A History of Snorkelling & Scuba Diving

by Mihai Pinzariu on September 24, 2019

When you pop on that snorkel or go for a deep dive underwater, it’s thanks to thousands of years of history, hard work, and developing the best possible technology. The origins of snorkelling & scuba diving date back around 5,000 years. Aristotle, Leonardo Da Vinci, and even Houdini have all played a part in the history of the two activities.

From humble beginnings in ancient history, snorkelling and scuba diving technology has evolved to become safer, more comfortable, and a lot more enjoyable. Want to know all the hard work that’s gone into you being able to peek at that beautiful coral life? Read on!

3,000 BC: The first signs of a snorkel

The earliest signs of humans breathing underwater can be traced to sponge farmers on the island of Crete, in Greece. These divers would use hollow reeds as a snorkel apparatus, breathing through the hollow tubes while submerged underwater as you would with a snorkel.

900 BC: The first signs of a scuba

Thousands of years later, we see the first signs of a scuba apparatus in the making. Rather than using oxygen tanks, Assyrian divers would fill animal skins with air and take them on their underwater explorations. A step above hollow reeds, but still a long way away from the technology we see today.

333 BC: The diving bell

Greek philosopher Aristotle was the first to write about the diving bell, a scuba-like contraption that allowed divers to breathe underwater. The diving bell worked by trapping a pocket of air inside its dome, which divers could then take breaths from while underwater.

Diving bells worked, but they were fairly limited in that they didn’t allow divers to travel long distances. Instead, divers had to remain within close distance of the diving bell so that they could take regular breaths.

~500 AD: Leonardo Da Vinci’s additions

Did you know Leonardo Da Vinci played a part in the history of scuba diving and snorkelling? More than just an artist, Da Vinci’s scientific sketchbooks contained detailed designs for many different diving apparatuses. These included everything from simple tubes that worked like a snorkel, to a completely self-contained diving suit and swimming gloves with webbed fingers (kind of like flippers for your hands).

1200 – 1300 AD: The first goggles

Mankind has always been interested in discovering what’s underwater. They wanted to be able to see what’s going on so bad that the Persians developed the first version of goggles, made by thinly slicing and policing tortoise shells. That’s a lot of effort to get a closer look at what’s in the sea!

1500 – 1600 AD: The first diving suit

In England and France, leather diving suits were developed that allowed divers to go to depths up to 18 metres. The suits worked by pumping air from the surface using manual pumps and distributing it to divers through the suit. After a period of time, metal helmets were also released that withstood larger amounts of water pressure.

1771 AD: Invention of the air pump

Around this time, people realised that tubes connecting swimmers to the surface of the water were great for snorkelling, but did little to help divers going deep underwater. The water pressure after a certain depth is simply too high for lungs to take in air. In 1771, though, British engineer John Smeaton invented the air pump. This provided a whole new world of opportunity for scuba diving and paved the way for the air tanks and pressurised dive suits we see today.

1772 AD: Recycled air & lack of safety

Using the air pump technology developed by John Smeaton, Sieur Freminet developed a scuba-like apparatus that allowed divers to inhale recycled air from a diving barrel. This rebreathing device was the first sign of a scuba, but not enough research and testing went into its development and Sieur Freminet passed away from lack of oxygen after using his device for 20 minutes.

1800s: Science enters the picture

In the 19th century, a lot of scientific and technological research allowed both scuba diving and snorkelling to develop quickly. Paul Bert and John Scott Haldane published studies that explained the effects of water pressure on the body, helping to define the safe limits for scuba diving. At the same time, technology was being developed that allowed people to breathe underwater for longer, including carbon dioxide scrubbers and regulators.

1885 AD: The iron belt

Another person had a go at using John Smeaton’s technology to develop a self-contained breathing device. This time it was English inventor William James, who designed a cylinder shaped iron belt that held enough air for a seven minute dive. The belt was attached to a copper helmet. This technology was actually advanced enough to allow for a lot of underwater salvage work to take place in England.

1921 AD: Enter the magician

Famous magician Harry Houdini also had a go at developing a diver’s suit. Always fascinated by escape art, Harry’s ‘Houdini Suit’ was designed to be quickly and safely removed while underwater. But who wants to take off their diving suit underwater unless you’re a magician?

