Snorkelling

From Term 1 2017, Victorian government and Catholic schools will use the new Victorian Curriculum F-10. Curriculum related information is currently being reviewed and may be subject to change.

For more information on the curriculum, see:
The Victorian Curriculum F–10 - VCAA

Snorkelling is an activity in which a person swims using a mask, snorkel and swimming aids such as fins, but without using self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA).

Snorkelling includes both snorkel swimming and snorkel diving.  Snorkel swimming is snorkelling on the surface of the water.  Snorkel diving however, includes breath-hold diving and swimming below the surface.

Note: ‘Snorkelling’ does not include activities in a swimming teaching program where masks and snorkels may be used incidentally as part of the program.

Definitions

Type 1 Venue — Type 1 venues include municipal and commercial swimming pools, as well as shallow, calm, confined swimming areas at natural venues such as lakes, dams and non-surf beaches.  A shallow, natural-water venue is defined as a venue where the maximum depth of the water is no greater than shoulder height for any of the students involved in the activity.  The water in type 1 venues is clear.

Type 2 Venue — Type 2 venues include deep and/or flowing water at non-surf beaches, lakes, channels, rivers and dams.  The water in type 2 venues is clear.  Water turbidity, temperature and submerged objects should also be assessed.

Type 3 Venue — Type 3 venues include all beaches with direct access to ocean waters, any beach exposed to ocean swell, and any beach or lake that is exposed to currents, strong winds or large waves.  Type 3 venues also include type 1 and 2 venues where the water is not clear.

Note: If environmental conditions change, a type 1 venue may change to a type 2 or 3 venue. Likewise, type 2 or 3 venues may also change with environmental conditions. 

Environment

Water environments

Snorkelling activities are undertaken in unique and diverse marine and coastal environments.  These natural venues require sensitive use and management.  These environments offer opportunities for personal challenge and reflection as well as for studying unique flora and fauna, however they are very susceptible to long-lasting damage from human activity.

A wide range of environmental factors need to be considered when planning snorkelling activities.  These include the location, size, depth and turbidity of the body of water; the strength of tides and currents; the presence and power of waves; and the temperature of the water.

When preparing for snorkelling, staff should consider ways to minimise the environmental impact of the activity.  Further information is available at Environment.

Location

Due to the unique nature of each location, the teacher responsible for the activity should specifically assess the suitability of the location before the excursion.

The choice of location should be based on the recent and first-hand knowledge of at least one member of the planning and supervising staff.  Where this is impractical, planning and supervising staff should be thoroughly familiar with the general characteristics and conditions found in similar locations, and should have consulted with people who can supply recent and first-hand knowledge of the locations being considered.

When assessing the suitability of a location, consider:

  • the potential to support the educational objectives
  • the level of access to the resources, services and facilities that may be needed, such as campsites, water, walking trails, toilets, shelter from extreme weather, or interpretive information
  • the level of access to communications and external assistance, in the event of an emergency, or extreme weather conditions — the more remote the location is, the more self-contained and self-reliant the group must be and this must be taken into account in the planning of the activity
  • the potential exposure to environmental hazards and difficulties
  • the ability and fitness levels of students.

Contact with relevant authorities should be made in order to access current information and to determine any access and permit requirements.

These authorities may include:

Snorkelling activities can be conducted in type 1 and type 2 venues.  Please refer to the definitions section of these guidelines for a description of type 1, 2 and 3 venues.

At least one staff member must have thorough recent knowledge and experience of the venue, including tides, currents and the range of possible conditions

On the day of the activity, the conditions must be assessed by the staff as being suitable for the participating students.

Staff need to be aware that severe weather conditions may develop before or during the proposed activity and should be prepared to cancel, modify or relocate the activity at any time.

Communication

The communication strategy should enable staff to receive weather forecasts and warnings, communicate with the school, and engage support in the case of an incident or emergency.

