ATV Snorkel 101: How it Works and Why You Need One

Driving an ATV across large and varied terrains requires you to have it fully equipped to overcome any challenge, the addition of a snorkel is a simple but effective way to make your ATV more effective.

Adding a snorkel to your ATV means it can cross deeper water, operate more efficiently, get through muddier areas, and to keep damaging fluids like mud and water out of the engine.

These are the clear advantages of having a snorkel on your ATV. However, there are several things to consider before going through with the process. The variety of snorkels, the position, and the snorkel made for your ATV are all things that you need to consider.

These are the basics of a snorkel and why you need one:

What is a snorkel for an ATV?

Simply put, snorkels are piping systems that extend the intake for your vehicle, allowing it to breathe in fresh air much easier. However, this simple answer limits the ways that snorkels help a vehicle and why they are so popular with off-road enthusiasts.

Let’s start by looking at the engine. Any type of gas engine is a closed environment. There are only two things that come in from separate spaces, the fuel, and fresh air to make the required combustion. Fuel systems are easy to close off, stopping any water from entering the closed system. However, air is not the same. Fresh air must be sucked in from somewhere for an ATV to function properly.

This is where the snorkel comes in. Without it, the highest point of the ATV engine compartment is used as the air intake position. This limits the depths of any water the ATV can cross, even with a bow wave that precedes the vehicle. Any amount of water that gets past the filtrations system will cause some damage to be done to the vehicle, and eventually, it will break the engine and can cost thousands to be fixed.

Snorkels, on all vehicles, help engines to overcome the problem of not having access to fresh air. By creating a filtered pipe system that is significantly higher than the rest of the vehicle, it becomes easier to keep your ATV going. This is how snorkels work on most vehicles, letting in fresh air from a higher position that will let it go through deeper water without getting water or mud clogged.

This is the basics of what a snorkel is; a way to keep the closed system that all engines are, from being contaminated.

Who needs an ATV snorkel?

Snorkels aren’t meant for everyone; hobby drivers may find that adding a snorkel to their ATV is not what they want. This is because snorkels can cost extra money and require special maintenance. However, there are several groups of people that would want to use a snorkel.


The most common use you will find for snorkels on ATVs are farm-based, this is where workhorse ATVs are. These ATVs may never be needed to travel at highway speeds over dirt roads. However, they are built to be reliable, and the farmers that use them require their ATVs to reach almost any location on their farms.

Adding snorkels to these ATVs then means that farmers can easily use them to drive through rivers, lakes, or work on their farm in even the worst weather. Mud may clog engines; water will get in the air vents, and filtration systems are not made to withstand the fine dust that working with animal feed creates. This can be solved by adding a more robust filtration system and a set of snorkels that let the engine only breathe in the freshest of air.


However, this brings the question of why high-speed ATVs would need snorkel systems, which is where the enthusiast comes in. These are people that like to use their ATVs for everything they can be used for, from working a bit extra, speeding down dirt roads, and exploring unknown areas of the world that have only been seen by the wild animals of the world.

For them adding a snorkel is about avoiding issues with water that may be as deep or deeper than their ATV without letting it get water-clogged. Some of their snorkels are the more extreme ones that you will see out there, owing to their need for function of form. Even when the entire ATV is underwater, they need it to move forward.

Further, when they’re riding for several days straight using their ATV, then having a snorkel that ensures clean air enters the engine is a must. This reduces any possible breakdowns that they may have on the way. Cleaner engines mean that your ATV will last longer. Enthusiasts love working on their vehicles, making them as efficient as possible and as fast as regulations allow.

Few other ATV owners need snorkels, and therefore most aren’t aware of their existence. However, there are unique cases where the addition of a snorkel has made drastic changes to what the vehicles can do. Smaller ATVs meant for teenagers and kids are much more susceptible to being waterlogged.

Ride operators

While normal owners of these ATVs may not put snorkels on them, there are ride operators that take people up hiking trails, using ATVs to make it easier and more fun for everyone. In a few cases, these companies will add snorkels to their smallest ATVs, allowing them to easily overcome almost any obstacle, to a relative degree.

The reason these companies prefer to add snorkels to their smaller ATVs is owing to the inexperienced drivers that will be using these vehicles. This means that the drivers won’t know what the limits of their ATVs are and might eventually drive them through water that is much too deep.

Those who need ATV snorkels will learn about them in time and will always find themselves adding them to their vehicles.

Snorkel positions

This is one of two things that will vary significantly between all the ATVs out there. Due to the different shapes and sizes of ATVs, the location of the snorkel would be different for each one. For simple quad bikes, the snorkels are attached to the engine and sticks out the front of the vehicle, for example.

