Are Full Face Snorkel Masks Safe?

Questions and concerns have been raised over the safety of full face snorkel masks after the drowning of snorkelers who were wearing them.

Full Face Snorkel Masks have become extremely popular over recent years, especially amongst swimmers who struggle with a traditional snorkel setup so it’s important that you know the facts about them before you buy one.

In this article we’ll delve into;

  • The key differences between full face snorkel masks vs traditional snorkels, and
  • Are full face snorkel masks dangerous?

Potential Dangers Of Full Face Snorkel Masks

The ocean can be a hazardous place and care must always be taken regardless of the type of equipment you are using.

There were a spate of snorkeling deaths in close succession in early 2018 and much was made in the news about the type of equipment they were using (full face masks), and whether they could be the cause.

If you have purchased or are thinking of purchasing a full face snorkel mask then it is imperative that you know the (many) limitations of this snorkel equipment.

These are the concerns raised regarding full face snorkels…

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Buildup

As you swim around and exert yourself you will begin to breathe heavier in order to be able to expel CO2 and bring in more oxygen.

Your breaths also become much shorter and shallower as well.

And herein lies the problem with a full face snorkel mask.

As you swim around and begin to breathe more rapidly you will no longer exhale strongly enough to be able to expel CO2 fully out of the snorkel tube, and you can begin inhaling larger concentrations of CO2 back in instead of fresh air.

Safety concerns quite rightly have been raised over the potential build up of carbon dioxide within full face snorkel masks as this build up can lead to some pretty nasty effects:

  • Tiredness & Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Unconsciousness

Proper air circulation is needed within the mask in order to combat this CO2 problem.

For efficient air circulation to happen full face masks are designed so that the breathing chamber and the viewing chamber are made separate from one another.

The breathing chamber should also feature one way valves that are designed to allow in the flow of fresh air.

This design helps, but of course this will only work if the mask seals against your face correctly and the valves aren’t faulty.

I must stress how important it is to go with a reputable brand if you’re planning to buy a full face snorkeling mask.

Brands like Tribord and Ocean Reef for example do vigorous testing on their products to ensure their safety which the copy cat/knock off companies do not.

Why risk yours or your families lives just to save a few dollars?

Improper Seal Around The Face

An improper seal around the face will lead to water leaking into the mask.

With a traditional snorkel this means that you could possibly end up with salty water in your eyes.

No big deal though right? Simply lift your head from the water – Spit out the snorkel and then readjust your mask.

However if water leaks into a full face mask this could lead to both eye irritation AND breathing difficulty.

A small amount of water in your full face snorkel mask will not be a problem. In fact, the full face snorkel masks we recommend have a valve at the bottom of the mask that allows for the drainage of any water that enters the mask (without having to remove it).

But if a lot of water enters your mask, or it completely floords for any reason and you are unable to see or breathe then your mask will need to be removed entirely and this could lead someone to panic.

A mask such as a full face mask which isn’t removed as quickly or simply as a traditional mask can be a huge problem, especially if the user becomes panicked!

The Intended Use Of Full Face Snorkel Masks

What most swimmers don’t realise is that full face snorkel masks are only intended to be used under certain conditions, and that they do not have the same versatility as a traditional snorkel and mask.

So what is their intended use?

A full face snorkeling mask should be used at the surface, and at nothing more than a very leisurely pace (any kind of exertion that elevates you above your natural breathing should be avoided).

You should therefore try to avoid using this type of mask anywhere where there are currents, and stick to calm, swimming pool like waters only.

Whilst we were on vacation in Mexico we went on a snorkel tour where a couple on the tour were using full face masks. On one part of the tour we were battling against some current in the open ocean to get to the next snorkel spot. This is exactly the type of scenario where this type of mask should be avoided, and is why you will find that some snorkel tour operators ban people from wearing them.

Full Face Snorkel Mask VS Traditional Snorkel Mask

full face snorkel mask vs traditional mask

A full face snorkel mask differs from a traditional snorkel set in that the entire mask will cover the users face.

This design allows for the user to breathe through the nose and/or mouth.

A traditional snorkel comes as two separate parts (a mask and snorkel), and allows the user to breathe through their mouth only.

There are some people who struggle with traditional snorkels and full face masks tend to be an excellent choice for these people.

Naturally the different styles of breathing equipment each have their pros and cons, and one particular design will be more suited to a person and their needs more than the other.

When deciding if a full face snorkel mask is for you or not it’s important to take the following into consideration:

Full Face Snorkel Masks

full face snorkel mask
  • 1 housing unit for both snorkel mask & snorkel
  • Breathe through mouth and/or nose
  • Used for surface snorkeling only
  • Use for very leisurely swimming/floating
  • 180 Degree panoramic lens

Traditional Snorkel & Mask

traditional mask and snorkel
  • Two separate pieces – Mask + Snorkel
  • Breathe through mouth only
  • For surface snorkeling & free diving
  • Use for leisurely or more intense swimming
  • Viewing lens can be slightly more restrictive

Pros & Cons Of Full Face Snorkel Masks

Pros

  • They have an 180 degree panoramic lens which provides a great field of vision
  • You have the option to breathe through your nose and/or mouth, some people (usually beginner snorkelers) find this natural breathing style more comfortable.

