Mask Musings

John BantinIt’s always nice to get something new. My favourite old mask had seen better days. Its silicone skirt had yellowed and stiffened with time and probably too much exposure to tropical sunlight, so I got hold of a new one.

I’m very lucky in that I seem to have a face that gets along with almost any mask despite my ill-groomed facial hair and nearly all the latest masks are said to have super-flexible silicone skirts so fit was never a worry. Some of you are less lucky and need to kiss a few frogs before you find your mask princess.

Just offering the mask up to the face, without call to use the strap, and gently inhaling though the nose should be enough to keep it in place. If you need to continue to inhale, the skirt is not a good fit to your face. New masks rarely leak but many people’s faces do. The strap is merely there to stop it from being displaced, when you jump in for example. A mask strap that is adjusted to be too tight can distort the frame and cause the mask to leak while underwater.

There are hundreds of different masks available, most of which come from the same mask mines deep in the bowels of Taiwan. Some masks are made in Italy and a few even in the USA. We frequently witness people trying masks on and looking in a mirror but it’s not how you look, but how you can look though the mask that counts underwater. The smaller the internal volume the less water you will need to clear should you completely flood your mask, as you might should you take it off and replace it while underwater. A mask with a huge faceplate does not give you a wider view. It’s like looking through a window. The closer you are to the glass, the wider the view. So a mask with small lenses can be just as effective as one with bigger lenses and a greater volume of air within it. Just be aware that you should not feel the top of the frame pushing on your brow and that the nose-piece should adequately and comfortably contain your nose.

They say that there are two types of people past middle-aged; those who wear glasses and those who never read books. What was a worry for me was the fact that in common with many people over the age of forty-five (and I’m well over that) my eyesight is no longer as good as it was. Similarly, many people suffer short-sightedness from birth and wearing a mask in conjunction with contact lenses can inhibit the freedom to take it off underwater. I still remember vividly the time it took me to feel carefully along the bottom of a swimming pool in a desperate search after one of my trainees lost a contact lens during a mask removal exercise. Naturally, I found it in the end. A good instructor as ever, I wasn’t ever going to let anything spoil my trainee’s day.

When it comes to choosing a mask, if you are so afflicted by imperfect vision, you’ll need a mask that will take prescription lenses. It’s a much better option than battling with contact lenses underwater or employing stick-on corrective lens that only give a narrow field of vision.

Now, I might add that you may not need lenses that completely match your prescription since even the clearest seawater is quite poor optically but an approximation with do and go a long way to getting you the maximum enjoyment from getting your head underwater.

If you want to be good at something, you’ve got to practise. I took home my shiny new mask and a set of lenses with the intention of installing them myself in the mask. I’ve worked in the diving industry for a generation and yet I baulked at taking the mask apart. Even a phone call to the distributor (who sent me a special tool for the job) left me pondering how to get the old glasses safely out. It’s simply that every mask seems to be different and I’d rarely done this more than about once every five years. If I had been cleverer, I should have let the man in the dive store do it for me. He probably fits replacement lenses into masks virtually every day.

Well, I managed to successfully install the new lenses at the end. I then merely had to get rid of the inevitable and invisible silicone deposit that gets on to the inner side of the mask glass during manufacture and causes that annoyed fogging problem. The safest way too do that it to rub a bead of old-fashioned white toothpaste around the surface to gently abrade the silicone deposit off. And here it seems to me that this is already similar to an online friv game and not what you will read about later. This will take more than a few minutes. I’ve witnessed people apply the naked flame of a cigarette lighter to the inside of the glass but this is not without its risks both to you and the mask. Otherwise, the silicone deposit gives an edge for tiny droplets of moisture to cling to, precipitated out of the damp air inside the mask while you are using it.

After that, each time before you go under water, apply either a proprietary mask defoggant, washing liquid or plain old-fashioned spit to the inner side of the mask glass and rub it around before giving it a rinse in seawater. This is where we meet a culture clash between the people from each side of the Atlantic. While one group place great faith in the promise on the packaging, Europeans by and large don’t bother with such products that promise to do this job. Saliva is free and you’ve got plenty of it and we Europeans would hate to think where the proprietary products are sourced.

When it comes to choosing a mask skirt, the choice is usually between clear silicone or opaque silicone. Some divers swear that a mask with a black skirt gives them better vision. I suggest that a transparent skirt gives you a better feeling for what’s around you. Just like driving a car and looking through the windshield, the side windows of the car don’t destroy your forward vision but certainly make the car less claustrophobic. That said, some like to look like Zorro or Batman with a black-skirted mask and who am I to argue with that? My best advice is to get one that fits you well with lenses that suit your eyesight.

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2 thoughts on “Mask Musings”

  1. There are only few things worse than a leaking dive mask that may ruin our dives. We always try to clear our mask, that results:

    *more air usage
    *less bottom time
    *less time to see the underwater
    *poor vision

    All these parameters come together and we don’t enjoy our dives. Fortunately, there are easy steps (like told above in the article) for choosing a leak-proof dive mask.

    You can read my article on the same subject here for more info:

    Thank you.

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  2. As a UW photographer, I preferred a black skirt — sometimes helpful in blocking sunlight streaming in the side of my mask while taking a picture.

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