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tube through which a submarine or diver can draw air while underwater. When in use, the top of the snorkel tube extends above the water surface into the air. The first snorkels were probably devised in ancient times out of the hollow reeds that are common to many lakes and marsh areas. Since they are mentioned by Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist of the 1st cent. A.D., it is certain that such devices were in use during the early years of the Roman Empire. The first modern snorkel was devised by Leonardo da Vinci at the request of the Venetian senate. It consisted of a hollow breathing tube that was attached to a diver's helmet of leather. The present-day diver's snorkel is typically a J-shaped tube that is open at the top and has a mouthpiece at the other end. Usually no more than 2 ft (61 cm) long, the snorkel can only be used as a breathing device when a diver is swimming face down near the surface. At greater depths, the diver must hold his breath and keep his tongue over the mouthpiece to prevent water seepage. When the diver nears the surface, a strong exhalation will clear the tube of water so that breathing can begin again. A common type of toy snorkel used by many children is S-shaped, with a plastic ball or cork that automatically rises into the upper part of the tube to prevent water seepage in subsurface dives. Because this simple valve works imperfectly, however, such snorkels are not used by skilled divers. The extensible snorkel of the submarine is usually used while the ship is submerged at about periscope depth. The air it supplies is necessary for the operation of the vessel's diesel engines. A submarine snorkel is normally equipped with safety devices that prevent seepage even if the water level should rise above the tube. When the devices are in use, the engines operate with air from the interior of the vessel. The engines are, in turn, equipped with devices that halt their operation when the air pressure in the submarine falls below about 12 psi (83×103N per sq m). Engine exhaust is discharged through a pipe somewhat shorter than the snorkel.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a special device that enables a submarine to run underwater on diesel power and to recharge its storage batteries without surfacing. Consisting of a pair of tubes approximately 10 m in length and 30–40 cm in diameter, the snorkel can be extended slightly above the surface when the vessel is submerged. One tube of the snorkel is used to provide fresh air, and the other, to remove exhaust gases. Special valves on the snorkel prevent water from entering the engines when the sea is running.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Any tube which supplies air for an underwater operation, whether it be for material or personnel.
(naval architecture)
A tube or pair of tubes for air intake and exhaust that can be extended above the surface of the water for operating submerged submarines.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. a device allowing a swimmer to breathe while face down on the surface of the water, consisting of a bent tube fitting into the mouth and projecting above the surface
2. (on a submarine) a retractable vertical device containing air-intake and exhaust pipes for the engines and general ventilation: its use permits extended periods of submergence at periscope depth
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005