• How to properly select a dive mask.

    February 6, 2016
  • Ready for a new dive mask? 

    There are numerous different types of dive masks that you can try out and a big factor influencing your selection will come down to the shape of your face and your personal style preferences. Regardless of these factors, one thing you should always do is look for a quality dive mask that is manufactured with a 100% surgical grade silicone seal. Unfortunately many manufacturers do not indicate on the packaging or on the mask if the seal is 100% silicone or not so you will need to do some research on your own or rely on the honesty of the sales person. Experience will allow someone to quickly identify the difference between a 100% silicone mask and an lower quality inferior rubber substitute. It is important to note however, because many manufacturers do not use 100% silicone in their seals that catch names like “Silitex” that sound like 100% silicone should be avoided as they are not 100% silicone. Dive Masks that are not made of 100% silicone have a tendency to crack, harden, split and warp over time. This means of course that even if the mask was to have a perfect fit initially when you first purchase it that instead after a short while will begin to leak. One additional benefit to a 100% silicone seal is that it is a very hygienic material.

    How to properly fit a dive mask

    After you have picked out a few choices of 100% silicone masks you can being to try them for fit by following the following steps:

    (1) First place the mask on your face without pulling the mask strap over your head. You will then gently push on the front of the mask with 2 fingers, one on each side of the mask, and then breathe in through your nose. A mask that fits you well will seal with no leaks and tend to hold to your face nicely without immediately falling off. If you have difficultly getting the mask to seal properly first time check to make sure that you do not have any hair stuck between the seal and your face. You should also check to make sure the mask strap is not interfering with the masks ability to make a good seal. Once you have verified there is nothing between your face and the seal if the mask still does not seal properly, put the mask back as you will never be able to achieve a proper fit and will have nothing but problems.

    (2) The next step is to check the mask for an excellent full seal to your face. All high quality dive masks should feature an inner seal (a second seal). After you have found a mask that seals well to your face, ask a friend or the sales person to check that the second seal is also sealing well all around. The second seal should not cut across your eye sockets. The mask should also be sealed flat to you face the entire way around.

    (3) The next step is to check the masks field of vision. Place the mask strap over your head and then adjust it for comfort. Now look around: Look up, down and side to side to check out the field of vision. As a general rule you will find that low volume masks tend to offer an extra wide field of vision than larger masks but may not provide a suitable fit due to face shape. There are various options available to increase the range of vision in masks including a single screen lens, side windows and also a low cut lens.

    (4) Now you will want to further test the mask for proper function. With the mask secured to your face, go ahead and pinch the nose pocket with the thumb and forefinger to simulate equalization techniques. If you normally dive with gloves then try this while you are wearing wearing gloves. Sometimes the nose pockets on some masks are not easily accessible and therefore it is important to check this before purchasing the mask.

    (5) At this point you should have narrowed down your choices for a dive mask based on fit, comfort, field of vision and personal preferences. Now it is time to select the color. Typically there can be many color choices for the frame color based on the manufacturer and model of the mask. Normally however the mask seal itself will come only just two color options, black silicone or clear. A clear silicone skirt on a masks tends to allow more light into the mask which will create more of an “open feeling”. However, over time, you will find that clear silicone tends to discolor a bit becoming more opaque in nature and will often also yellow. Black silicone skirts look sharp and have the added benefit of not discoloring. The black silicone also eliminates light encroachment allowing the diver to focus on a subject. You will find this particularly useful for underwater photography. Some divers find the lack of light a little claustrophobic so the best thing to do is try on masks with both types of skirts and see what you find personally pleasing.

    Corrective vision lens options

    In regard to corrective vision lenses, if you have only mild nearsightedness or farsightedness, that you will probably not require any corrective lenses. Refraction of the light in water that passing through your mask lens and into the airspace in the mask naturally results in items becoming magnified. Typically, objects will appear 25% closer and 33% larger under water than they would in air. If your vision is less than mildly imperfect then you should consider your corrective options to ensure that you get the most from your underwater experience. Having good quality vision underwater is critical to being able to read key data such as your air pressure on your SPG!

