Diving in St Martin | Mask advice from a pro

10 Jul

Well, I am literally trapped right now on the bed. Keiran was napping and I took the opportunity to do some work on the website in the other room, and then I heard him wake up and cry. So, I rushed in and he snuggled up, and now he is asleep on me. I am laying on my side and he is using me as a backrest / pillow. Luckily I had my laptop on the bed as well as Keiran was watching some Postman Pat before he fell asleep so that means that I am able to write a quick blog. Although if I type with both of my hands it means that I am having to lift my head in this awkward position and my arm may cramp up. So, if there are any spelling mistakes it is because I am typing with my left hand only, so that my right arm can support my head, as after about 30 seconds my shoulder  and neck are too stiff.

Anyway, you opened this page and started reading this blog for some advice on masks, not to hear about how I have come to have the rare 30 minutes or so to write a blog (albeit in one of the most uncomfortable positions possible).

Masks are one of the most important pieces of diving and snorkeling equipment that you will buy. Why? Not because they are life saving devices, not because they will mean the difference between a safe dive and a dangerous dive, but because having a mask that fits you well, and wearing and using it properly, increase the enjoyment of your dive exponentially. I am sure that there are a million divers and snorkelers out there who could tell you how a leaky, fogged up, uncomfortable mask ruined their dive.

So, here is some mask advice from a pro (that would be me!)

1. Buy a mask that is right for your face and fits properly.

So many people buy masks that aren’t right for them.  You need to go to the store and try them on. Lots of people do this trick where they put on a mask and then suck air in through their nose and if a vacuum is created, then voila, perfect fit. Well, this isn’t really true at all. I know that I could put on a mask that was ten times too big, suck through my nose, and it would still stick to my face. However, if I dived with this mask, it’s gonna leak. The isn’t the best way to test a mask.

Instead, put it on your face without sucking in through your nose. “Just be normal” is what I tell my customers. People for some reason get confused by this….. Like “how do I just be normal with this mask on.” Always makes me laugh. Now, feel around the skirt of the mask. The skirt is the silicone that goes around the glass and seals to your face. The silicone skirt should fit in the area in between the outside of your eyebrows and your hairline. This means that the edge of the skirt and at least 1 cm of the skirt should have good skin contact in this area. If your eyebrow goes to the edge of the skirt then it will leak. Same goes if the edge of the skirt goes over your hairline.

Now, if the mask passes this test you need to feel under your nose, is it comfortable? Then you need to think about in between your eyebrows, is it pushing here? It may not be uncomfortable when you are trying on the mask in the store, but if you are wearing that mask for an hours dive and it is pressing your nose or digging into your head, it will start to hurt. Especially for dive number two.

Choose a simple, low volume mask. Personally, I hate purge valves in masks, just another thing to go wrong. Also, those big masks that you could have an aquarium in, they will be hard to clear underwater.

Clear skirt or black skirt? Doesn’t matter to me. If you like light coming through, then get a clear skirt, if that throws you off your dive, get a black skirt. Another consideration is that if you use your mask a lot, the clear skirts can get really nasty looking with algae and grossness. The black ones do too, but it is just harder to see. That is why most rental masks are black. I personally prefer clear skirts because I look better in them underwater. This is purely coming from a narcissistic diver.

Color? Doesn’t really matter, although again, if you want to look good underwater, you may want to get something that goes with your eyes. Blue looks best on me.

OK, now that you have the perfect mask from the store, you are ready to go… right? No! This is only half the battle. Now I need to tell you how to prep the mask and how to wear it.

(Keiran nap time update: He almost woke up a couple of times, moved around a little into a position that is even more uncomfortable for me, if that is possible. Now my left leg is resting on top of him slightly because the air conditioning was making him cold. So, we will see how long I can hold this position!!!)

2. Prepare your mask correctly or it will fog up!

When masks are produced in a factory the manufacturers put a really thin film of silicone (I think, it could be some other plastic I don’t know, it doesn’t matter) on the glass so that it doesn’t scratch during production. If this film isn’t removed before you take it diving, it will fog up! And no amount of special defog or instructor spit will make it stop fogging. What you need to do is take an abrasive pad, they are usually green in the store…

(Oh my, my arm is killing me! Shall I risk moving myself to be more comfortable? Perhaps I should just give in and also sleep!!! Imagine that! Sleep in the middle of the afternoon! I must move…

I moved. He’s still asleep. Small victory!)

So, an abrasive pad, like one your would clean your dishes with. Preferably one that you already have so it is an old used one. A brand new one is too abrasive and it could scratch the lens. Then you want to take some washing up liquid and your cleaning pad and clean the inside of the lens. The outside doesn’t matter. DON’T DO IT TOO HARD! You don’t want to scratch the glass. Just lightly. You will know it is done when you rub your finger along the glass and it makes a sound. It is now squeaky clean and ready to use. Some people use a lighter, this scares me. Other people use toothpaste, but I find this doesn’t always work.

