How safe are full face snorkel masks or are they dangerous to use?
I recommend you read this before you buy your snorkel mask. Personally, I prefer to snorkel using a separate mask and snorkel, partly because that’s how I learnt how to snorkel. But it also allows me to surface dive and it means that I only need one mask for snorkeling and scuba diving.
Snorkel masks are dangerous because of the "dead Space" and the potential for CO2 build-up. This CO2 build-up usually only becomes a apparent if you begin to breathe more heavily when snorkeling. But if you swim slowly on the surface and breathe normally, this problem shouldn't occur. Additionally, and like most things there are good and bad products on the market. If you buy well, you should be okay, but be aware they have their limitations as you won't to be able to surface dive or use it for scuba diving.
Full face snorkel mask how does it work?
Full face snorkel masks are different to the traditional mask and snorkel kit in how they work.
A snorkel mask allows you to breathe through your nose and mouth, where the traditional mask and snorkel only allows you to breathe through your mouth.
They're different because the snorkel mask fits over your whole face. This difference means that instead of only being able to breathe through your mouth, as you do using a typical mask and snorkel setup, you can breathe through your nose and mouth, like you can normally. But there are difficulties with the concept, which I will explain later in this article.
The snorkel part for the snorkel mask is connected at the top of the face covering. The snorkel tube itself has a dry-valve purge system (or also known as a dry top system) built-in, which prevents water from entering the top of the snorkel.
A snorkel mask has two separate compartments
The inside of the mask is split between two compartments. The bottom section covers your mouth and nose, which is linked to the snorkel via a chamber that runs around the outter rim of the mask, which acts as the exhaust for when you breath out.
When you breath in, two non-return valves on the sides of the compartment that surrounds your nose allow air to be drawn in, which is drawn down from the snorkel.
The second compartment is the viewing section of the mask and claims a full 180 degree view for the person wearing it. It's claimed that, unlike the typical masks, the snorkel mask doesn't fog up, but this isn't the full story either. Please read on to discover more on mask fogging when snorkeling in lower temperature waters.
There are many people (my wife included) that don't like the restriction of only being able to breathe through their mouths. This is one of the reasons why she never took up scuba diving with me. She didn't like the 'mouth-breathing' during her pool 'try-dive' session.
However, having read the reviews and comments from what people say about snorkel masks, some find the full face covering claustrophobic too.
How does the regular mask and snorkel work in comparison?
If you look at the conventional way that a mask and snorkel work, you have a separate mask which fits over your face. The typical mask covers your nose and stops you from breathing through it, forcing you to breath from your mouth instead. There's a silicone nose piece that covers your nose, which is there to prevent water from going up it.
Accompanying the conventional mask is the regular snorkel, which is essentially a long tube with a U-bend at the bottom that is put in your mouth. The other end of the tube (i.e. the snorkel) goes up the side of your face and remains out of the water, after you place your face in the water, which enables you to continue to breath.
This conventional snorkel has a mouth piece, which is put into your mouth and is held in your mouth with small grips that your teeth bite on to (gentle though to avoid damaging the mouth piece). The snorkel is then held to the mask strap at the side of your head with a tie.
As already mentioned, there are some that don't like to breath only through their mouth. However, the traditional mask and snorkel setup does have its advantages over the 'snorkel mask' setup, which I will come on to.
Can you breathe underwater with a full face snorkel mask?
To answer the question as to whether you can you breathe underwater with a full face snorkel mask, it depends on what you mean by 'underwater.'
It's not possible to breath underwater using a snorkel mask or a traditional mask and snorkel, when you're completely submerged. You can only breathe at the surface.
If you mean by 'underwater,' as being completely submerged, then no you can't breathe underwater with a snorkel mask.
For this you will either have to hold your breath whilst you completely submerge yourself (but you'll not be able to do this to any significant depth with snorkel masks, which is explained in the section on 'surface diving with full face snorkel masks'), or alternatively, you could learn how to scuba dive and get a certification.
Scuba diving of course allows you to breathe underwater completely submerged.
However, if what you mean by "can you breathe underwater with a full face snorkel mask," where only your face is submersed under the water, with the top of the snorkel still above the water, then yes you can.
This is what the snorkel mask is designed to do. You'll be able to see things under the water with the mask under the surface, but so long as the snorkel is still above the water, you'll be able to continue breathing.
This is no different to the traditional method of snorkeling with the typical mask and snorkel.
What is the best mask and snorkel?
Before you start looking at who makes the best full face snorkel mask, or whether in fact you buy the typical mask and snorkel kit, you must first decide want type of snorkeling you want to do.
Before choosing the best mask and snorkel. First decide on what you want to use it for. What type of snorkeling you'll be doing and will you also be scuba diving too.
