Hookah Diving or snuba is a form of introductory diving that allows people with no training to experience what it is like to breathe underwater like a scuba diver. Snuba is a portmanteau of the words 'snorkel' and 'scuba', sometimes used as a generic term for recreational airline diving.
Snuba combines what is easy about snorkeling with the experience of breathing underwater like scuba, and does so in a controlled, relatively safe manner. It is still diving, so make sure you follow safety instructions and keep calm to be able to do so.
The commonly used system uses a floating raft, which acts as a platform (almost like the side of a pool) that users can hold onto to practice breathing with their heads underwater and also practice some of the safety measures that the guides will demonstrate. The raft is designed to be highly visible to boat traffic to reduce the chance of being struck by a boat while on the surface.
The air lines limit the depth of the activity to a maximum depth of 7 meters. The air lines also act as a personal descent line to allow users to easily control their descents and remain at exact depths to equalize their ears. To return to the surface the user simply uses a hand-over-hand to ascend the air line to the surface, which brings them back to the raft. The air line provides users with tremendous vertical control to hold at any depth they feel most comfortable, or should there be coral or other object beneath them. It is not possible for you to get lost.
Lightweight harnesses allows more people to experience breathing underwater. The harness eliminates the need to wear, and learn how to use, a BCD (Buoyancy Compensation Device)and Air Cylinder, which combined together are extremely heavy out of the water. This opens this activity up to persons who have weak knees, bad backs, are overweight, older, younger, and even some with disabilities.
Soft weightbelts are used to make participants neutrally buoyant in the water. Soft weights are used to avoid injuries to feet on the surface if dropped and are less likely to damage the reef.
The use of a regulator eliminates the entry of water if used as instructed. Compared to snorkeling where many participants get a few tastes of the ocean or have difficulty clearing the snorkel.
Snuba is also popular because no prior dive experience is necessary. Participants need only to be at least eight years of age and have a basic swimming ability. Its popularity as a first timer's experience can be attributed to several factors.
- The participant tows the raft on the surface via a lightweight harness connected to the air line. This gives the customer the secure knowledge that he/she cannot descend too deep and allows them to choose the depth that they feel most comfortable with while being able to control their depth, descent and ascent rates. By using the hose as a guide and wearing weights to achieve neutral buoyancy, participants are able to descend anywhere from just under the surface to 6 metres (20 ft) deep.
- Participants are able to hold onto the raft at the surface using a grab-rope that runs the length of the raft on both sides. This also allows the user to hold onto the raft while getting comfortable breathing before beginning to descend. Being connected to the raft also provides users with a feeling of safety, comfort, and the option to hold onto the raft should they want to return to the surface.
- Compared to Scuba, Snuba divers wear minimal gear. Each diver is equipped with a mask, fins, weight belt, harness and regulator. The harness holds the regulator and air line in place, allowing the diver to swim relatively unencumbered beneath the surface. This may be compared to full SCUBA gear, which includes a buoyancy compensator, weights, cylinder and often more, and can weigh in excess of 27 kilograms (60 lb) when out of the water. Although SCUBA equipment is nearly weightless underwater, out of the water the weight becomes a significant factor for weaker individuals.
- Although the Snuba diver is not provided with any emergency buoyancy system, a correctly weighted scuba diver will be neutrally buoyant at all depths (no compressible dive suit), has a hose and harness to prevent sinking, can pull on the hose to surface, which is less effort than swimming, and has a raft with a grab-rope to hold onto at the surface. This is less versatile than a buoyancy compensator, but far easier to learn, and there is less that can go wrong due to incorrect procedures and equipment failure.
Tropical islands and beaches are one of the most popular travel destinations.
- Phuket in Southern Thailand — The islands surrounding Phuket have great coral reefs that are in the perfect depth range for SNUBA diving. The best reefs for SNUBA are found on Racha Yai (Raya Island) 34 km South of Phuket. Other SNUBA locations around Phuket include Phi Phi, Coral Island and Koh Poo off of Kata Beach.
