Full Face Snorkel Masks - Are They Safe?
We don’t like being too serious here at the ‘ol Bum…in fact, seriousness is pretty much the polar opposite of what we try to do here! Unfortunately, something very serious is happening in our industry that we need to address. In recent weeks, we have had many people questioning the safety of Full Face snorkel masks following a spate of snorkeling deaths in Hawaii. In this rather long article, we will address the origins of full face masks, the recent safety concerns, and why we believe the Full Face snorkel masks we rent and sell at Beach Bum are the best and safest on the market!
To fully understand what may have led to the death(s) in Hawaii, it's helpful to have some knowledge of the history of these masks. The original full face mask was created about 5 years ago by a French company, Tribord. Tribord is the largest manufacturer of snorkel and scuba gear in Europe. The patented technology they created for their revolutionary EasyBreath Mask allows fresh air to enter the mask and for oxygen-depleted, carbon dioxide-rich exhaled air to exit the mask without comingling. Tribord achieved this separation of incoming and outgoing air by creating 3 "channels"/airways at the top of the mask (where the snorkel attaches). See accompanying photos. The EasyBreath Mask has one "channel" in the center for fresh air, and two other "channels" on either side where exhaled air is segregated as it exits the top of the mask through the snorkel. This separation of fresh and exhaled air is critical and allows the full face masks to function safely.
If your fresh air and exhaled air are not separated, there is a very real risk that you could be breathing back in your own oxygen-depleted, carbon dioxide-rich air. Over the course of a few minutes, it will feel like you're not getting enough oxygen...because you're not! Over the course of about 20-30 minutes, you might find yourself getting awfully sleepy...and the ocean is a REALLY bad place to take a nap.
Without any firsthand knowledge of the facts, we would imagine this is what happened, or is alleged to have happened, in Hawaii. We suspect the user(s) either asphyxiated in the mask or became unconscious and drowned. Either scenario is very bad. That said, we do not yet know that the mask was the proximate cause of death. Among the recent snorkeling drownings in Hawaii, more were wearing traditional two-piece snorkel gear than full face masks. Only 2 victims were wearing full face masks. The most common factor seemed to be that 10 of the 11 deaths involved men over the age of 50. Unfortunately, drownings in vacation destinations are all too common and have been long before the full face masks came into the market.
Back to our history lesson...In the wake of the enormous success of Tribord's full face mask, umpteen different knockoffs were launched. Many of the knockoffs have funny names and absolutely no association with any reputable snorkel manufacturer. Some of the knockoffs flat-out stole the technology from Tribord. In all likelihood, they are being sued or will be soon. Other less-reputable companies simply paid lip service to the separation of fresh and exhaled air. These are the dangerous masks. Making matters even worse, the dangerous masks look just like the good ones...and many receive very good reviews on Amazon and other sites.
Here's the good news! The Deep Blue Gear Vista Vue mask we rent and sell at Beach Bum is unique in that it is the ONLY full face mask on the market in which the user's exhaled air is NOT exhausted back out through the snorkel. Instead, the exhaled air in the Vista Vue exits through purge valves near the user's ears and NEVER reaches the snorkel. See accompanying photos. In short, there is NO possibility of breathing back in dangerous exhaled air.
In addition to the safety this feature affords, it also creates a second way of clearing/purging the mask. With all full face masks, you can remove water that happens to leak into the mask by simply lifting your chin up. This is easy and effective, but it means you have to look up when you would most likely prefer to continue to look down. With the Deep Blue Gear Vista Vue mask, you can cover the purge valves near your ears and blow out any water that happens to get into your mask. Aside from its safety, this is may be the coolest feature of the Vista Vue mask!
Our hope is that this little review was educational, but also gives you some peace of mind regarding Full Face masks and helps to clarify some of the serious issues that could result from unwittingly buying or using an inferior version of these masks. For many snorkelers, Full Face masks offer a simple, hassle-free underwater experience. Here at St. John Beach Bum, we have absolutely no concerns or reservations about the Deep Blue Gear Vista Vue mask we rent and sell. If you’d like to try one for yourself, you can save 10% by booking online at www.stjbeachbum.com!