If you’re like many new scuba divers, the thought of removing your mask underwater is something that can leave you sitting on the shoreline and quaking in your dive boots. But you are not alone, and this is definitely NOT a skill for the faint of heart.
The first thing to remember is that mask removal and replacement is a required skill for certified scuba divers for very important reasons. (We’ll get to those.) And the next thing to remember is that removing and replacing your mask while at depth becomes easier and less intimidating with practice.
Let’s discuss the reasoning behind the mask removal and replacement skill requirement first. Why in the world would anyone want to voluntarily pull off their mask while at depth? Why would you want to flood your face with water, impede your vision, and have to fumble with a mask that is in your hand rather than on your face? There are actually some very good reasons:
- If you dive very much at all, it is almost inevitable that your dive mask will be involuntarily removed—meaning that a well-intentioned but clumsy diver who happens to be in front of you ends up kicking it off of your face. When this happens, you need to be able to react in a calm and prepared manner, and you need to know exactly how to replace your mask in order to continue safely with your dive.
- In the instance that your mask strap breaks or you for some reason lose your mask entirely, you need to be in the habit of practicing breathing calmly through your regulator WITHOUT your mask in place until you are able to recover it or safely make your way to the surface.
Now let’s talk about the actual act of mask removal itself. If you’ve managed to perfect flooding and clearing your mask, you are ready to move on to this step.
Just like flooding your mask, you will need to break the mask seal and slowly allow water to seep into your mask. (Once you perfect this skill, you can do this quite quickly, removing the mask in one movement, but if you are nervous, it’s okay to take your time.) After the seal on the mask is broken and water is entering the mask, make sure you have a firm grip on the mask and then remove it in an upward motion.
Remember, KEEP BREATHING. And DON’T DROP YOUR MASK.
At this point, some divers are anxious when the exhalation bubbles from their regulator hit the air seal they have formed at their nose, which is now no longer protected by the mask. You can avoid this by tilting your head slightly to the side, forcing the bubbles away from your nose as they rise.
Once you feel comfortable breathing without your mask in place, work on replacing it and fully clearing it of water. You should be able to do this with one exhalation, as mentioned in the previous article on Flooding and Clearing a Mask While Scuba Diving. If you have trouble doing this, make sure you are tilting your head far enough back, and make sure you are exhaling through your nose and not your regulator when you clear your mask.
Don’t get discouraged if this particular skill takes more practice than others. This is a tough one for a lot of new divers, but once you’ve mastered it, you’ll be the one helping others take the plunge!