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

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

ATVs can go in the water, but they must have a special snorkel kit fitted. The snorkel allows the engine to breathe 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 to run. The air is forcefully sucked into the engine through the airbox (positioned under the driver’s 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 to get anywhere, even close to the airbox. 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. An extended duct is added to the airbox and positioned as high as possible on the bike. The hood is the usual location for the intake opening. This allows the rider to keep a close eye on the water level in relation to the intake opening.

ATV with snorkel

Fitting a Snorkel

Before buying a snorkel kit, do your research really well. See what your bike needs and only buy a quality brand from a retailer that will stand over the kit. A cheap poor quality snorkel kit can cost you your engine. You can fit a snorkel kit yourself, 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 outlet to allow for airflow around the components. Snorkeling ducts need to attach to them also and be 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 system’s greatest challenge. Mission-critical electrical connectors are engineered to be water-tight.

Rubber seals inside the connectors and on individual pins help keep moisture and dirt out, but problems arise in older bikes. The seals are often missing, perished, or misaligned.

The result is electrical gremlins either as you enter the water or soon afterward.


Water that enters a stalled engine won’t destroy it, but the 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.

ATV cylinder water

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.

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