Diving Fundamentals: Keep Your Mask On

Although it’s often the first piece of gear to come off at the end of the dive, here’s a case for keeping your mask on.

Their scuba mask is usually one of the first pieces of equipment a diver will buy as they’re beginning open-water training. A good, well-fitting mask will become like your favorite pair of old sneakers. And yet, everywhere you go around the world you’ll see people removing their mask on the surface of the water before and after the dive. They hang it around their neck or place it on their forehead or on the back of their head. Everywhere, in fact, except where it’s supposed to be. Read on to find out why you should keep your mask on.

As well as allowing you to see beneath the surface, a mask is also a bit of safety equipment. Indeed, in initial training a good instructor will always encourage you to keep your mask in place when possible, from the point of walking onto the dive platform after your buddy checks until you’re back on terra firma. But why should you keep your mask on?

  • For splash protection
    Most obviously, wearing a mask keeps waves from splashing you in the eyes. If there’s any surface-water movement, waves from boat traffic, or other divers splashing around, keeping your mask on means you’ll avoid an eye full of salt water and temorary blindness.
  • For fog protection
    Secondly, keeping your mask on stops it from fogging up. Yes, you can spit in your mask to stop it fogging up pre-dive, but the enzyme in your saliva that acts as an anti-fogging agent is only effective for a few seconds after exposure to air. Every time you break that silicone seal and take the mask off means it’s more likely to fog up when you put it back on so you’re more likely to have impaired vision during the dive or when approaching the boat.
  • As slip, trip and embarrassment protection
    Ideally, your mask should be prepared and in place as you arrive on the dive platform to make your entry and it should stay in place until you’re firmly back onboard the boat and clear of the water. Imagine if you’re standing on the edge of the dive platform and the boat rocks in a wave or you miss your footing on the ladder climbing back onto the boat and you tumble into the sea? You’ll be far less embarrassed and discombobulated if you’re not blinded and sputtering at the surface.
  • In preparation for the dive
    There are strong currents at many advanced and drift dive sites, and there simply isn’t a window of time to float on the surface to prepare your mask. You’ll need to descend almost immediately, as soon as the dive leader confirms it’s safe to do so. Do your mask preparation and positioning on the boat before you enter the water and save the frustration of missing the dive site and upsetting your dive buddies as you drift by, helplessly spitting in your mask.
  • To save face (and lungs) post-dive
    Typically, near the end of a dive, the dive leader will signal the liveaboard vessel with an SMB to pick up the divers at the surface. As the boat turns, exposing the stern ladders to the divers, two things can happen. First, the boat’s revving diesel motors will pump fumes into your face. Second, the boat crew will usually throw you a trail line and help pull you back to the boat. If there’s surf, surge or splashing from other divers as you near the stern of the boat, it’s very easy to find yourself blinded. As a consequence, you my be unable to safely grasp a moving ladder. Now ask yourself, if someone was waving a metal bar up and down inches from your face for you to grab, would you like to be able to see it? And to breathe comfortably? Keeping your mask (and regulator) in place gives you a clear view of the ladder, stops you from inhaling fumes, and increases your chances of staying safe on the final approach.
  • To hone your rescue skills
    As you progress through your diving career from open-water diver to advanced open water and perhaps on to rescue diver, you begin to appreciate more and more that diving is not just about you — you’re part of a team each time you enter the water. As a rescue diver, you’ll learn that if there’s an issue at the surface you must be able to react quickly. Imagine you or your buddy has a loose fin, weight belt or deflating BCD? Being able to see, clearly and immediately, above and below the surface, will help you effectively deal with the issue. Or, more seriously, keeping your mask and regulator in place means you can better cope with the situation if there’s a panicked diver at the surface.
  • If you want to become a professional diver
    Thinking of going pro? Chapter one, page one of the divemaster manual is all about “role-model behavior.” You’re trying to instill good diving practices into the divers with you, and to practice what you preach for the reasons listed above. Also, very importantly, your job as a professional divemaster or instructor is to manage risks when it comes to the safety of the group under your control. Keeping your mask on means you can more easily deal with emergency scenarios or simple issues that may arise.

To keep your mask on is good practice in basic risk management, as simple as putting on a seatbelt before driving your car or turning on the windshield wipers when it’s raining. The $100 you spent on that mask as you began your diving career could stop a minor issue from becoming a major one. So make good use of it and keep your mask firmly in place.

By guest author Marcus Knight (The Scuba Monkey)