When you first begin to snorkel, it's firstly all about entering the underwater world. The mask, whether this is the full face snorkel mask setup or a mask with a separate snorkel, allows you to submerse your head under the water (making sure the top of the snorkel is still showing above the water), which allows you to see this underwater world.
I learnt to snorkel at a relatively young age, I loved it and still do. So even though I also scuba dive, I still snorkel too.
Surface diving (or skin diving/free diving) with a snorkel mask; can it be done?
Certain snorkelers want to progress their snorkeling to be able to do what's known as a surface dive or a free dive (sometimes termed skin diving). A surface dive allows you to dive down under the water, which gives another perspective on what's to see.
Diving down allows you to take a closer look or to peer under overhangs or to look under rocks.
Using a surface dive when you're snorkeling will also help you to get closer to the action. Diving down is particularly useful if the water is not too clear, where seeing to the bottom from the surface is obscured in deeper water.
Snorkelers who use snorkeling to gather shells (subject to the rules of where you are snorkeling), or are using the mask and snorkel to spear fish, then using a surface dive to free dive is a key part of the activity.
So when choosing the mask and snorkel setup, you not only need to consider the cost and the amount you want to spend on your mask and snorkel, but you also need to consider the activity you are doing.
This decision will influence whether or not you buy a full face snorkel mask or not.
How do you snorkel if you wear glasses and how much are prescription snorkel masks?
If you want to know whether or not you can you wear glasses while snorkeling, the answer is no.
If you need to wear glasses to see, this shouldn't stop you from snorkeling (or scuba diving for that matter).
There are four possible solutions to the problem (well five solutions if your eyesight isn't too bad like mine). So let's look at this option first.
Option 1 - Just use a normal mask or snorkel mask with prescription lenses
When I snorkel or dive, and although I wear glasses to drive, I never wear my glasses underwater. My prescription is very low, so I can still see.
However, there are times when I think I should treat myself to the fifth option in these solutions.
Option 2. Wear your contact lenses that you wear normally
This will work and would be okay with snorkeling. However, in our scuba diver training, it was never advisable to wear contacts underwater, just in case your mask floods and washes the contacts out from your eyes.
When considering this solution, it does depend on your prescription level. If you are still able to see without glasses or contacts like me, but wearing glasses provides that added bit of clarity, then it wouldn't actually matter if your contacts were washed out.
However, if your prescription is a strong one and without glasses or contact lenses you are virtually blind, then this is not a good idea.
Were your lenses to be washed out, which would prevent you from being able to see, this would pose as a risk and would be unsafe.
What about snorkel mask for glasses wearers
With regards to glasses wearers specifically for snorkel masks. Snorkel masks have more secure straps around your head than the typical mask. Therefore, the likelihood of this type of mask being dislodged and your contact lenses being washed away, is unlikely.
Also, as this type of mask cannot be used for diving, the diving problem does not exist either. So therefore, if you are a contact lens wearer, option 2 is probably your best and cheapest solution.
Option 3 - Bonded corrective lenses glued on the inside of your mask lens
With this option, you give your dive mask to your local dive shop, together with your glasses prescription. They send your mask off to a company that grinds a lens to your specification, which is cut to the basic shape of your mask.
The lens is then glued to the inside of your lens with special glue. This option is quite expensive, but is not the most expensive (see the next option).
Option 4 - Custom prescription lenses
This is similar to option 3, the bonded method, but with this solution, the entire lens of the mask is replaced, which is custom-ground to your prescription.
This option gives much better results, but of course is more expensive.
The problem with this solution, which is the same for the previous option is what happens when your prescription changes.
With this option, you would have to send your mask away again, for completely new replacement lenses. Whereas, for the previous option it would be a matter of whether or not the lenses fixed on the inside of the mask can be remove and replaced with new ones.
Option 5 - Drop in lenses for your mask to be retro fitted by you
There's a relatively new and better alternative you can buy. This is to buy a mask that is corrective lens compatible. You then buy the lenses to fit this mask to your prescription and then fit these yourself.
For me the last option is the better of them all, especially where your prescription is high enough to warrant needing glasses. As this works well and is not overly expensive in comparison.
How safe is snorkeling?
Firstly, how safe is snorkeling, what ever the equipment being used? The main point about snorkel safety is about knowing your limitations. I would always recommend to at least be able to swim before you try snorkeling.
Snorkel safety is about snorkeling within your limitations and supervising children when they are first learning the sport. It's important to be a competent and confident swimmer to snorkel.
You want to be able to get yourself out of trouble, if the sea state changes, you get into a current or you happened to stray into an area where the swell could push you against rocks. Which is also about understanding the area you intend to snorkel, whether there are tides or currents and how deep the water is.
Whenever you are starting a new sport, you need to understand the safety side of things first. This is especially true if you're introducing your children to the sport.
