Can ATV’s Go In Water? (Don’t ignore this top tip)

ATV’s can pretty much go anywhere, I’ve gotten plenty stuck in mucky ditches. But water always make me shiver, because I’m a mechanic, and I know what water can do to an engine.

ATV’s can go in water, but they must have a special snorkel kit fitted. The snorkel allows the engine breath while submerged. Without the snorkel kit, the engine would likely be damaged beyond repair.

In this post you’ll learn what an ATV snorkel kit is, where it’s fitted and how it’s tested. You’ll also learn about the devastating damage water can do to an ATV engine, in 2 seconds flat.

What’s a Snorkel

An ATV engine as you know, needs air and gas in order to run. The air is forcefully sucked into engine through the air-box (positioned under the drivers seat), by the piston as it moves down the cylinder, on the intake stroke.

Any water in the air or fuel system will shut the engine down immediately.
A rider must not allow water get any where even close to the air-box, to do so, risks some expensive repairs. (more on that later)

But deeper water equals more fun, right. So the solution is a snorkel kit.

The concept is as you guessed the same as a divers snorkel. A extended duct is added to the air-box and positioned as high as possible on the bike.

The hood is the usual location for the intake opening. This allows the rider keep a close eye on the water level in relation to the intake opening.

Fitting a Snorkel

Before buying a snorkel kit, do your research really well. See what your bike needs and only buy a quality brand by a retailer that will stand over the kit.

A cheap poor quality snorkel kit can cost you your engine.

You can fit snorkel kit your self, but do test it before hitting the drink. The safest method for testing, is compressed air and soapy water.

I use a leak down tester to compress the intake system and you can use soapy water at connectors to check for escaping air.

Even the smallest leak will shut down the engine.


We’re not quite water ready yet, if your ATV’s transmission runs a CVT system (Belt driven) it will also need to be protected from the water and crap in the water.

If the belt gets wet, you’ll lose traction and likely damage the belt and clutches, all expensive repairs.

Your CVT housing has an inlet and out let to allow for airflow around the components. Snorkelling ducts need to attached to them also and extended as high as possible.

So too for the engine crankcase and a host of other breathers, including, front and rear diff, carb vent, gas tank vent and possibly others, that’s why it’s important to do all the research for your model ATV first.


The electrics on your ATV are pretty durable and they need to be, because they have everything thrown at them. Water however, is your ATV’s electrical systems greatest challenge.

Mission critical electrical connectors are engineered to be water tight. Rubber seals inside the connectors and on individual pins all help keep moisture and dirt out, but problems arise in older bikes.

The seals are often missing, perished or misaligned. End result is electrical gremlins either as you enter the water or soon afterwards.


Water that enters a stalled engine won’t destroy it, but water that enters a running engine, is in serious trouble.

Riding an ATV hard into deep water without a proper functioning snorkel, will allow water into the air intake box.

From there, the water is sucked on into the engine and fills the cylinder bore, it’s a condition known as hydro-locking.

So what’s the problem with hydro-locking? Water isn’t compressible and when the piston comes back up the cylinder under force and tries to squeeze the water, something has to give.

The piston con-rod is the usual loser and repairing this kind of damage isn’t cheap.

John Cunningham

John Cunningham is an certified mechanic and writer on I’ve been a mechanic for over twenty years, I use my knowledge and experience to write articles that help fellow gear-heads with all aspects of ATV ownership, from maintenance, repair to troubleshooting.

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