Thursday 2 April 2015

Back to Basics- Mask Clearing

Ask a group of divers which is the one skill they could live without and the answer, 9 times out of 10, will be Mask Clearing!

Water around the nose, bubbles up your cheeks and salt getting in your eyes, it is one skill that nobody enjoys.

Although most divers don't even realise it, they probably clear their mask 20 times per dive. Little bits of water creep in when we smile at the fishes or we haven't quite shaved well enough and all in all, there are no problems whatsoever but ask a diver to formally clear a mask and the outcome can be quite different. The thought of completing the skill sends the mind into overdrive and it can take a bit of time to build up the nerve to purposefully let water in.

Mask clearing is however, one of the basic skills to master and the only way to get comfortable with it is to practice, practice, practice! You have to de-sensitise your mind to the water around your nostrils and become confident in the fact that you don't have to breathe it in.

How can I get Confident Clearing the Mask?

I would say the first step to getting used to this feeling can be done while at the surface. While standing in waist deep water, put your regulator in and bend forward, putting your face in the water without the mask on. Take some breaths through your mouth and acclimatise.

Once you are comfortable, you can progress to completing the skill underwater. Start with baby steps, just let a little water in first and clear that by pushing on the top of the frame of your mask while looking up and blowing out through your nose. If you struggle to blow out through your nose with the regulator in, try placing your tongue against the roof of your mouth and then blow.

Move on to full mask floods and Mask removal/ replace when you are happy.

Try opening your eyes and you will find the salt water stings less if you let it wash over the eye rather than fighting to keep the eyes closed. Obviously, if you are wearing lenses, this is a no-no. If you have lenses, keep your eyes shut so you don't dislodge or lose them.

You can start to get comfortable with the skill while kneeling or lying on the bottom but just remember that there are many dive sites around the world where there is no bottom or the bottom is sensitive, such as coral reefs etc. You will not be able to kneel or lie on the bottom to complete the skill at these sites, so you have to make sure you are confident to complete the skill mid-water. Again, the key is practice!

Common Mask Problems causing Leaks

There will always be a little water in the bottom of your mask. This is just the nature of the beast but if you find your mask is leaking excessively, it may be that you are breathing out through your nose rather than your mouth. This breaks the seal and allows water to come into the mask... really irritating.

Another possibility is that you have the mask too tight. The skirt will not sit flat on the face and you get creases and little channels appearing where the skin is squashed together that allow water to get in. Your mask doesn't need to be too tight, the water pressure will hold it in place. Plus a mask that is tightened too much will lead to that lovely red ring all around the face that shows the world where you have been all day.

Sometimes your mask will only leak on holidays or special occasions and you cannot understand why. Think about what you are putting on your face. Have you used sunscreen or moisturiser? Believe it or not, this can affect whether your mask leaks or not!

It is very easy for divers to build up the difficulty of mask clearing in their own heads and a skill that is fundamental to diving suddenly becomes a mountainous task that causes panic and distress. It doesn't have to be that way. Take it slow, make baby steps and become confident and competent in your own ability. Then, there will be nothing to stop you!

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