Traditionally, snorkeling has been done using a mask with a separate snorkel. However, the new full face snorkel mask has changed this.
What are the risks and limitations of the snorkel mask?
There are a number of limitations or disadvantages to a snorkel mask that you need to consider before you buy one. These include certain safety concerns, of which some worry about the potential build up of CO2. This is particularly true if you use it to do more strenuous swimming.
The limitations and potential disadvantages are as follows:
Full face snorkel mask are they safe?
Snorkeling isn't classed as a dangerous sport, unlike scuba diving. However, there was a snorkeling fatality of a woman drowning whilst using a snorkel mask snorkeling off from Big Island in Hawaii. The cause of her death is not known fully, but in the incident she was wearing a full-face snorkeling mask.
In an article in the Honolulu Civil Beat, Guy Cooper, the woman's husband, raised concerns about the role of the full-face snorkeling mask his wife had been wearing. Cooper said that a surfer had found his wife floating on her back in Pohoiki Bay, Hawaii, with the mask partially pulled up over her nose. "That tells me she was in trouble and tried to get the damn thing off — too late,” he said.
However, before rushing to conclusions on this, in the same article, it's reported that between 2006 and 2015 there were 149 snorkeling-related deaths in Hawaii. There's no specific statistic to show how many of these were through using snorkel masks. It's unlikely to be many, as the Tribord Easybreath snorkel mask was only released in 2014.
The inability to swim quickly whilst snorkeling
The next disadvantage is the inability to swim quickly when wearing a full face snorkeling mask. The way in which the air flow works with the snorkel mask is not as good as the traditional snorkel.
WARNING: If you need to swim back fast to safety whilst snorkeling, a snorkel mask is not the right kit to buy.
There is concern that there could be a build up of CO2 in the mask chamber. With this in mind and after reading a scathing write-up by The Dangerous Snorkel Club about the snorkel mask, I read this a comment.
Comment by a blog follower Gary, who had this to say:
"A little warning if using the easybreathe mask. I almost drowned in the Red Sea, Sharm el, sheik, Egypt 16th October 2015. I had ventured of the reef snorkeling for around ten minutes when I had to swim against the current to reach the jetty. Having to exert myself I found it hard to breathe and get enough air. This resulted in me hyperventilating. I had to remove the mask and try to stay above the waves to get air to breathe. As I struggled to regain control of my breathing I realised that I could not make it back to the jetty with or without use of the easybreathe mask. My only option was to swim into the reef wall where I received bad cuts to my feet and legs. I exited the sea relieved to have escaped with my life. I feel this mask is not suitable if you need swim a lot while snorkeling as it does not provide sufficient airflow."
Also a statement on the website of the EasyBreathe reads:
"Swimming takes a great deal more effort than snorkeling. Just like running requires much more effort than walking. Swimming training will require significant oxygen input and your body will automatically switch to intensive breathing via the mouth. In this case, the respiratory effort using the Easybreath® will be very uncomfortable."
This is confirmation that the snorkel mask is not designed for strenuous swimming.
This disadvantage for the snorkel mask is not the same for typical mask and snorkel kit. The way you breathe through a regular snorkel, makes it easy to swim fast, as your breathing is not restricted in any way.
It's like running when you tend to breathe through your mouth.
Snorkel mask for beards; will they leak?
Beards for the snorkel mask can pose a problem.
Any amount of facial hair can cause leakage problem for all masks. Masks rely on creating a watertight seal against your skin to prevent them from leaking. Beard and mustache hair interrupts this watertight seal.
Even on the Easybreathe website they state: "Gentlemen, beware! Your beard may let in a considerable amount of water. It prevents a perfect seal between the mask's silicone skirt and your skin."
So if you have a beard you could expect to have a leak. The same applies to a traditional mask, but in this case is more about your mustache instead. Whereas the snorkel mask contacts the skin to create a seal around your jaw and chin area, the traditional mask seals around your top lip.
Therefore, mustache wearers may have a slight water leakage problem with traditional masks too.
Surfacing diving or free diving can't be done using a snorkel mask?
As already discussed, you can't use a snorkel mask to surface dive or freedive. This is openly admitted on the Easybreathe website.
Surface diving or free diving, which is also referred to as skin diving, cannot be done using snorkel masks.
The reasons for this is that during the surface dive (or duck dive), the dry top system does not work horizontally, which would mean the snorkel (and the mask) could fill with water.
The main reason for not being able to free dive is becuase you're not able to equalise. Using the traditional mask, you are able to squeeze your nose and blow gentle to clear the pressure in your ears as you descend. However, because you are not able to reach your nose with the snorkel mask, you're not able to equalise and clear your ears on your way down.
If you tried to free dive using a snorkel mask, you could perforate your eardrums.