- Ko Phi Phi, also in Southern Thailand, has several sites that are great SNUBA diving locations. Hin Klang, Bida Islands, and Maya Bay.
- Okinawa in Japan offers SNUBA on some of Japan's most beautiful reefs.
- The Big Island offers SNUBA diving on boat trips from Honokohau Harbor and beach dives Kamakahonu near King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel.
- Oahu has SNUBA from the beach and also at a beautiful state park Hanauma Bay on the South East side of the island. Hanauma Bay is volcanic crater that has a reef that has attracted thousands of visitors. Due to the number of visitors that have stood all over the coral, much of the inner reef is in poor condition. However, the outer reef is still alive and home to many large fish and turtles. The depths are perfect for SNUBA, and there has been a big push to help educate the public about reef conservation and numbers are being limited to help the reef.
- Maui is home to one of the highest concentrations of SNUBA operators in the world. No visit to Muai is complete without a trip to Molokini Crater and Turtle Town. The waters at the crater are crystal clear and home to large fish and the occasional small black tip shark. Turtle Town is often the second stop for boat tours and home to many green sea turtles. Other SNUBA locations are off the beaches on some of Maui's fringing reefs.
- Kauai has one SNUBA operator that provides underwater tours from several beach locations.
- Bahamas at the Atlantis Resort.
- Dominican Republic reef dives which have many rays.
- Honduras Gumbalimba Park has reefs with both hard and soft corals. There are also jungle hikes for time out of the water.
- Puerto Rico San Juan's Aqua Adventure's does boat SNUBA dives.
- Spain The Canary Islands
- Fiji Islands
There are so many activities available aboard today's cruise ships it is sometimes hard to choose. The following is a list of cruise lines that offer SNUBA Underwater Tours at some of their destinations. Inquire about SNUBA aboard your cruise.
- Carnival Cruises
- Holland America Lines
- Norwegian Cruise Lines
- Royal Caribbean International
- Celebrity Cruises
- Costa Cruises
There are two ways to access the water for a SNUBA dive - From the shore or from a boat.
A Snuba dive from the beach is a very good way for people who are not very confident to get used to being in the water at extremely shallow depths. Snuba tours from beaches generally visit reefs that are just offshore of some of the worlds major tourist destinations. Beach dives are often much cheaper as they do not include transportation and boat costs. A beach dive is good if the diver does not have a whole or a half day to commit to a boat tour. A Snuba dive from the beach will usually take approximately 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours including the safety briefing, gear preparation, Snuba underwater tour, and debriefing.
Usually presented as full or half day tours, Snuba boat dives are able to visit islands and reefs that are further afield. Getting further away from the beaches often presents clearer water and less crowds. Many Snuba boat dives are offered as an add-on to snorkeling tours for those that want to get closer to the marine life. Boat dives can be done from speedboats, which get divers to the reefs quickly and also have shallow drafts allowing the boats to drop guests on deserted beaches and do more exploring. Large boats and catamarans offer more room to spread out and relax. Lunch is usually served on board large boats and the usual procedure is to spend the whole day on the water with no land stops.
All official SNUBA Guides are experienced licensed diving professionals. Before training to become a SNUBA Guide experience and training to top levels of a recognized diving organization (PADI, Naui, SSI, etc.) is required. Snuba guides are chosen based on their diving experience, safety, and professionalism. Each Snuba guide should have received an additional level of training on the use, safety, and guidance of Snuba underwater tours. All official SNUBA Guides are licensed and insured members of SNUBA International, Inc.
Snuba diving is NOT dive training. Before attempting to scuba dive on ones own, proper training is required.
Snuba's safety record among introductory diving methods looks quite impressive. Over 4 million dives and not one insurance claim for injury. The SNUBA system is designed with safety in mind and Snuba guides are trained to ensure your dive is a safe and fun one. However, diving does carry with it risks that one should be aware of.