  • Choose communication equipment based on current communication technology.
  • Develop a communication strategy for the group during the activity and to enable communication with outside parties, including the school and emergency services.
  • Be aware of the limitations of the communication strategy.
Weather

Check the weather forecast for the location in the days leading up to the activity and on the day the activity commences.  If the excursion extends overnight, access weather forecasts and warnings daily and monitor and assess the weather throughout.

Weather forecasts should be obtained from the Bureau of Meteorology.

Weather conditions can change rapidly.  Monitor and assess the weather throughout the activity and be prepared to cancel, modify or relocate at any time.

Weather warning telephone services

  • Coastal, Land Weather and Flood Warnings on 1300 659 217
  • Full State Telephone Weather Service on 1900 955 363 (call charge applies)
  • Coastal Waters Telephone Service on 1900 969 930 (call charge applies)
  • Victorian Bushfire Information Line on 1800 240 667.

The above telephone numbers may be useful to have available during the excursion.

Web links

The following guidelines for water and weather conditions are recommended:

  • in general, underwater visibility should be at least 3 metres and the bottom visible from the surface
  • the water surface should be calm with minimal or no ‘sea’ (the ‘chop’ of the water)
  • swell (unbroken waves) should be less than 0.5 metres
  • stable weather conditions must prevail, with no obvious threat of a sudden change in weather that could significantly affect the safety of the activity.
Transportation

The transportation of groups to and from activity locations must be carefully considered and planned. See: Excursion support – transport

Activity

Student skills

Snorkel swimming and snorkel diving - type 1 venues

For snorkel swimming in type 1 venues, students must be taught the basic water competence skills of submerging and resurfacing.

Snorkel swimming is appropriate for any age group, where individual students have demonstrated basic water competency.

Appropriate wetsuits must be worn according to water temperatures.  Students who are unable to float or swim competently should not wear weight belts and should wear a positive buoyancy aid.

All snorkel diving students must demonstrate competency in snorkel swimming and have preparation in the following:

  • buoyancy concepts (i.e. how to gain and maintain positive buoyancy, and as underwater depth increases, the effects on buoyancy of the increase in pressure)
  • the dangers of separation from the group, hyperventilation and hypothermia
  • ‘squeeze’ in ears, sinuses, mask and lungs (the pressure–depth relationship), and how to equalise pressure in ears and mask air space
  • ditching and replacing a weight belt in the water (if relevant)
  • clearing a flooded snorkel and mask
  • surface diving techniques, including equalising the pressure in the ears when descending
  • entry and exit methods
  • self-rescue techniques
  • correct finning technique
  • hand signals (i.e. OK, not OK, distress)
  • appropriate safety practices, such as the buddy system (responsibility for a buddy or diving partner) where one dives and the other one stays on the surface, i.e. ‘One up, one down’
  • marine dangers (e.g. the blue ringed octopus).

Snorkel swimming and snorkel diving - type 2 venues

Students must be able to:

  • swim continuously for 200 metres using a recognised stroke
  • demonstrate survival sculling, floating and treading water for five minutes without the use of fins or flotation equipment.

Students taking part in snorkel diving must be at least 12 years of age.  Snorkel diving from a boat is not recommended for students under 14 years of age.  All participants who snorkel dive from a boat must have had prior shore-based training.

All snorkel diving students must demonstrate competency in snorkel swimming and have preparation as described for type 1 venues above.

Appropriate wetsuits must be worn according to water temperature.

Documentation of participant preparation, prerequisite skills/knowledge ​ (doc - 139kb) can be used to record student preparation for the activity.

The psychological preparation of students is as important as the physical preparation, especially for students who are anxious about the activity.  Under no circumstances should students be pressured by staff or peers to participate beyond their readiness.

Equipment and clothing

Equipment, whether hired, borrowed or owned by the school or students, must be in a safe condition and suitable for the activity.