1932 AD: A snorkel patent

The first patent for a submerged person’s breathing tube is filed by Joseph L. Belcher. Joseph wanted to patent a breathing apparatus that delivered air to a submerged person by taking in air from the water’s surface through hoses connected to a float. He is granted his US patent in 1933.

1938 AD: Nautilus full-face snorkel mask

We now officially see the first swimmers’ mask with integrated breathing tubes on the market. Introduced by French naval officer, Yves Le Prieur, Nautilus was a full-face diving mask. The mask featured two hoses coming out of the sides, which led upwards to an air inlet above the water’s surface. The snorkel mask was fitted with a ball valve that opened closed when submerged and opened when above the water’s surface.

In the same year, the first patent is filed for a front-mounted swimmer’s breathing tube. While most snorkel mask designs to date had featured hoses on the sides of the mask, French spearfisherman Maxime Forjot envisioned a breathing tube on the front of the mask. Their design also featured a single-lens snorkel mask that covered both the eyes and nose.

1939 AD: A Russian take on snorkelling

Another spearfisherman, this time Alexander Kramarenko from Russia, files the first patent for a side-mounted swimmers’ breathing tube. His design features a tube at the side of the head, with a ball valve at the top to expel water. In 1940, Kramarenko files the same invention in the USA and is granted a patent in 1943.

1940 AD: An American snorkel emerges

American spearfisherman Charles H. Wilen files a patent for a swimmer’s mask invention. His device is a full-face snorkel mask with two breathing tubes that have valves sticking out above the water’s surface. After the release of this snorkel mask, similar designs started appearing in catalogues throughout the world, all with integrated tubes.

1943 AD: The aqualung

Famous oceanographer and French navy officer Jacques Costeau, along with engineer Emily Gagnan, helped develop a more advanced diving suit and regulator. This was the first prototype of the scuba diving apparatus that we see today.

1950 AD: We first hear the word snorkel

So we’ve been using the term snorkel in this article, but the term wasn’t in use until 1950. A ‘swim pipe’ was released by company Honolulu Sporting Goods, with advertisements telling people to “try the human version of the submarine snorkel and be like a fish”. In 1951, diving magazine Skin Diver used the spelling ‘snorkles’, and in 1957 the British Sub-Aqua Club debated whether or not to change the term breathing tube to the American term, snorkel. In 1958, a British thriller film was released, called The Snorkel. Since then, the term snorkel has stuck.

1952 AD: The first time we hear scuba

American Major Christian J. Lambertsen invented his own version of an underwater free-swimming oxygen rebreather way back in 1939, but in 1952 he filed a patent for a modified version of his design. He named this device SCUBA, short for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. Later, this became the generic term for diving equipment.

1964 AD: No more snorkelling water trap

Scuba company US Divers releases an L-shaped snorkel that was a step above the current J-shaped models available on the market. Their new snorkel made breathing easier, cut out water drag, and eliminated the U-shaped water trap that existed at the bottom of J-shaped models.

1969 AD: Safer snorkelling for everyone

The British Standards Institution publishes the first national standard on snorkels. The ‘specification for snorkels and face masks’ set different maximum & minimum dimensions for both kids & adult snorkels, specified materials and design features for the snorkel tube and mouthpiece, and required that a warning label and instructions be included with every snorkel. Soon, these standards spread to other nations, helping to make snorkelling safer for everyone.

1971 AD: Scuba now has buoyancy control

Outdoor company ScubaPro released a stabiliser jacket that provided buoyancy control. This was the first buoyancy control device of its kind and paved the way for deeper dives.

1950s – 1990s: A battle with nitrox

The US Navy created procedures for enriched oxygen gas known as nitrox, the first signs of the gas used in recreational scuba diving today. In 1970, NOAA started to use diving procedures for oxygen-enriched air, and in 1979 they published procedures in the NOAA Diving Manual. In 1985, IAND (International Association of Nitrox Divers) also started teaching procedures for using nitrox when diving.

Throughout this time, nitrox was considered to be dangerous and the diving community was uncertain about its use. In 1992, NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) was the world’s first major diver training agency to support the use of nitrox while diving, and in 1996 PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) followed suit. Nitrox is now the most popular gas used for recreational scuba diving.

