The minimum gear you need is a mask, snorkel and fins, all of which means you can see, breathe and get around in the water easily. For Sydney waters I’d also include a wetsuit as important gear since I get cold in the water very fast. A shorty 3mm wetsuit will let you stay in the water for a couple of hours in summer (October to March), and a full 5mm semidry wetsuit will let you snorkel year round.
Sydney has a goodly number of Dive shops, which are all excellent places to source your gear, but they can get expensive very quickly. For snorkelling you don’t need the top of the line gear, but you do want gear that fits properly. You want to be comfortable in the water, as that more than anything makes for an enjoyable snorkelling experience. I’ve had great success with the folks at Scuba Warehouse in Parramatta and Abyss Scuba in Ramsgate. The key seems to be explaining you want stuff for snorkelling, and both of these shops have not tried to sell me overpriced diving kit, but rather have pointed me towards gear appropriate for what I was planning to do. Just about all of my gear is moderately priced, and comfort and functionality has been the key decider. It’s also helped having a qualified dive instructor as a partner!
I paid for a proper scuba mask that fit properly. Advantages according to Alonya are the toughened glass, which won’t break if you bump into rocks, and a good seal that resists leakage better than cheap masks. I’m using the Tusa Liberator mask, which has given me great service for a couple of years now. Masks are not a one size fits all proposition, and it’s the one thing well worth spending the time to get one that fits absolutely properly. Nothing ruins a snorkelling trip more than a poorly fitting mask that leaks all the time.
I have a bog standard snorkel with splashguard and clearance vent in the base. I think it’s one of the Tusa Hyperdry snorkels. The trick with these seems to be mouth feel.
Basic Snorkelling fins tend to be a bit shorter than diving fins, and can come in a variety of configurations. I started with Reeftourer Snorkel fins, and they are great beginner fins. I still use these on a regular basis for lap swimming. Great for calm water snorkelling but I found them a little limiting after a while when I was trying to do longer snorkel dives, or dives in rougher water.
My current preferred fins are the Tusa Liberators in the open heel variety, which do require the appropriate dive booty to fit. Advantage is they are more energy efficient; don’t rub my instep like the Reeftourers because of the booty; and they are a good economical choice.
I also tried out the Shinfins for a while, but they just didn’t quite work for me. They have good efficiency etc, but I had a little bit of a fit issue so they were uncomfortable for me. I friend borrowed them once and ended up keeping them as they were better for her than regular fins. I think it’s a case of if they fit properly they are amazing snorkelling fins.
In short, you don’t need top of the line fins and the economy versions you can get in places like Rebel Sports will do the job. If you get serious about being in the water then the basic dive fins will go a long way towards keeping you happy, but the high tech split fins etc can be overkill as there is no real efficiency advantages on the surface where we are as snorkelers.
I like one-piece dive suits with a back zip. It’s a no fuss comfortable solution to staying warm. My main suit is a Sonar 3mm shorty wetsuit, which fits me like a glove and keeps me plenty warm for most of the time I’m in the water. I’ve been happy in this suit down to about 21°C, and that seems to be the tipping point for when I want something else to keep me warm. I also have a 5mm semi-dry long suit, which I bought end of winter 2010. I’ve yet to get it in the water due to various reasons related to not being back in the water until February 2011 for one or 2 swims and then I haven’t made it back. I’m actually hoping to try out the suit sometime soon.
I also have a Lavacore long sleeve thermal top, which I use for lap swimming when it’s colder, and as my main suit in Cairns last August. (Water temp of ~24-25°C). I like the top, but find it a little bit cooler than my shorty wetsuit. It’s equivalent to 2mm neoprene would be my guess. A little bit pricey, but worth the money if you use it on a regular basis.
When it comes to wetsuits, make sure you buy one that fits you properly. Gaps and big air pockets around the body will make life in the water difficult, and you won’t enjoy it. A properly fitting suit that fits like a second skin though is truly a wonder for thermal regulation and as I will attest makes the whole activity extremely pleasurable and relaxing.
I have a 3kg weight, which I use to counter the extra flotation of the wetsuit. It just means I get more duck dive time when I’m playing around with my camera in the water. Definitely not essential, and not something I started using until after I’d gotten a bit of experience in the water.
This is really a subject requiring its own dedicated page. Modern waterproof digital cameras are the way to go, and the money you pay reflects the depth you can duck dive to. My limit is about 5m, so I opted for the Olympus µTough camera with a 10m depth rating to give me leeway. You can get waterproof casings for cameras, but for the cost involved I reckon you’re better off just buying the waterproof camera in the first place. Make sure it has a lanyard, and that you set it up to stay on your wrist. There’s no point taking the photos if you drop the camera and can’t recover it from depth.
This is more of an issue if like me you have a car with an integrated remote key. These integrated remotes don’t like water at all so you need some way of carrying the key whilst in the water. (I’m not a fan of the magnetic key cases at all) This is one of the things you might have to get from a dive shop, which can sell you cases designed to take these sorts of things. My advice is to take your key and try them for size. There are several variants, and they all do the same job. I use the screw type tube in a day-glo fluoro colour that I can attach to my weight belt, since it floats and should be easier to find if it gets away from me during the dive.
Regular keys can be carried on a lanyard, either on a wrist or around your neck. Some wetsuits even have key pockets built into them just inside the top of the zipper.