What are the Dangers of Full-Face Snorkel Masks?
Snorkeling doesn’t require much equipment, but there are a few main items every snorkeler needs: a snorkel, mask, and a set of fins. Of late, full-face snorkel masks have been introduced to the market and have become quite popular.
However, with the rise in popularity of this type of mask, there were also incidents and accidents that were blamed on these full-face masks. Are they unsafe? What are the dangers of a full-face snorkel mask?
Unlike conventional and traditional snorkel goggles that do not cover your face, full-face ones are designed to prevent water from getting to your face and into your nose or mouth. But, there have been many questions surrounding whether or not it is even safe to use a full-face mask.
So let’s dive right into it!
What is a Full-Face Snorkeling Mask?
A full face snorkel mask looks drastically different than a traditional mask and snorkel. Their main advantage is to have a much wider field of view, be more comfortable by allowing you to breathe through your nose or mouth, and reduce fogging up as you snorkel in the ocean or lake. You also don’t have to attach a snorkel as it’s integrated into the mask.
These goggles have everything built into one piece, the lens as well as typically a dry-top snorkel. It eliminates the need to buy different pieces of snorkel equipment as it comes in one piece. The dry snorkel ends up in a chamber through which you breathe.
This enables snorkelers to breathe through their mouth and nose (basically the way we breathe on land) and is considered to be the more comfortable option. Full-face masks also give a clearer view, which can also be a reason for their recent popularity.
Are Full-Face Snorkel Masks More Dangerous than the Traditional Ones?
Of course, if you’re using gear that is going to seal your face completely, there will be some obvious risks involved. There have been quite a few known incidents where:
- Snorkel floats got stuck in the tube and cut off the snorkeler’s air supply
- The pieces of the mask didn’t fit properly and leaked
- The silicone used was of poor quality and was unable to create a proper seal
- The masks were so ill-fitted that they were tightened too much and made snorkelers extremely uncomfortable leading to mask squeeze and facial barotrauma.
There is no evidence that a snorkel mask that covers your face and has a breathing chamber would be more dangerous than traditional masks if used in the same way. However, a lot of people don’t use these new masks the same way as the old snorkel goggles.
The increased comfort and visibility underwater might lead to prolonged snorkeling adventures which in turn can lead to exhaustion and CO2 build-up in the mask. Taking regular breaks where the mask is lifted off the face and the air inside the mask is being completely exchanged will reduce the chance of something going wrong.
Why Can a Full-Face Mask Be Dangerous?
Some snorkelers have raised concerns about the dangers of the full-face mask being completely sealed (Should you Buy a Full Face Snorkeling Mask?). That could lead to a potential buildup of carbon dioxide within the mask. This can make the snorkeler feel spaced out and may even make them unconscious.
The advantages of using such a mask become the downside in this case. As such a full-face snorkel mask is a lot more comfortable to use, a snorkeler can perform the activity for a much longer time. This could in very rare cases cause a build-up of CO2 in the mask.
Some snorkel mask producers state straight off that their masks are meant for casual snorkelling. They are not meant for heavy-duty purposes since they won’t let you get enough oxygen for strenuous movement and potentially could lead to a buildup of CO2 inside the mask.
You might also think that water getting into the mask can be of danger. Most of the full-face masks come with a purge valve that makes it easy to expel any water inside and therefore pretty much eliminates any risk of suffocating.
How Do You Stay Safe?
Obviously, the first step is to get a snorkel mask from a well-known manufacturer or brand. Once you have it, you can follow some precautionary measures to avoid any unfortunate incidents:
Practice Wearing and Removing the Mask
Even though it sounds quite simplistic, practice wearing your mask until you can wear and remove it quickly and easily. After all, you don’t know what sort of situations may arise in the water so you need to be prepared.
Keep an Eye on CO2 Buildup
The early symptoms of CO2 overdose include breathing problems, hyperventilation, drowsiness, haziness, and reduced consciousness. If you experience anything like this when you are swimming, stop and remove the mask as soon as you can to avoid drastic situations, such as convulsions or a complete loss of consciousness.
