There are 2 different types of snorkeling masks: what we call a “classic” mask (where mask and snorkel come separately), and “full-face masks”, which seemed like a great product when they first came out.
Soon though, we started to have some doubts about their use; that’s why a couple of years ago, I already created a video comparing classic masks to full-face snorkeling masks. My verdict was pretty crushing for the full-face masks, and I would tell anyone who listened not to use them.
The myth of full-face masks
Many of the guests who come on our moonlight manta swim don’t snorkel regularly and might have read or heard that a full-face mask would make snorkeling easier for them.
In some cases, they had a negative experience with snorkeling years back (when only classic masks were available) so they’re looking to change things up – and opt for a full-face snorkeling mask this time.
Issues with Full-Face Snorkeling Masks
Issue #1: You can’t communicate with a full-face mask on
The biggest issue is that we cannot communicate with a guest wearing a full-face mask.
The mask covers the full face (as the name already says) so if the participant tries to say something (e.g. having an issue), we don’t understand what he/she is saying – we just hear vague mumbling.
In order to communicate clearly despite the full-face mask, the participant has to pull the mask off. This causes water to whoosh in at a surprising speed (most underestimate this), and they often end up gurgling, swallowing saltwater, and coughing in the middle of the ocean. That’s absolutely no fun!
In other words: for safety reasons, it’s a big NO-NO to take a mask off your face while in the water.
If instead, you use the classic mask with a separate snorkel, you can simply release the mouthpiece and speak clearly to the guide if need be.
Issue #2: The masks often leak or fog up
Another issue with the full-face snorkeling masks is that they easily leak or fog up (especially the cheaper models/knock-offs).
Classic masks don’t usually fog up while snorkeling; not if they’re put on properly in the first place. IF they fog up, however, the issue is much simpler to solve. If a full-face mask fogs up (which we’ve seen happen often), taking the mask off can be a safety issue, as discussed in #1.
Issue #3: Full-face masks can restrict your breathing
Full-face masks are not comfortable to wear while not in the water (when you’re still on land and waiting to go in).
On our moonlight manta swims, we have a walk of about 100 feet from the beach shack where we meet up and get ready, to the point where we enter the ocean. After defogging, we ask people to put on the (classic) masks while we’re still at the beach shack: that way, we can easily adjust settings or fix any issues in the light of the shack.
If people would put on their masks only when we reach the ocean, if something needs to be fixed and adjusted, we’d be fumbling around in the dark.
However, with a full-face mask, it can feel claustrophobic to walk 100 yards on the beach with your mask on, meaning a participant would start the tour in less than ideal condition.
This ties into another issue: if you take shallow breaths while wearing the full-face mask, the potential for CO2 build-up increases. This can cause headaches or in a worst-case scenario, fainting.
Unfortunately, I’m speaking from (a lot of) experience.
We had one occasion in which a guest started hyperventilating in his full-face mask while snorkeling. I had to bring him back to shore, leaving our other guests behind for a bit. This is not a safe situation and not a circumstance we want to encounter again.
Why we Banned Full-Face Snorkeling Masks from our Manta Ray Activity
In our experience (taking groups to snorkel with the mantas almost every night), many of the guests who show up to our activity with a full-face mask have actually never used it before – or just once or twice while practicing for a couple of minutes in a swimming pool.
As safety is uber important to us, we want to eliminate as many potential issues as possible – which is why we decided to ban the full-face snorkeling masks on our moonlight manta swim.
We are not the first company to ban full-face masks, as you can read in this article on Hawaii Ocean Project. And hopefully, we’re not the last ones either.
Want to know more about the equipment we recommend to go snorkeling with manta rays? Visit this page for all the information you need. And if you’ve booked a Manta Ray Moonlight Swim with us and have any questions about the activity, don’t hesitate to reach out!