One of the most important skills, if not, the most important skill needed in scuba diving is knowing how to clear your mask underwater. Mask clearing is taught in basic try dives, and you will come across this skill several times in your open water certification. However, it is also the skill that causes most trouble with new divers, which can lead to panic and uncertainty. Let’s take a look at how to clear your mask and also remove and replace a mask underwater. These easy mask clearing tips can make you feel more confident with this skill, so you are ready for any situation!
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How to Clear Your Scuba Mask
To clear your scuba mask, you will need to place pressure on the top of your mask frame and blow out of your nose. The air from your nose pushes the water out of the mask through the slight gap at the bottom on the mask.
- When you first practice this skill it is easiest to make a ‘gun’ shape with both hands.
- Stretch your two fingers out and place them on the top of the mask frame, pushing the mask against your face.
- Look down slightly and breathe in through your mouth and regulator.
- Blow your nose gently as you look up.
- If there is still water in your mask, repeat Steps 2-4!
Mask Clearing Tips
If you are struggling to clear your mask underwater, remember these mask clearing tips!
Stay Calm and Breathe
New divers generally hate doing this mask clearing exercise because it means water is around their nose and they think they cannot breathe. But remember, you still can breathe from your mouth! The key to this skill is to not overthink it, and just continue breathing from your mouth. Even if there is water in your nose, and even if you are closing your eyes. Just keep breathing! Staying calm, and breathing deeply will stop any potential panic attacks underwater.
Do Not Lift Your Mask Up
Some instructors recommend lifting the bottom of the mask slightly to create a gap for the water to escape. However, in the many hundreds, and maybe even a thousand students I have had, the most common problem with this skill is when students lift their mask up TOO MUCH. This can actually cause more water to go into the water, causing the diver to panic.
The best way to avoid this is to only push the top of your mask frame. By putting pressure on the top of the mask against your face, the bottom of the frame will automatically lift up slightly. This is perfect for clearing your mask.
Blow Your Nose
In from the mouth, out from the nose. This is why you need to remember when clearing your mask. Some divers will accidentally do the opposite, which will not work, and will only cause you to inhale water through the nose. Not fun. Remember to take a deep breath through the regulator, and blow your nose as if you are blowing into a tissue. A nice, long, and smooth exhale from the nose.
Air travels up! So you need to look up to the sky for the air from your nose to push the water down and out from your mask. One common problem I still with divers struggling to clear their mask is that they don’t look up properly. Slightly tilting your head up might not be enough. As a new diver, remember to look up towards the sky while exhaling from the nose, and physics will dictate that the water will clear from your mask!
Try Using One Hand
With low-profile masks (masks that fit very close to the face and is more commonly seen in freediving), using one hand might be enough to clear your mask. Try placing the palm of your hand against the top of your mask on the plastic frame. Then breathe in, and blow your nose as you lift your head. This is sometimes easier for the student diver if they want to hold onto a rope or the instructor or their buddy as they clear their mask.
Slow it Down
Slow. It. Down. Just because you try to clear your mask quickly doesn’t mean it will always work. A big mask clearing tip is that you need to remain calm, breathe, and do this skill slowly and properly to clear your mask. When a diver tries to run through the steps too quickly, they can forget to push the top of the mask, or they end up breathing out from the mouth, and in from the nose. I’ve even seen someone clear their mask by inhaling all of the water up their nose, and they didn’t even realise! Just keep breathing, and slow down the steps.
Mask Removal and Replacement
Now that you know how to clear your mask, the next step is removing and replacing the mask underwater. It is rare to completely lose your mask off your face, but it can happen. Perhaps your buddy accidentally kicks your face with their fin, or a strong current pushes the mask off your face.
Knowing how to remove and replace your mask confidently is another very important skill when scuba diving underwater. Again, you should do these steps slowly and calmly, and you can keep your eyes closed if you prefer.
- Slide the mask strap off the back of your head
- Pull the mask off your face
- Keep your thumb in the nose pocket of the mask so you know which way it is facing
- Breathe in and out from your mouth
- Move your hair from your forehead by sliding your hand up off your forehead
- Place the mask against your face, adjusting it so that it is straight and covering your nose
- Place the strap over your head
- Follow the steps to Clear Your Mask!
No Mask Breathing
If you are really struggling with clearing your mask underwater due to nerves, then try this handy tip that scuba instructors use for their students!
On the surface of the water, put your face down into the water while breathing from the regulator with no mask on. You can pinch your nose closed if you prefer. Just having no mask and breathing from your mouth is a great way to calm yourself down and get used to having water and bubbles around your nose. Once you are calm, you can stop pinching your nose closed, and you can even open your eyes if you would like.
This is one of the most effective ways to get used to having water around your nose and eyes, which makes you calmer when having to clear your mask underwater.
What about a Scuba Mask with Purge Valve?
If you are nervous about clearing your mask underwater, you can invest in a scuba mask with a purge valve. These will make clearing your mask easier.
How it works is there is a small purge valve in the nose pocket. When you look down and blow your nose, the valve opens up and water is pushed out through the valve. When you stop exhaling, the valve closes up. However, you should know how to clear your mask regardless of what mask you are using.
My Dive Mask Leaks Under Nose!
A dive mask can leak depending on a few factors.
For the males, the most common cause of leaking under the nose is from their mustache and hair on the upper lip. To avoid this, you can closely shave prior to the dive so that the mask seals onto the skin to prevent water from leaking in. Alternatively, if your mustache hair is long (and you don’t want to shave!), then you can smear some petroleum jelly onto the hair and push it down. The jelly will close up the gaps from the hair and create a better seal.
Check out some of the tips for snorkeling with a beard and mustache.
Your dive mask will also leak under the nose if you SMILE underwater or laugh underwater. Smiling will push your cheeks up and create a small gap between your face and the mask. The best way to avoid this is to keep a stoney face, but that’s no fun underwater, so it’s much better to learn how to clear your mask underwater!
Another big mask clearing tip that I can give is to ensure your mask is not too tight! A mask that is too tight or not covering the nose properly will also leak under your nose. This is very common with new divers. Many people assume that a tightly fitted mask will stop water from leaking in. However, if your face is all scrunched up from a tight mask, then it will push your cheeks up and create a small gap that allows water to enter the mask. The mask strap is actually irrelevant underwater because the pressure of the water will generally vacuum seal a mask to your face.
How to Prevent Mask Squeeze
A mask squeeze is when your mask is too tight, and the air space in your mask is under greater pressure and seals onto your face tightly. If you do not equalize this air space, then the mask seals tighter and tighter onto your face. This can cause bruising around the eyes or redness. It is not a serious injury but can look a bit funny after a dive!
To prevent mask squeeze all you have to do is exhale from your nose to equalize the air space in your mask as you descend. Using the above mask clearing tips helps too! Most times divers will be clearing their mask without realizing that they are also equalizing their mask space.