HEAD/Mares Put Full Face Snorkeling Masks To The Test
Full face snorkeling masks first went on sale around three years ago, and while many safely enjoy using them, these new style masks have been implicated in some fatalities. HEAD, who manufacture the Sea Vu Dry Full Face Mask and Snorkel, tested their product and a number of others to bring some clarity to the question of carbon dioxide build up.
Carbon Dioxide And Snorkeling
With a traditional snorkel your exhaled breath, which is high in carbon dioxide, is expelled and exchanged for fresh air for your next inhalation. While the exchange is not 100%, as long as your breathing rate remains normal there is no risk of carbon dioxide build up. With a full face mask the volume of air it contains is far greater than that of a snorkel, and so the potential for dead air spaces loaded with carbon dioxide is much higher. Breathe high concentrations of carbon dioxide and saturate your blood and you can convulse or slip into a coma.
There are no set standards for these new devices, so HEAD/Mares looked at the equivalent standards by which full face scuba diving masks are tested. As you might expect from a company used to rigorous testing, their products performed well within the maximum allowed limits. Cheaper copy-cat models did not fare so well and exceeded maximum allowable carbon dioxide levels for some breathing rates. It seems possible that the larger volume of these masks might contribute to the problem.
Apart from the potential carbon dioxide build-up, detractors have pointed to another area of concern. A traditional mask and snorkel is quite easy to remove. In contrast, a full-face mask fits tightly with two large straps holding it in place which makes it a little harder to take off. The snug fit design should prevent leakage but, in cheaper products, lower quality materials along with negligible testing for adequate fit means an increased risk of water getting in. Leakage is the last thing you want when both your mouth and nose are securely strapped in.
Apart from your enjoyment, this piece of kit is safeguarding your airway. Paying the extra and choosing a model made by a reputable manufacturer seems a reasonable investment in your future. Look for designs that address air circulation and choose one that fits well. Practice in shallow water first and make sure you can swiftly remove the mask. Be alert to feeling dizzy, having difficulty breathing, hyperventilation or feeling impaired or sleepy; these can all be symptoms of carbon dioxide build up in your blood.
The masks were developed to get around the clumsiness involved with learning to breathe through your mouth again. The format allows new snorkelers to experience the ocean without the discomfort this causes. Couple this with a leak-free enclosed breathing space and the design brings instant ocean gratification. The flaw is that the user has never learned airway control or established any level of comfort with water around their nose and mouth area. These are skills which build confidence and the users ability to maintain themselves in water which in turn reduces the potential for panic. While there is no doubt that the quality of these masks has a role to play in their safety, it’s also possible that their ease of use could foster over-confidence which a traditional mask and snorkel never could.