Can you Breathe Underwater with a Snorkel or Full-Face Mask?

It’s not unlikely to wonder if at all you can breathe underwater with a stand-alone snorkel or the type attached to full-face masks. Snorkels allow you to breathe when your nose and mouth are submerged below the surface of the water. While near the surface, an average snorkeler can breathe for up to 15 minutes or more with a snorkel, breathing when the tube is completely submerged deep will last for about 30 seconds for beginners. Skilled swimmers and divers can last over one minute underwater with a snorkel.

Breathing Underwater with a Snorkel

Snorkels are J-shaped tube with a bottom-end that fits into your mouth an upper part sticks above your head.

Although snorkels come in different designs, the working mechanism is the same.They can be a dry-top, semi-dry or wet(taditional-style).

The wet snorkels are mere J tubing with open ends. The tube is long enough to stick out of the water while one end is submerged. Owing to the fact that the tube is open, you can easily breathe through your mouth while the face is submerged as long as the water is calm.
However, if the water is not calm, with plenty of splashes and waves, it will be quite challenging to breathe because the water will get into the tube through the top open end.

Breathing underwater Wet Snorkel
Wet Snorkels

Dry snorkels there is a float-valve mechanism and a splash guard at the top end that keep water out. The also have a purge valve at the bottom end. If some water gets in by accident, the purge valve draws the water out when you exhale.

They are ideal when you’re snorkeling in rough waters.

Dry Snorkel
Dry snorkels

Near the surface, while your mouth and nose is submerged and tube is out of water, you can breathe with this piece of equipment as long as you want if it is correctly fitted and positioned.

However, it is hard to breathe a snorkel it is completely submerged underwater. It does not store air meaning that you can rebreathe you air or water.

Further Reading: How a Snorkel Works + the Best Snorkels

Breathing Underwater with a Full Face Snorkel Mask

The idea behind designing a full-face snorkel mask was to enable snorkelers to breathe underwater comfortably.

Almost all of the FFSMs make it possible to breathe while near the surface of the water. In fact, most designers openly tell you that the masks are meant for surface swimming/floating.

Some manufacturers however claim that their masks are well suited for breathing while deep in the waters. These claims are yet to be proven.

How do FFSMs Work Underwater?

The full-face snorkel mask is designed very differently compared to the traditional mask. First off, the appearance, the full face mask will completely cover your face from the chin to your head leaving your hair out. Due to that design, it also means that there is no longer a j-tube to bite down on.

Instead, the tube is located on top of the mask rather than the mouth. This is beneficial indeed because it eliminates jaw fatigue from having to constantly hold on to the tube.

The dry tube stops the water from getting in and aid with your breathing, but how? The tube has a ball or balls that sit right on top or rather on the far end of the tube, to act as a valve.

When you’re submerged in water, pressure from the water forces the balls to shut the tube allowing no water in. Once the tube is not submerged, the valve will open to allow air in.

 The valve will work hand in hand with the drainage system to ensure the mask doesn’t retain water.

The masks are also created with different air chambers which makes it easier to separate the exhale and inhaled air. The chambers also allow you to seamlessly and comfortably breathe from either your mouth or nose.

It is because of these breathing features FFSMs have become an excellent choice for newbies and kids. When used correctly, chances of choking in water are minimal.

So what else?

Besides the dry snorkel tube that’s beautifully designed to allow easy inhaling and exhaling, most full-face masks will have a valve at the bottom of the mask. This allows water to trickle down and exit the mask hence less likelihood of water accidents, checking, or water filling in your mask.

As long as you maintain the same pace in water and avoid deep-diving or fast snorkeling, these excellent features will allow you to snorkel way easier than with traditional snorkel masks.

How Long Can You Stay Underwater with a Full-Face Snorkel Mask?

There isn’t a specified amount of time you can stay submerged in water with a full face mask. If you’re just floating near the surface of the water, you are guaranteed to stay for a while. However, you won’t stay for long if you choose to go a few inches deeper into the water.

Based on how the FFSMs are designed, you won’t stay down there even for long. They are created for use on the surface.

Following are other factors that make underwater swimming with a full-face snorkel mask impossible.

Pressure Equalization

There’s a difference between snorkeling with this full-face snorkel mask and the traditional one. With the older version, you can swim/dive deeper because you have the ability to equalize your own pressure. By pinching your nose so your ear pressure can balance.

But with the full-face mask, you will have to remove the mask to equalize.This then makes it hard for you to snorkel in deep waters. Alternatively, if you try to deep snorkel, you could have respiratory difficulties since the airway may also be under immense pressure; hence, cannot give way to inhaling and exhaling at a steady pace.

Mask Volume

Another factor is volume inside the mask which may act as floater. Snorkeling on the surface may not cause any pressure buildup but as you snorkel for longer or deeper, the enclosed space tends holds air which increases buoyancy and makes it harder to go down further.

The surface area of the Mask

Full-face snorkel masks, though not heavy, are quite huge. The huge surface area will create resistance while trying to dive deeper. This resistance will limit how far deep you can without getting tired.

Your swimming and diving experience

Experienced swimmers and divers will of course stay longer underwater with whatever snorkels. They have fully-developed water confidence. However, for beginners with little or no confidence, the duration will be highly limited.


As we wind up, let’s have a look at some safety concerns and precautions you should carry along with you.

  • There have been reports that indeed that some of these masks create a buildup of carbon dioxide which has adverse effects on your body. In that case, avoid staying too long underwater to reduce the buildup and dead airspace in the mask.
  • Check to see the specifications by the manufacturers on the manual. Most will state how to use the mask. This is to warn you that they may not hold up the oxygen levels for long.
  • Go snorkeling with experienced snorkelers, especially if you want to seek deeper waters. This is because accidents can happen and you may need assistance. It’s always better to have a helping hand when you need it.
  • Reduce the levels of risk by doing your research on the best full-face mask to avoid purchasing low-quality or overrated products that can cause you severe damage.
  • Purchase your own gear rather than renting at the snorkeling site. This is because despite the tests undertaken by various industries reflecting on successes and failures, having your personalized gear helps you relax and remain confident in the water.

Which snorkel Mask for Deep Underwater Snorkeling?

As of now, Ninjashark mask is one of the brands that boldly claims that its full-facemask is perfect for snorkeling deep underwater. One of the unique features it comes with is the ability to equalize. Following is a quick video review

If you’re looking to have the best time of your life with these full-face snorkel masks, take the time to read through and understand how they work. Find out the manufacturer’s reputation and experience. You don’t want to risk your life while trying to enjoy your underwater experience.

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