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April 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Mares Tests Full-Face Snorkeling Masks in the Light of Snorkeling Deaths

from the April, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

After concern was raised about the recent spate of snorkeling deaths in Hawaii (Undercurrent Oct 2017) because some casualties wore full-face snorkeling masks that might have led to CO2 build-up and possible CO2 poisoning, manufacturer Head/Mares reached out to Hawaii authorities to try to understand how these deaths might have occurred.

They followed up with a visit to the rEvo rebreather factory in Belgium (also owned by Head/Mares), to have the Sea Vu/Aria mask, jointly sold by both Mares and Ocean Reef, tested for CO2 build-up on in-house ANSTI scientific testing machinery. In the absence of any criteria for testing snorkeling masks, they applied the European Union norms, adopted by organizations such as NASA, for testing full-face scuba diving masks.

They discovered that the CO2 build-up in the Sea Vu/Aria mask was about 50 percent of the maximum allowed for a slow and calm breathing rate. This build-up dropped to about 20 percent for a heavy breathing rate similar to that of a panicked snorkeler. In other words, the higher the stress level of the user, the better the mask performed.

Not only did Head/Mares have their own Sea Vu/Aria mask tested, but also tested examples of three other lower-cost masks. Those three, which they won't name, failed to meet the standard for CO2 build-up at the relaxed breathing rate.

Sergio Gamberini, boss of manufacturer Ocean Reef, said that the Sea Vu/Aria was developed from the Ocean Reef range of full-face scuba masks (with regulators) that were originally based on the design of an Italian firefighter's mask.

Stefan Michl of Head/Mares was reluctant to spell out the design differences from other full-face snorkeling masks. He told Undercurrent, "Right now we are all trying to protect our in-depth knowledge by design and function patents while cheap Chinese imitations flood the markets. By explaining all details, I would also disclose a lot of knowledge."

That said, it is not clear what caused the recent drowning deaths in Hawaii, since the actual brands of the masks used have not been released. But, there is a common factor between 10 of the 11 victims: they were men over the age of 50.

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