You can also simply have regular intervals while you snorkel and take the goggles off for a few seconds to exchange the air inside the mask completely. This pretty much guarantees that there’s no co-2 build-up inside that ever could get to a level that is a danger to your health.
Practice Equalizing with a Full-Face Snorkel Mask
First off, full-face masks aren’t meant for swimming underwater or to be used as a full-face scuba diving mask. If you still decide to do so, equalize the pressure in your ears close to the water surface before wading out.
Always Have a Snorkel Buddy to Reduce any Chances of Drownings and Accidents
Having a snorkel buddy will not only make the experience more fun, but you’ll also have someone you can turn to for help in case your equipment malfunctions or there is some other type of emergency. They’ll also be there for you if you have a sudden panic attack. When you go snorkeling with children then certainly all family members become the snorkel buddies for each other.
Do Your Research on Full Face Snorkel Masks – Check the Reviews
Knowing whether there are jagged rocks close to the shore, what the current is like, if there are any expected winds, etc., can help you prepare for your snorkeling adventure in advance. However, not only should you get comfortable with your surroundings but also look through the research that’s available.
Review the Media Coverage of Snorkel Deaths
CBS News and other major outlets ran a lot of stories on how snorkelers drowned using a full face snorkel mask. They were snorkeling in Hawaii and it got a lot of press at the time.
Masks have evolved since and gotten safer. However, many tour operators in Hawaii and other locations do not use full face snorkel goggles anymore. There were also warnings by the health department of Hawaii about using such snorkeling masks.
Ideally, full-face snorkel masks should not be used in harsh weather and water conditions since you’ll need to exert more energy. Also, there is a greater risk of CO2 buildup inside your mask.
Modern masks like the Subea Easybreath, Ocean Reef Aria, Wildhorn Outfitters Seaview 180, to name a few, are safe. They design and manufacture masks of the highest quality to reduce any incidents or CO2 buildup that could lead to drownings or other accidents. Also, make sure to check out reviews that you can find online and in forums.
Stay Calm and Don’t Exhaust Yourself – Review your Breathing
Don’t overexert yourself by saying that it’s just another few feet. If you start feeling the symptoms of CO2 building up inside, stop, and remove the mask. If you intend to snorkel out to a longer distance and wish to spend more time observing marine life, a conventional mask and snorkel are the better option.
Keep an Eye on How Long your Snorkeling
The problem that can be faced with full-face masks is that they are too comfortable. Traditional masks make breathing harder as you have to clamp down on the mouthpiece and suck air through the snorkel and mouth. Review the time you’ve been snorkeling without taking your head out of the water to make sure you exchange the air in your mask regularly.
Full-face snorkel goggles are a lot more comfortable as they cover the nose and mouth which leads to snorkelers staying out a lot longer. This could cause snorkelers to get tired and exhausted and due to flatter breathing there could be a build-up of CO 2 in the mask. This in combination with the exhaustion from the long snorkeling could cause accidents and even lead to drownings.
Know Your Stuff and the Dangers of CO 2
Always be aware of all the important information, such as how to defog your mask, how to fit it on your face properly, etc., so that it doesn’t cause discomfort or blur your vision during your dive. Learn how to loosen and tighten the straps easily so that you can remove the mask easily in case of emergencies.
Are Full-Face Snorkel Masks Safe to Use?
With a full-faced snorkel mask, the most important thing is to be aware of all the risks involved and how to combat them.
Make sure you take care of the following things:
- Get the mask from a reputable brand
- Practice using it on land before you start using it to snorkel.
- Don’t overdo it and think of safety first – get your head out of the water at regular intervals
If you snorkel with a full-face mask (e.g. the Seaview 180° V2 from Wildhorn Outfitters) and use it to the same degree as you would use a traditional mask and snorkel set, then they are safe to use. One caveat is that they have to fit correctly and that the mask itself is from a recognized brand.
