How to choose a mask suitable for scuba diving
The mask it what makes it possible for you to view that wonderful underwater world without getting your vision all blurred when scuba diving. The mask is a very important part of your scuba diving equipment, because few things can ruin a dive like a bad or unfitting mask. A bad mask doesn’t only disrupt the scuba diving experience; it can even put you in potentially dangerous situations while scuba diving since your vision is blurred. Also, a non-fitting mask that you constantly have to clear from water will make you run out of air in no time. Taking the time and effort to locate the perfect mask for you is therefore undoubtedly worth it. This doesn’t mean that you should buy the most expensive and complicated mask you can find. As a matter of fact, it is much better if you start out with a fairly cheap and basic mask or even lend or rent a mask. This will give you time to figure out what your requirements are and what type of mask you prefer. Generally speaking, a clear silicon mask with low volume is a good beginner mask.
Different parts of the mask
The kind of glass used in a scuba diving mask is called tempered glass. Tempered glass has been toughened and is much stronger than ordinary glass. In the unlikely event that tempered glass does break it will shatter into many tiny fragments, making injuries less likely to occur. Don’t buy a mask that doesn’t come with tempered glass. The part of the mask that encloses your nose is of course called nose pocket, the band that goes around your head is called the mask strap and the part of the mask that holds the glass is called frame. The very soft and flexible part of the mask that fits around your face to the keep water out is called skirt.
The most important thing to think about when choosing the mask is size. When you are on the look out for a mask to buy, you will notice that when people talk about the size of a mask they are actually taking about two things:
- The fitting size of the skirt in relation to your face
- The amount of air that the masks allows for (volume)
Size number one, the fitting size, is important because it decides whether or not the mask will fit your face. When you read the product description for a mask you will often find three terms: narrow, standard and large. Narrow is for a small face, standard is for a ‘normal’ face size, and large is suitable for a wide face. When you try on the mask, it should fit around your eyes and nose to prevent water form entering. When you are scuba diving the water pressure will create a water proof seal between your face and the skirt, but only if the mask fits properly. Keep in mind that the mask strap is only there to provide some stability and keep the mask on your head if somebody accidentally knocks it or you thump into something.
The second size, the volume, is important because it affects a number of properties. The volume is the amount of air that can fit inside the mask when it is put on your face. When you read product descriptions for masks, you will often see them described as low, medium or high volume masks.
A low volume mask is generally less heavy than a standard or high volume mask and can therefore feel more comfortable to wear. A low volume mask is also easier to clear if flooded, since the amount of water is lesser. Underwater photographers, hunters and other scuba divers who need to be able to estimate distances very accurately under water usually chose a mask with a very short distance from the eyes to the glass – typically a low volume mask.
A high volume mask will provide a sense of space, and some large masks are also equipped with side glasses to let in more light and allow you to see things in the corner of your eye. A medium or high volume mask is also usually the best choice if you have a protruding nose bone. (In this case you should also consider getting a mask with the glass separate on each side, since this design usually leaves more room for the nose.)
Today, most scuba diving masks are made of rubber or silicone. Rubber masks are usually cheaper, but less soft and less flexible. Silicone offers more flexibility, which increases the masks ability to seal tight but comfortably around your face. The glass in your mask should be tempered glass to prevent injuries if broken.
The two by far most common types of diving masks are the clear masks and the black masks. A clear silicone mask will allow a lot of light to get in, and more light means better vision. A clear mask also creates a more open feeling and you can see what’s going on at your sides. Black masks are usually preferred by underwater photographers, cave divers and hunters. The black silicone shut out any light from the sides so the diver can focus on what is in front of him or her, without loosing concentration to side distractions.
Most scuba diving masks can be fitted with prescription lenses. Ask you regular optician or contact an optician specialising in dive masks. Note that this can only be done if you choose a mask that can be disassembled in order to change the glass. There is one type of scuba diving masks, the so called frame less mask, where this is not possible. A frame less mask is moulded in one piece, without any frame keeping separate parts together.
What is a purge mask?
A purge mask is equipped with a one way valve. This means that merely exhaling can clear the mask, you don’t have to use the normal method where you open the mask slightly using your hand.
How do I prepare a new mask?
Unless the new mask is a special fog-free mask, it will come with a thin layer of silicone on the glass. This silicone has been put there during the manufacturing of the mask and should be removed before you use the mask for the first time, otherwise the mask will soon become foggy. Most scuba divers use regular toothpaste to do this. Take a teaspoon of toothpaste and spread it over the inside of the mask, including the skirt. Rub the mask very gently for a few minutes using a toothbrush and then rinse the mask in water until all the toothpaste is gone. This is typically something you only have to do once – when the mask is new – but if you notice that the mask begins to fog easily later on you can repeat the procedure.
How do I prevent fogging in my mask?
To prevent you mask from fogging while scuba diving you can use a special anti-fog liquid, but most scuba divers prefer a less expensive and constantly available formula – saliva. Spit in your mask, or apply anti-fog liquid, and gently rub it on the inside of the glass. Rinse with water and put on the mask. This should be done before every dive, and if your mask begins to fog you might have to repeat the procedure.
How do I empty my mask when water has entered?
As you have probably already learned from your scuba diving course, emptying the mask is easy if you use the right technique. Tilt your head slightly backward and press the top of the frame with your fingers. When the bottom of the mask de-attaches from you face, simply exhale and breathe out through your nose. The air will force the water out and the surrounding water pressure will cause the skirt of the mask to ‘stick’ to your face again as soon as you let go of your fingers.
How do I take care of my mask?
Read the recommendations in the product description from the manufacturer to see if there is anything special that you should do to keep your mask in good shape. Always rinse your mask thoroughly in fresh water after every dive. Allow the mask to dry completely and store it in a place where it can’t be damaged. The box that you purchased the mask in is usually a good case.
Problems with a leaking mask?
Make a habit out of adjusting the mask strap before entering the water. If the mask starts to leak while under water, it is easy to think that a tightening of the mask strap will solve the problem. This is however seldom the case. Before attempting to tighten the strap, check that the strap is in a straight circle around your head. If the strap is too far down, the mask can drop down and vice versa.
If you dive without a hood, of if your hair sticks out of the hood, make sure that no hair is stuck between your skin and the mask’s skirt. Hair inside the mask will allow water to enter. If you have a moustache you can try putting Vaseline on it before you put the mask on, since this helps keeping the water out of the mask.
Smiling or frowning can also be a reason behind leaking. We often smile and frown automatically without even knowing it. If your mask starts to leak, clear it and try to keep your face still and relaxed. You will soon know whether this solved the problem or not.
If your mask keeps on leaking, it might be broken or worn out or it might not fit you. Check the mask for any visible damage. A non-fitting mask is one of the most common reasons behind leakage. Try out other masks with different sizes and designs, and see if you can find any that fits you better. Don’t hesitate to ask your diving instructor, your diving buddies or a dive shop for help!
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