The Potential Dangers of Full-Face Snorkel Masks

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And You Creations has made the decision to ban full-face snorkel masks on our Dolphins and You tours due to safety concerns. We ask that all Dolphins and You tour participants use the equipment provided or use traditional masks and snorkels. 

As full-face snorkel masks have become more popular in recent years, snorkeling accidents involving the equipment have also increased. Following the death of a woman wearing one such mask off of the Big Island in 2016, Hawaii state lawmakers launched investigations into the snorkel equipment.  

The general consensus at this point in time is that more data is needed to determine how hazardous the masks can be. With this uncertainty, And You Creations has decided to ban the masks altogether while research continues.

Understanding the Risks

Snorkeling in Hawaii

Full-face masks were designed for leisurely snorkeling at the surface of a calm body of water. They are attractive to many people who don’t like the idea of mouth-breathing through a tube, or people who want a wider view. 

But with the waves and unpredictability of the ocean, the features that make the design attractive can also become dangerous.

Full-face masks wrap tightly around the head, potentially making them difficult to remove in a state of panic. And if water leaks into a full-face masks, there is no way to remove it without taking the mask fully off.

Additionally, humans breathe out CO2 while exhaling. Poorly designed full-face masks do not separate the exhaled breath from the inhaled, which could lead to a mask filling with CO2. Too much CO2 can lead to dizziness, headaches and, ultimately, unconsciousness. 

Some of the highest quality full-face masks producers take these risks into consideration. More expensive models have inflow and outflow compartments to ensure that CO2 is never inhaled. 

But knock-off brands are not screened for quality and can have serious design flaws. Without federal regulation for equipment producers, there are risks for consumers and snorkel tour operators to consider.

Accidents in Hawaii

Tour operators, including the Pride of Maui, Snorkel Bobs and the Hawaii Ocean Project, began banning full-face snorkel masks in Hawaii after a string of accidents were connected to the gear. 

The alarm was first sounded on full-face masks in 2016. A woman who frequently visited Hawaii and was a good swimmer died while trying on the mask for the first time in the ocean. Her husband, Guy Cooper, was convinced it was due to the gear. He asked state officials to begin recording what gear is used by drowning victims moving forward to see if there was a correlation.

Since then, there have been other tragedies. In 2018, FOX 10 News reported that half of the snorkeling drownings in Hawaii occurred while using the masks. 

As recently as 2019, a visitor snorkeling in Oahu and a visitor snorkeling in Kauai were also rescued while reportedly using the masks. 

Getting Comfortable with Traditional Snorkels

Oahu snorkel tour

And You Creations recommends using the gear provided on Dolphins and You: a high quality, soft silicone mask along with a snorkel that is used to breathe through your mouth.

For first-time users, traditional snorkels can take some getting used to. Here are some recommendations for the most comfortable experience.

  • Use defog from a snorkeling store or a little bit of baby shampoo smeared on the inside of your mask to keep it from fogging while swimming.
  • Ensure that all hair is held away and pushed back before suctioning the mask to your face. 
  • The mask will form a natural suction to your face, so it doesn’t need to be uncomfortably tight.
  • To place the snorkel into your mouth, shape your mouth with the words ah, ee, and ooh.
  • While jumping in the water, hold your mask with one hand so that it stays on your head when you hit the water. 
  • If water enters your snorkel while swimming, strongly exhale the word “TWO” to force it out. Or you can just take the snorkel out of your mouth and shake the water out. 
  • Breathe slowly and calmly. This is the most important step. If you find you are having trouble breathing, stop swimming, remove the snorkel from your mouth and float while allowing your breathing to slow. 


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