The Death Mask

3 Dangerous Issues with Full Faced Snorkel Masks

The sales of full faced snorkel masks are skyrocketing, but the percentage of snorkelers who die using the full faced snorkel mask is considerably higher than the percentage market share these masks still enjoy. So what’s going on and what are the risks?

There’s no doubting the popularity of full faced snorkel masks, but they do present some significant safety concerns. Later in this video, I’m going to share with you five tips for safe use of a full faced snorkel mask, but first, let’s look at the underlying issues.

There’s been a big splash in the Aloha State in regards to the disproportionate amount of deaths attributed to the use of the  full faced snorkel mask, over traditional snorkel masks. Hawaii’s largest snorkel-specialist retailer, Snorkel Bob’s, has refused to stock  full faced snorkel masks.

Snorkel tour operators like the Hawaii Ocean project refuse to allow guests to use full faced snorkel mask on their charters.

So what are the underlying issues with a full faced snorkel masks?

There are many full faced snorkel mask name-brands that are seemingly having no problems, but they are also quick to point the finger at the off-brand copycat masks that are wildly popular on amazon due to their being half the price.

To illustrate, I’ve got hold of one of the cheapo, no-brand  full faced snorkel masks, a regular mask and snorkel combination, and a SCUBA full face mask that Emergency Response Divers and Emergency Response Instructors use.


The Seal Doest Seal 

The first issue is the seal. The seal has to encompass the whole face and so adds many more failure points compared to an eyes-and-nose covering traditional mask design. In the knock-off brands, they’re using PVC instead of silicone, which just doesn’t seal as well. It’s been reported that even squinting causes leakage. But hey, what did you expect for $25 bucks?! Silicone is expensive!

Now, it’s worth noting, when a traditional mask leaks, you can still breathe. With a full faced snorkel mask, the nose and mouth are encapsulated and this gives you all the pleasure of being waterboarded without the inconvenience of a long flight to Guantanamo Bay.


The Mask Collects CO2 Which is Dangerous to Breathe 

Next up, you have the huge dead space. What do we mean when we say Dead Space? The volume of gas that is not circulated with each respiratory cycle i.e. the portion of the same air you’re breathing in and out each breath that contains CO2 from your previous breath out. Taking you back to High School Biology class, as we metabolize O2 we produce CO2 as a waste product, which is exhaled every time we breathe out. We need a fresh supply of O2 to stay alive. If we keep cycling the same air in and out of our lungs, the O2 content gets used up and the CO2 content increases. A regular snorkel adds about 160-170ml of dead air space to our respiratory tract. This  full faced snorkel mask adds 1100ml of dead space, and even if the mask features an orinasal inner mask, this does little to reduce the dead space. As the O2 content gets lower and lower, you’ll eventually reach a hypoxic state where you don’t have enough oxygen to sustain consciousness. And being unconscious in the water is a bad thing. Other signs and symptoms of hypoxia include hyperventilation and panic, both of which are also bad if you happen to be in the water. Consider buying a scuba mask, here is how you would find one that fits for you and this is how you would prep a mask so it doesnt fog.

Reputable makers of full faced snorkel masks include some kind of one-direction valve system in their designs that makes sure some of the exhaled air can’t be breathed back in. Off-brand cheapo copies don’t bother to include these.


The Strap Isnt Easy to Take Off

Last but not least, the strap system on a full faced snorkel mask wrap around the back of the head and need to be much tighter to get that flimsy seal to fit, which in turn makes them harder to get off if, you know, you’re hyperventilating, panicking or being waterboarded by the mask itself.

This mask is getting returned. I literally just bought it as a prop for this video. I would never buy any  full faced snorkel mask for anyone I cared about, for all the reasons stated above, but also because you can’t equalize your ears in a full faced snorkel mask, so they’re only rated for duck dives to 10ft/3m.


5 Tips for Safe Use of a Full Faced Snorkel Mask

BUT If you absolutely have to buy one for your least favorite child or niece or nephew, here are five tips for their safe use:


  1. Buy only from a Name Brand that specializes in snorkel equipment. If you’re not sure if it’s a name brand, check the manufacturer to see what other products they sell (the people who manufacture this mask also manufacture scented oil dispersers and car seats… not exactly specialists.)
  2. Never let anyone you care about snorkel on their own. There was a case last year, again in Hawaii, where a full faced snorkel mask wearing snorkeler was only saved because he had a buddy (who was wearing a traditional snorkel and mask to drag him out of the water after he passed out.)
  3. Never exert yourself in a full faced snorkel mask. Be calm in the water. Don’t swim hard, don’t use them in current. Relax.
  4. Take regular breaks. The common recommendation is to take a 5-minute break from using a  full faced snorkel mask every 15 minutes.
  5. Don’t be too proud to use a snorkel floatation vest, it could save your life.

If you liked this video, check out the future of scuba diving mask.




See our specific products used in the links above, and for a full list of the gear James keep in his dive bag, see his Gear List.
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Meet James Blackman

With a career in diving spanning twenty years, James has seen a thing or two in the dive industry. James grew up on the Southwest coast of Britain and learned to dive in the frigid waters of the English Channel. If your first dives were like being placed in a cocktail shaker full of cabbage soup and you come away with a love for the sport, then you know it’s going to be a life-long pursuit.

James spent his twenties in the British merchant marine which afforded him the opportunity to travel to and dive in far flung locales… 177 countries and counting. Between stints onboard a variety of vessels, James used his shore leaves to level up his scuba training… Rescue diver in Tanzania, DM in Indonesia, Instructor in Honduras, Tec Instructor in the French West Indies.

His last ship before moving to a shore-based life style was an expedition ship where he notched up some of his most impressive dives, including briefly holding the world record for most northerly scuba dive… 82 degrees north in the Russian arctic; diving the Amazon river; the Antarctic; and virgin reef systems in Papua New Guinea and Melanesia.

Moving ashore in his early thirties, James took on the role of General Manager for a luxury dive operator in St Martin and never had a dull moment! Hollywood visited the island and called upon James’ underwater skills for on-set safety. When Cat-3 hurricane Gonzalo devastated the area, James switched hats to salvage and public safety diver to help with the recovery.

Scuba Diving has given so much to James in his life… and first on that list is his brilliant wife Karina whom he met whilst teaching her AOW class! Yes, that old cliché! James and Karina are also business partners and co-owners of two power-house scuba brands. Miami Technical Diving has become the premiere scuba training facility in South Florida. Tired of seeing other dive shops compete in a ‘race to the bottom,’ James decided his model for teaching scuba would focus on keeping the quality as high as possible; using the best gear possible; teaching beyond the minimum standards on a 1-to-1 student-to-instructor ratio. The fullness of the MTD training calendar shows that people – student divers – prefer to receive premium, quality tuition, as opposed to cheap and fast.

James is the personality and knowledge broker behind ‘Divers Ready!’ a super influential Scuba Diving YouTube channelwebsite and brand. In just a year, Divers Ready! has become the fastest growing You Tube channel in the Scuba Diving niche, with 1000s of new divers joining every month. Their weekly videos range from Mouthpiece Mondays – where James shares his insider knowledge and opinions about controversial topics in the dive industry – to practical ‘hints & tutorial’ style videos, all with one simple goal in mind – to make you a better diver!

James and Karina started small group luxury dive trips for the Divers Ready! audience.

James and Karina live in Miami, FL with their rambunctious dogs; Ziggy The Husky and Bonham the Mutt, and their Maine Coon cat Foxy, who remains unimpressed.