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June 29, 2008

Full face mask and saltwater

Yesterday I got to experience a new piece of scuba equipment, a full-face mask - and also do my first dive in saltwater. Unfortunately, this all sounds much grander than it was. It all took place at a party at the wonderful home and pool of diving friends. One of the group had brought her full-face mask together with BC and a full tank of air so anyone could check it out. And the gorgeous pool was a saltwater pool, so at least technically I can now say I have been diving in salt water. I know the particulars of this initiation into salt water will only add to the teasing I must endure for having done all of my dives so far in sweet water.

Anyway, the full-face mask was interesting. I had always viewed them as professional equipment beyond the reach and realm of recreational diving. In the "masks" section of our scubadiverinfo.com website I described full-face masks as follows:

"Full face masks protect professional and advanced recreational divers in polluted water and from stings, also allow verbal communication, and alleviate cramps from having to bite on a mouthpiece for long periods of time. They are also warmer in very cold water, and the chance of the mask getting knocked off accidentally is much lower. Full face masks are also referred to as "Jack Browne" masks in recognition of the Desco engineer who came up with the protytpe design of a full face mask with an integrated air supply attachment."

In practice, the full-face mask first looks a bit intimidating. It's large and it has a fairly elaborate strap system. The second stage is built into the mask, so there is no separate mouthpiece. You don't bite on one either. You simply put the mask on, get your hair out of the way, and you're all set. You still breathe through your mouth. The nose is kind of blocked with a rubber piece. BC inflation works the same, with the usual up and down buttons and there was the usual backup second stage, though I am not sure how you'd use it with a full-face mask.

Go under and it's an entirely different experience.

The view is panoramic, and much more so than with any conventional mask I've tried, and by now I've tried quite a view different designs. I wish I could remember the make and model of the mask as, from the looks of it, not all full-face masks offer this panoramic view. As is, this one certainly stood out.

Breathing feels totally natural. It's through the mouth, but not having a mouthpiece to bite on is a huge advantage in my book. Most mouthpieces chafe on my gums or my jaw gets tired from the mouthpiece forever pulling this way or that.

Equalizing your ears is a bit different. The mask did not have the separate nosepiece I use to pinch my nose and blow against it to equalize. The advice was to either move your jaw from side to side or some variation of that, or to move the mask up to block the nose inside as it pushes against that rubber piece in the mask, and then blow against it. I can't remember exactly how I did it, but it was no big deal and certainly not a problem.

Since air flows inside the mask, there is no mask squeeze and you do never have to equalize pressure inside the mask. That's never been a problem for me, but some people forget to do it, sometimes with annoying consequences. All in all, not having to worry about it is nice.

Another big issue for me is mask fogging. I've tried just about every trick to keep my mask from fogging and it does it anyway. This is a real drag. I mean, you don't go diving to see a wondrous underwater world only to see it from behind a fogged-up mask. Sure, you can let some water in and swirl it around the lens occasionally, but that's hardly a satisfying solution. The full-face mask -- at least the one I tried -- did not fog up at all. I suppose it's because of the airflow. It's wonderful not to have to worry about that.

And then there is mask leaking. I was wondering how such a large mask would do. After all, the perimeter of the seal is a lot longer than that of a conventional mask. Amazingly, not as much as a single drop came in. Maybe that's again because of the positive air pressure. If the pressure inside and outside of the mask is the same, water won't come in.

As listed above, there are other reasons to wear a full-face mask. One is to be able to communicate with dive buddies who also wear a full face mask with communications gear, and with the surface. Since you don't have anything in your mouth you can talk, and an integrated microphone then picks it up. I didn't have the battery pack that powers the comms gear and so could not see how well it works.

As for the saltwater pool, it wasn't nearly as salty as I expected. It was also absolutely crystal clear and clean. I'll have to look into it for my own pool.

Posted by conradb212 at June 29, 2008 04:38 PM

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