For snorkel swimming and snorkel diving, students must be positively buoyant at all times.  Appropriate wetsuits must be worn according to water temperature.  Before the snorkel swimming or snorkel diving activity, all snorkelling equipment should be checked to ensure that:

  • exposure protection is used appropriately (e.g. wetsuits must fit correctly)
  • the snorkel is attached, usually to the left-hand side of the mask, with a snorkel keeper
  • masks have tempered glass and enclose the nose and seal correctly
  • fins are properly fitted and suited to the conditions
  • weight belts, if used for snorkel diving, must have quick-release buckles (note that snorkel swimmers must not wear a weight belt)
  • a student’s weight belt should be less than the weight required to achieve neutral buoyancy, so that students remain positively buoyant at all times

The following should be taken into consideration for all snorkelling activities:

  • staff members should carry a whistle or other device for signalling to snorkellers and other staff
  • an assessment of the snorkelling venue (water depth, type of water, existing rescue equipment on site) and the ability of the swimmers, should result in the identification of any additional non-contact rescue aids for reaching and throwing (such as flotation aides, poles and ropes, surfboards) that need to be available during the activity
  • divers’ flags must be used for all snorkelling activities in open water venues and displayed at the site at all times to indicate that there are snorkellers in the area or below the water surface
  • students with asthma must have medication for emergency treatment as close to them as practicable (if an inhaler is lost in the water, it is essential that a spare is immediately available).

First aid kits

First aid kits appropriate to the location and level of training must be carried.

Clothing

Clothing is the individual’s primary protection against severe and variable weather conditions.

Clothing lists need to be appropriate for the activity, environment and season.

Before and after snorkelling, students need to protect themselves from the sun (e.g. shirt and hat), and cold and wet weather (e.g. a towel and change of clothing, including a jumper, long pants and jacket) as appropriate for the season and location.

Sun protection clothing should be readily available to students when they leave the water.

To protect against sunburn (see sun exposure) use broad-spectrum, water-resistant SPF 30+ sunscreen on all exposed parts of the body, applied according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.  Students who own sunglasses should be encouraged to bring and wear them when required.

Under no circumstances are spear guns, hand spears, slings or knives to be carried or used by students.

Identification

Staff and students must be easily identifiable.

Staff must determine the most suitable identification system based on an assessment of the environment, students’ skills, the type of activities to be undertaken, and the age and number of students.

Staff must be easily identifiable by boat operators and all students, for example, by wearing brightly coloured wetsuit hoods, singlets or brightly coloured fins.

People

Staff

Staff members are those adults who provide the supervisory, instructional and educational elements of the activity.  All staff members must be approved by the school council.

All staff members must comply with current Departmental police check requirements or the Working with Children Check.

A teacher registered with the Victorian Institute of Teaching and either employed by the Department or the school council must be present and have overall responsibility for the activity.

Where not directly responsible for the instruction of the activity or assisting the instructor, the teacher responsible for the activity must understand the activity and the environment in which it will be conducted.  This teacher must confer with the designated instructor about the supervisory role and establish areas of responsibility.  If the teacher is not the designated instructor he/she is to act on the advice of the designated instructor on technical safety issues.

Any staff member with a known medical condition that might compromise the group’s risk management plan should make accompanying staff aware of this condition.  Issues of confidentiality and privacy apply to any such disclosure.

Experience and qualifications

Staff involved in the planning and conduct of the activity should have sufficient knowledge and experience of the activity and its environment to operate in all foreseeable conditions.

The designated snorkelling instructor(s) must hold the following:

  • documented snorkelling instructional qualifications and experience from a training provider or education institution (such as AQTF Outdoor Recreation Industry Training Package competencies which are documented by Outdoors Victoria), or equivalent (see: Outdoors Victoria - Adventure Activity Standards)
  • a current lifesaving qualification appropriate to the venue (please refer to the definitions section of these guidelines for a description of type 1, 2 and 3 venues).

The designated assistant to the instructor must:

  • have experience in the activity at the level being offered to students
  • be familiar with the requirements of the activity
  • be able to assume a supervisory role during the activity
  • have the ability to participate competently in emergency response procedures, including CPR
  • have conferred with the instructor on the safety requirements of this role.

