Full Face Snorkel Mask Dangers, Deaths, and Safety Tips

A significant number of recent incidents have brought to light the dangers of full-face snorkeling masks. According to records, the rate of fatalities has been on the increase.

It is therefore important to consider the various safety concerns that are associated with snorkeling and the masks especially if you are considering going for a snorkeling trip any time soon.

To properly equip you with the correct knowledge of the safety concerns of FFSMs, we discuss the potential dangers associated with the masks, various cases of fatalities, and some important safety tips to consider while snorkeling with FFSMs

Dangers of Full Face Snorkel Masks

Most of the dangers of full-face snorkel masks are associated with their unique design. The masks are designed to cover the whole face of the snorkeler and allow easy breathing through the nose and the mouth.

They also allow a wider view angle of the aquatic environment to the snorkeler.

A picture of full face snorkel mask
Full face snorkel masks

According to CBS News, 17 people die every year in Hawaii while snorkeling. The most popular snorkeling masks are the Full Face Snorkeling masks(FFSM).

The most common dangers associated with these masks are:

  • Water seal failure
  • Carbon dioxide buildup.
  • Tight/Loose fitting straps.

Following is a discussion of each of these dangers and how each one happens.

Water Seal Failure

Full face snorkel masks are designed with a seal that surrounds the face of the diver to prevent water from entering into the breathing space. This is a real hazard as this water could most definitely cause suffocation.

The water is meant to be kept out of the breathing compartment by a water seal. Most of the snorkeling masks do not have the correct type of seals and utilize the inferior type of PVC seals that may end up failing in the water. Reliable type of water seals are made with silicon.

Silicon seals can easily adjust with the diver’s face and they stick to the face more accurately but they are more expensive and some manufacturers tend to avoid them.

High-quality masks are designed with a mouthpiece breathing compartment that can help the user to continue breathing when the water flows into the breathing compartment, but this does not mean 100% safe.

Carbon dioxide Buildup

This is caused by improper expulsion of the exhaled air within the mask. For poorly designed masks, the exhaled air builds up in the breathing space causing the buildup of carbon dioxide in the mask. This is called dead space. How is this dangerous?

Snorkeling is a physical activity. During physical activities, human bodies need oxygen for metabolic activities and produce carbon dioxide. For every air exhaled from the body, the oxygen content reduces and the CO2 content increases. If the diver keeps breathing the same air, he gets to a point where the oxygen is deprived leading to suffocation.

Carbon dioxide buildup causes fatigue, hyperventilation, and panic and eventually, the diver might end up being unconscious in the water.

Well-designed masks should have valves in the exhalation tube that only allows the diver to inhale fresh air from outside the mask, and the exhaled air to move out of the breathing space hence reducing the dead space.

Tight or Loose Straps.

Fitting straps are meant to hold the mask into position as the user is snorkeling. This needs to be strategically designed and fastened to allow for easy dislodging in case of an emergency.

For some poorly designed snorkel masks, the straps are very tight and this makes it very hard to remove the mask in case of an emergency. Some bad masks also come with straps that fit loosely leading to fall off. This can be extremely dangerous for especially for those who lack swimming skills.

Full Face Snorkel Mask Deaths & Drowning Cases

Hawaii news now reported that the rate of deaths resulting from snorkeling has almost doubled in recent years. Several of the reported fatalities involved using FFSMs.

One such well-known case is that of Guy Cooper’s wife which occurred in the Hawaiian Islands. The wife was reportedly a well-renowned swimmer and snorkeler but she died just 30 minutes after entering the water with a full-face snorkel mask.

Another case of a good swimmer involved the drowning of Heidi Williams’ boyfriend that happened in January 2018, at Kamaole Beach Park. High suspicion is placed on the mask since he had served as a lifeguard for some time and was well experienced with snorkeling but he died while using an FFSM.

In 2018, there were several reported drownings in the Maui cost that lead to 13 fatalities.  Nine out of these were snorkeling with FFSMs and this prompted the launch of an investigation on the masks.

Considering these incidents, it is important to look at some safety tips that can help avoid fatalities in the sea.

Safety Precautions

As a matter of fact, both the user and FFSM manufacturers have a role to play in ensuring that the whole snorkeling experience is safe and enjoyable. As an individual, it is almost impossible to control what the manufacturers are pouring into market.

Some manufactures care about the end users and they will always try their best to create masks that are of good quality. Other manufacturers are out to make fast money hence what will happen to the user is non of their business.

It is up to you as a snorkeler to ensure that you gather sufficient information before making a purchase. Remember cheap is expensive and not every every expensive item is always of good quality.

It is also thought that fatalities that arise from full face snorkel are as a result of improper use and ignorance. As the end user, it is up to you to make sure that you learn how to use the mask properly, that is, after making a purchase from possibly a reputable manufacturer.

When buying a Full Face Snorkel Mask…

Buy from Reputable Companies

The first thing to consider when buying a snorkel mask is the brand of the manufacturing company. You need to buy a mask from a company that specializes in the manufacture of water sports equipment.

These might be more expensive but they invest a lot of research on the safety of the equipment and they use quality materials.

Closely Inspect the Features of the Mask

Ensure the breathing part of the snorkel mask fits you and is as close as possible to your nose.

When breathing in the mask only the breathing part of the mask should fog but the looking part of the mask needs to remain clear to ensure there are no leakages.

Ensure the snorkel mask has a breathing mouthpiece separate from the seeing part.

Ensure the water seal is of good quality, it fits perfectly to your face. Silicon seals are preferred over PVC seals.

Do’s and Don’ts while Snorkeling

Do check the manufacturer’s instructions to learn how it works.

 Do try out the mask either in a swimming pool or shallow water to check for any flaws. Trying it out will also provide some experience and increase your confidence especially if you are snorkeling for the first time.

Once ready to go out in the open waters do ensure that you have a partner while snorkeling…a snorkel buddy will keep an eye on you in case something goes wrong. Snorkeling alone is very dangerous no matter what kind of safety equipment you are using.

Do take regular breaks, preferably after 15 minutes to ensure comfortable breathing throughout your snorkeling trip.

Do snorkel where the water is calm.

Do wear a snorkel vest or flotation belt This is perfect in case of an emergency as it would keep you afloat when you cannot swim for whatever reasons.

Do trim your facial before using full face snorkel masks. Snorkeling with full beard/mustache may result into problems as the hair will break the seal and allow water in

Do not go snorkeling unprepared. Make sure you are physically and mentally ready

 Do not use mask that have flaws, or like not fitting well, leaking etc.

Do not use masks for water activities that they are not meant for instance deep diving and vigorous swimming activities

Do not overexert yourself to snorkel against heavy current or waves.

A review of deadly snorkel masks by a scuba diving pro

Finally, full face snorkel masks can make your tour enjoyable as well as terrifying or dangerous. Equipping yourself with the right knowledge will keep you safe.

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