Snorkel masks have a greater volume of air
The final reason that prevents you from free diving from the surface is the added volume of air in the snorkel mask, compared to the typical mask. On the Easybreathe website they explain that below 1 metres (3.28 feet), the pressure of the mask would become very uncomfortable on your face.
This limitation does not apply to the traditional mask and snorkel setup, where you can very easily duck-dive down from a surface dive by holding your breath. This takes a bit of practice when you are just learning, and is easier done wearing fins.
Snorkel masks can't be used for scuba diving
The design of the full face snorkel mask does not allow it to be used for scuba diving. The main reason for this is the ear equalising problem describe above.
It's likely that as a scuba diver who also snorkels like I do, you'll probably be the type of snorkeler that wants to duck-dive down to explore, rather than remain on the surface.
So you'll probably want to purchase a traditional type of mask in any event for scuba diving.
Mask fogging problems
The supposed non fogging snorkel mask does not exists. The Easybreathe does claim to have an exclusive anti-fog system. However, this only works in water temperatures that are greater or equal to 18 degrees centigrade (64.4 Fahrenheit).
This means that in colder waters around for example the UK, snorkeling in the Mediterranean, or in other waters that are colder than this, the snorkel mask will fog up.
All masks will fog up due the the science behind fogging. Where the temperature of the the water is below the air temperature in the mask it's likely to fog up.
How do you keep a snorkel mask from fogging up?
No mask is devoid of fogging, but you can take steps to avoid your snorkel mask from fogging up.
The first thing about mask fogging is keeping the inside of the lenses clean. If the lens is dirty, it's more likely to fog.
Diving or snorkeling in colder waters means your mask in more likely to fog up. This is due to the science behind why masks fog.
This won't stop you from using your new mask, as you can use the traditional methods to de-fogging it, as you do with a typical mask - see this article "How to stop your dive mask from fogging up; 8 dive mask fog ideas and tips that work."
However, as the lenses on a snorkel mask are not made of tempered glass, like they are on a traditional mask, it's not recommended to use toothpaste or any abrasive material on the lens, to avoid scratching the them.
From what age can you start using the snorkel mask?
The recommended age for children to start using a snorkel mask is around ten years old.
Whilst children can enjoy snorkeling, it's safer to supervise them. But use this as an opportunity to learn with them and to enjoy the underwater world together.
This is probably sensible, and would similarly apply to the traditional mask and snorkel setup too. However, the final decision for this would fall to the parents, after doing their ownresearch.
It's important that children are confident and competent swimmers before being allowed to enter the water to snorkel. I would also suggest that in the early stages of their learning, that they are properly supervised too.
Look at it as an opportunity to do an activity together with the kids. You'll all enjoy discovering the underwater world together.
Snorkel mask Gopro mount
With the snorkel mask there is the added benefit of a Gopro attachment mount on the top of the mask. The fixing and the way this works is actually a great feature of this mask.
However, you can still attach a Gopro to your conventional snorkeling setup too
What is the best mask for scuba diving?
To answer the question of what is the best mask for scuba diving in the context of looking at snorkel masks, it's not going to be the full face snorkel mask you choose.
To scuba dive, as with surface diving/skin diving when you're snorkeling, you need to be able to clear your ears on the way down. As already mentioned, as you descend below the surface, the pressure of water increases, the deeper you go.
The deeper you go, the more you'll need to equalise your ears, which is done by holding your nose and blowing down it. But as your nose is not accessible with a snorkel mask, you're not going to be able to perform this technique.
To equalise your ears you need a traditional mask - you can't clear your ears using a snorkel masks
The only way you'll be able to clear your ears whilst scuba diving is to use a traditional mask, where you're able to pinch your nose in order to equalise your ears, or purchase a full face scuba diving mask.
Specially designed full face scuba diving masks, are made so that you are able to pinch your nose, to allow for equalising the pressure in your ears.
Once you understand the basics of snorkeling, and when you are aware of what's possible to see under the water by snorkeling, you'll realise the its a great sport. Also, it's not expensive to learn and enjoy. In fact it's cheap to do.
However, as with all sports, there are expensive options where you can pay more for the equipment or no so much. This comes down to choice and to an extent what you can or can't afford. There's also the cost associated with getting to the locations of where you choose to snorkel too.
So I think that the snorkel mask has its place. Particularly for those that are happy to do more leisurely snorkeling, and for those that are not looking to do surface dives.
I hope you enjoyed this article about full face snorkeling masks
I’d love to hear from you. Tell us about your adventures of diving and snorkeling, in the comments below. Please also share your photos. Either from your underwater cameras or videos from your waterproof Gopro’s!
If this article hasn’t answered all of your questions. If you have more questions either about snorkeling or scuba diving (or specifically about full face snorkel masks), please comment below with your questions.
There will also be many more articles about scuba diving (and on snorkeling) for you to read and learn about this fabulous sport.
Have fun and be safe!