Pro Forma Staff Qualifications / Experience (doc - 151kb) can be used to document staff qualifications/experience.

Note: Swimming in a pool using a snorkel, mask and fins may be an extension activity for a school swimming program, with no intention of progressing into snorkelling as an adventure activity.  In such cases, the guidelines for swimming and water safety programs apply (see the School Policy and Advisory Guide, Swimming Supervision and Water Safety).

Where an external contractor is chosen to run all or part of this activity, the guidelines for the use of External providers should be followed.

Supervision

Effective supervision is a critical factor in managing risk in the outdoors.

A minimum of two staff members must be present for each activity.  One staff member is to have responsibility for instruction in the activity and the other is to assist the instructor.

The following table shows the minimum staff-to-student ratios that must be used for snorkelling. 

ActivityStaff requiredStudent numbers
Type 1 venue21-20
 321-30
 Type 2 venue  
Snorkel swimming21-20
 321-30
Snorkel diving21-16
 317-24

In general, it would be expected that staff members included in the ratios above would be supervising from in the water, unless prevailing conditions meant that supervision would be more effective from a boat or the shore.

The maximum number of students in the water at one time should be based on an assessment of the water and weather conditions and the impact of these conditions on effective supervision.  If there are not enough qualified staff to supervise the number of students who are to be involved in snorkelling, a plan to rotate students in and out of the water may be implemented in order to maintain safe supervisory ratios.

It may be necessary to increase the number of staff allocated based on:

  • age, maturity, gender and physical characteristics* of students
  • ability and experience of students
  • needs of individuals
  • dynamics of the student group
  • experience, qualifications and skills of staff
  • location of the activity
  • anticipated conditions at the location.

*For example, if a group includes any physically large students, supervising staff must have the required training and qualifications to undertake any necessary rescue and the required physical attributes.

Reasons for increasing staff allocations must be documented.

The teacher in charge is responsible for the supervision strategy, which must be endorsed by the school council as part of the excursion approval process.  Staff members should supervise students according to this strategy.

Overnight excursions

If the excursion has an overnight component, the Overnight camping guidelines may be relevant.

Informed consent

The school must receive consent from parents or guardians before their child may participate in adventure activities.

Informed consent should be based on an understanding of:

  • the educational purpose of the activity
  • the nature and details of the activity
  • the supervision strategy
  • other information deemed relevant by the school, parents or guardians.

Informed consent must be given in writing and signed by parents or guardians.

First aid

At least one member of staff responsible for each group of students must hold, as a minimum, a current (within 3 years) level two first aid qualification, a current (within 12 months) Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) qualification and have a first aid kit applicable to the level of training.

Staff members must carefully consider the nature and location of the excursion as well as the medical history of the students to determine the level of first aid training required by staff.  For example, if any student in the group has a history of anaphylaxis and may require the use of an epi-pen, appropriately trained staff must be present.  See: Excursion Support – First Aid

Common risks

School staff must refer to the Risk Management section of this website which explains how to prepare a risk register.  Risks and possible controls are also explained.

The list below identifies some risks in snorkelling activities.  Identifying risk is only one aspect of the risk assessment process.  An activity-specific risk management plan must be completed which takes into account the specific conditions and unique participants of the activity.

Snorkelling specific risks
Sample risksSample controls

A student or staff member is put in danger due to currents, tides or other local hazards.

Pre-activity planning will consider whether the planned snorkelling session matches the maturity and abilities of the group.  Instructors will ensure that students and staff have done swim tests.

At least one instructor will be familiar with local conditions.

Instructors will complete an assessment of the preferred site on the day of the activity and continue to monitor conditions throughout as environmental factors may change during the activity.

Students will attend a pre-session briefing to identify currents, tides, reefs and other potential hazards of the venue before they enter the water.  The briefing will outline essential safety practices for the particular venue.

Instructors will define boundaries and signals.

A student or staff member suffers a dive‑related illness.

