Full face snorkel masks seemed to have popped out of nowhere and every snorkeling spot you go to on Maui now, you usually see someone with one of those masks. They seem like an awesome idea and especially after trying on one of the original snorkel masks for the first time, they might seem like the best thing since sliced bread (I never understood that phrase). But be warned, many, if not all, of those masks, have flaws whose risks don’t outweigh the rewards. People always seem to be worried about encountering a shark while snorkeling when they don’t even realize that something else puts them in a much greater risk. We want to address some of the full face snorkel mask dangers that have popped up in Maui’s tourism and boating industry.
Are the full face snorkel masks dangerous? Read on for more info.
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What Is a Full-Face snorkel Mask?
A full-face snorkel mask is a type of snorkeling gear that covers the entire face.
How do I breathe through the mask?
The design of the mask allows you to breathe in through either your nose or your mouth while snorkeling.
Cool! I want one.
Back up, Terry.
Step back and re-think that.
There was a four-week span on Maui where 9 fatalities occurred in the water and many were associated or involved a full face snorkel mask. There are not nearly as many snorkel-related deaths with the conventional snorkel mask.
And a simple Google search brings to light some of the issues Maui has had with the full face masks.
Full Face Snorkel Mask Dangers #1: Ever tried breathing from a balloon that you’ve blown up?
You’re out on the water snorkeling and you take a breath.
What happens is the air that you have exhaled gets trapped in the full face mask and you end up breathing in your exhaled air. You may feel short of breath or you may think that’s just a normal part of snorkeling, but if you don’t get enough fresh air, you could pass out. Even the most avid snorkeler will have a hard time snorkeling if they’re having difficulty breathing.
Full Face Snorkel Mask Dangers #2: Strap it on tight…Or Don’t
Scenario #2: You want to get out on the water and you put the full face mask on, but you don’t want to get any water in the mask. You strap it on super tight, so there’s no chance of getting water in there.
Somehow, water gets in the mask (some masks have a flawed design), and you try to get the mask off, but you strapped it on so tight that you can’t rip it off.
Now you’re trapped in a mask filled with water, and you can’t get it off.
Full Face Snorkel Mask Dangers #3: Want to freedive to get up-close and Personal? Good luck.
For those who have snorkeled before, you may know that to dive down any further than 10 feet, you have to equalize. For the majority of the population, to equalize (pop your ears), you have to be able to squeeze your nose and then blow out. If you wanted to do that with a full face snorkel mask, you would have to either pop the mask off, underwater or wear a nose clip inside the mask, which halfway defeats the purpose of the mask in the first place.
Full Face Snorkel Mask Dangers #4: Going on a Snorkel Charter?
All of the charter boats and snorkel tours know about the problems with the full face masks. Some don’t even let you bring it on the boat, including it in the agreement waiver you sign before you get on the boat, and others just won’t let you use it.
You’ll have just as much luck getting a knife through airport security.
There are some companies that still let you use it, but you’re going to be that person they’ve spotted and had their eye on the entire trip and may not leave you alone. Whether it’s the liability of losing a snorkeler or that they care about your safety and that you’ve enjoyed the day (these guys), they don’t like seeing the full face mask.
Regardless, none of the snorkel charter boats will be happy that you are using the full face mask, let alone bringing it.
Also, according to this website:
As reported by Hawaii Civil Beat, Dr. Philip Foti, an Oahu physician who specializes in pulmonary and internal medicine, addressed a conference, regarding drowning prevention, in 2017, and stated this about full-faced masks: “…there is dead space ventilation in the device that seems greater than in the standard snorkel tube. That dead space can cause carbon dioxide buildup.” This CO2 buildup could cause a person to become disoriented, or, even lose consciousness.