Cheap knock-off full-face masks can very well be more dangerous to use than the brand masks from Subea, Wildhorn Outfitters, Head/Mares, Ocean Reef, SEAC, and others, to name a few! Stick with reputable brands and you should be fine to use such a mask.
Rather have a snorkel set with a traditional mask? Have a look at our reviews of the best snorkeling sets that come with high-quality gear!
Have People Died Using Full-Face Snorkel Masks?
There was news about a number of snorkel-related deaths in Maui (Hawaii) where many blamed the full-face snorkel mask as being the root cause.
Were the deaths in Hawaii related to full-face snorkeling masks?
However, people may be quick to jump to conclusions out of suspicion over foreign equipment. Out of a number of deaths reported in Hawaii, there were only 2 snorkelers who were using full-face snorkel masks, so it is quite unclear if these were the actual cause of death or not.
With the majority of snorkel related deaths in Hawaii and elsewhere being not from those types of goggles, we think it’s fair to say that the full-face goggles are not necessarily more dangerous or specifically leading to death compared to traditional snorkel sets.
What other factors play a role?
With a number of other factors, such as weather conditions, tides, and water currents, and even just a snorkeler who may have suffered from a wave of panic, it is difficult to tell whether a full-face snorkel mask can actually lead to death or something else happened.
Don’t forget that there’s a difference between snorkeling in the calm waters of a pool vs snorkeling in the ocean. There are currents to swim against, waves, wind, etc. that you experience in the ocean that you would not face in a pool.
Is snorkeling easy or a workout?
Therefore, while snorkeling might look easy, it can be quite a workout. If you’re not in shape, then snorkeling far off-shore in the ocean will be dangerous no matter what kind of mask you use!
Facing these dangers due to unpreparedness can, in the open water, lead to fatal incidents and accidents. They are not related to the type of gear you use but simply due to circumstances.
Especially, since most likely there weren’t many people around, there may not be any eyewitnesses either.
Are Full-Face Masks for Children Safe?
The main thing is to always supervise your children when they are snorkeling. As long as the mask you get for them is of good quality, they’ll be comfortable in it because they can breathe regularly and the mask provides better vision.
Make sure your children know how to adjust the straps and remove the mask easily and they’ll be fine. Teach them to take breaks and treat snorkeling as a fun activity and not as a workout!
Similar to the adult versions, make sure you purchase high-quality masks from well-known brands including Ocean Reef, Wildhorn Outfitters, Head (Mares), Aqualung, or the Tribord Easybreath to name a few. These masks are used thousands of times without issues and designed to prevent any CO-2 build-up inside the breathing chamber.
Is it Best to Use a Brand Name Mask vs. a Cheap Knock-Off?
It is important to select a full-face mask from a reputable brand and to choose a model that has been successfully tried and tested. Knock-offs may use low-grade materials that will not fit well and will be made of low-quality silicone, which won’t seal properly.
This will cause you to exhale carbon dioxide into the mask. This CO2 will mix with the moisture and the combination of the two will fog up your view. If you end up consuming too much carbon dioxide, it can also make you dizzy and unconscious.
Known and reputable brands and masks like the Subea/Tribord Easybreath, the Wildhorn Outfitters Seaview, or from Head/Mares, Ocean Reef (Aria), or Aqua Lung provide panoramic views that are safe to enjoy while you snorkel.
Should You Use a Full-Face Mask?
Despite some risks involved, at the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference. If you feel more comfortable in a full face snorkel mask, then get a good one and it’ll enhance your snorkeling experience.
Just remember: these masks are meant for leisurely snorkeling and should be strictly avoided by professional and serious snorkelers who should stick to a traditional mask. For most people, the benefits outweigh the risks when using these goggles responsibly.
Apart from that, just stay away from knock-offs and you’ll be fine using full-face masks. Check the reviews you can find online before buying. Please share your experiences below in the comments.