As a Scuba diving instructor working in Gran Canaria the skill that my students require the most practice with is clearing water from the mask. Don’t worry we have all been there, especially myself. During my Open Water course, the skill I could not master was removing and replacing my scuba diving mask underwater. The more I practiced the skill the more frustrated I became and the more I began to panic. Even thinking about completing the skill would fill me with dread. This happened until I took a step back and started from the basics, which I will share with you today.
It is a required skill in the PADI Scuba diver and Open water course and is a skill that you will need throughout your diving career. Unfortunately, water is not our natural environment. The uncomfortable feeling you may have experienced once you have water in the mask is simply your body’s reaction to a stressful or unfamiliar situation.
But do not worry, with some practice, patience and our top tips to master clearing the mask you will be clearing your mask in no time!
Why do we need to learn how to clear a mask?
Perhaps your mask doesn’t fit your face and doesn’t create a seal (a common occurrence for people with facial hair) or perhaps someone accidentally knocks your mask off while swimming in front of you. If water does enter the mask during the dive, you will need to learn how to clear the mask in order to enjoy the dive, feel relaxed and to prevent any panic underwater.
How does mask clearing work?
When we exhale from our nose at the same time as securing the top ridge of our mask firmly to the forehead, we trap air bubbles in the top of our mask. The air bubbles force the water out of the bottom of the mask.
Top tips on how to master the mask PADI mask removal and replacement skill
Tip 1. Use a snorkel while holding your nose
- Stand in the shallow area of the swimming pool or in confined water (water where you can stand)
- Have your feet on the ground and don’t put the mask on your face.
- Using a snorkel place your face into the water.
- Pinch your nose to prevent any water from entering your nose and practice breathing from your mouth. This will get you used to the sensation of breathing underwater without a scuba mask
Tip 2. Use a snorkel without holding your nose
- Continue using the snorkel but this time don’t hold your nose.
- By doing this it will get you used to the uncomfortable feeling of water entering the nose
- Practice this a few times and once you feel comfortable you can even go for a swim only using the snorkel.
Tip 3. Use your regulator while holding your nose:
- Now put your regulator in your mouth, and put your face into the water.
- Pinch Your nose to prevent any bubbles from entering the nose.
- Once your face is in the water focus on breathing in and out of your mouth. Practice this technique a few times until you feel comfortable with not wearing a mask while breathing from a regulator.
Tip 4. Use your regulator without holding your nose:
- Now put your face back into the water without your mask and breathe from the regulator without holding your nose. This will get you used to the sensation of the bubbles from the regulator entering the nose.
- Remember to breathe nice and deep and really concentrate on the task of breathing. We recommend practicing these techniques for two minutes each time.
How to clear a partially flooded mask.
The principles you shall learn from clearing a partially flooded mask are the same principles you will use for a fully flooded mask and for when you are removing and replacing your mask.
- Using your left hand use your thumb and Index finger to gently lift the bottom seal of the mask of your left lense and allow a small bit of water to enter the mask. Once water is in the mask place the seal back on your face.
- Using your thumb and index finger on your right hand, gently lift the bottom seal of your mask on your right lense and allow a small bit of water to enter the mask. Once water is in the mask place the seal back on your face.
- Remember to keep breathing in and out of your mouth to relax yourself and allow water to enter the mask.
- Inhale deeply through your mouth and fill your lungs with air
- Place your hands on either side of your mask and place the top ridge of you mask firmly to your forehead, this will open the bottom seal of the mask
- Tilt your head back and look up to the surface. You do not need to be vertical for this skill, you can be in any position as long as you are looking at the surface.
- Exhale through your nose and blow the water out of the mask
How to clear a fully flooded mask
- Allow water into your mask by partially flooding the mask as described in the previous section.
- Now fully flood the mask by opening the top seal of the mask and allow the mask to be filled with water. You can close your eyes if you are uncomfortable with the salt water entering the eyes.
- Once again place your hands on either side of your mask and place the top ridge of you mask firmly to your forehead, this will open the bottom seal of the mask.
- Exhale through your nose and allow the air bubbles to remove the water.
Remove and replace a mask
- Using the same principles as above fully flood your mask.
- Once you are relaxed remove the mask from your face and make sure you hold your mask firmly in your hand
- With the mask in your hand, concentrate on breathing and make sure the mask is the correct way around to be put back on your face
- Make sure your hair is out of the way and place your mask back on your face
- Then place your hands on either side of your mask and place the top ridge of you mask firmly to your forehead, this will open the bottom seal of the mask. Exhale through your nose until the mask is completely cleared.
- Check that the mask strap is in the correct position and you are happy with the positioning of the mask. If you wear a snorkel make sure the snorkel is in the appropriate position and not tangled.
More top tips
Close your eyes
Remember that you don’t have to open your eyes. If you wear contact lenses or your eyes are sensitive to salt water you can keep your eyes closed. This will help you relaxed and stop the uncomfortable sensation of salt water in the eyes.
Pinch your nose.
Pinching your nose when your mask is filled with water will stop any water from entering the nose and can stop the uncomfortable feeling of bubbles entering the nose.
Breathe deeply and slowly, a great technique is to count each time you take a breath. This helps you focus on the task of removing the water. Breathing deeply will help you relax.
Focus on each step slowly. If you think about each step alone when filling the mask it will not be overwhelming. First concentrate on filling the mask, then placing your hands on the side of your face, lift face, etc. Focus on each step alone and then the stress becomes manageable.
Be negatively Buoyant
Make sure you are negatively when practicing the mask skill especially is you are uncomfortable with this skill. Deflate your BCD fully and make sure you are in a stable position. Knees spread apart on a flat and safe bottom composition. Once you are conformable practice this skill while neutrally buoyant.
Practice in the bathroom:
Now don’t laugh, this technique works and really helps you master clearing the mask. If you are having a shower fill your mask with water and just concentrate on breathing through your mouth. This gets you used to the feeling of a fully flooded mask in a safe and relaxing environment.
Things to avoid when clearing the mask:
- When filling the mask with water remember to breathe through your mouth. If you exhale through your nose you will prevent any water from entering the mask
- When clearing the mask remember to only open the bottom seal of your mask a fraction of the way off your face, one or two millimeters. If you open the bottom seal of the mask too much, you will allow more water to enter the mask when clearing it and it will be counterproductive.
- Remember to not inhale the water through your nose. Concentrate on breathing through your regulator. If you inhale through your nose you will end up with a nasty mouthful of salt water.
Now go and practice! Ultimately, water in the mask when scuba diving is a common occurrence and dealing with is part of being a confident and capable diver. Remember to take your time, the only pressure in diving should be in the tank! Breathe, relax and follow this top tips to master clearing the mask and it will become your favorite part of diving!