Let’s examine the different types of ATVs and their different possible snorkel positions now:

  • Quad Bikes: These are the normal vehicles when people think of ATVs, and their snorkel position is quite static. The engine of a quad bike is always underneath the driver and will require that the snorkel come out from the front of the driver. This ensures the snorkels are not damaged by the legs of the driver while still being high enough to allow the quad to breathe.
  • Side by sides: These are ATVs that have two or more seats, usually with small roof and windshield that allows you to enjoy the areas of the world that few can, with someone else. The snorkels on these are unique because of the location of the engine intake, usually coming up from the middle or back of the vehicle.
  • Sports ATVs: These are the fast-moving vehicles that are lightweight and strong enough to make them speed across most obstacles. These rarely have snorkels as they are used for specific purposes, and restricting the driver’s view can cause problems and some performance issues. Sports ATVs can have them at the same positions as most other ATVs, but will usually not have them as high.

Quad bikes

Out of all ATVs that use snorkels, quad bikes are the most in need, as these vehicles are used to cross terrain of every type. This is due to their ruggedness and their inherent ability to easily traverse almost every kind of obstacle set out in front of them. This also makes it challenging to put snorkels on them without putting them in a place where they can easily be damaged.

Typically, quad bikes will have snorkels fitted on the front of the bike, where the intake can take in air from the extended pipes that stick out straight from the engine. However, this is rarely seen on quad bikes that aren’t used for special tasks. This is because the addition of a snorkel significantly impacts the ways that you can use your quad bike. Limiting the visibility, you will have on them while driving, which means hobbyists will be limited.

However, when you are using your quad bike in desert or rainy areas, then you will quickly see the advantages of using snorkels. This is due to the deeper waters that can be crossed or the filters that can be added to make your engine stay cleaner when driving through sand. These advantages are why the snorkels on quad bikes are long and in the face of the driver.


Luckily, side-by-side ATV’s are like cars by some designs, which allows the snorkels that you can attach to them to be a lot more discrete. The most common way of adding the snorkel has been to add them just behind the seats of the side-by-side, letting them breathe in from where the driver and passenger are sitting.

This ensures that fresh air always gets to the engine, but it’s strategically placed in such a way that the driver won’t accidentally let the front of the side by side’s dip under water deep enough that would let even the snorkels be submerged. However, if your side by side is entering water that would be too deep for snorkels to get fresh air, then you may want to reconsider the path you are taking.

There are some side-by-sides that have their engines set more to the front of the vehicle, which means that the intakes are also more to the front. For these, the snorkels can simply be mounted out of the side of the vehicle, allowing them to be snaked across the roof and giving the vehicle fresh air even in the deepest of water obstacles.

High performance and Sports ATVs

The problem with all these snorkels is that they will have an eventual effect on the performance of the ATVs. Snorkels can easily let your ATV cross large bodies of water or keep sand filtered out of the engine. But this enhancement causes your engine to have to work slightly harder to breathe when it is doing high-performance work, while performance enhancements can easily be as simple as letting in more air.

Therefore, high-performance ATVs will rarely have snorkels attached to them but instead have advanced filtering systems that block dust or other contaminants from entering the engine. This is why quad bikes, and at one-point tricycles, that was in the Dakar rally never had snorkels attached to them.

Types of snorkels

There are two main types of snorkels, hard-line snorkels, and soft snorkels. Each of them can be fitted with different types of filters and other accessories that make them perfect for what you may use them. Luckily, there are limits to where these can be used as well. Soft line snorkels cannot be used on quad bikes, while hard-line snorkels are rarely used side-by-side ATVs.

Hard line snorkels

These snorkel kits are used for quad bikes and other similar ATVs because they do not have roof lining to attach the snorkel to. This means that the snorkel will have to support the filter, intake, and many other parts entirely on their own.

Because of this, the snorkels are made from hard plastic or preferably a combination of steel and plastic, allowing the snorkels to easily withstand the operating temperatures that the engine may reach without being damaged. Further, the snorkels face the driver, which means that if there is an accident, they cannot be entirely hard, they should be breakable in case the driver falls over them.

Hard-line snorkels are preferred for some side-by-sides as well when the only place to put the snorkel is in the middle of the cabin, or at the front of the vehicle—creating clear positions where the snorkel juts out and can be easily seen by all those who look at the vehicle. The purpose of hard-line snorkels is to ensure the pies used for it won’t be easily closed off or pinched when bent, thus causing to have trouble getting fresh air.

As always, the goal of the snorkel is to save the engine from accidentally sucking in water or other dangerous contaminants.

Soft line snorkels

These are the snorkels favored by large car owners, and that will ensure your side-by-side ATV won’t be damaged by the hard-line tubing favored everywhere else. This is because they can be routed into stranger shapes and locations without having to make major changes to your ATV.

With soft line snorkels, they are a combination of plastic and soft rubber, allowing the snorkels to be routed around corners. This makes the snorkels much less intrusive to the overall look of the ATV and lets them easily be routed to higher locations. With the soft line tubing, you will be able to keep your ATVs looks intact.

However, one of the more prominent advantages of soft line snorkels is the ability to remove them if needed without making major changes. Further, you can easily route these snorkels to go higher on the roof of the ATV. This, however, does bring several disadvantages of soft-lined snorkels, the limitation that they bring in accessories.