Before the snorkelling activity, staff will collect and review student medical forms.  Where uncertainty exists, additional information and expert advice will be sought.

At the start of each dive, instructors will conduct a dive skills check of participants.

Adequate instruction will be given regarding the causes and prevention of diving related injuries.

Instructors will offer a pre-dive briefing that is suitable for the group’s abilities and the diving conditions.

An equipment failure takes place causing injury to a student or staff member.

Equipment will be checked before the activity to ensure it is functioning correctly.  Instructors will also ensure students have fitted their equipment correctly.  The pre-activity briefing will advise students of emergency procedures and what to do if someone gets into trouble.

Students or staff move out of a safe snorkelling area.

The pre-activity briefing will clearly define the snorkelling area.

The dive area will be clearly defined and surrounded by safety barriers, such as the shoreline, piers, jetties or floating ropes.

Small boats, rafts or floating platforms will be placed strategically for added safety (if appropriate).

The out-of-water waiting area will be clearly defined.

Generic risks
Sample risksSample controls

A pre-existing medical condition results in injury or illness during the excursion.

Staff will collect and then review current confidential medical information for all students and staff.  Where uncertainty exists, additional information will be sought.

At least one staff member will have a minimum of a level two first aid qualification and a first aid kit, which is appropriate to the activity and the environments to be encountered.

Medical information will be carried by staff on the excursion and referred to as necessary.

At the start of the excursion, staff will ensure that there is no new illness that may have an impact on the ability of the affected student(s) or staff to participate.  Consideration will also be given as to whether that illness might spread to others in the group.

The emergency response strategy will include communication and evacuation procedures.

Staff or student fatigue results in incident and/or injury.

During the planning phase, staff will consider the skills and experience of students and staff and make sure that the activity is suitable.

The group will adopt appropriately timed rest stops.   Food and water breaks will match the activity intensity, weather conditions and the group’s abilities.

Food and water intake will be monitored during the excursion to ensure all participants are eating and drinking adequately.

Staff will monitor each student and consider strategies to support the group and individuals. This may include altered intensity and loads, changing the activity, obtaining outside support, evacuations or cancellation of the activity.

Warm or cold weather conditions lead to a temperature-related illness.

Staff will consider the skills, age, experience and maturity of students and staff when determining the activity, season and venue.

A change of clothing appropriate for the weather and season should be taken, including a towel for drying before changing.

Staff will plan and/or adjust the activity in response to foreseeable and prevailing weather conditions.

The emergency response strategy will include responses for when students and/or staff are affected by heat or cold.

A group is caught in severe weather or a thunderstorm resulting in injury.

The chosen venue, activity and season will be appropriate to the group.

Staff will obtain regular Bureau of Meteorology weather forecasts for the specific area they will be in and, if necessary, adjust the activity.

Staff will observe the weather before and during the activity and adjust the activity accordingly.

Staff will consider exposure to tree and lightning hazards.

The emergency response strategy will include possible responses should severe weather or a thunderstorm occur.

A transport accident occurs while travelling to or from the venue.

The vehicle must be appropriately insured and maintained.  Where the vehicle is a bus, it must be regularly inspected by a licensed bus tester.

Drivers will have the appropriate drivers licence and certificates for the planned journey.  Drivers will perform a daily vehicle check (see the Victorian Bus and Truck Drivers Handbook​, Chapter 4, Vehicle Checks).

In accordance with heavy vehicle driver fatigue laws, (see transport) all drivers will take sufficient breaks from driving.  Drivers will also be sufficiently rested prior to driving.

Drivers will allow sufficient time for the planned journey and adjust speed to suit the driving conditions.

A student or staff member suffers a bite or sting causing illness or death.

Students and staff will have clear and relevant clothing/equipment lists, which reflect the possibility of bites or stings, and have appropriate first aid equipment.

Staff will carry current and confidential medical information for all students and staff participating in the activity.  Staff will ensure there are appropriate medications available and an emergency response strategy to support a worsening condition.

Resources

Relevant documents
External resources