Pay close attention to your Snuba guide's safety briefing. Never let anyone (husband, family member, friends, etc.) force or pressure you into doing something you are not comfortable with. Discuss any concerns with your Snuba guide before going on a Snuba dive. Snuba guides are trained to inspect all equipment and evaluate all participants prior to every Snuba dive.
After your Snuba dive if you are interested in going to the next step and trying scuba diving, your Snuba guide can assist you in locating a reputable dive training center / organization.
In strong current, wave action, or breeze, the combination of underwater hose and surface raft can pull quite hard on a diver. Snuba is therefore best used in areas where wind, waves and current are negligible. Since all SNUBA use is offered by licensed operators who operate the systems as a guided tour, the probability of being subjected to strong current, high waves or high wind is not likely. However it is good practice if one employee of the operator remains on the surface to monitor conditions.
Since the depth of a snuba dive is limited to about 6 metres (20 ft), decompression sickness is not likely to be a problem. However, as the snuba diver is breathing compressed air, there is still a risk of injury or death due to air embolism, which is a more severe hazard at shallow depths.
If a diver ascends as little as three feet without venting the expanding gas volume in the lungs can cause rupture of lung tissue and escape of air into the circulation and/or other tissues. Air bubbles travelling with the blood may block circulation in vital tissues such as the brain or heart. This life-threatening condition is known as Arterial Gas Embolism. This danger is easily avoided by breathing normally and continuously while ascending. This point should be thoroughly covered in Snuba pre-dive briefings, and should be monitored by the dive guide throughout the dive by watching for the continual release of bubbles from each diver. However most lung overpressure diving accidents do happen within 15 feet of the surface of the water because this is where the greatest change in volume occurs, and a panicking diver may reach the surface before the guide has noticed a problem. Unfortunately this depth range is where snuba diving takes place. According to certified diving agencies, like PADI and NAUI, Snuba is slowly being phased out due to the number of the diving accidents that have been recorded due to the lack of certification and training involved, but according to the Snuba website, since starting operations in 1989, almost 5 million dives have been done without injury or fatality (they do not mention whether any other dives have resulted in injury - the wording is ambiguous).
The Snuba Liability Release form releases the operators and developers of the Snuba system from any liability or responsibility for damage, injury or death due to neglect, system failure or any other reason, nevertheless there are many nonofficial reports about inadequate training.
All Snuba Recreational Centers are members of the Reef Alliance. Coral reefs are fragile living organisms and with a little understanding, they can be preserved for hundreds of years to come. All forms of diving help to make people more aware of our coral reefs, what they are, and how to protect them. However, all forms of diving also have the ability to expose coral reefs to damage.
Please following these guidelines while Snuba diving, scuba diving, or snorkeling:
- Do NOT touch anything.
- Never take anything - shells, sand, coral, etc. Although very beautiful, empty shells become new homes for other marine animals.
- While Snuba diving be aware of where you are in the water to avoid bumping into corals. If you are unable to control your depth by just swimming while neutrally buoyant, hold onto the Snuba air line as that will keep you at one depth and give you more control.
- Fins are not foot protection! Never use you fins to push off of coral or the bottom.
- Don't feed the marine life. Bread, frozen peas, etc. are not part of the natural food chain for fish.
- Wear environmentally friendly biodegradable sunscreen - yes, regular sunscreen is bad for corals.
After your Snuba dive ask questions about what you saw and tell others about what they can do to help preserve our tropical reefs.
If you have any preexisting conditions (especially respiratory or cardiovascular conditions) consult your physician before Snuba diving.
Your Snuba guide should thoroughly cover the prevention of pressure related illnesses before your Snuba dive. Pay close attention and follow each rule.
You may spend considerable time swimming at or near the surface. This is a high risk for sunburn. Wear some protection that will not wash off.
Be aware that flying after diving carries certain guidelines depending on the number of dives and time before flying. Consult your Snuba guide for more details before diving.