snoreling in hawaii

Dangers of Full Face Masks | Snorkeling in Hawaii

The drowning rate for visitors in Hawaii is thirteen times the national average and nearly ten times the rate of  residents. Snorkeling in Hawaii is the most common activity associated with these drownings.

In the past two months alone, here on Kauai, a 46 year old man died snorkeling off Wailua, a 20 year old visitor died snorkeling at Pine Trees (Hanalei Bay) and another 64 year old died at Puu Poa Beach.

While snorkeling in Hawaii on the Big Island in 2017, a woman died wearing her full face mask she purchased on Amazon. Afterwards, her husband posted a review of the product, only to have it removed. Her husband and others suspected that these masks allow for the buildup of carbon dioxide which could cause someone to pass out. Those specific masks are no longer available on Amazon, although they still sell other full face masks.

During snorkeling activity, the need for more oxygen requires us to breathe faster. With a full face mask, some of the exhaled air may not fully exit the device and it is possible to breathe in the contaminated air. That has potential to lead to unconsciousness.

Maui Fire Chief Ed Taomoto said: “Recently, we have noticed that a number of snorkel-related drownings, or, near-drownings have involved these new one-piece masks, but it is too early to make any sort of connection to the use of this equipment and drownings. We’re not sure if the increase in incidents involving these new full-face type masks is related to a problem with this design or if there [are] just more people using this type over the traditional two-piece snorkel set.”

As a result, a number of snorkel tour operators now prohibit the use of these full face masks. Snorkel Bob’s, which operates on all islands, tested the masks and said “They have been so aggressive in their marketing…. We tested it and said, no way. We won’t carry it.”

Currently, no snorkel equipment regulations exist in the U.S. Thus we suggest extreme caution in use of these masks.

What’s your experience if any with full face snorkeling masks?

26 thoughts on “Dangers of Full Face Masks | Snorkeling in Hawaii”

  1. We purchased the Wildhorn Outfitters Seaview 180 full faced snorkels. We just returned from 3 weeks in Roatan, where we snorkeled almost every day, and had no issues. I did my research before purchasing. These have 2 separate chambers and 4 intake valves. They also use 1 way valves and separate breathing chamber. They had 3rd party independent testers who verified O2 and CO2 levels. These are much more enjoyable on a long snorkel trip for me than chomping down on the traditional type. I was very leary of trying these after reading some of the tragic stories. Be aware of cheap knockoffs. I would not go back, but it is a choice each person has to make. Also we never felt the need to yank off the mask to get a gulp of fresh air. If you experienced that even one time, why on earth would you continue to wear it?

  2. CO2 buildup is a problem for any rebreathing aparatus, the problem with the full face system for inexperienced people is that the volume of air you displace shallow breathing (or breathing quickly) is not enough to pull fresh air into the face section. This is why asthmatics often have a lot of trouble, with even standard snorkling. I’m very sorry for anyone who has lost someone in this situation, everyone please be aware of these problems not just snorkling, but also using full face rebreathers for dust and chemical prevention.

  3. Both my husband and I have Tribord full face masks and have not had much of a problem with them at all. The only real issue is if you want to dive down the mask will suction onto your face. Have not had a breathing issue unless I accidentally try to take in a breath and then the ball will lock the air intake, just have to surface and blow out and it works fine…I did research before buying and Tribord had the best reviews on snorkeling sights so that was what I went with.

  4. Thanks for bringing up all of these important issues, including CO2 buildup, fogging and reef friendly sunscreen. I believe there should be a world wide phase out ban of reef harming sunscreen over a year or two, no linger. Our oceans are already being stressed beyond their limits.
    A fogged mask seriously detracts from the quality of the underwater experience. Traditional masks are easily removed on the surface or underwater, and easily wioed clean with finger (and saliva at the surface), easily put back on. They can also be cleared of water easily by holding the top of the mask against your forehead and exhaling hard through your nostrils. Full face masks have none of these characteristics. I’ll sacrifice a mildly larger field of view a full face mask gives in order to get all of the user friendly advantages of a traditional mask, which is also smaller to carry when traveling.

  5. A fear mongering article with no understanding of what is going on. The first full face snorkeling mask was marketed in the USA by Ocean Reef and also sold by Head Sports. Ocean Reef has been making full face masks for scuba divers for over a decade with no issue. These masks come in different sizes and must be fit properly. If your mask fogs up it DOES NOT FIT. If it doesn’t have a separate nose/mouth pocket and an eye pocket then it is a very poorly designed knock off. You may save a few bucks on Amazon but they have lots of BAD products. Have we all forgotten that ‘you get what you paid for’. Go to your local dive shop and get fitted to a quality mask.

  6. I am not a good swimmer ad decided to be a trooper ad give snorkeling a shot as my husband enjoys this. He bought me a full face mask before we went to Kauai this May. My experience was that after a few moments the bottom of my mask filled with water up to my mouth, or else it dripped water into my eyes, we were constantly readjustingand tightening my mask. This said, for my comfort, and that I swam in very shallow and protected water I still felt more comfortable than the traditional mask. Had I been out on a tour and in deep water this would have been a significant problem for me.

    1. Sounds like your mask did not fit your face. The good brand masks come in a few sizes. You need to be fitted. Go to a local dive shop And have them fit you. You spend a lot of money to go on vacation. Spend a few minutes to get fitted. It will be worth the extra time and money.

  7. I have been using a full face mask for a few months now. I was wary agter reading articles about it but gave it a shot on conditions that I would ease into using it (5 minutes, then 7, then 10, then 15, etc…) and only use it in shallow water until I passed the time conditions. I started in a pool, then the lagoons out in Ko’Olina and now use it everywhere.

    I have not gone past the 30 minute mark snorkeling with it on yet but I rarely go beyond 30 minutes without popping up regardless of mask. I find the mask comfortable, a better field of view and easier to use than a traditional snorkel. I also paid close attention to possible CO2 issues but have had none so far. I also do not use the full face snorkel to submerge myself/my mask as I do with a traditional snorkel set and I never swim/snorkel alone.

    I do have a fair amount of time with full face masks (not snorkeling but for work). I understand the mechanics, and practiced them repeatedly prior to use, of properly removing a full face mask, which is different than a traditional mask. What I do not know are all the details of the casualties of other full face mask users. I would love to see a data set on that before we condemn the full face mask.

    In short, with any new gear ALWAYS function check it, ALWAYS test it out gradually in a safe area (pool, shallow, calm lagoon, etc…), ALWAYS swim with another person and ALWAYS use gear you are comfortable with and that you have worked up to. NEVER use gear you are not confident in, NEVER use/do not use gear that you feel unsafe/uncertain in and if at any time something changes and your gut tells you to stop, STOP.

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