Where hard-line snorkels can have filters attached and be connected directly to fuel injection systems, soft line snorkels are merely additions to what is already existing.


The advantages of having a snorkel on your ATV is almost limitless because they allow your vehicles to reach new depths and distances. Looking at the disadvantages of snorkels you may thing there are few if any real advantages to using them. However, when you list the advantages you quickly learn what to do and how to use them to their best.

Water and mud

The most obvious way that snorkels help your ATV is by keeping water and mud out of your engine when you go through ravines, rivers, or when you’re playing near lakes. Whether you want to or not, your ATV will be used to play in some of the dirtiest, natural areas of the world. This could lead to some of the murkiest water possible. And while your ATV may have some protection from this when it is delivered from the manufacturer, it will not be able to keep everything out.

When your snorkel has been installed properly, your filter and injector have been connected, you should be able to easily ride through some of the weirdest and craziest water obstacles out there. Therefore, snorkels are always as high as they can possibly go, which lets them stay far away from all the dirty water that could easily break your engine.


Snorkels do keep more than dirty water out, though. This is where the sand problem gets limited as well, with several filters that will stop sand and particles. This may seem like no real problem; however, engines and sand almost never mix, and one of the general things that let your ATV get worn down and broken over time is the danger of sand entering the piston area. Over time this sand will scratch the inside of your engine.

This will eventually break your ATV entirely, which is why the addition of extra filters along your ATV will lengthen the age of your vehicle greatly. Getting it on the road and safe for almost any road condition will have you easily have more fun for much longer.


There are several obstacles that must be looked at when you consider adding a snorkel to your ATV. Each of these will affect what type of snorkel you get, whether you should get one or not. Having the right information about what obstacles require more equipment will mean you can have the perfect vehicle for every problem you may face.

  • Running Water: Running water is substantially different from standing water; this is because the obstacles will be massively different. There will be some hidden dangers, and you may not even need a snorkel to overcome them.
  • Standing Water: These can be anything from a simple muddy puddle in the road or a lake that borders the area that you are currently playing in. Depending on the weather, you may find yourself looking to get a full snorkel kit.
  • Desert and Bush Sand: Sand is one of the hidden killers of all engines, and ATVs are not immune to this, however, you can easily add tools to your vehicles that will help them to handle any amount of dust or sand easily.

The problem with running water is that you can easily find a lot of rocks and mud in them that will damage your wheels. This is made much worse when the running water goes across the road that you may be driving on.

Performance Changes

Depending on what kind of snorkel you install, the performance may not be noticeable at all. However, some changes will impact the speed and power of your ATV. The addition of anything that affects how your vehicle breathes will make it either increase or lose some performance.

Snorkels are just simple tools to increase the height of the air intake of the vehicle. Without adding extra filters or narrowing of pipes, they rarely affect the performance of your vehicle. These are the most common types of snorkels as well; merely installing them is a few holes that need to be drilled and bolts to be attached.

However, in most uses for snorkels, extra filtering is added to keep dust and other finer particles out of the system. These filtration systems make it much safer to use your ATV in some of the harshest conditions in nature. However, they can make it hard for your ATV to get enough oxygen to combust effectively. This means that it needs to work harder to deliver the same amount of performance that you may be used to.

This is the negative effect that a snorkel may have on your vehicle, however in some cases using the right snorkel and adding a few select changes will help your ATV to perform better than it ever has before. This is because of the tuning that can be done to the fuel injection system of the ATV, increasing the volatility that your combustion works on.

Some ATVs may even use carburetors that require more flow of air and fuel for the engine to work perfectly. When you add your snorkel to a fuel injection or carburetor system, you can increase the amount of air that the engine uses. This is because the large quantity of air that is in the snorkel can be pulled in much faster if it is larger than the intake that was already on the engine.

In the same way that adding a larger filter increases airflow, a properly sized snorkel will easily improve the performance and sound quality of your ATV. Adding any type of snorkel to and ATV is a simple process and can be done either in your own garage or with the mechanic that you trust to service your vehicle.

When you are installing your snorkel, you can test how it affects performance as well. Simply listening to the sound that your ATV makes when it is revved up will tell you whether or not it is struggling to breathe. By using more complex airflow systems, you can see how easily you will increase the performance until you get the best balance between air and fuel.


Adding a snorkel to your ATV is something that is both easy and can bring many advantages to your adventures. The decision to add them onto your ATVs depends on how you will be using your vehicle and what kind of obstacles you will need to overcome. If you are just a part-time ATV user, it may not be required, while enthusiasts will quickly find their perfect snorkel for their vehicle.

Get your snorkel or simply enjoy your ATV as it is now, whatever you choose to do, be sure to have as much fun as humanly possible!

Louis Pretorius

As an amateur off-road enthusiast, I have always been drawn to outdoor adventure. I have decided to share all of my learning experiences with you as I dig a little deeper into my new-found passion and wonderful world of off-roading. My mission is to create the Ultimate Off-roading space on the internet in the process. Stay safe and happy Off-Roading!

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