Cons

  • They’re not intended for anything other than very light exertion/swimming. (You mainly just float around wearing it)
  • Difficult to speak to others whilst wearing one (as opposed to spitting your snorkel and and talking normally)
  • If the lens fogs then they are a hassle to have to keep having to remove
  • As they cover your entire face and have multiple head straps they are not quick/easy to get off, (which for a snorkeler in a panicked state is very dangerous!)
  • Some feel more claustrophobic wearing one
  • You cannot dive down deep underwater wearing one
  • They are huge! If you’re a family wanting to pack a bunch of these in your suitcase… good luck!
  • Some dive shops and snorkel tour operators will not allow you to wear this type of mask.
  • Oh, and they sometimes kill people…

Pros & Cons Of Traditional Snorkels

Pros

  • Regular masks and snorkels are very versatile – They can be used for snorkeling, freediving and are also used by scuba divers
  • The mask volume is very low in in a regular snorkel mask. You can dive as deep as you like wearing one.
  • You can swim as vigorously or as leisurely as you wish
  • They are smaller and more compact, therefore easier to travel with than a full face mask
  • Very quick and easy to remove/put back on again/readjust
  • No issues in communicating with others. Just spit the snorkel out and tell your buddy about the amazing sea creatures you just saw!

Cons

  • Some users find it more difficult to get used to breathing only through their mouth
  • Jaw ache can set in for some people after long wear use (though a good quality snorkel will usually not cause you any issue)

Full Face Snorkel Masks You Should AVOID

The success of the HEAD full face snorkel masks has spawned a number of low-cost copycat masks from little-known companies whose expertise, design and manufacturing experience are unknown. These off-brand products are offered at attractive prices, but their performance and the nature of any research or testing that stand behind them, if any, is completely unknown.

HEAD, USA

Due to their massive popularity there has been a large influx of different products coming into the market.

Some of these masks are very good and are produced by reputable companies (Tribord, Head etc) – And some should be avoided at all cost.

So how do you know which to buy and which to avoid? Well, we have written a guide to the Top 5 Best Full Face Snorkel Masks which we definitely recommend reading before purchasing.

But in short, the masks which need to be avoided are the cheaply made knock offs and unfortunately Amazon is completely rife with them.

They create their products with inferior quality components which can result in numerous issues such as – Mask fogging, an uncomfortable fit, a poor fitting seal to the face, and worst of all, they can be susceptive to CO2 build-up.

These companies do not engage in rigorous testing of their products like the reputable brands that we recommend, and whilst it is understandable that consumers like to try and save money where they can – This kind of product is not where you need to skimp.

FAQ Regarding Full Face Masks

Are Full Face Snorkelling Masks Dangerous?

If you use a full face snorkel mask outside of it’s intended use then yes – they can in fact be dangerous.

They are designed for leisurely surface snorkeling only, with a very minimal amount of exertion.

Are Full Face Snorkeling Masks Better Than Traditional Masks

No! Traditional masks are superior, much more versatile, and a lot safer.

They also have the added benefit of being much more convenient in general (in my opinion), as they are easier to put on and take off, and easier to travel with due to their more compact design.

Can You Breathe Underwater With A Full Face Snorkel Mask?

No. You cannot breathe underwater with a full face mask. (Neither can you with a traditional mask either!).

You will need to hold your breath whilst the top of the snorkel is underwater.

Can You Dive Underwater With A Full Face Snorkel Mask?

Yes.. but not very deeply or comfortably.

A full face snorkel mask has a large internal volume of air inside it.

That means when you dive underwater with it, the mask will put a lot of pressure on your face and be pretty uncomfortable. Therefore, they are really not well designed for diving underwater so if that’s something you enjoy then this type of mask would not be well suited to you!

Which Full Face Mask Should I Buy

Honestly, I hope that this article will steer as many people as possible away from wanting to use a full face mask as they are vastly inferior to a traditional mask and in some cases, quite dangerous.

But if I still haven’t dissuaded you and you’ve decided that a full face snorkel mask is what’s best for you then I can at least help you find a good quality full face mask.

With hundreds of different full face snorkel masks now on the market, how do you know which are safe and which need to be avoided?

Well, purchasing your mask from a reputable brand is the best place to start!

The larger, reputable, dedicated snorkel & scuba industry leaders put time and money into the proper research and development of their products.

Yes they’re more expensive, but their products are backed by research and are made from higher quality materials.

The cheaper unknown brands that you find littered all over Amazon, (and I think it is quite clear which ones I’m referring to), are the ones that should be avoided.

But if you want my advice on specifically which masks are the best then keep reading…

The Best Full Face Snorkel Masks

I’ve written an article that has everything you need to know about purchasing a full face snorkel mask and our reviews of the top five best full face snorkel masks on the market…

(But feel free to compare these to the snorkel gear I personally use and highly recommend) 🙂