Snorkeling is easy to learn and requires only three pieces of relatively inexpensive equipment: mask, fins and snorkel. The quality of this equipment, however, will be instrumental to your enjoyment of the sport. Today, we will talk about the snorkel mask.
The mask is the most important piece of snorkeling equipment. Our eyes are designed to function in air and the mask provides an airspace allowing our eyes to focus and see clearly through the water.
Choosing your mask
You should always buy your own mask. Rental equipment or borrowed gear may not provide a prefect fit. When your mask fits properly, it will not only be comfortable, but will be able to provide that all-important watertight seal. This means no leaks at all, however tiny. (Snorkeling with an uncomfortable or leaky mask can make snorkeling a miserable experience.)
To check if a mask fits and is watertight, tilt your head up and place it on your face without the strap. It should sit snugly with no spaces. Breathe in through your nose and lower your head. The mask should stick to your face and stay there without you holding on to it. Be sure there is no air leakage.
Now put on the strap and adjust it tight enough that it holds the mask in place, but no tighter than that. (A common mistake among beginning snorkelers is to over tighten the strap; something that causes, rather than prevents, leaks.) Make sure that your hair is not caught in the mask. Attach the snorkel and put it in your mouth. Inhale through your nose and check once more for any air leaks.
Make sure the nosepiece fits comfortably around your nose without touching it. The nosepiece should have finger pockets so you can easily close off the nasal air passage. This is important if you intend to go below the surface or free dive.
In the old days, masks were made out of black rubber. Nowadays, the best masks are made with clear, surgical-grade silicone, which is soft, flexible and hypoallergenic. Watch out for bargain specials; masks made out of clear PVC. This material looks like silicone, but is much harder and not as flexible. PVC masks are often uncomfortable and may leak.
If you have a mustache, the only mask for you will be the high-grade silicone variety. It’s also a good idea to apply a small amount of a petroleum jelly product like Vaseline to your mustache.
Masks come in many styles, with single, double and side lens options. The important thing is that the lens or lenses be made of tempered safety glass, which will be scratch-resistant and will not shatter upon impact. Always emphasize safety, a comfortable fit and water tightness, after that whatever style or color suits you best will be fine.
A rule of thumb for SCUBA divers is, “if you need glasses to drive, you need glasses to dive.” For snorkelers it is not as critical, but your enjoyment of the underwater world will certainly be enhanced if you can see it clearly. If you need glasses, check to see if your mask is corrective lens adaptable. Have your personal prescription installed in your mask, which will be much better than buying a mask with a ready-made corrective lens.
Things look about 25% closer when looking at them underwater. So if you just need reading glasses, you may not need corrective lenses. The magnifying effect of the mask underwater should also be taken into account when judging distances while snorkeling. Everything looks closer than it actually is.
Preparing a new mask
When you first buy a mask you will need to clean it to remove the oily film that is applied at the factory to protect the lens during shipping. Use a commercial mask cleaner and not a household cleaner, the remnants of which could get in your eyes when the mask gets wet.
Defogging your mask
As much as a leaky mask is annoying and detracts from your snorkeling enjoyment, so is a mask that keeps fogging up. The standard defogging agent is plain old spit, but today several commercial defogging agents are readily available at dive shops.
Spit on the mask lens or apply a few drops of the defogging liquid and rub it around. Rinse your mask with water. (Seawater will be fine.)
Put the mask on and begin snorkeling right away. If you wait too long, or walk around on land with your mask on, it will probably fog up, even with the defogger applied.
Getting water out of your mask
Sometimes even the best fitting masks can fill with water. If this happens to you, the easiest way to clear the mask is to lift your head out of the water and pull the bottom of the mask away from your face allowing the water to drain out. Replace your mask and continue snorkeling.
When you return from your snorkel adventure, rinse your mask with fresh water and let it dry in the shade. Store it in a dry place, preferably in a protective box that will also keep it safe from damage when you travel.
Read entire snorkeling article
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