    Many divers choose to wear contact lenses while diving and this is a perfectly safe option assuming that the lens are gas permeable and that your optometrist has not advised you otherwise. You need to be aware however that if you flood your mask that you are at risk losing a lens. It is important that if you want to wear contacts while you dive that you carry a spare set of contacts with you top side when on diving outings.

    Dive shops typically will carry (or easily be able to order or you) a range of corrective lens available in both plus and minus strengths in 0.5 diopter increments. Lenses are pre-cut to fit a particular mask model that will usually have a split lens design to allow for different strengths to be fitted independently for each eye. Your dive store should be able to fit such lens into your new mask for you in a matter of minutes.

    If you are not able to wear contact lens and you are unable to find a suitably fitting mask that also accommodates the pre-cut prescriptive lenses then you will need to have your prescription placed into your mask by an optician that will bond lenses into your mask. Of course, this method is without question the most costly option for vision correction and is a good option for people with an astigmatism or significant farsightedness.

    Adjusting your mask

    As with any new equipment, scuba diving with a new mask will most likely require a few dives to ensure optimal fit and proper adjustment. Typically, the first seal that you get on a mask during a dive is always the best. After a mask has been flooded during a dive they frequently will fog for the remainder of a dive. Keeping this fact in mind it is worth spending time prior to your initial descent to ensuring that the mask is properly adjusted and fit well in place. One common problem is many divers wear the mask strap too low as the strap should be worm reasonably high on the back of the head. Also they sometimes wear the actual mask too high and even in some cases with their nostrils peaking out of the bottom of the mask! Some dive masks have adjustable side straps that you can lock into a tilted position that adjust to best fit your face shape. This requires some careful adjustments and refinement to determine what suits you specifically best. Also, a very important piece of advise, do not make the mistake of wearing the strap too tight. The over tightening of the mask straps most likely will result in your face shape changing and thereby causing the mask that fit you well to no longer fit properly. Also you will want to spend some time to ensure that there are minimal “smile lines” located under the seal. You may find that you need to straighten these out to avoid leakage. Finally, you need to remember that any joking around underwater that results in smiling will almost certainly result in mask leakage no matter how well your mask normally fits.

    Gentlemen, if you have facial hair, no matter how well your mask fits you, you will probably always suffer from mask leakage. A good non-leaking seal is hard to achieve with facial hair. If you find that this is the case sometimes a smear of petroleum jelly on the seal of your mask can help reduce leaking. Sometimes a good shave is ultimately the only real solution to a leak free dive. Clean-shaven is without question the best way to be as a diver if you want to the leaking problems with your mask!

    Strap Straps – an option that you will want to add.

    Finally, it is highly recommended when purchasing a mask to add a “slap strap” to your mask. Slap Straps are basically just sleeves made out of neoprene that fit onto (around) your mask strap and help protect your hair from getting caught in the strap. Even if you have short hair or no hair at all you will find that using a slap strap is much more comfortable and ensures easy strap placement and rapid adjustments. Choose one that unique if possible so that your buddy can easily identify you underwater. Another helpful tip is to write your name with a Sharpie type permanent marker on the inside of your slap strap so that you can readily identify your mask especially when many other divers have similar equipment. A mask with a slap strap also has the added advantage that it will float on the surface if dropped (or sink slowly with a snorkel attached because of the added weight) to help prevent equipment loss in the event of an unintended “visit into the water.”

    Proper caring for your mask

    After each use you should rinse your mask in freshwater especially if you have been diving in Salt Water. You will find that warm freshwater has the will help readily dissolve any salt particles from your equipment. If you like a small amount of detergent, such as dish washing liquid, may be added to the water. You can use Milton solution (normally used for to sterilize baby bottles) is a helpful tips to rescue clear silicone masks which will often discolor over time. Once finished with washing you will then want to allow your mask to dry thoroughly and then store it away in a cool dry location out of the direct sunlight.

    With proper care your mask will provide you many years (even over a decade) of reliable service.