3. Wear your mask properly.

I know this seems silly, but I can’t tell you how many people don’t wear their mask right. First of all, it shouldn’t be really tight. A tight mask will; give you a headache, make a really attractive mask ring around your face for after the dive AND actually make your mask leak as it can create wrinkles on your skin that weren’t there before and it can change the correct shape of the mask.

You will know that it is the right tightness if you can pull it off your face about 2 inches. Yes, I know that this seem really lose, but it is the pressure of the water that keeps it on your face, not the strap, just trust me on this.

The strap should go around the nubby part of your head where you would have a ponytail if you were so inclined.

(Keiran woke up, finally. Now I just need to see a physical therapist).

If the mask strap is too low on your head it will pinch the top of your ears and the seal under your nose will break and your mask will leak. If it is too high then it will push up on your nose (uncomfortable) and the seal on your forehead can break and your mask will leave.

Make sure that you don’t have any hair breaking the seal. This will let water in. Whether it is from your beautiful bangs, or your vacation stubble, hair will make the mask leak. If you are a guy, you can use some silicone grease or chapstick or something, but to be honest, I don’t know too much about this. If you have a mustache, your mask will leak. I tell my students to shave. In fact my Uncle shaved his mustache off just in order to go scuba diving with me a couple of years ago. It was the first time in 30 years. When he showed up, no one knew who he was, but his mask didn’t leak!

Another top tip: Don’t put your mask on your forehead when you are at the surface, or ever. Your hot head will sweat and put condensation on the inside of your mask. Wear it around your neck, or I like to double up the strap and keep it on my wrist.

4. Breath properly when diving!

When you take your open water course your instructor tells you to breath through your mouth. If you breath in through your nose you will get either nothing, or some water that has accumulated in the bottom of your mask. If you breath out of your nose then you are putting warm, moist air into this air space which then hits the cool glass of your mask and creates…. you guessed it… fog! Then you get into this cycle of putting a little water in your mask, swish it around, and then clear it. How do you clear it? By exhaling through your nose. Perpetuating the fog. Breathing out of your nose also breaks the seal as the air escapes and this can let water in as well. Causing you to have to clear the mask, which again can cause it to fog up.

Don’t enter this cycle. Be a good little diver and do what your instructor told you to do in the first place, breath in and out of your mouth.

Of course, I understand that you need to occasionally breath out of your nose to prevent a mask squeeze and also to clear it if there is any water in your mask, but for the most part, you should be breathing in and out of your mouth!

5. Mask defog is a myth, the best defog for your mask is your own spit.

The greener, the cleaner. The whiter, the brighter!

Top tip: Make sure that you are spitting into your own mask! (This particular comment is for Tim Davis… he knows why 🙂 )

Alright, I hope that this helps a little bit. I will also just share a top tip for masks, if you get a mask that you like, that fits really well, keep it and keep it close to you. Nothing is worse than seeing a diver descend on a dive wearing your favorite mask. Strap it to your BC or keep it around your neck or wrist like I do. At Octopus Diving, we sell all the masks that we use for our rental equipment in our store so that divers can try them before they buy them. Best way to find out if a mask is a good fit 🙂 We know how important a good mask is, and that is why we have such high quality rental masks! Plus, it makes you buy them after…

Phew, well, although I may need my spine realigning, I am happy to have shared Keiran’s nap time with you and given you some advice about buying, wearing and using a dive mask.

Blogging at nap time. Could  you wake this little boy up?

Blogging at nap time. Could you wake this little boy up?

Keiran after he woke up.

Keiran after he woke up.

Sally wrote this blog 🙂

3 Responses to “Diving in St Martin | Mask advice from a pro”

  1. Sherrail D'Amato July 10, 2014 at 9:12 pm #

    Very good. Really enjoyed your input. See you in the fall

  2. Oceanwalker September 10, 2014 at 7:39 am #

    Very nice and informative blog. I remembered my lessons where the instructor told us to breath through our mouth. It was really hard for me at first. But eventually i got used to it and become involuntary. Just sharing ^_^

  3. Lake-diver December 2, 2014 at 7:37 pm #


    what a nice blog entry , very good.
    Instead of using the pre-used cleaning pad, you can, if the mask allows it, take out the glasses and put them over night into a little bit of classic coke. It contains some sort of phosphor and will remove the odd silicone. Wash the glass or lenses with clean normal water and insert them again, and voila your new mask will be perfect. Of course, you need to spit before you go diving 🙂
    I have also seen people use a lighter to burn the silicone away.
    When buying a new mask and in case you are in the need for glasses to be able to read, check the availability for factory made optical lenses before you buy. If you can get them these lenses are usually much cheaper then custom made ones.
    (Not that i want to advertise it, a good example is the Aqualung Look2 mask…)

    If you have a trick, that helps us, sometimes unsaved man, please share 🙂
    And sometimes, it is better to arrange with a bit of water, instead of trying to get rid of it permantly…