Scuba Diving Instructor's Guide to Mask & Snorkel

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MASK MATTERS

A good Dive Mask  lasts for years and if you get the right one you will probably never need to buy an other. If you're a vacation only diver this should really be the only essential piece of scuba gear you'll ever need so make sure it's a good one!
If you can test it, try this: Place the mask to your face but don't pull the strap over your head. Sniff in the little air trapped in the mask and shake your head side to side. If the mask stays on, it fits.
While diving or snorkelling, you will need to release small amounts of air into the mask through your nose to equalise the air inside the mask to the outside pressure. (Failing to do so results in a 'mask-squeeze" which would make you look like a Giant Panda...not cool.)

MATERIAL SELECTION

Q: Plastic or Glass Lens?
A: GLASS LENS. Tempered Glass to be more precise. It means that the lens is very strong and if it breaks it cracks rather than splinters. (think windscreen) - though I have never seen one even crack. Plastic lens masks are toys and should only be used for playing in the paddling pool in the backyard.

Q: Two Lens Or One?
A: TWO one lens masks have larger volume capacity for air and for water too if the mask should ever leak. And it might if you smile underwater! Clearing the mask is easier if it's less flooded. There is a misconception that a single lens mask provides larger area of view. Not true. It's the angle the lenses are placed not their size that matter. Aim for a mask that isn't straight but bends at the centre at a slight angle. (Unless you have a huge flat face like Sumo wrestler or an enormous nose.) Presciption lenses are available for dive masks, although if you can wear Contact Lenses do so. Make sure to shut your eyes while clearing water from your mask. Your dive instructor will teach you how to clear your mask underwater safely and properly. 

Q: Side Lens? 
A: NO! It's a silly gimmick that will not provide you with more peripheral vision but will refract light and this is particularly annoying when looking up side ways and on Night Dives. (Plus the extra bulk adds to a drag especially in a strong current. I saw a side-view masks get ripped off a diver's face on Wreck dive and sank so fast we couldn't recover it.)

Q: Rubber, Plastic or Silicon Skirt?
A: SILICON SKIRT. Softer than plastic, moulds better to your face. The flexible nose-pocket will allow you to equalise by pinching your nose. (That is to relieve the pressure on your eardrums when you descend under water.) The softer the silicon the more comfort and fit you get. A wide skirt is essential for most ladies and those with smaller faces. A narrow skirt may let water in when you smile. (Which we hope you'll do when you see a shark.)

SIZE and BRAND SELECTION

Q: How Do I know my size?

A: Masks don't come in set, separate sizes so you really dependent on style and even brand to some extent. Scubapro and Cressi make excellent low volume masks that I found great, can be especially useful for women and smaller faces. Aqualung and Mares seem to favour larger designs and appeal more to the macho, macho man. Tusa is on the lower price range but pretty good and seems to be popular with teenagers. Sherwood's weird sad clown face design and Oceanic's similar but more rounded style supposedly collects water at the exaggerated bottom corner which I think is just flat ugly...and as any good scuba diver knows; style is everything! :)

Some special considerations: Moustache, Beard: one word for you hairy men, Vaseline. slap it on your facial hair to help the sealing. Large nose: Get a mask with a high bridge or a single lens mask which often have more space. Ladies: please don't put make up for diving. (My group once had to abort a great dive because one of the diver's false eyelash fell off and she got 'scared' by the strange object stuck to the inside of her mask's lens...go figure.)

Q: How the get the best out of your mask: 

Before going in the water, spit on the lenses to prevent them from fogging up. (Dish washing liquid is often used but it's harmful for sea life. Expensive, pre-packed defogging solutions are for sissies, beginners and 'prima donnas'. Spit works best!

Always put on the front first then pull the strap over your head (not the other way round as over pulling the silicon strap will weaken it.

Adjust the strap to be comfortable, never pull it tight. Tight strap causes the silicon skirt to curl out breaking the seal.  

Putting on a wide, neoprene strap band (a bit like your shoulder strap band, will help slipping, provides comfort and stops silicon strap pulling your hear out when removing it.)

Soak your mask in clean fresh water after using it in and remember to dry it. This will prevent that nasty black fungus growth rental masks so often suffer from. Do not use chemicals or vinegar to clean your mask!

SNORKELS

Majority of Scuba Divers use their snorkels only for short surface swims so a cheap and simple snorkel tube will do the job. Leave fancy snorkels with bulky exhaust valves,  flexible tube sections and water stopping tops for those long surface floats over the shallow reefs. Those extra features catch in your regulator hose during diving and drag next to your head. I always have my little tube snorkel tucked in my BCD as it can get in the way when I take pictures.

If you are planning a snorkelling vacation, buy the bright coloured, fancy snorkel with all the bells and whistles. They do work and are very visible which is a good thing in a crowded resort area with motorised 'reef killers' about.Get one with a wide, silicon mouth piece for comfort. Care for it the same way as the mask. 

FINALLY

Never put your mask on your forehead. For one it's a sign of distress. Divers keep the mask around their neck when not under water. Mask on forehead does not only single you out as a beginner but it can also slip off and get lost in the water very easily.Remember what I told you?; Style is everything! 

Cool divers are safe divers. Breath, Think, Act and Never Ever Hold Your Breath! :) 


(This review was written by Vicky Nagy, PADI Scuba Instructor and Underwater Photographer who had made over 4000 dives all over the world from The Great Barrier Reef to the Galapagos Islands. She is not affiliated with any dive related organization, retailer or manufacturer. All opinions and recommendations in this article are based purely upon personal experience.)


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