I hate scuba diving. That’s not to say I’ve ever tried it, but frankly it seems like a lot of hassle to me. First there’s the need to be certified, and that requires both training and effort – two things low down on my priority list when I’m on holiday.

Then there’s the dread: the fear of my mask filling up, the terror of running out of air, the horror of what my wobbly bits look like in a wetsuit. Generally, it’s just not my cup of tea.

And while I’m reliably informed that the vast majority of sea animals found around these parts can’t harm me at all, that does leave room for a vast minority that can hurt me very much indeed.

So all in, I feel quite sure that the key to tropical bliss is snorkelling. It may not reflect the pioneering spirit of Jacques Cousteau but bobbing around on the surface enjoying the sights without disturbing either the wildlife or the underwater fauna seems to be the perfect middle road for people who want to see and be unseen.

And what a lot there is to see here – Malaysia’s coral reefs are home to one of the most prolific congregations of underwater life on the planet, forming an ecosystem some say is rivalled only by the rainforests of the Amazon and the Congo.

Before jumping straight in though, there are some basics that you need to know. Obviously, your selection of mask and snorkel are important. Fit and comfort are vital ingredients if you want to spend your time looking around rather than having to lift your head out of the water every few minutes to drain away accumulating liquid.

Get this done properly. Half an hour in a scuba shop will see you equipped with a mask perfectly suited to your phizog. To try on the mask, move the strap out of the way, brush your hair to one side, and just push the mask firmly onto your face. If it will remain there unsupported, then it is making a good seal.

Once you have determined which masks will fit properly, other considerations are comfort, field of vision (some masks permit more view to the sides than others) and, of course, the cost.

Don’t forget to get a snorkel also, and maybe a spare strap to hold it to your mask. The snorkel mouthpiece should be soft with flexible edges to be comfortable in your mouth.

“There’s nothing worse than having ill-fitting equipment,” says Bob Brunswick, a professional diver with more than 25 years of experience in both scuba and snorkelling. “If you get a mouthpiece that’s too big it just rubs against your gums, making them sore.

“It’s much better to take the time to get the right kit. It may feel like a bit of a pain when you know the hotel you’re staying at has masks to rent, but I guarantee that you’ll be the one reaping the rewards when everyone else is struggling under the water.”

If you really feel like waddling into the sea looking like a pro, you might want to consider some fins. “In all honesty, fins aren’t really a necessity for snorkelling,” says Bob. “But they do help you to get down more quickly so that you can see more of the underwater world on that breath of air.”

With kit on, and back thoroughly sun-screened, it’s time to take to the water. But there’s one last thing to do. Inform someone where you’re going? You definitely should, but that’s not what I was alluding to. It’s the bit that kids especially love: the well-known diver’s trick of spitting inside the face of the mask to stop it fogging up.

“Spit keeps the air on the inside of the mask from condensing on the glass,” explains Bob. “Masks fog up because the inside is often dirty or dusty. Spit cleans off the dirt, making it much harder for condensation and fog to form. It may not be sanitary, but for most divers it works just fine.”

The technique couldn’t be more simple: offer up a reasonable mouthful of your finest saliva, wipe it around the inside of the mask with your finger and rinse out with seawater just before placing it on your face.

To keep the snorkel upright while you are swimming face down on the surface, the snorkel fastening will need to be adjusted properly on the mask strap. Since the snorkeller cannot see the snorkel while it’s in use, it may be helpful to have someone watch you to help find the proper adjustment.

Now you can swim along the surface, breathing through the snorkel and observing the world below. When you see something interesting you can hold your breath and dive down to have a closer look.

“In order to stretch your time below, it is important to be relaxed and not expending a lot of energy,” says Bob. “To dive down under the surface, rotate your body so that you can put your head straight down and stick your legs straight up and out of the water.

“Then let gravity do its thing and you should be on your way down without moving a muscle. When your downward speed has deteriorated you can start kicking to continue. For the return to the surface, tilt your head back and watch where you are going. You wouldn’t want to bang your head on the bottom of a boat.”

Key to doing this without ending up coughing and spluttering with a mouth full of water is to keep enough air in your lungs so that after you break the surface you can send a quick burst of air through the snorkel to help expel any remaining water. Make sure you also keep your head still back so that the open end of the snorkel will be pointing down as you bob up.

Generally, scuba divers are taught to return to the surface with one hand stretched upward to prevent them from banging their head and also to be more visible to boat traffic. It’s not a bad idea for snorkellers to do the same.

Plus, it gives your friends on the shore a chance to see you having a great time in the water and look on enviously. All that fun – so little effort. Perfect.

Richard Ryan