2018 AD: Snorkellers can now equalise

The first snorkel mask that allows you to pinch your nose and equalise is released by Australian snorkel company, Ninja Shark. This is the first full face snorkel mask that also allows you to pinch your nose to equalise pressure when going for deeper dives. Snorkelling can merge with scuba diving, as you are given more freedom to explore below the water’s surface.


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1 comment
by Jeff Kinney on March 30, 2021

Thx for this
Very helpful

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Based on 1494 reviews
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Package : Air Adults (Mask + Fins + Bag)
JEANNIE O. (Piara Waters, AU)
Bloody love this!

Never snorkelled in my life. Petrified of putting my head under water. But now my neck is bad - if I don't alter the way I swim - then no more swimming for me. This has opened 'a whole new world' - (haha -that songs stuck in your head now) - to me. I'm just using my ninja gear in my gym outdoor pool atm. My legs are getting so strong - and my lungs too - as I'm doing some great breathing. I have huge surgery coming up soon - and i believe this is allowing me to get to a great level of fitness - in preparation. Honestly - i can't go on enough about this product enough. My friend bought a cheaper version. She's given it away already... say no more 🤿🤿🤿

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Electra - Full Face Snorkel Mask
Bolang C. (Perth, AU)
Great design

This is the best snorkel mask I’ve ever had. Very comfortable on face, easy to breathe. I am not a good swimmer, it makes me feel safe and enjoy snorkelling without distraction. Thank you ninjiashark.

Best snorkel ever!!

Got one of these for me and my 7 year old daughter for Xmas. We’ve used them twice already and love them!! So much easier to breathe, can see so much and just makes the whole snorkelling experience better! Would highly recommend!

Clear as day

Clear to see and easy to breathe,
Whole family loves the NinjaShark Snorkel mask.

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Lifetime Warranty
Robyn H. (Adelaide, AU)
Amazing

The best snorkel and mask combination. No going back now! I could snorkel for over an hour easily. So glad I made this purchase

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(DRAFT) Package: Dry Snorkel (Set + Fins + Bag)
Mermaid M. (Townsville, AU)
Mermaid

While travelling in Timor leste l met a fellow snorkeller. We snorkelled for 10 days together the food was shit but the water was stunning. The friend was using Ninja Shark fins and mask mine were steaming up, letting in water and heavy. On arriving back in Australia l ordered straight away.
I was a little bit anxious on receiving my order as the mask was quite different to my old one and the fins were short and adjustable ( l wanted them to be my size ! ) well to my luck the weather was beautiful ( yes mid winter in Mackay ) and perfect for boating so off we scooted to Cockermouth ( don't laugh it's a real place ) jumping in and WOW I'm now a mermaid 🧜‍♀️ the mask and fins felt like part of me. I actually cried as not only was the equipment allowing me to explore as l wanted but the reef was STUNNING. So lm indepted to Ninja Shark for making me the mermaid l always aspired to be 🧜‍♀️

Took it to Tahiti

I wasn’t quite sure about getting a full face mask but bought mine (Electra package) before a trip to Tahiti which we got home from yesterday - absolutely LOVED it!!! I’ll be getting one for my wife before our next trip to a similar destination. BTW I make LOTS of crazy videos with lots of toys.

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Life changing

I do love my full face snorkel.. the freedom of nose breathing under the water.. the meditative and relaxative effect of this snorkeling is unexpected and great. Fits so well.. comfy to wear for long time.. highly recommend

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(DRAFT) Diving Dry Snorkel Set with GoPro mount
jomm11 (Brisbane, AU)
Super quality & fit

So happy we got Ninja shark, perfect for Great barrier reef snorkel day.
Flippers, mask, dry wallet, carry bag (good quality bag), anti fog spray, happy days.

Ninja Shark Kids Mask

We recently brought the Ninja Shark Kids 3-11 Mask + Fins + Bag package for our 7 year old who absolutely loves it! Will be buying three more for the rest of the family. 😊

Even better than expected!

I saw the kids full face snorkel masks online, and thought they looked pretty cool. I ordered two for Christmas, for my 3 and 6 year olds. Wow, did they have a great time with them!