Another issue with the full-faced masks is that they appear to be prone to leaking and fogging up. Rather than creating a tight seal using silicone, around just the eye area, like a standard mask, many (not all) of these masks use lower-quality PVC to create the seal around the mask. As the PVC must cover the entire face, rather than just the eye area, the number of potential failure points is dramatically increased. Some have reported the simple act of squinting may cause leakage.** Because the masks cover the full face, once they fill with water, the user, literally, cannot breathe. Whereas, with a standard mask and snorkel, if the mask fills with water, you can still breath through the snorkel. To compound the matter, with straps that go completely around the head, removing the masks can be difficult. In a panic situation, remembering the steps to remove a full-faced mask may be forgotten.
Don’t Mess with a Good Thing: Here’s our Recommendation for a Great Traditional Mask:
Okay, Don’t Listen to Us: Here’s one that supposedly has less risk…
If you decide against our recommendations and these safety concerns, this new model is said to be less
fatal potentially harmful.
This model has a mask design that addresses some of the issues:
This full face mask has quick release straps so that in a pinch you can get the mask off.
It also has separate intake and exhale chambers, so your breath that you breathe out isn’t mingling with your air that’s coming in. That way, your CO2 isn’t mixing with your O2, and you can breathe easier.
While this is a better option, we still definitely do NOT recommend the full face masks.
While many snorkel boats don’t even allow you to bring the full face snorkel masks on the trip anymore, Molokini Crater is still one of the best spots on Maui to go snorkeling with a normal snorkel mask.
What are the dangers of CO2 in snorkel masks?
If this air isn’t circulated out of the mask properly, the CO2 buildup could cause dizziness, nausea, or even unconsciousness.
What Is the Difference Between a Full-Face Mask and a traditional mask?
Now, while CO2 (carbon dioxide) buildup can happen in both full-face and mask designs, it is a bigger risk in full-face masks.
What are the dangers of tight head straps?
Tighter-fitting head straps also may make it harder to pull off in an emergency.
What should I do if you get stuck in the mask?
Stay calm when you try to take the mask off quickly so that you don’t get stuck in it.
What Should I Do If My Mask Leaks?
Again, practice taking your mask off quickly in case of a seal leak.
Don’t be fooled when searching in Amazon “best snorkel mask.”
It’s hard to face the idea that Amazon might be steering us astray, but their search turns up a handful of the full face masks that have had the issues in the past.
Their searches show their best-selling masks, but they may have not factored in the fatalities that have resulted from them, that is until a recall has been made.
That being said, we personally don’t think it’s worth it.
Recent problems support that the conventional mask is much safer than their full-face counterparts.
The full face snorkel mask dangers far outweigh the benefits of using those masks. A traditional mask tends to have a much simpler design, so there’s less that can go wrong.
In the scheme of things, you’re out snorkeling to have a good time and experience the ocean.
People are always worried about getting attacked by a shark. And while you’re watching your six, looking for sharks while you are out swimming, don’t end up in a bad situation from equipment that may be faulty.
Factoring in these potential dangers, the choice should be simple.
Stick with tried and true.
And then maybe you’ll have a chance when that shark does come cruising by ;).
In calm waters, they may be less scary but in rougher seas, the full-face snorkel masks can be dangerous, especially for beginner snorkelers. You can’t always control the water conditions, but you can control other safety factors, like the snorkeling equipment you use.
Quick update on Maui relating to full face masks. Recently, there was a snorkeler who went missing using a full face mask from the beach. This tragic incident just adds to the list of maladies that have occurred involving these masks. Upon asking lifeguards on the beaches of Maui, the consensus came back that it is much harder to hear people using these masks versus the traditional style. They also see people struggling more often than when using the traditional style snorkels, whether it’s in the water or when they get back and they rip the full snorkels off, as if they can’t breathe.
The whole idea behind snorkeling is to enjoy your time in the water. So then that brings up the question: why would you risk it?
Is someone you care about using a full face snorkel mask?
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Want to find the best spots to use a traditional snorkel mask for snorkeling? Check out the Best 10 snorkel spots on Maui.