipment, the ocean was a deep and vast expanse that we knew nothing about. Even today, there is approximately 95% of the world’s ocean that has yet to be discovered, according to NOAA.
The desire to learn more about the deep blue sea is what prompted the invention of a snorkel-like device, dating back to 3,000 B.C. Although snorkels have been used for over 5,000 years, they still have their limitations, such as their maximum snorkel length.
A Dive Into the History of Snorkels
Over the years, there has been plenty of research into the development of snorkeling. Mostly because it’s one of the most popular activities that you can do while on vacation, but also because there is plenty of the ocean that people deserve to see.
Unfortunately, snorkels haven’t always been as advanced and useful as they are today. Let’s us take a look back into how snorkels, as we know them today, came to be.
3000 B.C. – Ancient Greece Divers
Greek civilizations are historically known for their brilliant inventions. In fact, there is some evidence that suggests sponge farmers would use hollow reeds as their own personal snorkels.
These farmers were also freedivers and lived on Crete, a Greek island. When submerged in water, the freedivers would use the hollow reeds to gain access to the oxygen above the waterline.
900 B.C. – Assyrian Divers
During the 900 B.C., the usefulness of snorkels didn’t taper out, unlike other inventions around the same time. Farmers and fishermen still had the same demand for solutions to fishing. Though it’s safe to say that the ancient idea of snorkeling hadn’t become a fun pastime at this point.
In 900 B.C., more complicated snorkeling equipment was developed. Using animal skins, Assyrian divers would fill the skins with oxygen. They would then use these skins as pockets of air that would help them to stay under the water for longer.
333 B.C. – Alexander the Great
Taking the idea of being underwater for longer to new depths, Alexander the Great created the very first diving bell. Designed similarly to the Assyrian animal skins, this underwater bell would hold a giant pocket of air when lowered into the water.
Divers would then be able to return to the trapped pocket of air for oxygen when needed. However, this fantastic solution didn’t become mainstream until approximately 1538.
1535 – Guglielmo de Lorena
Reportedly, Guglielmo de Lorena created the first “personal” diving bell that would rest on the diver’s shoulders, as seen here.
1538 – Toledo, Spain Diving Bell Experiment
In 1538, two Greek nationals residing in Toledo, Spain put the theory of diving bells to the test. The individuals submerged themselves to the bottom of the river using a kettle and a lit candle. When they returned to the surface, their clothing was dry in its entirety, and the candle was still lit. This was a momentous occasion, as it showed others that underwater breathing was truly a possibility.
Throughout the 1500s
The brilliant inventor, Leonardo da Vinci, also had a large influence in the history of snorkeling. Throughout the 1500s, he developed numerous sketches of scuba gear. Though, this time, they were designed to attack enemy ships while underwater.
Some of his sketches showed a mask that would sit over the head of a diver with two tubes that would lead to a diving bell at the surface, as seen here.
Although these sketches could be directly related to scuba diving, rather than snorkeling, they had an incredible impact on the world of snorkeling as well. That’s because these inventions made people realize that they needed to develop a less cumbersome apparatus for underwater exploration.
1771 – John Smeaton’s Air Pump
In an effort to create an easy-to-use underwater breathing apparatus, John Smeaton invented the air pump in 1771. This became quite useful as researchers realized that using tubes connected to a diving bell were useless if diving more than two feet underwater.
Using his invention, the air was able to move freely through pressurized tubes. This then started the development of pressurized suits, which developed the SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) system.
Modern Day Snorkeling
As mentioned, over the years, people were constantly searching for ways to improve diving and the maximum snorkel length. They wanted something that was more agile, more affordable, and easier for the everyday person to use.
Even though wearing a fully pressurized suit would give you optimal security while underwater, it was too costly and a burden for many people. This is what lead to the development of snorkels. Researchers started to work with materials that withstood the atmosphere of the water to help improve the everyday snorkeler’s experience. They also researched designs that would allow water explorers to navigate through the water with ease.
What Is the Maximum Snorkel Length?
It’s relatively common for people to assume that the longer the snorkel, the deeper you can travel. However, this was an issue discovered as early as 1771.
Another reason for the invention of John Smeaton’s air pump is the fact that human lungs couldn’t handle traveling more than two feet below the surface without a pressurized suit. Today, the same laws apply, as the human body cannot handle traveling too deep without the right equipment.
It’s very likely that you’ll never see a manufactured snorkel that is more than one foot in length. This helps to make sure that you are not tempted to venture to the depths of your swimming pool only to find that your body can’t take in a breath of air.
The best way to imagine it is to think of breathing through a straw. Surely, you can breathe through a straw sitting at your dining room table. However, would you be able to breathe through a straw while 10 feet under water? Certainly not, because the exertion it would take to make the air move through a 10-foot tube would be too much.
Understanding Water Pressure
As you dive deeper into the water, you are surrounded by a force that is stronger than your own. Gravity forces everything on the planet closer to the core of the Earth; however, everything also pushes back at the same time.
The closer you are to the center of the Earth, the more pressure you’re going to feel, as the elements being pulled to the center are going to have to push back 10 times harder. This theory also applies to water pressure.
The water you see from the shoreline is being held up by the water beneath it. As this water is pushing against the upper layers, the further down you travel, the heavier it becomes. So much so, that water adds 15 pounds PSI (per square inch) per 33 feet that you travel into the ocean.
Water Pressure and the Human Body
In order to take a deep breath of air, your body needs a functioning diaphragm. However, like every other organ that you have, the diaphragm is affected by pressure. When you dive deep into the water, your diaphragm is being compressed by all of the water around you. This, in turn, prevents you from being able to take a breath of air.
As an example, imagine an elephant sitting on your chest. That is what it feels like to dive too deep with a snorkel. In fact, this is the main reason why divers require pressurized suits, so they can continue to breathe while underwater.
Even though the idea of making a snorkel that reaches the bottom of your pool sounds awesome, it is awesome only until you try it for the first time. Over the years, the development of the snorkel blossomed into the compact and useful piece of equipment you use regularly. However, its technology won’t ever allow you to breathe on your own without additional equipment if you’re traveling more than one to two feet below the water’s surface.