I wasn't sure how the 3 year old would go with it, but he was comfortable in it almost immediately, and spent hours swimming around and seeing a whole new world of underwater scenery.

They were easy to fit, zero issues with them staying on. No leaks or fog.

They can't wait to get back to the water!

Highly recommend this product :)

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Electra - Full Face Snorkel Mask
Nick J. (Brisbane, AU)
mask swimming

The mask did exactly what was stated. I was very happy and will get another mask for my daughter.

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Electra - Full Face Snorkel Mask
Sheara R. (Perth, AU)
Great way to swim

I have NEVER been able to snorkel but love swimming. These full face snorkels are an absolute game changer in my life. Now I try to swim around 5 kms a week in the local pool. The Ninja mask makes it easy to do laps. I’ve been using the Ninja Shark for a quite few years and find the new Electra the best full face mask ever. No leaks, no fog and really easy to use and great quality. I’ve noticed my regular chats with other swimmers at the pool have encouraged many of them to purchase one of their own. I’ve given my older models to my grandkids and they love them too.

Fabulous

I got one for the 3 year old and one for the 5 year old, I thought maybe the 3 year old would get the hang of it eventually but they both loved it and mastered it pretty quickly. We’ve only used in the swimming pool, excited to go snorkeling in the ocean soon. Great product.

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Lifetime Warranty
Sarah B. (Surfers Paradise, AU)
Love it!

Amazing product ! Have the electra package, kids love it. So easy to use. Highly recommend

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(DRAFT) Diving Dry Snorkel Set with GoPro mount
Jennifer M. (Brisbane, AU)
Love it

Bought these for myself and my husband after getting the full face masks for the kids, and they were so good we’re getting them for the rest of the extended family for Xmas. The fact u can dive down and not get water down ur snorkel is a brilliant bonus! Makes our family holidays much easier and better without snorkel dramas!

This made our holiday

The product itself was amazing, but the service we received allowed us to get our 2 sets of masks for our cruise. We took them with us and used them multiple times for snorkelling on our cruise to Nouméa and New Caledonia. It was amazing snorkelling and being able to breathe easily, and the fins were the most comfortable I've ever used. I've got size 13 feet, and not only were they completely adjustable, but they were THE most comfortable fins ever invented. A massive shoutout to Colleen Zamora from your support staff who helped me out and made it possible to take our gear on holidays! Thanks Colleen!
The photo is us snorkelling off Amadee Island looking for turtles!

My kids love them

I’ve got three of these masks for my younger kids, however the oldest wants one too as the young ones rave about how good the are.

Summer Family Fun

Our Ninja masks have made snorkelling as a whole family very easy and enjoyable. The kids (and parents) find them super easy to use and have allowed us as a family of five to snorkel for longer than we ever could using traditional snorkel gear. I would highly recommend these masks.

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Lifetime Warranty
Geri D. (Sydney, AU)
Lifetime warranty

Glad I have but haven’t needed to use .. yet

Great Mask

Love this mask. Kids find it so much easier snorkelling with the Ninja Shark. The snorkel mask is super clear and doesn’t fog up. The adjustable straps are great and easy to loosen and tighten. Very happy that we made the decision to get these for the kids.

A must for snorkelers!

Recently purchased the Equaliser Pro Mask, Finns and bag. 🤿 🐠🐡🐟🦈 Had an amazing time snorkeling off Fitzroy Island, the Pro mask allowed me to explore for over 7 hours. Higly recommend! Planning must next snorkeling trip! 🤿💦🌴☀️

awsome

we used our new masks over the weekend. they were amazing, my daughter barely had her head out of the water all day.

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Lifetime Warranty
Lina J. (Gold Coast, AU)
life warranty

This is great! More stores should do it!

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Lifetime Warranty
Olivia (Perth, AU)
Fantastic snorkel!

Our 5 year old has never snorkelled. Put it on and was snorkelling no problem straight away! Easy for him to put on and off by himself. We bought the full package with flippers (also amazing and he can put them on by himself) and the two wet bags. The foldable snorkel is so handy for storing while we are travelling. And the lifetime warranty gives us great comfort that we can use it for future trips! We are so impressed with this product I’m going to get mum and dad one too!